Thursday, June 28, 2018


We should be far enough out of "spoiler" territory to give...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week's award to Lady Proxima...

...the giant wormy crime boss from Solo, beautifully voiced by Linda Hunt.

Friday, June 22, 2018


Check out my reviews, on Phoenix Magazine online, of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom...

...and Bruce La Bruce's The Misandrists...

Thursday, June 21, 2018


With Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom opening this weekend...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week's honoree is the "Indoraptor," yet another genetically-engineered hybrid dinosaur, combining the nastiest aspects of the tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptor. The creature is depicted here...

...on collectable cans of my favorite pop, Dr. Pepper, which probably isn't much better for my health than an encounter with an indoraptor would be.

Friday, June 15, 2018


Check out my online column at Phoenix Magazine, featuring movie choices this weekend, including the Iraq war drama The Yellow Birds with Alden Ehrenreich, 50th anniversary showings of 2001: A Space Odyssey at Harkins Tempe Marketplace and the Monkees movie Head at FilmBar, and...

...a "No Festival Required" showing of the documentary Lives Well Lived Sunday afternoon at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. No problem staying out of the sun for the next few days...

Thursday, June 14, 2018


This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1968's Head, the sole, commercially ill-conceived feature film effort from The Monkees, directed by Bob Rafelson from a script he co-wrote with Jack Nicholson. It's one of my pal Dave's favorite movies. FilmBar is showing the bizarre blend of movie parody sketches, psychedelic surrealism, heartfelt but awkward protest and good music this Saturday at 10 p.m., so...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...this week's honoree is the Giant Victor Mature from that film...

Friday, June 8, 2018


Opening this week:

Ocean's Eight--The Ocean this time is Debbie, sister of Danny Ocean. Just paroled, Debbie, played by Sandra Bullock, starts assembling a crew for a modest little heist: The Met Gala in Manhattan.

Cate Blanchett plays some kind of shady bar manager, Mindy Kaling is a jeweler, Sarah Paulson is a fence turned suburban mom, Rihanna is a hacker, the rapper known as Awkwafina plays a hustler and pickpocket, and Helena Bonham Carter plays a dotty Irish fashion designer. An eighth member, neurotic movie star Anne Hathaway, is unwittingly drafted into the crew.

Near the beginning, Debbie tells her pal that she's run through the caper again and again in her head while she was in the joint, working out the bugs, and that she's confident it's foolproof. What director Gary Ross, who wrote the script with Olivia Milch, then unfolds for us is quite possibly the silliest, least-likely-to-go-smoothly criminal plot I've ever seen depicted in a movie. The circumstances required to come together serendipitously would seem optimistic not only in the earlier films in the Ocean series, but in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

This may have been intentionally part of the joke by Ross and Milch; in any case it doesn't much hurt the film. Ocean's Eight is about eight beautiful, commanding actresses striding around swanky settings in dazzling outfits, and getting the better of skunky men. It's lavishly yet slickly made, and devoid of any significant emotional or intellectual content. I found it thoroughly undemanding and enjoyable.

None of the stars are remotely asked to stretch themselves, and that works to the movie's benefit, too--everybody's low-key and relaxed, and their interplay is droll without any straining. All eight shine for at least a scene or two, but unsurprisingly the standout is the bedraggled but game Helena Bonham Carter. Her theft of the movie is by far the most efficient heist we get to see.

American Animals--This is a far more plausible caper movie than Ocean's Eight. Indeed, it's based on a true story.

Or is it? At the beginning, the legend "THIS IS NOT BASED ON A TRUE STORY" appears, then the words "NOT BASED ON" vanish. As with the disclaimer at the beginning of last year's I, Tonya, it's an ingeniously ambiguous ploy that can be read several ways, but in any case acknowledges the unreliability of "true stories."

The story in question is the 2004 plot by four college-age numbskulls to rob the rare books room in the library at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, after subduing and tying up the librarian. Their targets included an original Audubon folio and a first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species (the title phrase comes from a line in Darwin referencing Kentucky).

Although the books were worth millions, the crime, at least as interpreted here by the British writer-director Bart Layton, doesn't seem to have been principally about money. None of these guys are depicted as destitute; one was rich, another a promising art student. The motive, rather, seems to have been to break loose from the banality and drudgery of their lives as they perceived them, to be more like movie characters. They openly reference The Shawshank Redemption and Reservoir Dogs, and even use Tarantino's "Mr. Green" and "Mr. Pink" alias system (pointlessly, since they all know each other). (Note: after this review posted I was reminded that the same system was earlier used by the robbers in the original Taking of Pelham 123, but I'd guess that these clods were thinking of Reservoir Dogs; I doubt their movie memories went back to 1974.)

The four actors who play the robbers (Barry Keoghan, Evan Peters, Blake Jenner and Jared Abrahamson) were unfamiliar to me. They're all terrific, and are well supported by some vets like Ann Dowd as the hapless librarian and Udo Kier as (of course) a dubious character.

Layton counterpoints his painfully naturalistic dramatization with documentary footage--talking heads of all four of the chastened and contrite real-life conspirators, and others, and even some Brechtian intermingling of them with the actors playing them, something in the manner of the film version of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor. It's expert moviemaking, one of the best-crafted films I've seen this year, but it's also emotionally intense: Even though it doesn't involve murder, the plot comes across as truly horrific and vile, from the outrage committed against the librarian to the simple fact that these guys were robbing a library.

And yet, here all four of these middle-class white boys are, long out of prison and carrying on with their lives, probably hoping that the publicity they get from this movie might give them a boost. One of them even pointed a gun at law enforcement officers during his arrest, and somehow didn't get turned into Swiss cheese. American Animals may make you want to take a knee.

Here are belated quick looks at a couple of other movies about formidable women, still in theaters:

Book Club--The title bibliophile's club consists of four affluent L.A. women: widow Diane Keaton, whose kids want her to move to Arizona; rich, perennially single hotel tycoon Jane Fonda; federal judge Candice Bergen, long-divorced and unable to move on; and married but romantically frustrated chef Mary Steenburgen. One month the assigned book (chosen by Fonda) is Fifty Shades of Grey, and it gets all four of them stirred up. Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr. and Wallace Shawn are the various men who enter, or re-enter, the lives of the ladies.

The script of this emeritus chick flick, by director Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, is pretty terrible, with banter and little heartfelt speeches linked together by some embarrassing physical shtick. But this, in itself, is a testament to the skill and charisma of these four magnificent women. Like Ocean's Eight, this movie is redeemed by a bunch of really good actresses--their committed delivery gives even the feeble college-playwrighting-class monologues here a degree of gravitas.

Probably nothing in the film is more mortifying than the idea that these powerful, worldly women would be so shocked and scandalized by the feeble Fifty Shades books. At one point, while reading, Keaton is heard to mutter "Give me a break." There's a solid literary judgement.

RBG--In Book Club, Candice Bergen's federal judge has a bobblehead of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her desk. The suggestion is that even the Supreme Court Justice's peers might regard her as a heroine.

This documentary explains why Justice Ginsburg's current status as a cultural icon, on t-shirts and mugs and Saturday Night Live, isn't and shouldn't be just a fad. Those who, like me, were unfamiliar with her career as a lawyer will learn that even if she hadn't been named to the Court, she would still have a place in its history, having argued before it repeatedly, and mostly successfully, for gender equality when it was still an exclusive boy's club.

Directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, RBG is, as cinema, little more than a news special, though a deft, absorbing and graphically clever one. We're given a tour of her life, from her Brooklyn childhood to her college years all the way through to her improbable but seemingly heartfelt close friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. The talking heads here range from Orrin Hatch to Bill Clinton, though some of the most intriguing interviews are the subjects of Ginsburg's cases, the real-world human faces for which she fought her abstract appellate battles.

Most of intriguing of all, however, is RBG herself, reserved and unpretentious, unmistakably partisan and passionate yet collegial. At a time when high-profile civility seems rare in American discourse, she comes across as a humbling example to us all.

Thursday, June 7, 2018


RIP to Jerry Maren, one of the last surviving Munchkins, and a member of the Lollipop Guild, no less, from MGM's 1939 The Wizard of Oz, passed on at 98.

In his honor...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...let's give the nod to one of his later and less-celebrated roles...

...the hazardous-waste-spawned mutant title character in the 1983 horror flick The Being.

When you think about it, that's arguably the most generically-named title character in movies.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Check out the June issue of Phoenix Magazine, now on the stands...

...for my "Four Corners" column on Valley pho restaurants. Happy June everybody!