Sun, 23 Oct 2016 04:50:05 UTJust like real life, and sometimes just as boring, Oct. 21, Datebook, E4 The photo caption accompanying the review of the movie “Certain Women” misidentified the actress. She is Michelle Williams, who plays a woman who wants to build a sandstone wall at her home.
Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:18:40 UTThe 2012 film “Jack Reacher” didn’t seem like the beginning of anything, but more like a mediocre one-off, something that Tom Cruise was trying out that didn’t quite succeed. The movie is based on “Never Go Back,” Lee Child’s 18th novel featuring Reacher, a huge and relentless ex-military officer, now living the life of a drifter. Edward Zwick (“Glory”) directed, and he also co-wrote the script, in collaboration with Richard Wenk (“The Equalizer”) and Marshall Herskovitz (“Love and Other Drugs,” “The Last Samurai”). The film tops this flashy opening with an assured and speedy plunge into story. Reacher heads back to his old military headquarters to meet a major (Cobie Smulders, “How I Met Your Mother”) whom he has become interested in. [...] he soon finds that everyone is against him — local law enforcement, teams of paid assassins and, of course, the entire United States government. Thrown into the mix, and bordering on overkill, Reacher also has to protect a teenage girl who might very well be his own daughter. Samantha (Danika Yarosh) is loud and feral, seemingly raised by wolves, and she definitely wins the prize for Most Annoying Action Movie Daughter Since Maggie Grace in “Taken.” [...] that’s both satisfying and compelling, they seem evenly matched. [...] are the advantages of getting a quality director to work in the action genre. If characters are running from bad guys, it really does help to know who those characters are, to have a sense of their interaction, and to worry about their safety. Reacher never smiles, so right off that’s one weapon in the Cruise arsenal taken off the table.
Thu, 13 Oct 2016 19:27:15 UTMuch of it is enjoyable and has the aura of a superior action film, but it collapses into a laughable wreck and ultimately reveals itself as a mild waste of two hours. If “The Accountant” is to be remembered for anything, it’s for placing a high-functioning autistic person at the center of an action movie. He’s also a killing machine, a master of martial arts and an expert in a variety of weapons. [...] for reasons never quite explained, he chooses to make his money as an accountant for a variety of criminal organizations. Either the accountant will emerge as fascinating and complex, or he will be revealed as a ludicrous construct, a jumble of various screenwriting impulses rolled into one incongruous pile of pointlessness. The good news is that the bad news is delayed, so that if you see the movie, you may spend an hour wondering why the reviews were so lousy. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, spent most of his career playing guys like this, who wreaked destruction and exuded emotional disconnection; and the same could sometimes be said for Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, Jason Statham, Mel Gibson and even Clint Eastwood. In one, the accountant is hired by a prosthetic manufacturer (John Lithgow) to look into the company’s books. The casting of the tiny Kendrick opposite the tall and broad-shouldered Affleck is a nice touch that emphasizes the unusualness of their connection. Viewers may end up confused as to whether “The Accountant” is a comedy or a drama, but it’s really neither.
Thu, 6 Oct 2016 21:34:25 UTSex and sexual possibility are in the air, but so are betrayal, melancholy and loss — and hovering out there, too, a hint of real twistedness. [...] the wellspring of all this flailing human behavior, all these pathetic attempts to connect, is longing. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is a complete mess, a blackout drunk and an emotional wreck, but the one thing she has left is a grand romantic yearning. [...] the woman, Megan — played by Haley Bennett, a commanding presence — is nothing but confused and angry, with a tragic past and an unsettled present. The movie’s trio of turbulent women is completed by Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), who is married to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). “The Girl on the Train” may be too idiosyncratic and moody to get the credit it deserves, but if there’s any justice, Blunt should be up for awards consideration at the end of the year. [...] Ferguson continues to demonstrate a capacity to transform entirely for each role (“Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation,” “Florence Foster Jenkins”) and be memorable and arresting each time. It’s exciting because it shows that it’s possible, despite the odds, for a distinctive screenwriter to express herself consistently and dominate a film. Mick LaSalle is The San Francisco Chronicle’s movie critic.
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 21:12:46 UT“Deepwater Horizon” is a dramatic feature about the oil rig explosion in April 2010, which created an ecological calamity in the Gulf of Mexico. The film doesn’t deal with the 87 days it took to finally plug the hole in the sea floor, nor with the colossal damage to wildlife, property and the local economies. The watery setting, the page from recent history and the compressed time frame might lead audiences to expect something like “Captain Phillips.” [...] unlike that earlier film, “Deepwater Horizon” doesn’t engage the emotions in an urgent way. We see lots of action, but the handheld camera, quick cutting and reliance on close-ups make it difficult to see how the action relates to the overall picture. Deepwater Horizon was an oil rig that floated on the water and was available for lease by oil companies. The heroes of the film are the men who work the rig and have respect for the natural forces they’re trying to tap and contain. Most of their story is told through the eyes of Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), the rig’s chief electronics technician, who is shown on the morning of the disaster canoodling with his wife (Kate Hudson) and helping his daughter with her homework. The villains are the BP executives who think they can cut costs and save time by stinting on safety procedures, because they either don’t care about their workers or really don’t understand the risks. The corporate culture of BP is embodied by an appropriately smug and impassive John Malkovich, who keeps smiling and telling the boss of the Deepwater Horizon (Kurt Russell) not to worry, that everything is fine.
Thu, 29 Sep 2016 20:08:35 UT‘Masterminds’ an average movie with exceptional comic acting Here’s a case of a pleasing average movie. A comedy based on the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina, “Masterminds” tells the story of a motley gang that robbed a security company of $17 million in cash, the biggest heist in American history. On the downside, the movie is something of a mishmash of tones, and the end brings no particular sense of arrival. [...] the movie has one great, redeeming quality, which is its comic acting. They are completely in their roles, completely invested in the seriousness and truth of their characters’ thoughts and emotions, but they are aware, as if watching from the tiniest of distances, that they are playing ridiculous people. There’s something strangely appealing about a character who wants the world and doesn’t know how pathetic he is — maybe because we all secretly wonder if we’re in the same boat and just don’t know it. Jason Sudeikis shows up as a perverted hit man, and he does a fine job of being creepy, but the character itself is discordant and strains at the boundaries of the comedy. [...] director Jared Hess, either through his own invention or an intelligent willingness to let his actors run with it, finds little ways to lift almost every scene.
Thu, 22 Sep 2016 19:22:50 UT“Best Fake Friends” is plenty fake, all the way down to the fake cleavages that the fake best friends keep bragging about when they aren’t speaking fake dialogue in a movie that is so fake that the only real thing about it is the $13 you wish you could get back from the box office when it’s over. “Best Fake Friends” is the tale of Joy (Lauren Bowles), a goody-goody wife who moves with her family to Portland and cannot seem to fit in until she starts hanging out with the bad girls down the street. Joy’s temporary descent into trashy behavior is accompanied by endless shots of butts and boobs. There are so many shots of butts and boobs that a viewer gets tired of looking at butts and boobs, which is some sort of cinematic accomplishment. Joy’s decision to turn her back on her nice-guy husband, factory-issued kids and what passes for her common sense is fakest of all. Joy’s sudden regaining of said common sense, jammed in just before closing credits when somebody decided the viewing public had been subjected to enough bodices, isn’t remotely credible. In that category, one might include the director (Paul Kampf), the screenwriters (Christi Sperry and Sarah Hehman) and the rest of the responsible parties.
Tue, 13 Sep 2016 18:00:00 UTThe 1999 movie was released at the end of an era, in a pre-smartphone, pre-social media, pre-viral and less cynical world — when a clever marketer could convince people for weeks that a fake thing might be real. The low-budget “found footage” horror film benefited from a population that still wondered whether that kid in the Life cereal ad died by eating Pop Rocks and Coke, and gave the latest televised alien autopsy the benefit of the doubt. Relatability is difficult with the new characters, starting with James Donahue (James Allen McCune), brother of Heather Donahue, the most sympathetic victim from the first movie. Adam Wingard, the excellent young director of “The Guest” and contributor to the “V/H/S” movies, has trouble building a foundation but fares better once the weirdness starts happening. Simon Barrett’s script loosely mirrors the first film, with some nods to technology (there’s some drone-related horror) and new directions. Wingard clearly appreciates the sound design in the first film, and once again the “Blair Witch” audio surprises are just as important as the visuals. [...] each smart technical filmmaking move is accompanied by a dumb move by a central character onscreen, and with each scene, the rooting interest wanes a little.
Wed, 31 Aug 2016 19:00:00 UTFor this year’s Chronicle fall movie preview, we looked at all the available trailers for film releases between now until Nov. 11, weighed the advance buzz, considered past history and picked the 11 films that have the most promise. “The Light Between Oceans” came out on Friday, Sept. 2, just missing our early cutoff. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and other movies opening on Nov. 19 or later will be included in our holiday movie preview. Clint Eastwood directs the story of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, his inspiring job of landing a disabled jet on the Hudson River, and the subsequent accusations and attacks on his reputation. (We honestly don’t remember hearing a word of negativity directed toward the man, but it’s a movie.) This seems like another score for Tom Hanks’ agent — finding a character that has synergy with the actor’s likable/upstanding/conflicted everyman persona. Money Never Sleeps, taking detours (“Savages”) or just plain disappearing in recent years. “Snowden” rockets him back to his 1990s “JFK”/“Nixon” fighting weight. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the traitor/patriot who leaked classified documents to the news media. Antoine Fuqua is taking the “Silverado”-“Young Guns” approach, compensating for the modern moviegoers’ lack of interest in Westerns by ramping up the wisecracks and use of gunpowder. The cast is a who’s who of guys you’d want to have a beer with, including Chris Pratt as a gambler, Ethan Hawke as a sharpshooter, Vincent D’Onofrio as a tracker and Denzel Washington, who would also be great as Hannibal in an “A-Team” remake of a remake. The trailer looks excellent — appropriately creepy and unpredictable and wondrous — featuring supernatural outcast children and a new child who must save them. Eva Green is their headmistress, and Terence Stamp and Judi Dench add some good vibes to the cast, while the visual effects look seamless in service of the story. The Nat Turner-led slave rebellion of 1831 is covered in this biopic, which received very positive reviews coming out of Sundance. Made with a $10 million budget, the film has a fantastic cast of underrated actors, including Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller and Aja Naomi King. The resurrection of Jackie Earle Haley continues — after disappearing for most of the 1990s, he’s now been nominated for an Oscar in “Little Children,” was the best thing in “Watchmen” and has a small part here. Emily Blunt looks alternately forlorn and terrified as a woman who witnesses a horrible crime — or did she? — in this suburban murder mystery. Blunt makes bad movies better (“The Wolfman”), is the usually best thing about decent movies (“Edge of Tomorrow”) and deserves more really good movies (“Looper”). The trailers make it look like this year’s “Gone Girl” — a twisting, outrageous, sexually complicated thriller. Affleck is the titular accountant, who is on the spectrum, in love and embroiled in a dangerous game with criminals and the military. Gavin O’Connor, who made the underrated mixed martial arts film “Warrior,” is the director. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, a surgeon who gets in a car accident, loses function in his hands, and gains the ability to unleash the special effects from Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Like the cast of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” this Marvel Comics character runs in different circles from Iron Man, Captain America and the X-Men — which will hopefully allow the comic to adopt its own look and vibe without the Falcon or Colossus appearing for no good reason. Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter,” “Midnight Special”) is a wonderful choice to bring something special to the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial married couple in the 1950s and 1[...]
Wed, 24 Aug 2016 22:30:21 UTBased on a memoir by Amos Oz and directed by and starring Natalie Portman, this films deals with a family in Israel, soon after its founding in 1948. Roberto Duran might have said “no más” in his bout against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, but this movie may leave us begging for more as Edgar Ramirez plays the famed Panamanian boxer. Ixcanul: A young girl’s parents have arranged a marriage for her on an active volcano in Guatemala. What happens when a 13-year-old American boy and his soccer coach father (Craig Robinson) find themselves adapting to life in Germany. Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) just can’t escape his murderous past when his enemy (Ben Foster, who just got good reviews for his role in “Hell and High Water”) kidnaps his girlfriend (Jessica Alba). Some are comparing this movie about the fictional first meeting and date of Michelle and Barack Obama to Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise.” Currently on Germany’s short list for submission to the Academy Awards for best foreign film.
Fri, 19 Aug 2016 04:01:00 UTLew Wallace’s 1880 novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” one of the 19th century’s biggest best-sellers, has been the basis for two classic Hollywood films. There was Fred Niblo’s 1925 version, starring Ramon Novarro, and the one everyone knows, the William Wyler version from 1959, with Charlton Heston in the title role. At the start of the film, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) is a wealthy Jewish prince, living in splendor in Roman-occupied Judea. In the novel and in the previous movies, a chance accident upends his life: A roof tile falls from his balcony and almost hits a Roman official. [...] a Jewish radical shows up out of nowhere and decides to use Ben-Hur’s balcony as though it were the Texas School Book Depository. There’s no mystery about it, no feeling of chance or fate, nothing to advance, even in a small way, a sense of magic or destiny. In place of the story’s spiritual element, the movie concentrates on Judah’s relationship with his childhood friend, Messala, only this time Messala is his brother, adopted by the Ben-Hur family. Add in the fact that Toby Kebbell is a much more forceful screen presence than Jack Huston, who plays Judah as almost guileless, and one really has to wonder about the movie’s strategy. Specifically, it has Morgan Freeman off to the side — wigged within an inch of his life as a wealthy African merchant — shouting instructions to Ben-Hur as he rides by. [...] though I wouldn’t swear to it, the movie seems to leave an impression that Ben-Hur actually hears him, over the roar of the crowd and the sound of galloping horses. Filmmakers don’t have to be religious, but they really should fake it if they’re going to make a movie like this. In another context, Ben-Hur’s suffering would be redemptive and ennobled by its being part of some master plan for the universe.
Mon, 15 Aug 2016 17:19:08 UTAt 13 years of age, most teenage boys are trying to beat Web filtering software or break into their parents’ liquor cabinet. The former wrote “Drillbit Taylor,” a somewhat forgettable teenage comedy, in 2007, while the latter collaborated with Jay Baruchel on “Goon,” a 2012 hockey movie that Chronicle reviewer Mick LaSalle called “vulgar like you wouldn’t believe … (but) often, it’s hilarious.” “Besides their marriages, they are the closest relationships in each other’s lives,” actor and “Sausage Party” co-star Jonah Hill told the Guardian in 2013. [...] those films they’ve written have run the gamut of genres, from action films (“Pineapple Express”) to sci-fi adventures (“The Watch”) and comic book adaptations (“The Green Hornet”). Expand that universe to films on which they’ve worked together as producers, and it includes a dramedy (“50/50”) and, of course, a film about a dictator that maybe-sorta-almost brought down a major movie studio (“The Interview”). “Sausage Party” moves them into animation, with a “not safe for Pixar” script and tone. [...] for a pair best known for their R-rated sensibility and Rogen’s reputation for prodigious marijuana smoking (writer-director Kevin Smith has credited Rogen for introducing him to the habit), their schedule gives away a tremendous work ethic. While promoting “Sausage Party,” they’re currently executive-producing “Preacher,” a television series based on the comic of the same name, on AMC, and working on a documentary based on the book, “Console Wars.”
Thu, 11 Aug 2016 21:15:44 UTMix “A People’s History of the United States” with “Caligula,” a stoner comedy and a slasher flick — then animate the results — and you’ve got the essence of the thing. In the extremely adult animated romp by the makers of “This Is the End,” “Neighbors” and others (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg et al), the anthropomorphized contents of a grocery store’s shelves eagerly await their chance to be taken by the gods to the Great Beyond. For hot dog Frank (voice of Rogen) and his devoted bun girlfriend, Brenda (Kristen Wiig), there could be no happier fate than ascending together. Things go awry, however, when an errantly purchased jar of mustard (Danny McBride) returns with knowledge of the terrible truth: The gods are monsters, and the Great Beyond is nothing more than torture that would make Eli Roth blanch, followed by consumption by humans. Except that this is a super-duper-R-rated comedy with ripping, raw language, violence against food, and sexual content that makes the puppet liaisons in Team America: The script is jammed with puns and sly asides (including at least one dig at Pixar) — and big ideas. [...] a stubborn lavash (David Krumholtz) expects to be greeted in the Great Beyond by 77 bottles of extra-virgin olive oil. [...] what might prove the often hilarious and startlingly intelligent film’s greatest bar to blockbuster status is the very thing that sets it apart: its ideas.
Thu, 4 Aug 2016 20:57:42 UTIf you know someone you really can’t stand — not someone you dislike, not someone who rubs you the wrong way, but someone you really loathe and detest — send that person a ticket for “Suicide Squad.” The latest superhero consortium movie, this one from DC Comics, does something new, but it’s a very bad something new, something that distances the audience from a movie that was always going to be horrible but is now even worse. The movie blares pop songs on the soundtrack, lyrics included, not just during the interludes between scenes, but actually during the scenes. It is an awful, overdone and overladen jumble, full of flashbacks and flash forwards and lots of scenes in which it’s unclear which character is doing what or why it might matter. [...] here’s the surprising thing. (I’d mention an action hack now, for reference, but I don’t think people should get bad reviews when they’re minding their own business.) No, this movie was written and directed by David Ayer, the man who wrote “Training Day” and wrote and directed the terrific war movie “Fury” just a couple of years ago. It takes place in Gotham City, at a time when Superman and Batman are already dead, and the authorities — embodied by an intelligence officer played by Viola Davis — are concerned about two things: that a being as powerful as Superman, but evil, might come and destroy the Earth. The first thing you need to know is that, at the point that the intelligence officer and her assistant (Joel Kinnaman) start naming the members of this “Suicide Squad” team, the plot comes to a full stop for a series of multiple digressions as each character is introduced. The last half hour is a video game, just characters shooting at black shapes, on the way to doing battle against some evil queen (Cara Delevingne), as the drum machines and the horns and the soaring strings underscore everything. The experience of “Suicide Squad” is like watching other people play video games — except they’re not really playing them, and there’s not much suspense about who will win.
Thu, 28 Jul 2016 19:02:55 UTTry to do both, and you end up with a flailing, unfunny wreck, like the mix of contradictory and self-defeating impulses that we find here. [...] in a speech addressing the PTA, Mila Kunis, as a mother of two, stands at the podium and drops f-bombs on the gathering, as — believe it or not — treacly music on the soundtrack lets us know that she is expressing lovely sentiments. Perhaps this single line of dialogue sums up “Bad Moms” best, as spoken by Kathryn Hahn as a mom about having kids: “I know we make fun of them, but f—, I love them so much.” Writer-directors Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, who wrote “The Hangover,” find out that, once you involve children, you can’t really do a female version of “The Hangover,” at least not without being a lot more daring than they were prepared to be. In a glancing way, “Bad Moms” touches on a truth of modern parenting, that kids today seem to have every hour filled, with soccer practice and music and language lessons. Gone are the days when kids would come home and watch “F Troop” reruns on television, and the movie suggests that those may have been better times. Oona Lawrence gives a good child performance as Amy’s 12-year-old daughter, a completely wired nervous wreck already worrying about getting into an Ivy League college. “Bad Moms” has the aura of something written by committee, with wild changes of tone every five minutes and with frequent and truly awful musical interludes piecing the disparate scenes together. Kunis, Hahn and Kristen Bell form the movie’s trio, and pry two or three laughs out of the script, but that amounts only to one each.