Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Goddammit, when is somebody going to ban gum-chewing in movies? I’m a card-carrying Keanu Reeves fan, but he started the whole “Gum Chewing Action Star” thing with Speed, and it’s become such a distracting, cheap acting trick.

Well, knock it off, Hollywood actors! You will never surpass the gum-chewing prowess immortalized by Reeves in Speed. He is, always has been, and shall remain the gum-chewing action guy king!

The culprit this time out is Casey Affleck in Triple 9, the latest film from super-reliable director John Hillcoat. Affleck plays Chris, a new cop among a fleet of bad cops who distinguishes himself by, you guessed it, chewing gum a lot.

He doesn’t just chew that gum, either: He cracks it, he pops it, moves it all over his mouth and lets the white wad stick out of the corners. In fact, he makes sure it gets in the way of almost every line delivery he makes in the movie.

If I should ever get to direct an action-cop movie, what with my budding film career and all, I’m going for the gum-chewing title. I will make sure to have my action-cop guy constantly unwrapping pieces of gum and shoving them into his pie hole. I won’t stop at Wrigley’s, either. Nope: I’ll get some Big Red in there, adding to the color palette. We’ll get some Bubble Yum and Bazooka for bigger, longer-lasting bubbles. It’s going to make my action star so freaking tough-looking.

Beyond the gum … the actual movie is pretty good. Like other Hillcoat movies (The Road, The Proposition, Lawless), it’s a dark film with a bleak outlook on humanity. Nobody is happy in this flick, and they are going to let you know that. Only this time, there’s a whole lot of gum-chewing and some fast-moving action scenes to go with all of the brooding.

All right, back on point. Affleck’s Chris finds himself rolling with Marcus (Anthony Mackie, aka The Falcon!), a bad cop with a crew doing heists for a crime kingpin (Kate Winslet, aka Rose, sporting yet another weird accent). That crew includes Russell (Norman Reedus, aka The Walking Dead’s Daryl!), his brother Gabe (Aaron Paul, aka Jesse!), explosives expert Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor, aka the guy from 12 Years a Slave!) and other dirty cop Franco (Clifton Collins Jr., aka the guy who played the murderer in Capote and one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World!).

The heists themselves are nicely staged, reminiscent of the epic Michael Mann heists in Heat. They make up for the fact that the plot isn’t much; in fact, it’s almost non-existent. Still, that’s a pretty impressive acting crew that is running around shooting at each other, and Hillcoat makes it all look good.

Affleck isn’t the only one resorting to gimmickry in this film. Woody Harrelson (aka Woody!) wears some wacky teeth and smokes a lot of dope as Jeffrey, Chris’s detective brother. Or at least I think they are fake teeth. Woody, if those are your actual teeth, I’m totally sorry, bro. As for the weed, that stuff was probably authentic.

I guess the point of my harping on the gum-chewing is to say that Affleck doesn’t need that kind of bullshit. He’s a commanding actor, and his characterization of Chris is impressive and memorable enough without all the popping and cracking. It doesn’t make his character any tougher or hard-nosed. It just makes him sloppy. It also left me concerned that he might get lockjaw.

The cast does well, for the most part, although Paul is saddled with a dopey haircut (another gimmick), and Reedus is sorely lacking a crossbow (a gimmick avoided). There’s a bit involving Ejiofor and a gift-wrapped package that you will see coming a mile away, but Ejiofor sells it fine.

Triple 9 is a decent-enough action thriller, and it should’ve been sponsored by Triple Mint Refresh Chiclets bubble gum!

By the way, I do see the irony of constantly leaning on the gimmickry of gum-chewing in a movie as a gimmick in and of itself.

I’ll stop now.

Triple 9 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I can’t say whether Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Steve Jobs in Danny Boyle’s new firecracker of a movie is accurate; I didn’t know the guy. I can say that the performance is, dramatically, one of the best things you will see in cinemas this year.

Steve Jobs, written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by the ever-reliable Boyle (127 Hours, Sunshine), plays out in three parts: Apart from a few flashbacks, we see Jobs backstage at three significant product launches during his career. The film is expertly staged, playing out like the most entertaining and brutal of Shakespearean dramas.

As Jobs ties his bowtie and prepares to launch the Macintosh in 1984, his personal life is messing with his mojo. Estranged lover Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is distressed over the paltry sum Jobs pays her and their alleged daughter, Lisa (Makenzie Moss), in child support. Jobs is worth millions, but offers only hundreds per month—because he doubts his being the father.

Chrisann has some good arguments. A paternity test puts the likelihood of Jobs being the dad at more than 94 percent, and Lisa looks an awfully lot like him. This is no matter to Jobs, who spends years denying fatherhood—while reluctantly turning over more than the court-mandated amount of cash, because part of him really likes Lisa. He even names a computer after her.

We see Steve Jobs at his very worst, a man so obsessed with his company’s new gadgets that he won’t face the reality of his fatherly duties. Lisa, portrayed at different ages by Moss (6), Ripley Sobo (9) and a show-stopping Perla Haney-Jardine (19), is a girl any dad would be proud of—but Jobs can’t really be bothered. He has goofy-looking computers to sell.

While Jobs won’t be a dad to his daughter, he tries to be one to Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), the engineer who actually built the board that launched Apple computers. Mind you, Jobs isn’t a good father figure. While he claims he will always protect and nurture Wozniak, he fails to come through on some key matters, including the acknowledgement of Wozniak and his team in the Apple legacy. 

Fassbender’s Jobs is every bit that charming man we saw while he was introducing computers, iPods and iPhones to drooling masses. He had such nice, warm tendencies in public that it was hard to imagine him as a bastard behind the scenes.

Unfortunately, his quick wit and ability to reason are often wielded as weapons against his perceived enemies, whether they be Wozniak, justifiably begging for recognition, or Chrisann, begging for money. As far as this movie is concerned, Jobs was a brilliant but not-so-nice man. In fact, he was a major dickweed.

The major coup is that Fassbender still makes Jobs likable. It’s easy to hate the man’s actions, and it’s also very easy to root for his redemption. Fassbender puts petal to the metal with this performance, and he never lets up.

Say hello to Seth Rogen … actor! In his few pivotal scenes, Rogen breaks hearts as Wozniak, a good natured, well-meaning man who obviously loves and admires Jobs, but can’t fathom his stubbornness. It’s a revelatory performance from a man who usually delivers laughs. This time out, you’ll feel his character’s emotional pain and hurt.

Kate Winslet, even though her accent morphs from time to time, is equally compelling as Jobs’ confidant and mother figure, Joanna Hoffman. It’s an incredible performance. The same can be said for Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, the advertising giant who essentially became Jobs’ boss. That relationship is combustible at times, and Daniels blows up the screen.

Steve Jobs will make you forget Jobs, that other biopic that featured a heavily made-up Ashton Kutcher playing with an iPod. Fassbender and Boyle deliver the kind of movie Jobs deserved—warts and all. It’s a mesmerizing film about a complicated man.

Steve Jobs is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Divergent series, aka “Adventures in Hardcore Lethargy,” continues with Insurgent, a film as boring and pointless as its predecessor.

Director Robert Schwentke chooses a lot of gray tones to go with dull dialogue and muddled, straining performances. Shailene Woodley, an actress who is impressive most of the time, simply doesn’t make an intriguing action heroine. The material seems beneath her.

After the oh-so rousing events of the first film, Tris (Woodley) and Four (Theo James) are living in a “faction-free” zone. In this film’s universe, everybody is categorized into a faction: Amity, Abnegation, Erudite, Dauntless, Candor, Flounder and Douchebag. I would say this mess has the worst young-adult fiction premise ever, but I’ve seen the Twilight films, so I would be lying my ass off.

While living amongst the faction-less, Tris and Four have a surprise meeting with Four’s hot mom, Evelyn, played by the incomparable Naomi Watts, one of my all-time-favorite actresses. Watts is totally wasting her time in this crap, but if Kate Winslet can slum in this pigeon spooge, so can Watts. Watts’ appearance is fairly brief in this chapter, but her character figures to be bigger in future installments. In other words, I weep for Watts’ immediate film future.

Tris eventually winds up in the evil grasp of Jeanine (Winslet) again, and she is forced into a simulator that has the film trying to trick the audience into thinking things are really happening. So when Tris is being rescued, or kicking Winslet’s ass, or drinking a Diet Coke, it’s all just a hallucination. The movie spends much of its running time trying to dupe you. I assure you: If you’ve plunked down your green for this cat poo, you’ve already been duped.

One simulation has Tris trying to save her mommy (Ashley Judd, of The Identical and Dolphin Tale 2) from a broken, flying building. We are well aware this simulation isn’t real; after all, it involves a flying building. To say it lacks tension would be an understatement.

Are you noticing the talent I’ve mentioned so far? Woodley, Winslet, Watts (lots of “W” names)—and I haven’t even mentioned the great Miles Teller of Whiplash fame, or Ansel Elgort. Teller and Elgort have both had the privilege of starring with Woodley in much better movies: The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, respectively. I was hoping Teller and Elgort would get in a slap-fight over Woodley’s hand in marriage during their scenes together. It would’ve made no sense, but would’ve provided something resembling a pulse in this picture.

It’s hard to watch a talent like Woodley screech and moan her way through this dialogue. She follows in the footsteps of Kristen Stewart as a talented actress who sold out for a young-adult-fiction film series. Jennifer Lawrence has managed to make the equally ridiculous Hunger Games series watchable, but those movies also have Woody Harrelson in an awesome Kurt Cobain wig, so she has somewhat of an unfair advantage.

Taking a cue from the Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games cash cows, the Divergent series will end by splitting the final novel in the book trilogy, Allegiant, into two films. This means we are only halfway through this cinematic hell ride.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

How in the world did Divergent wind up such a dud?

It’s based on a blockbuster series of teen-targeted novels—and that often means box-office gold nowadays. It has a strong cast, including Kate Winslet, and both Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of The Spectacular Now. It also has a semi-reliable director in Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist).

Yet the film that made it to the screen would be a great over-the-counter solution for insomniacs. Forget Nyquil or those prescriptions for sleeping pills: Divergent will put your ass to sleep.

Woodley stars as Beatrice, a member of a post-apocalyptic society in which people are divided up into factions: Abnegation (The Selfless), Erudite (The Intelligent), Amity (The island where Jaws was set … wait, no, I’m sorry, The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest) and Dauntless (The Brave).

Beatrice is set to become an adult, and part of becoming an adult is being tested for your faction, and then choosing which faction to join. She comes up as a Divergent—in other words, she can’t be classified into a faction—but she tells everybody she’s an Abnegate, like her mom and dad (Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn). She then chooses to join Dauntless instead, because she wants to run around and laugh and climb stuff. Of course, she will have some trouble when she’s found out for what she really is: Unclassifiable!

Winslet shows up as Jeanine, an Erudite with a mysterious whiff of evil. I imagine she’s the Darth Vader of this silly saga. Teller gets what feels like a tacked-on role as Peter, a member of Dauntless who gives Beatrice a hard time. It’s hard to watch these two very talented performers slumming in such stereotypical, unexciting parts.

Does the movie have sad, yearning, doe-eyed romance? You bet it does! Four (Theo James), a high-ranking member of Dauntless, sets his eyes upon Tris (that’s Beatrice; she changes her name to be cooler), and sparks fly. They can’t consummate things just yet, because this is a tween romance, and all tween romances need brooding. Still, they eventually find an excuse to show off their tattoos.

The whole enterprise is missing tension, humor, creativity, originality and focus. It’s a muddled affair that looks downright bad at times. On the plus side, one sequence—in which Tris rides a zip line between abandoned Chicago skyscrapers—actually had me interested. Unfortunately, that sequence is only a few minutes long.

The film lacks any real visual spark. It starts promisingly with a relatively cool flight over a decaying Chicago, but most of the movie involves drab tunnels, dull costuming and bad lighting.

This futuristic world, created by Veronica Roth in her novels, doesn’t feel distinctive. Still, maybe there’s some hope for the Divergent series. (Two more films are to come.) A new director is set to take over for Burger, although that director is the remarkably inconsistent Robert Schwentke, who directed Red, The Time Traveler’s Wife and the miserable R.I.P.D. Still, both the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises got off to false starts before finding their footing. Heck, even Twilight almost got tolerable as it rolled along.

But for now, Divergent gets filed alongside the likes of last year’s The Host: It’s a wannabe tween franchise that lacks teeth, even though there is a good female star in the lead. I feel that Woodley can pull this one out of the fire and make it worthwhile in future installments. I also feel that I never want to see this flat first chapter again, unless I have a really bad cold and need something to knock me out.

Divergent is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks!

However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong.

Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud.

First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber for their funny turn as a couple proudly homeschooling their son. They want their kid to get the full high school experience, so they humiliate him, alienate him, nail him with dodge balls and ultimately try to make out with him. Yes, I laughed hard at this. Movie 43 would’ve been better if it had been 90 minutes with these nuts.

I must also praise Terrence Howard as a black basketball coach who gets fed up with his youngsters being afraid of a bullying white team. Yes, this joke has been done to death, but Howard sells it big-time. This is one of the sketches that ended badly, but not before Howard had me laughing out loud.

Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott kidnap a foul-mouthed leprechaun (Gerard Butler)—and excessive violence and obscenity ensue. Real-life couple Anna Faris and Chris Pratt deal with a desire to get pooped upon—yet they somehow make it romantic. Jason Sudeikis gives us a commentary on Kristen Bell's bush. There are some laughs to be had in these uneven segments.

Hugh Jackman (another current Oscar nominee) shows up for a blind date with Kate Winslet sporting testicles on his neck. This would be the first time in movie history where an Oscar nominee, mere weeks away from hearing whether he has won the golden boy, appears onscreen with hairy balls protruding from his neck. I’m thinking that this moment in movie history will cost Mr. Jackman a few votes. It’s also not funny.

Another sketch (directed by Elizabeth Banks) features Chloë Moretz and her Kick-Ass co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse. It has, not surprisingly, a menstruation theme: Moretz gets her first period after her first kiss, and two brothers spaz out until their dad (Patrick Warburton) comes home—and doesn’t help the situation. Another dud.

Even worse would be Elizabeth Banks starring in a post-credits segment that has her getting peed on by a masturbating/animated cat. And even worse would be a truth-or-dare sketch in which Oscar-winner Halle Berry makes guacamole with surgically enhanced breasts. Far worse would be a skit in which Emma Stone and Kieran Culkin talk dirty at a supermarket, unwittingly broadcasting over the PA system.

Worst of all would be Richard Gere as an executive confused at the notion that young boys are trying to have sex with the iBabe, an MP3 player that looks like a supermodel but has a nasty, member-mangling exhaust fan in its nether regions.

The bad far outweighs the good, and that’s what makes Movie 43 a loser. I dare Hugh Jackman to wear his scrotum neck on the Oscar red carpet.

Movie 43 is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews