Downton Abbey

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad was a fan of the TV series. And being a good husband, I watched along, scoffing that anyone could be interested in a bunch of upper-class Brits and their servants.

Of course, I got sucked into it.

But a movie. Please. OK, I'll go, but I may nod off a few minutes in…

Well, I'll be darned. Sucked in again.

It's the same bunch, more or less. The primary plot driver is a surprise visit to D. A. by the King and Queen. Of England! A big deal. Which in turn sets off a lot of subplots. (I didn't count, but there had to be at least eight.) Most notably, ex-commoner (and Irishman) Tom is suspected of harboring anti-royal sympathies; could he be harboring thoughts of assassination?

Well, no. Of course not. But someone else is. And guess who's going to save the King? (Hint: not God, at least not directly.)

There's also Carson coming out of retirement to help the staff deal with the royal visit, pissing off his replacement Tom Barrow, who's struggling with his sexuality, which causes him to get into deep trouble, which gets resolved by one of the King's flunkies. Other of the King's flunkies attempt to take over from the Downton staff, and there's resentment and conflict there. Edith might be pregnant, and her husband's been tapped to escort the Prince of Wales (a real jerk here, just like in real life) to the Empire's African colonies. And…

Well, that's probably enough. If you liked the TV show, you'll like this.

12 Strong

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie is the based-on-true story of the first detachment of American soldiers to Afghanistan after 9/11: twelve (see title) Green Berets tasked with helping the native anti-Taliban fighters take the strategic town of Mazar-i-Sharif. The big stars are Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, playing Captain Mitch, the leader. He is assisted by Michael Shannon and Michael Peña.

The movie unashamedly admires the soldiers' devotion to their duty, even when it involves them leaving their loving families to go on a mission where the odds of them returning in one piece aren't very good. There's nary a hint of the usual Hollywood anti-Americanism here. The movie also does an unusually decent job of setting up the details of battles, what the stakes are, the geography of the area, and how things unfold.

There are a lot of very boilerplate war-movie tropes, too. For good reason, of course, but I found myself saying "Yeah, saw that coming" at a number of points.

It was especially appropriate to watch this movie in the context of current events, the President wanting to negotiate with the same guys we were trying so hard to kill back then, with the probable outcome of them taking over the country once again.

As always, the History vs Hollywood site is your go-to for how sorta-true this movie is. Not too bad, as it turns out.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So shortly after I read Linda Ronstadt's "musical memoir", Mrs. Salad and I drove down to Portsmouth to see this new documentary covering roughly the same topic at the Music Hall.

What can I say? I've been a Linda fanboy for decades.

If you want to choose only one, though, I'd recommend the movie. In addition to Linda's narration*, there are a bunch of famous talking heads: Ry Cooder, Peter Asher, Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, … So we get multiple viewpoints, always a good thing. But the same lesson shines through both book and movie: Linda was primarily about her music, not so much her career. (Ry Cooder makes this point explicitly.) She could have been content with her career niche: pop/rock goddess, singer of oldies and ballads. Instead she went to projects that interested her: old American standards, Mexican songs, operetta, vocal partnerships with singers she admired.

When I read the book, I noticed that her $500K gig at Sun City, in apartheid South Africa, was totally missing. That's briefly covered here in archival footage of an interviewer asking about it, and her self-defense.

You'll hear something about Jerry Brown in both book and movie. You will hear about George Lucas and Jim Carrey in neither.

There's a bittersweet ending to the film: 2019 footage showing Linda singing along with her nephew Peter and cousin Bobby. Well, sort of singing. Parkinson's disease has weakened her singing voice. (Although I'd bet she can still sing better than 99% of American citizens.)

Oh, yeah: Peter Asher kind of looks like Yoda these days.

* Given her illness, I don't know if she actually does the narration. It's someone who sounds like her, anyway, speaking in first-person singular.

Lizzie

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. She's from the scene of the crime itself, Fall River, Massachusetts. Although it happened well before she was born (good alibi, honey!) and in a swankier part of town than hers. The movie's R rating is due to "violence and grisly images, nudity, a scene of sexuality and some language."

In case you haven't guessed, it's a retelling of the Lizzie Borden story. Which you probably know: Lizzie's father and stepmom axed to death, Lizzie acquitted at trial, no charges brought against anyone else.

So there's room for a considerable amount of theorizing as to the culprit, motive, and methods. One hint from the cast list: starlet Kristen Stewart plays the maid, Bridget, so it's safe to assume she's a major part of the yarn. Which, in this version is pretty sordid, and not complimentary to anyone involved.

It's kind of boring at the beginning, setting up the characters and their mostly toxic interactions. Lizzie and Bridget give each other a lot of hot, lingering, open-mouthed stares. ("OK, we get it!")

It Chapter Two

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot that Pun Son and I trundled down to Newington to check this out. We'd seen the previous one back in 2017, also at Newington. This one is also, eh, OK.

The loser kids from the previous movie are back in flashbacks, but mostly this is about their 27-year-older selves. One has grown to be Jessica Chastain, another to be James McAvoy, still another to be Bill Hader. Who I miss on Saturday Night Live, but that's not too relevant here.

It turns out the evil clown Pennywise did not get seriously killed in the previous flick. (Is that a spoiler?) So the gang gathers together one more time… except for this one guy who commits suicide rather than go through that again. (Is that a spoiler?)

Anyway, we're in for more gore, more special effects, more running, more fighting with inner demons, more f-bombs.

So I'm thinking the title is pretty unoriginal. It Chapter Two? How about It Again? It's Back? Or, most honestly, It's Time To Give Steven King More Of Your Money?

You want a somewhat more negative review, John Podhoretz is your guy. He points out that the ending is pretty stupid, and he has a point.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I liked the first one just fine. But this one could not hold my interest.

Disclaimer: maybe the parts I dozed through were great.

But for the parts I saw: Newt Scaramander has lost most of the charming quirkiness he had in the first movie. Jacob Kowalski not as goofily clueless. Johnny Depp is "Grindelwald", and he's seemingly somnambulistic. Everything's dark. (I guess it's cheaper to do CGI in the dark.)

So, no movies 3, 4, or 5 for me, Ms. Rowling. Unless Mrs. Salad insists.

Lion

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This 2016 movie was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. So about time I saw it, right? (Not that it matters, but I've now seen seven out of the nine nominees from that year. Only missing the winner, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea.)

Opening is in desperately poor India, where young Saroo and his older brother Guddu try to make things a little better for their mom and baby sister by swiping coal from passing trains, and selling it for milk. Which is fine, except one night Saroo and Guddu get separated, Saroo gets on a train looking for him, and promptly gets whisked away to far-off Calcutta.

Saroo avoids one disaster after another; Calcutta is a lousy place to be a kid on your own. But eventually, he's adopted by a saintly Australian couple.

Fast-forward a couple of decades, and Saroo is a young man with a hot girlfriend. But he's tormented with memories of his lost family, and undertakes to backtrace his journey, and find them. This causes a lot of stress. But eventually… Well, do you think this movie would have been made if Saroo failed to get back to his boyhood home?

So, not bad, but Netflix thought I would like it better.

The Mule

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Ah, Clint's still got it, as an actor and director.

He actually plays someone older in this movie. Specifically, Earl Stone, once a successful breeder and grower of daylilies. An opening scene sets up his character: he's a charming curmudgeon, beloved in the commercial flower-growing community (yes, that apparently exists). But at the price of neglecting his family, who are understandably pissed.

Jump forward about twelve years; Earl is still around, but he's neglected to adapt his business to modern ways, and it's in foreclosure. By a fortuitous coincidence, an attendee at his granddaughter's wedding hooks him up with local drug dealers, and before you know it, Earl's transporting cocaine around the USA for the cartel.

This relieves his monetary woes. And he helps various worthy causes after that. Being a mule is lucrative. But also (as you might guess) dangerous. His interactions with his superiors are initially fractious. But he charms most of them. Still, his cantankerous ways make him sort of a loose cannon, which a successful criminal organization cannot abide.

Also, his growing reputation within the cartel brings him to the attention of the DEA. Through informants, wiretaps, and surveillance, their net draws tighter.

It seems being in a Clint Eastwood movie appeals to a lot of people. Bradley Cooper (a seven-time Oscar nominee) plays a supporting role as a hotshot DEA agent. Also Michael Peña, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Dianne Wiest, ….

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Turns out (spoiler) the man who kills Don Quixote is also the guy who killed Han Solo. Did not see that coming.

On occasion, I have to say: the Netflix prediction algorithm thought I would like this a lot better than I did. IMDB deems the genres to be "Adventure, Comedy, Drama". Fine, I guess, but I have a genre of my own: "Apparently Made Under the Influence of Substances, Probably Most of Them Illicit".

Adam Driver plays Toby, a once-renowned movie director, recently relegated to doing commercial hackwork. But (somehow) he's gotten a green light to shoot his epic flick about Don Quixote, a project he had to abandon a decade previous.

Alas, things are not going well. Toby needs to recruit a wizened local shoemaker (hey, underneath the grime and scruffiness, that's Jonathan Pryce) to appear as his star. Who rapidly gets into his role by imagining Toby to be Sancho Panza. And they proceed to leave the moviemaking behind ("or do they?) as they traipse into rural Spanish hinterlands where they still remember the old movie… Things become surreal and nightmarish (sometimes disgustingly so) for poor Toby.

A consumer-note downside: the DVD has subtitles available only in Spanish. That's a real downer for a movie where people talk fast in various heavy accents.

You might like it better than I did. Because it's Terry Gilliam; Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce are great actors; and a lot of stuff may have gone (insert high-pitched whizzing noise here) right over my head.

Shazam!

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Well, this got decent reviews. (Unlike, say, Justice League.) And it's not bad, and actually good in spots.

An opening scene develops in an unexpected way: a car accident leads a kid to be transported to a mystical cavern where he meets a mystical wizard, who spouts mystical mumbo-jumbo at him, … and then, disappointed, transports him back to the scene of the car wreck, where his father is in bad shape, and blaming him for the crash.

Hey, that's not the way I remember the comic books going…

Ah, but then we leap a number of years into the future, where young Billy Batson gets separated from his mom at a carnival, turns into a very rebellious foster child, takes a mystical subway ride to that wizard's lair we saw before, where the wizard (apparently very desperate to transfer his mystical powers) bestows the magic word…

OK, that's pretty complicated. But the bottom line is that young Billy can transform himself into a (nameless, due to copyright hassles) superhero. But his adult heavily-muscled superhero bod is still operated by his adolescent boy brain. The movie turns into a laff riot, as he discovers exactly which superpowers he has.

But that kid from the opening scene has matured into everyone's favorite Bad Guy, Mark Strong. And he wangles his way back to the wizard's lair himself, and gains powers too. Conflict ahead!

The movie is wonderfully funny in spots. But it has a split personality, because there's considerable darkness too. For one thing: remember that I said Billy got lost at the carnival? Well, the details revealed later about that are a little disturbing…