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Thu08222019

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

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons are a winning, inspiring father-daughter team in Hearts Beat Loud, a musically infused cinematic gem that will stand as one of this summer’s under-the-radar greats.

Frank (Offerman), a record-store owner (he sells mostly vinyl) with a gruff attitude, is dealing with tough economic times—which is not good, considering his daughter, Sam (Clemons), is about to leave for medical school. He informs his landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette, having a great year), that the store will be closing. Frank finds himself at a sort of spiritual crossroads.

He takes solace in his mandatory musical jam sessions with his kid. Both of them are decent-enough musicians; in fact, Sam is actually pretty damn good. She has a knack for songwriting but doubts her talents. Frank pushes her to create, marvels in what she’s able to come up with, and suggests they form a real band.

Sam pushes back, wanting to focus on the whole becoming-a-doctor thing, but Frank persists, ultimately uploading one of their demos to Spotify. He hears the song in a coffee shop one morning—and it’s a great moment. As a testament to how the face of the music industry has changed, an artist hears his music streaming on somebody’s “mix” rather than on the radio in his car. The film is somewhat of an endorsement for Spotify and vinyl.

None of this would work if the music stunk. It doesn’t—it’s good. Offerman and Clemons combine for some sweet music-making, including the film’s title track, one that is repeated often in the movie. Offerman is no Hendrix, but he handles his guitar parts with enough finesse to make you think he’s been playing for a long time, while Clemons is a natural wonder with a great voice.

It must also be said that the people in this movie have great musical taste. The soundtrack and the characters reference a who’s-who of great artists, including Ween, Animal Collective, Jeff Tweedy, Spoon and Mitski. Hearts Beat Loud is the best music-store movie since High Fidelity.

Even more inspiring than the music is a love story between Sam and new-friend Rose (American Honey’s Sasha Lane). Their relationship’s depiction surprises in that it’s allowed to happen without any discussion—it’s just two people falling in love. The film’s other love story—the bond between father and daughter and their musical adventure—is equally lovely.

Offerman, a successful comedic actor, is proving he’s also a dramatic real deal. He had a good co-starring role as a stoner in The Hero, last year’s ode to actor Sam Elliott. He also killed it as one of the McDonald brothers in The Founder. This time out, he has a starring role that allows him to show all kinds of range. The final look he gives his daughter in this movie is priceless.

As the movie’s true heart, Clemons boasts a beautiful singing voice to go with her solid acting chops. She and Offerman are strong enough here to overcome the few moments when director and co-writer Brett Haley (who also directed Offerman in The Hero) drifts into obvious territory. The material is never bad, but there are moments that could’ve been hokey if it weren’t for Clemons and Offerman making them better.

Collette, who deserves awards consideration for her barn-burning work in Hereditary, lends a lot to the film in her supporting role, including a karaoke moment that reminds us that she can sing. Also: Let it be said that it’s always great when a production can coax Ted Danson into playing a bartender.

So, yep, Hearts Beat Loud has real music, real love, and Sam Malone slinging drinks—and as a result, it’s a resounding success. If Offerman and Clemons don’t win you over here, you are a super-grouch.

Hearts Beat Loud is now playing at the Palm Desert 10 Cinemas (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-340-0033).

Published in Reviews

A family gets its proverbial ass viciously kicked in Hereditary, writer-director Ari Aster’s more-than-impressive feature debut. This is a horror movie that will bruise your brain, make your blood run cold, and stay in your system well after you’ve left the theater.

Annie (an incredible Toni Collette) has just lost her controlling, creepy mother. Annie has some control issues of her own, which sometimes manifests itself in her creation of miniature models—often depicting her home life with husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne, doing his best work in years), son Peter (an impressive Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro, who will break your heart). While every member of the family seems to be earnest and decent, they are also dysfunctional—with a capital “D.”

The loss of her mom, the pressure of an upcoming show of her miniatures, and the demands of parenthood have Annie on edge, to the point where she seeks counseling. At a support group for people mourning the recent loss of loved ones, Annie meets Joan (the remarkable Ann Dowd), a surprisingly cheery woman who has recently lost her son.

When tragedy strikes, Annie finds herself leaning on Joan a little more, to the point where she accepts teachings on how to do a séance and communicate with the recently departed. Annie does a couple of rituals at her house, and it all seems innocent enough—until creepy apparitions start appearing, and malevolent spirits start messing things up for Peter, who responds by hitting the bong.

The movie is a ghost story, a demon story and a witch story rolled into one, with elements of The Witch, Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and, yes, The Sixth Sense. (That vibe owes a lot to the presence of Sixth Sense star Collette.) It’s also one of the more powerful depictions of a family falling apart in years, giving this excursion into horror an extra layer of depth.

The creeping dread factor starts early in Hereditary and never lets up. Aster proves to be a master of atmospheric scares, relying less upon jolts and gore, and more upon lingering shots in dark corners where you can sort of make out a ghost staring at you. Everything works up to a frightening puzzler of a finale that might have you initially asking, “WTF?” but eventually thinking, “Oh … that’s some messed-up shit right there.”

Collette is stunning as Annie, a seemingly decent person who reveals a lot of mommy issues as things unfold. Annie isn’t an openly bad person, but as the demons start to manifest, and her mother’s crimes boil to the surface, she becomes an epically bad mom. Collette mixes a quiet, withdrawn demeanor with moments of visceral, outward nastiness. Collette makes every step of this tormented mom’s unfortunate journey mesmerizing.

Wolff, building up a great career with solid turns in Patriots Day, My Friend Dahmer and Jumanji: Welcome to Jungle, gives an incredibly raw, emotionally jarring performance as the son who doubts his mom and craves stability. The destruction of his home life coincides with his transition to manhood, and puberty supremely sucks for this guy. Wolff has moments in this movie when he seems so realistically disturbed that the movie feels like a documentary.

With Hereditary, Aster gives the horror genre the kind of film that will be around for years. It has some images (Does anything suck more than a smiling ghost?) that will haunt your dreams. It also has an enveloping darkness that will leave you perhaps a bit unsettled and on edge.

Hereditary is as unpleasant as they come—and as a horror-movie fan, I say amen to that.

Hereditary is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Horror fans have had a good year: It Follows, We Are Still Here, Bone Tomahawk and Ash vs Evil Dead were all fine entries into the genre.

While director Michael Dougherty’s Krampus isn’t quite up to the level of the aforementioned films, it does do the Christmas-horror genre proud in many ways.

This sucker has a seriously grim attitude that it sticks with until the very end. There will be no happy Christmas message in the land of Krampus, so don’t take this one in if you are looking to get into the holiday spirit. It’s more of a film for somebody who pisses and moans when the Christmas decorations show up at Macy’s before Halloween.

Max (Emjay Anthony) still believes in Christmas and Santa Claus, and he takes a lot of crap from family members as a result. When a bunch of relatives come to his house for Christmas, his cousins taunt him while his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) deal with an annoying aunt and uncle (David Koechner and Allison Tolman). Throw evil Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) into the mix, and Max’s family is in for one lousy yuletide season.

With only his grandmother (Krista Stadler) supporting his Christmas beliefs, Max tears up his letter to Santa and denounces the whole Christmas thing. That’s a bad move, because that torn-up letter goes straight to Krampus the Christmas demon, who is more than happy to screw up Christmas for everybody.

The skies go gray; snow falls in dangerous amounts; and the street on which Max lives gets a visit from sinister Krampus. OK, he’s only sort of sinister; he’s about as sinister as a PG-13 rating will allow. Damn these PG-13 rated horror films! If Krampus has a problem, it’s that the demon can never be too nasty or too scary. Dougherty proves he can get some decent scares with minimal gore, although I could imagine an unrated version featuring some blood spurts. Also, despite the PG-13 rating, the kids in the film are not safe. In fact, the kids have a really, really, really bad time.

Working with a fairly small budget, Dougherty relies mostly on practical effects for Krampus and his nasty little helpers. Save for some impressive-looking CGI featuring Krampus leaping upon rooftops, the monsters are often animatronic or people in costumes—and they look pretty good, all things considered.

This one is classified as a horror-comedy. It’s no laugh riot, but it does benefit from the presence of comedy vets Scott, Koechner and Collette, who get sporadic giggles among the scares. It’s great to have solid actors and actresses around, especially when they have to handle both humor and horror. However, it’s actually Conchata Ferrell who gets the bigger laughs.

Perhaps this film could’ve benefited from a few less attempts at humor, and more of an emphasis on the horror. I wanted this movie to be as nasty as possible, and I feel like it pulled a few punches in favor of humor. If you are going to include humor, it needs to be consistently dark and funny. The laughs in Krampus are mild, at best.

I’ll still mildly recommend Krampus; its bleak ending and overall commitment to sinister things puts it over the top. Dougherty already has a cult hit holiday film to his credit with Trick r’ Treat (2007). Thanks to Krampus, he shall hitherto be known as the Holiday Horror Film Guy.

Krampus is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) directs Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore in Miss You Already, an illness-of-the-week movie that rises above the formula, thanks to great work by the two stars and the men playing their husbands.

Milly (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore) are lifelong friends who have shared many experiences together. Milly marries a rocker (Dominic Cooper), and Jess couples up with a blue-collar worker (Paddy Considine), with both couples looking to start families. Milly has two kids, while Jess tries hard to have a baby. She finally gets pregnant—and at the same time, Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Hardwicke and friends do a good job showing the hardships Milly faces, including chemotherapy and emotional stresses. The proceedings feel real, thanks in large part to a screenplay that isn’t afraid to show human frailties and flaws.

Collette gets the showier role here, and she again displays why she is one of the more underrated actresses out there. Barrymore gives what may be her best performance yet as the best friend who won’t take shit from her pal, even if that pal has cancer. Cooper and Considine deliver dark humor with male characters who are refreshingly honest and goofy.

I’d say this is a Beaches for the new millennium, but that would be an insult. This movie is actually good.

Miss You Already is now playing at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs; 844-462-7342); the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342); and the Cinemas Palme d'Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews