L.A. Weekly’s Movie Guide is your look at the hottest films available on your TV sets, electronic devices and in select drive-ins throughout Southern California. L.A. theaters remain closed, but there’s no shortage of diverse and engaging films to see at home. And as always, our film critics let you know what’s worth the watchtime and what’s not — from indie art house gems to popcorn-perfect blockbusters to new movies garnering buzz– indicating where you can catch them whether it be digital Video on Demand (VOD) or streaming subscription services.
Hubie Halloween / Netflix
And so arrives this year’s Adam Sandler comedy. This time out, he talks in an exceptionally strange voice that’s so mumbly you might consider utilizing the subtitle option. Sandler is never actually funny (sorry) but the Salem, Massachusetts Halloween Harvest sets are splendid. I loved the corn maze. (It’s the only part I’m likely to remember.)
The supporting cast is jammed with hard-working Sandler regulars, among them Julie Bowen, Tim Meadows, Ben Stiller, Shaquille O’Neal and Steve Buscemi, who’s endearingly weird as the werewolf who’s moved in next door to Sandler’s Hubie, an oft-bullied dorkus who lives with overprotective mother (June Squibb) and is obsessed with keeping Halloween safe for all.
Don’t be a bully is the life lesson here, along with the proper usage of the word “boner.” Sandler devotees, all one billion of them, will relish call-outs to the actor’s earlier (better) films, from the reappearance of Happy Gilmore’s Hal the orderly to the return of the O’Doyle family of bullies from Billy Madison. And yes, Virginia, there is (of course) a bag of poop. High art? No. Fun? Sure, if you say so. (Chuck Wilson)
Shithouse / VOD
With his directorial debut, Cooper Raiff takes us on a dark emotional journey, but there’s still a lot to love in this stirring romantic drama. Though it’s not without comedy, Shithouse takes teens’ emotions seriously and will stir romantics of any age.
When Alex (Raiff) meets Maggie (Dylan Guella) at their dorm, she is still wasted from a night of partying. Her flirting, provocative stare and the outfit she wears all scream “make a move,” but Alex is too awkward to notice. After she asks if he’ll come to her room, Alex is still is lost. “You mean to kiss and have sex?” Yes, dude. The night drifts from sloppy sex into something more meaningful. The two walk around Los Angeles all night, sharing personal memories and agreeing that college parties are totally overrated in realistic, Richard Linklater-like monologues. It looks like the start of a relationship, but once the sun rises, Maggie kicks him out of bed.
What started as a teenage version of Before Sunrise evolves into a tender, touching and naked exploration of what it means to put yourself out there, to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. Maggie, bewildered that Alex assumes they are dating now, ghosts him. Alex, in his first tryst, tries to understand why Maggie won’t respond to his Instagram messages.
While the rest of the film feels slightly sophomoric, Raiff keeps Shithouse afloat, with his wide-eyed combination of pathos and banter that wavers between deadpan and goofy. You buy into the film because you buy into Alex, his failures and triumphs, and you can’t help but cheer when he finally hits the whole romance thing out of the park. (Asher Luberto)
The Glorias / Amazon
In The Glorias, the unwieldy but transfixing dramatization of Gloria Steinem’s autobiography, four actresses portray the feminist icon at key points — at age nine (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), as a teenager (Lulu Wilson), in her 20s (Alicia Vikander), and in mid-life (Julianne Moore). Often, two or more Glorias appear in the same scene, as when the older Gloria quietly takes the hand of her distressed younger self.
The Glorias appear throughout the film aboard a Greyhound bus that’s seemingly meant to symbolize Steinem’s roots-free life, first as a reporter, beginning with her culture-shaking Playboy Bunny story, and later, as reluctant feminist leader (and founder of Ms. magazine). A born truth-seeker, Steinem, who’s 86 now, had a remarkable instinct for being present at turning points in American history, a byproduct, she would say, of constantly being on the road, just like her dream-chasing traveling salesman father (Timothy Hutton).
Writer-director Julie Taymor (Frida) and co-writer Sarah Ruhl seem determined to include every historic moment Steinem witnessed, and if the resulting film is overly episodic, it’s also rich with vibrant brief encounters. At the 1963 March on Washington, Gloria (played by Moore) is way back in the crowd. Standing next to her is an older Black woman (Deeta West, wonderful) who’s furious that the only Black woman on the podium is Marian Anderson. “Singing ain’t speaking,” she declares, and sets off to lodge a complaint, a bit of activism that alters Steinem’s perception of what one person can do.
Taymor, who directed The Lion King on Broadway, uses special effects to bring visual wit to a long movie, some of which fall flat, as when Gloria imagines a sexist TV host being swept up in the Wizard of Oz tornado. But the more delicate touches delight. As a teenage Gloria rides the bus onto Hollywood Boulevard on a 1950s night, the street is suffused in the warm neon of old Hollywood, a sight so magical Gloria doesn’t appear surprised when a miniature Fred Astaire dances off the Vogue Theater marquee to come gliding by her window.
The Glorias may be seeped in issues of social import but it’s the promise of another unexpected performance that propels the movie forward. Janelle Monáe, Lorraine Toussaint, Kimberly Guerrero, Monica Sanchez, and Bette Midler, among others, portray the real-life activists who worked alongside Steinem, and more importantly, helped her to evolve both as a woman and a leader by sharing with her their own truths. Women talk, Gloria listens, history shifts. (Chuck Wilson)
The War with Grandpa / Theaters and Drive-ins
With a stellar cast and a clever narrative pulled from a classic children’s book, The War with Grandpa, has the goods for a fun, family-friendly popcorn flick. But that doesn’t make it actually good. It’s closer to o.k., with a watchability level akin to a Meet The Parents sequel. Robert De Niro is grandpa here, but definitely not the gramps we saw in Dirty Grandpa, which we enjoyed a lot more. Here, he’s Ed, a widow whose been suffering from cognitive and behavioral issues, leading him to move in with his family. When he snags the beloved attic bedroom away from his grandson Pete (Oakes Fegley), it means war (grampy’s brain struggles be damned). Pete decides to oust his elder with a mess of mean-spirited pranks, some that are pretty clever, some not so much, while Ed has a few tricks up his own sleeve in retaliation.
It’s all pretty predictable but De Niro’s a pro, so even when he’s playing light, non-challenging roles such as this one, his commitment makes it somehow ring true. There’s also Uma Thurman taking on Sally, the conflicted, multi-layed mother/daughter role with an appealing realness. Rob Riggle brings his animated silliness to the proceedings as Sally’s husband and Pete’s dad.
Seeing the supporting icons -Christopher Walken, Cheech Marin and Jane Seymour- together on screen with De Niro is almost worth the ticket price alone, but their screen time takes a backseat to the wacky family “war,” in pursuit of Home Alone-esque kid appeal. This film has been rated PG and its intentional lack of the “-13” suffix material really shows.
Director Tim Hill, best known for his work on Spongebob and Muppet movies, plays everything for laughs and there’s some chuckle-worthy moments, but ultimately the subtext concerning grandpa’s failing mind makes the war feel unwarranted. And about 10 minutes in you already know the moral it’ll all end with: nobody wins. (Lina Lecaro)
The Boys in the Band / Netflix
Ryan Murphy movies and TV shows are always embellished eye-candy; sweet, salty and sexy, but often lacking nuanced flavors. (The gore and colorful fashions are kind of all we remember from Ratched, and we watched that only a couple weeks ago).
His latest production, The Boys in the Band, is based on Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking play (which returned to the New York stage a couple years ago to commemorate its 50th anniversary), and while it feels very Murphy-esque, the material definitely has more depth than his originals of late. Exploring relationships and inner-conflicts among a group of gay men in 1968, the off-Broadway play set at a birthday house party in the West Village, opened “the closet” to queer culture in a raw and emotive way that was not seen before. Though some called it out for its focus on self-hate and self-doubt, its unflinching (and fabulous) dialog was hard to ignore. This version is one of the most powerful Murphy-produced projects in recent years.
We never saw the 1970 cinematic adaptation by director William Friedkin, but after watching this one, we want to. Boys crackles with emotion, truth, and snazzy dialog, not to mention nifty retro fashion. And then there’s the cast! The “band” is more like a supergroup, featuring some of Hollywood’s brightest openly gay stars including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer, all of whom do their best work here. (Lina Lecaro)
Honest Thief / Theaters and Drive-ins)
A movie even more dull than its title, Honest Thief finds Liam Neeson as Tom, a bank robber extraordinaire who’s fallen in love (with Kate Walsh) and decided to come clean to the Feds. He’ll give them all the robbery loot in exchange for a light sentence. Tom calls the FBI 800 number, two low-level agents (Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos) appear, steal the money, and in the process, end up killing their FBI boss (Robert Patrick). They pin the muder on Neeson, who goes on the run only to later vow revenge after the two rough up his girlfriend. Don’t mess with Liam’s loved ones, right?
It takes writer-director Mark Williams (A Family Man) and co-writer Steve Allrich (The Canyon) half of forever to set all this up, after which there are poorly staged car chases and an exploding house, but zero forward motion, much less tension. The script, which must have been short, cannot have read well.
So maybe Neeson really is here for the cash, and all of it apparently because there was clearly no budget for extras, much less an army of FBI agents to give chase to the agent killer. There are six featured characters in Honest Thief, but no one else, not even passerbys in danger of being hit by speeding cars. In what might be a first, there are more credited executive producers than actors on screen. This movie would be a bust even as a direct-to-video rental. My dad, a Neeson man from way back, is going to be so bummed. (Chuck Wilson)