Movie Review: “Everly”

Starring
Salma Hayek, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Akie Kotabe, Laura Cepeda, Aisha Ayamah
Director
Joe Lynch

There’s something oddly appealing about the kind of movie that encourages you to turn off your brain for 90 minutes while a gun-toting badass takes down a bunch of bad guys in extremely violent fashion. Perhaps it’s the 13-year-old boy stowed away in the back of our psyches, giddy at the prospect of an entire film overflowing with blood, boobs and explosions. Some of cinema’s guiltiest pleasures have followed this formula to great success (most recently, the Keanu Reeves actioner “John Wick”), and although director Joe Lynch’s “Everly” desperately wants to join those ranks as the next cult classic shoot-‘em-up, it falls disappointingly short on a number of levels.

After serving as a sex slave for ruthless crime boss Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) for the past five years, Everly (Salma Hayek) has finally had enough, striking a deal with one of the few honest cops in town to place her in witness protection in exchange for her testimony against Taiko. But Everly’s dreams of finally meeting her young daughter, Maisey (Aisha Ayamah), whom she left in the care of her mother (Laura Cepeda) as a baby, are quickly destroyed when Taiko learns of her betrayal, placing a bounty on her head that attracts all sorts of weirdoes to the swanky apartment where she’s holed up. Convinced that she won’t make it through the night alive, Everly instructs her mother to come pick up the getaway money at her apartment instead, inadvertently pulling her family into the conflict as she fends off countless waves of ferocious intruders intent on collecting the reward.

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Movie Review: “Focus”

Starring
Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney
Directors
Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Movies about con artists are almost as difficult to pull off as an actual con. They need to be clever enough to outsmart and entertain the audience without being overly complex or resorting to narrative cheats. “Focus” is definitely entertaining at times, a flashy crime drama highlighted by a pair of movie star performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, but it also commits the aforementioned offenses in order to get to its twist ending… by way of several other twists, naturally. That’s not its biggest problem, however, because most con films break those rules at some point. Instead, it’s the fact that “Focus” is basically two movies stitched together by the same connective tissue, and only one of the halves is any good.

The film begins with a gorgeous woman named Jess (Robbie) picking up the charismatic Nicky (Smith) at a hotel bar, eventually taking their soiree upstairs to her room where her angry boyfriend kicks down the door and threatens to shoot Nicky unless he hands over his wallet. It’s a classic con, and one that Nicky knows all too well as a seasoned grifter himself. But Jess shows promise, so Nicky invites her to join his large-scale operation, hitting big events like the Super Bowl that are packed with crowds of easy marks (read: drunks and cheating husbands) for them to rob, swindle and shake down on the streets. After Jess gets burned by Nicky at the end of the job, the two go their separate ways until they cross paths again three years later when Nicky is hired by the wealthy owner (Rodrigo Santoro) of a Formula One racing team to help ruin a fellow competitor using his powers of persuasion. Everything is going according to plan when Nicky discovers that Jess is dating his new employer, and though he wants to make amends after the way he left things, Jess is unable to trust him, convinced that Nicky must to be working some kind of angle. The real question is whether Jess is too.

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Movie Review: “The Lazarus Effect”

Starring
Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Sarah Bolger
Director
David Gelb

A group of scientists are working on a serum that, combined with the right stimuli, can bring someone back from the dead. Their argument for creating this is that it would enable doctors to have a little more time to find a cure for whatever is ailing someone. That is a terrible, terrible idea, and the rationale for the idea is even worse. But here’s the worst part: “The Lazarus Effect” actually has some interesting bits mixed in with all of the stupid ones, and the ending is kind of fantastic. To get there, though, we have to slog through a bunch of home video and security camera footage (this looks like it started life as a found footage movie, which makes sense considering the film’s producers also worked on the “Paranormal Activity” films) and an ungodly number of faulty light fixtures. The only thing it was missing was a cat.

Frank (Mark Duplass), his fiancé Zoe (Olivia Wilde), and their assistants Clay (Evan Peters) and Neko (Donald Glover), are working in a basement lab at a school in Berkeley to perfect their Lazarus serum. They bring in student Eva (Sarah Bolger) to document their work on video. They test the process on a dog, and it works, though the dog doesn’t really act like a dog once alive, and there are numerous medical red flags that suggest the dog could become extremely aggressive at any moment. Soon after their success in resurrecting someone, which is only known to those five, the lab is raided by a pharmaceutical company that, according to the terms of the grant that was funding Frank and Zoe’s research, owns all intellectual property in the event the terms of the grant are broken, which happened once they started testing on animals.

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Movie Review: “Maps to the Stars”

Starring
Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird, Sarah Gadon
Director
David Cronenberg

Less than a week after Hollywood celebrated itself at the Oscars in a televised circus of fashions, overlong acceptance speeches and underrepresented diversity, Canadian director David Cronenberg reminds us why even Hollywood excesses should have a limit in the weirdly satirical hybrid “Maps to the Stars.” The director best known for such classics as “The Fly,” “Scanners” and “A History of Violence” breaks new ground by filming in the States. It’s just too bad that he wasted the trip on such a manic, dated project filled with cynicism, incest and runaway egos.

Just off the bus is the fresh-faced but hideously scarred Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim who seems to take things way too much in stride. Introducing herself as being from Jupiter (the city, not the planet), Agatha instantly attaches herself to her limo driver, Jerome (Robert Pattison). Of course, what would a limo driver be in this town without acting and/or writing aspirations? Jerome is all too quick to write her off as just another weird client who happens to be a really good tipper, but Agatha grows on him as she does with many people in the film. Thanks to social media and Carrie Fisher, who stars as herself, Agatha manages to quickly find a job as a personal assistant, or “chore whore,” to aging C-lister Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). When Havana isn’t grasping to any last chance at stardom, she’s having fierce arguments with her dead mother (Sarah Gadon), who has no problems telling her what a disappointment she is.

Dysfunctional family time and visits from the beyond aren’t exclusive to the Segrand household, as we bounce back and forth between there and the Weiss compound. Agatha’s kid brother Benjie (Evan Bird) is 13 going on 40. He’s facing his own need for a ghostbuster with all the uncut crassness of a thousand Bieber clones rolled into one. Benjie’s the star of the “Bad Babysitter” franchise, which was so lucrative that stage mom Cristina (Olivia Williams) takes pride in squeezing out a multimillion dollar payday as if she were the real star. His dad, Stafford (John Cusack), is a self-help guru who rarely smiles, talks as though he’s three steps ahead of everyone, and administers a near-sadistic type of scream therapy to Havana.

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Picture of the Day: Lovely Rebecca at sunset

Here’s a beautiful shot of lovely Rebecca in her bikini as the sun is setting on Hermosa Beach.

Lovely Rebecca at sunset