1/28/2015

MILES TELLER & J.K. SIMMONS IN WHIPLASH

2014 rating: ***1/2
When J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, a hard-nosed teacher at a prestigious music conservatory, mentions how jazz is practically dead thanks to "Starbucks Jazz," it’s the one time he really connects with the audience, because it’s true: That genre has been practically done away with, at this point sounding more like a spy flick or game show than the kind of pioneering improvisational genius that took blood, sweat and tears to create, and perfect.

J.K. Simmons
Well it's blood, sweat and one tough tear that Andrew, played by Mills Teller, sheds to make the cut in Fletcher’s band room, an intentionally claustrophobic setting where most of the movie's set. From Simmons we experience screeching commands and furious tantrums reminiscent of cinematic drill sergeants, ranging from Louis Gossett Jr. to Lee Ermy, and his subjects are along for the pulsating, gut-wrenching ride.

While Fletcher’s rants are as politically-incorrect as you can get away with today, and Andrew’s edgy determination brings out a terrific performance (and spot-on drum mimicking) from Teller, WHIPLASH isn't without clichés, like a tacked on love interest and various sideliners, from family members to fellow musicians, catered to make our lead character seem more viable, or something. Meanwhile, no matter how many times the band plays, and the teacher scolds them for getting it wrong, it all sounds... similar. 

But what really puts WHIPLASH over the top is a standoff finale that, in a musical sense, equals if not triumphs any pulsating action movie climax – summing up both student and teacher while the theme becomes clearer than ever.

1/27/2015

JENNIFER LOPEZ IN THE BOY NEXT DOOR

year: 2015 rating: *1/2
Opens with two characters chatting like it's halfway through, and you better pay attention… Jennifer Lopez is married or, separated from a polite, cheating husband and her son is going on a weekend trip with dad… And what's really important is J-Lo’s Claire Peterson will be alone for a few days…

Well that’s all it takes for a perfect looking twenty-year-old named Noah to become more smitten with his neighbor than Glenn Close was with Michael Douglas, or anyone else in the Tryst-to-Stalker Genre…

Playing out like a Straight to Video throwaway, THE BOY NEXT DOOR has every cliché in the book – or in this case, leaflet. Yet it’s a terrific film to laugh at, exhibiting howling camp value as Noah’s transformation from friendly alpha male bonding with Claire’s passive son, flirtatious model undressing near an open window, steamy bedroom partner into a vicious psychopath happens before Lopez has time to blink, or the audience can finish half their popcorn.

And while his attraction is believable since she looks good enough to lust after, the blinding fascination... from email hacking to picture pasting to brake tampering to kidnapping... is completely farfetched, deleting any suspenseful development that could have made BOY a better, more realistic film – but where’s the fun in that? And yes, it is that bad... Thank Goodness!

1/26/2015

LEFTOVER TWOSOME: THE WEDDING RINGER & BLACKHAT

year: 2015 rating: **
THE WEDDING RINGER: Replacing one letter from the Adam Sandler comedy, RINGER is more of a BRIDESMAIDS meets WEDDING CRASHERS combined with (and especially) I LOVE YOU MAN, where a guy with no male friends puts out an ad for his Best Man...

Which is the same exact plot except the RINGER, Jimmy, played by Kevin Hart, has his own underground Best Man For Hire business with no strings attached: his job is to give a picture perfect toast after gathering a row of groomsmen, in this case all seven.

2015 rating: *
Other than to make his fiancé and her jerky parents happy, there’s no motivation or urgency for Josh Gad’s Doug Harris to go through this elaborate and far too complicated ruse – the entire premise is built on practically nothing at all. This makes for plenty of HANGOVER style shenanigans highlighted by a "bromance" between the two mismatched leads: their relatively thoughtful conversations are the best thing going, allowing Gad to actually act and Kevin Hart to finally stop talking in his rapid fire banter, seeming like a frantic imitation of a dozen funnier comics that gets tiresome, quick.

BLACKHAT: The fast-paced special effects in the introduction takes us zipping around inside a computer: without being used as a canvas for opening credits, we're catapulted into a world of high end technology.

Chris Hemsworth is a rogue hacker given a prison furlough to find another hacker who caused the destruction of a Chinese nuclear plant. In going beneath his larger than life Marvel persona, he plays a mumbling grouch with more brooding restraint that actual power while the film itself, balancing dull espionage with shaky action sequences, is a lot more interesting inside the computer than outside.

1/25/2015

FIRST CAUGHT-ON-CABLE TRIO OF NUMBER TWOS: COPS & APES

1987 rating: ***
BEVERLY HILLS COP 2: First sequel to Martin Brest's popular BEVERLY HILLS COP has Axel Foley returning to the plush So Cal playground from his gritty Detroit mainline. DRIVE: Again it’s personal, although not as severe… Ronny Cox’s Beverly Hills police chief is shot and almost killed by a gang of ruthless thugs who, working from a private gun club, cause high stake havoc. HIGHS: Wherein the first movie relied on Murphy’s resilient wit to get him in and out of situations by pretending to be someone else (like Chevy Chase in the following year’s FLETCH, also scored by Harold Faltermeyer), this time Axel is, for the most part, an intense rogue. Teamed with director Tony Scott, BEVERLY HILLS COP GUN is really an action flick with explosions and gunfights over laughs. And the villains are worthy to be sought and killed, including an Amazon woman and two surly creeps. LOWS: Several parts attempt humor but they’re simply… not that funny. Axel’s ruses are too complicated and farfetched. Judge Reinhold’s transition from the naïve Billy Rosewood into a gun freak infatuated with Rambo... Stallone was original cast in the first movie... is  downright awkward. Older grouchy partner John Ashton doesn’t have much to do this time but react to an extremely dated joke about dressing like Gerald Ford. And Paul Reiser's sarcastic Detroit detective has way too much screen time. CLOSURE: This second of three Axel Foley flicks works pretty well thanks to Tony Scott’s edgy high octane makeover. Perhaps this is what the Stallone BEVERLY HILLS COP would have been more like.

1993 rating: **
ANOTHER STAKOUT: Follow-up to John Badham’s STAKEOUT where Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez played Seattle cops who specialize in… take a wild guess. Rosie O’Donnell is added to the cast, giving the boys a partner who views their quirks that the audience enjoyed the first time around, and now we get everything spoon fed through her eyes. DRIVE: Richard and Rosie pose as a married couple with a mustache-less Emilio as their son, holed up in a mountain home next door to marrieds Dennis Farina and Marcia Strassman, who might know something about an escaped witness. HIGHS: This witness, played by RAGING BULL starlet Cathy Moriarty, is part of a suspenseful prologue seeming part of something more… serious, like the first film. We're introduced to worthy villain Miguel Ferrer... both intense characters are shown sporadically, resulting in a standard chase at the end where Dreyfuss becomes action hero and Badham, returned as director, is more in his element. LOWS: Too many to count, but the trio actually has decent chemistry despite the forced humor, which is not altogether Rosie’s fault… Richard Dreyfuss seems like he’s playing silly for a kindergarten class at times, and Estevez often acts like he’s just learned how. Meanwhile, Rosie tries too hard to compete with the boys – this can be said for both the actress and character. And Madeline Stowe literally phones in her useless appearances. CLOSURE: Plays out like the TV Movie for a STAKEOUT series, which would have surely been cancelled after this "pilot episode."  

1970 rating: *1/2
BENEATH PLANET OF THE APES: The second of five of the original PLANET OF THE APES flicks. DRIVE: The restless gorillas are poised for war against a lurking danger in the Forbidden Zone, where a returning Chuck Heston rides with his sexy Jane in the form of Linda Harrison’s human hottie, Nova. HIGHS: Anytime we center on the restless army led by the nefarious General Urko played by Jeff Corey, and an intense James Franciscus is the new astronaut replacing Heston as new kid in town, and his mission is to find the missing American hero… But he hardly bonds with the friendly peace-seeking chimps (no Roddy McDowell, only Kim Hunter), and the ape’s story is merely peripheral to… LOWS: Possibly the worst antagonists in science-fiction history within an underground compound where a group of mutants worship an atomic bomb, a political agenda worn so brightly on the sleeve it becomes the entire costume, and this is no party. CLOSURE: Thankfully in the third and best outing, ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, the finale of this horrendous sequel is, ala time travel, completely abandoned.  

1/23/2015

JOHNNY DEPP STARRING IN MORTDECAI

2015 rating: *
At this point, after a string of quirky roles, Johnny Depp doesn’t have to try very hard, but sometimes he should try just a little… After all, not everyone is drowned in the Kool Aid: he still has a few of us left to sell.   

Reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau with a dash of Austin Powers, this could be Johnny's revenge for not landing THE THIN MAN… As a British boozing rogue with drowsy one-liners spoken with a put-on accent, he has a muggy expression for every occasion and even overacts while sleeping.

Sporadically injecting KILL BILL style retro kitsch, especially when a fake looking jet flies to and from each plush location, MORTDECAI plays out like an arthouse spy thriller not funny enough for a parody or realistic enough to be taken even half seriously. Involving the frantic hunt for a stolen painting, side characters include Mort's resilient womanizing henchman, an assertive wife and a cop who loves her. And while each scene promises a brisk spurt of delightful madcap energy, we're always derailed into tedious conversations overdosing on witty and clever.  

The best scene takes place at an art auction… everyone finally has purpose and the endless jaunt is nearing a conclusion in what's probably the worst Johnny Depp vehicle to date, making THE LONE RANGER seem like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

1/21/2015

LAWRENCE TIERNEY CINEMA: FEMALE JUNGLE

1955 rating: ***1/2
Iconic tough guy Lawrence Tierney, ten years after his hey-day and with only a handful of roles rolling into the mid-1950's, plays a cop who gets drunk in a bar one night, and escorts a lovely lady to her cab. She's killed and left on the street, and now Tierney's Detective Jack Stevens has to wander around town retracing his steps. Meanwhile we're introduced to more people from the bar including a lovely waitress played by Kathleen Crowley and her husband, unassuming Burt Kaiser (who also wrote, produced and is good actor for being completely unkown), a frustrated cartoonist who draws caricature for very little pay.

Lawrence Tierney
So let the melodrama begin: John Carradine happens by the married couple's apartment to have his picture drawn. After husband and wife argue, she goes to Carradine's mansion where he plays classical music much too loud. And when his own music isn't blaring, the movie soundtrack is... In fact, each time the sinister looking JC takes a step, a foreboding, accusational score pounces forth, screeching out: "He's just GOT TO BE the killer!" Of course with anything that obvious, he might also be a red herring... And so the question remains: who done it and who'll get it next?

Originally and more logically titled THE HANGOVER, befitting Tierney's character and circumstance, FEMALE JUNGLE is part mystery, part Film Noir and lots of pulpy fun. Jayne Mansfield, who graces most of the posters yet isn't in the film but ten minutes, not only steals her scenes but completely owns them. Although throughout the added ingredients that come and go, Tierney, surprisingly subdued here, carries the picture along with Burt Kaiser's frustrated artist, who remains mundane and yet mysterious.

1/18/2015

CAMILLE CODURI DOUBLE FEATURE: NUNS ON THE RUN & KING RALPH

1990 rating: ***1/2
NUNS ON THE RUN: The ex-Beatles dark horse George Harrison’s Handmade Films produced a mixed bag of projects...

Camille at gunpoint
The established cult favorites include MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN and LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL; Terry Gilliam's adventure TIME BANDITS and the underrated melodrama FIVE CORNERS. The bad includes SHANGHAI SURPRISE starring his at-that-time client couple, Sean Penn and Madonna. There's a forgotten lot including Michael Palin comedies A PRIVATE FUNCTION and THE MISSIONARY. And with that list intact, sticking with another Python vet, NUNS ON THE RUN stars Eric Idle and future HARRY POTTER favorite Robbie Coltrane, residing somewhere in-between George's eclectic cienma patchwork...

Camille Coduri
Especially thanks to Camille Coduri as a different kind of ingénue. Not your standard waif like most American actresses, Camille has an adorable smile, voluptuous curves and big sad pouting eyes, melting Eric Idle’s Brian Hope within moments of meeting at the diner where she’s employed…

Hope and Faith
And that’s saying something since Brian has a ton on his mind, including being constantly lectured by stout buddy/partner Robbie Coltrane as Charlie McManus. Both Charlie and Brian are workaday bank robbers who, after a double-cross plan that Faith overhears, wind up with a cliché briefcase of stolen cash, and, sought after by a gang of mobsters genuinely serious and lethal throughout the comedy hijinx, the boys hide out and pose as… you guessed it… NUNS!

Camille Coduri
The ON THE RUN part doesn’t entirely fit the storyline since there isn’t anywhere to go, and the entire film takes place in locations along one particular England street. Kind of a nice mellow atmosphere that relies on keeping up a suspenseful scam liken to the Blake Edwards or Billy Wilder universe, or an episode of THREE'S COMPANY.

Eric & Robbie
The draped duo have to keep the other residents, including a bevy of young hot students, into thinking they’re visiting nuns… a prolonged ruse often stretched beyond limit. And they wind up having to trick Camille’s Faith (her last name is Faith and Brian’s is Hope), although without her glasses she can’t see a lick, providing leeway for the boys.

The only Monty Python style joke is a reoccurring argument about The Holy Trinity, allowing Idle to take part in clever diatribes concerning the baseline of a religion he just doesn’t get. But of the two, Robbie Coltrane really stands out, keeping his own faith intact while lusting after the student/girls who adore him… or rather, her. And the resulting action sequences aren’t too shabby either: Camille becomes the most important cog in a decent comedy vehicle that’s an even better ride the second and third time.

1991 rating: ***
KING RALPH: Once again Camille Corduri spices up what could have been a mediocre comedy film, again set in England, only this one starts out surprisingly dark… When the entire Royal Family (no kids shown) are electrocuted during a outdoor photo session sudden a sudden rainstorm, the only heir – through a random royal tryst with a waitress – is an American wannabe musician named Ralph…

Camille Coduri
Well he is a musician, and severely wants to be a good one, playing a dive lounge in Vegas: Bill Murray combined with Mark Russell and John's own future BLUES BROTHER 1999 character. Soon after the first number, he’s sought out by royal middleman Richard Griffiths, who brings the reluctant loser overseas to Peter O’Toole as Sir Cedric Charles Willingham, eventually becoming a John Gielgud to Ralph’s Arthur (including a fancy bathtub)… But fish outta water Ralph, moved to England to become, you got it, King, just can’t get into the prestigious role…

A busty Camille
That’s Ralph, not Goodman, who dives into the part with zeal and often trying too hard: the actor seems a bit overwhelmed in a leading cinematic role after mostly providing support for others. John's a funny guy but doesn’t have that many good lines to shine with. This allows Peter O’Toole’s droll manner to inject sporadic humor, both defending and representing Britain’s class against the shabby American firebrand, each representing their culture…

Reluctant showgirl
But our buxom centerpiece, Camille Corduri, helps once again: As a stripper who Ralph falls hopelessly in lust – and then love – with, she becomes the apple of his eye, turning him into a better, deeper man in the process... yeah, yeah, and all that Romantic Comedy jazz…

But scenes with Goodman and Corduri surpass cliché and provide the rotund actor a chance to really act (BARTON FINK fans know he’s got more than potential). Meanwhile, Camille's Miranda battles guilt over being hired by antagonist John Hurt to get digs on the new King, allowing her to stretch beyond love interest and, now providing the audience two underdogs worth rooting for, the film rises slightly above the “common man out of his element” mainline, sprinkling some genuine humanity into the mix. Although the last act, when Ralph has to step up and get truly serious, derails the otherwise lightweight ride.
John Goodman's Ralph knighted by the new King ala Peter O'Toole
A proud former stripper/backmailed traitor looks on
A Nice Pair NUNS ON THE RUN and KING RALPH can be found online

1/17/2015

LEFTOVER 2014 REVIEWS: SELMA & THE IMITATION GAME

2014 rating: ***
SELMA: Historical biopic taking us through the fight for equal voting rights – not an easy task in 1965, Alabama. Visually narrated by typed logged accounts from an antagonistic standpoint, we get Southern police readouts of almost every meeting that Martin Luther King Jr. had before the planned march from Selma to Montgomery, describing good people as bad i.e. peaceful protestors as violent agitators...

Yet not all off-the-record conversations are verified and need some factual confirmation. But much like LINCOLN, the movie plays out intentionally sparse and strategic, centering on the race-related political goal with very little distractions or sideline melodrama. Unlike several other projects this year (THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING especially), SELMA doesn't reek of contrived Oscar bait. And with bigwigs like Brad Pitt and featured cameo Oprah Winfrey producing, it has a surprisingly indie baseline.

David Oyelowo as King
In the lead role, David Oyelowo provides a realistic human portrayal of the iconic leader. Whether speaking to his wife alone, his men joined together, or to a large crowd, Oyelowo’s voice is mesmerizing but never overly dramatic or seeming like an imitation. And on the other side of the spectrum are two men, opposite to each other and to King. Yet despite the combined potential, Tom Wilkinson's stubborn President Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth's spiteful Governor George Wallace never stretch beyond grouchy wallpaper. 

There are a few overlong scenes involving characters not very fleshed out. You’ll feel for any human being who gets beaten and/or killed, but tragic violence is even more moving and persuasive when we know the victims beyond their struggle at hand. And that’s the catch: While there needed more attention and interesting dialogue from the people around Martin Luther King Jr. to fulfill the overall cinematic experience, with such a genuine lead performance it didn’t seem necessary to stray from the MLK's presence very long. Also like LINCOLN, this is a one-man show… when it counts the most.

year: 2014 rating: **
THE IMITATION GAME: As the movie begins, a narration warns us to pay attention… A story centering on the guy who, during World War 2, figured out how to fight fire with fire – in this case, break a computer code using another computer (years before computers were everywhere and inside everything) – might seem very complicated… Details matter so you better well listen…

Although THE IMITATION GAME spends very little time with technology, instead centering on mathematician Alan Turing's quirks... He's a young man so brilliantly neurotic and flaky, everyone around has to figure him out as he figures how to break a Nazi code to intercept attacks before they happen, and ultimately win the war.

Sporadic backstory glimpses into Alan’s past are intriguing at first, and then amount to what the entire movie really centers on instead of the WWII cerebral thriller that was promoted: Turing was a homosexual during a time when it was illegal, and his personal struggle trumps the important strategy we were poised to experience…

The computer Alan creates and tortures himself over is, halfway through, suddenly built and ready to go. Meanwhile, his teammates, including a dashing womanizer and a beautiful crossword puzzler (Keira Knightly), seem more interested in what Turing has to hide than defeating the Nazis. And while all performances are capable enough, GAME would make for a much better documentary: centering more on historical facts than factual distractions.

1/16/2015

CLINT EASTWOOD DIRECTS BRADLEY COOPER IN AMERICAN SNIPER

2014 rating: **1/2
Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the AMERICAN SNIPER who was a deadeye on the battlefield and a legend even before his tragic and bizarre murder. In Iraq, he had well over a hundred reported kills; his skills as a sniper are the best aspects as far as direction goes...

Clint Eastwood brings us up close and personal into the hidden nooks where Kyle scopes each target. Unfortunately, these scenes merely bookend an assortment of hectic raids within dilapidated desert towns while, back home between tours, we get peripheral glances into a budding family life.  

AMERICAN SNIPER doesn’t center on Kyle’s intense patriotism except a few blurted words sometimes countered by disgruntled soldiers or his wife. This hinders a potentially intriguing performance by Cooper, who seems too comfortable: There are times where we almost catch the glimpse of a tortured soul while more light is shed on his noticeable guilt, either shooting or aiming at human targets, especially children, and the sniper-at-work suspense is edgy and palpable. But Clint Eastwood doesn’t completely allow us inside the man like he did those hidden coves where the harsh yet necessary work is done: keeping Bradley Cooper from opening up and letting loose like we know he can. 

1/12/2015

GROUNCHY GROWNUP REVIEW OF INTO THE WOODS

2014 rating: **
In any musical, the songs should be unique, setting apart each sequence while moving the story along instead of, in this particular case, every tune sounding so similar, it's like each character were taking a piece of the same thread, tying it around the same tree, over and over again… and again and again… like a scratched record... Or fingernails on a chalkboard.

An hour feels like three, but INTO THE WOODS isn’t without artistic and creative value. Whereas TITANIC added unknown characters into a known (true) story, here we have a common baker and his wife intertwined within a handful of fairy tails including Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and of course, Little Red Riding Hood… And with the promotion of Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf, you would think he was more important – but JD's a tiny shriek of a howl compared to the other players, all lost within a busy maze that is sometimes entertaining and other times, just plain redundant.

A Johnny Depp Cameo
The funniest number has our two handsome studs, Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince, outdoing each other's sorrow and rejection, providing genuinely witty satire and giving the characters a tongue and cheek platform. At certain moments throughout, right when the movie gets humorous the characters take themselves too seriously, and vice versa. Yet Chris Pine in general seems to realize an important element: this is a parody liken to THE PRINCESS BRIDE… And here we catch the tail end of each famous tale: For example, Cinderella’s dance with the prince and Jack’s adventures in the clouds are spoken of and dealt with afterwards, which can be frustrating... It feels like we're missing all the good parts.

Meryl Streep plays the Witch who cursed the Baker’s wife, sending the couple on a scavenger hunt (also the main plot) to retrieve one item from each story including Red Riding Hood’s Red Hood, Jack’s cow and Cinderella’s slipper. Streep, who gets nominated on an annual basis, feels like a special guest star; her input is nothing special, really. The two most talented performers are the youngest: Jack and Little Red were probably hired for their voices, both obvious "ringers" to legitimize this patchwork musical that occasionally breaks into dialogue.

1/11/2015

BYE BYE MR AMERICAN PIZZA GUY: TAYLOR NEGRON DELIVERED

Taylor Negron with Ray Walston in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Some celebrity deaths creep up, hit you in a sad way, out of the blue, bringing up a tinge of nostalgia and, in this case, a related sense of workplace experience: As a former pizza delivery guy, it can be personally said that Taylor Negron, who died recently, turned in a memorable and utterly realistic depiction in perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in a movie full of iconic scenes, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, using two expressions summing up the existence of anyone who ever delivered pizza: annoyed and impatient, but ever so subtle. 

For bigger roles you can see Taylor as a villain in THE LAST BOY SCOUT; a struggling comic doing a terrific Iranian carpet salesman imitation in PUNCHLINE; a smitten med student in YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE; the frustrated husband of FAST TIMES ingenue Jennifer Jason Leigh in EASY MONEY; an irate mailman in BETTER OFF DEAD; and he may not want to be remembered for the abysmal NOTHING BUT TROUBLE starring Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and John Candy, but Taylor was actually pretty good in it... As usual.
Taylor with Sean Penn; a BETTER OFF DEAD actress; and his EASY MONEY wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh
REST IN PEACE TAYLOR NEGRON 1957-2015

1/10/2015

LIAM NEESON IN TAKEN 3 AKA TAK3N

2014 rating: ***
Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills has gone through the ringer twice already, and more than earned the respect of his daughter and wife… You’d think. But now, buying Maggie Grace’s Kim the wrong birthday gift and turned down for a date with his ex, it seems that life goes on.

Liam Neeson
After a melodramatic prologue liken to a nighttime soap, things go bad once again. Which is good for the audience only this time, no one is TAKEN, at first. Actually, this should be called MISTAKEN as our hero, an ex CIA operative with more tricks than Houdini, is falsely accused of murdering… well… let’s just say Famke Janssen won’t be in the next installment.

Set entirely in America, the plot involves Mills evading and escaping and evading cops so vapid they should be Keystone. And while Forest Whitaker’s Detective Franck Dotzler is an exception, no one can keep up with a guy who headlines his own popular action franchise. 

TAKEN 3 is a decent programmer maintaining a nice steady beat. Although when the core villain gets revealed, the climax is so prolonged you’ll wish our hero had more things to figure out before the title (and turnout) becomes all-too-predictably literal. 

1/09/2015

PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON DIRECTS INHERENT VICE

2015 rating: *
Judging by appearances alone, INHERENT VICE has already been compared to THE BIG LEBOWSKI since our scruffy hippie hero is… well… a scruffy hippie hero, like Jeff Bridges as The Dude. But the real similarity is both channel Film Noir where reluctant underdogs become entangled in an eclectic web of deceit, beautiful women, red herrings and more last names than a phone book…

And while LEBOWSKI centered on the product of the 1960’s lost in the 1990's, INHERENT VICE takes us to that actual magical place: a colorful era where idealistic L.A. druggies proudly contrast from the straight-laced necktie jerks, who, in this particular case, are all more crooked than Richard Nixon himself (numerously mentioned along with The Manson Family, Paranoia, Blacklisting and a napsack of other counter-culture clichés).

Joaquin Phoenix
The problem with VICE isn’t the abundance of characters spouting endless monologs within dull interior locations, but our main man, Joaquin Phoenix, whose Larry "Doc" Sportello doesn’t seem established enough to be taken seriously as an investigator of any sort, or a doctor or… Whatever the hell he's supposed to be just isn't clear. 

With Josh Brolin
Phoenix sleepwalks through the role without humor, pathos or legitimate world-weary dynamic while his given-task weaves in so many twists and turns, there’s no palpable destination. Being misled through a foggy treadmill maze is the staple of any gumshoe flick, but a light at the end of the tunnel, or a few sparks along the way, keeps the viewer intrigued, enlightened, and awake. Meanwhile, epic art house director Paul Thomas Anderson seems even more absent than his otherwise talented MASTER star. Even PT's awful projects (subjective to each viewer) have ambition.

The best character is Josh Brolin’s square-jawed flattop bully cop Bigfoot, who represents everything hippies thoroughly detest: Ironically enough, he has one thing the entire movie lacks, which can be summed up in three words: An… Actual… Pulse.  

1/06/2015

LAWRENCE TIERNEY CINEMA: THE HOODLUM

year: 1951 rating: **1/2
Pulpy crime programmer about a newly released convict, Vincent, played by Lawrence Tierney, master of the scowling grimace and gutterol growl, working at younger brother Johnny's gas station and not liking his contrived freedom one bit.

There's a chip on Vince's shoulder the size of the bank across the street, and he wants a quick buck instead of pouring gas for complaining customers, who all act like they haven't had their morning coffee... It's as if he's being tested on purpose or something.

Lawrence Tierney
Larry's other real life brother (besides Scott Brady), Edward Tierney, plays Johnny with natural ease to big bro's steely mainline. But he and Aaleen Roberts as his uptight girlfriend, who ends up falling for Vincent after a few forced smooches, provide only filler.

The opening credit sequence, foreshadowing, then enveloping, the climactic brother to brother showdown, is a nice treat. As is the creatively-devised bank heist. But overall this HOODLUM is a criminal quickie that pays off in counterfeit bills, although the time's spent decently enough... Just don't expect a classic... And prepare to box (or even spike) your ears whenever Vincent and Johnny's put-upon mother invades the screen: her immense overacting makes Una O'Connor seem subtle.

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