A Stranger in Town

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

This 1943 movie is a free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. Decent IMDB rating. I didn't care for it much.

Frank Morgan, the Wizard of Oz himself, plays SCOTUS justice John Josephus Grant. Who, as the court's session winds up, wants nothing more than to take off to the wilderness and shotgun some ducks. But before he can murder a single bird, he's waylaid by the local sheriff, who shakes him down for a town hunting license. It's clearly implied that this fee will not go to schools or road repair, but instead straight to the pockets of the town's ruling class. But when the cop asks for additional cash for his trouble, Grant draws the line and finds himself in jail.

He embarks on a project to rid the town of its corrupt political establishment, without revealing his Washington job. This involves his straitlaced secretary, who (despite her better judgment) gets involved with the inept-but-honest lawyer who's running for mayor against the crooks.

The acting is … not good.

For some reason, Amazon appends "Classic Hollywood Crime Movie" to the title. You'd expect at least some gunplay, maybe a murder or two. Unfortunately, it's just the ducks that get killed.

Gemini Man

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

Have I mentioned that we're kind of getting desperate for TV-watching content here at Pun Salad Manor? Probably. Our latest desperate move was this free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. Usually included on people's "Box Office Bombs" lists for 2019. And a mediocre IMDB rating. But it was OK. Not great, but I didn't come away with a sad feeling that I'd wasted my time.

Maybe I'm getting more tolerant as I approach my eighth decade? Nah.

Will Smith plays Henry, a good-guy assassin for the US government, basically using his mad sniper skillz against whomever he's directed by his superiors. But he feels those skills—which are still mad, mind you—are in decline. And it's only a matter of time before he shoots some cute-kid innocent bystander. So he puts in his retirement papers.

Now the immutable rules about these retired-assassin movies dictate that (at least some of) his former superiors are gonna prefer Henry dead. Henry, feelers up, notices that the cute dockworker (Mary! Elizabeth! Winstead!) is probably doing undercover surveillance on him. Correct. And soon the hitters show up.

The trick here is that one of the assassins sent out to bag Henry is his much-younger clone, raised from birth by the primary bad guy, Clive Owen. (Thanks to CGI magic, the clone looks much like Men in Black-era Will Smith.) Giving rise to amazement and angst from both Original Henry and Clone Henry.

But otherwise, it's pretty normal. Directed by Ang Lee, good acting from all involved, some spectacular action scenes, imaginative settings.

And, of course, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She looks cute, and about twice as smart as anyone else on the screen. Wonder who she's voting for?… Jo Jorgenson, right Mary?

Cold Pursuit

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

Desperate for new movies, I put this on the Netflix DVD queue. Not great, but a pleasant surprise.

Liam Neeson plays an ordinary Joe, a solid citizen, a snowplow driver in a remote Colorado town. His grown son is a baggage handler at the regional airport who makes the unfortunate mistake of being friends with a co-worker who has the bright idea of ripping off an incoming drug shipment. Which gets the kid abducted, driven off to Denver, and murdered via lethal heroin overdose. The Denver cops write this off as yet another drug death, but Liam knows his kid is no junkie, and sets off on a trail of detection and revenge.

That sounds pretty standard by-the-numbers shoot-em-up, and of course that's part of it. But the movie develops the character of everyone involved, even (maybe especially) the bad guys. E.g., the head drug kingpin has a broken marriage, a feisty ex-wife, a cute young son, wacky ideas about diet. Amidst the overall grim and violent plot, there are veins of actual quirky humor.

Except for Liam, of course. He's dour and relentless. IMDB trivia says this is going to be his last action movie, and it's a pretty good farewell.

Train to Busan

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

My first Korean zombie movie, I'm pretty sure. A free-to-me streamer on Amazon Prime.

Seok-woo is a semi-big shot fund manager in (I think) Seoul, dealing with some unexpected market turbulence. You can see he's concerned, but he should be more concerned with the underlying cause. Which is a zombie outbreak. But he's clueless. And also a clueless dad to cute-as-a-button Soo-an. He misses her recital. He buys her a Wii, but he doesn't know that she already has a Wii. And also a clueless husband, because his ex-wife lives in … guess where? Yup, Busan.

So they're off on the titular train, but it soon becomes painfully obvious that Korean civilization is quickly collapsing around them. And worse, a zombie made it onto the train, setting off a wave of infection among the crew and passengers, with accompanying chaos.

It's pretty good, albeit predictable. In the sense that "you've seen one zombie movie you've seen them all": there's not going to be many of the characters left at the end. There are some class warfare zingers: Seok-woo's fund is (somehow) involved with the corporate misfeasance that kicks everything off; and the one really bad guy is a train passenger in a business suit who's more than willing to sacrifice other passengers to survive.

Rambo: Last Blood

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

Sometimes I'm just in the mood for a flick with a lot of violence. This one was fine, much more to my taste than the John Wicks. Not great, just fine. And it was free on Amazon Prime Video, yay!

And it's a Rambo movie. I've seen all the others, why stop now? Sylvester Stallone knows how to do this stuff.

It's very dark. Rambo is leading a civilized life on his Arizona horse farm, taking his medication. He has a live-in housekeeper. And he's developed a good relationship with his housekeeper's granddaughter, Gabriela, who has just graduated from high school, ready to go off to college.

But first Gabriela needs answers to burning questions about her long-lost father. He's down in Mexico, doing (probably) bad stuff. Rambo tells Gabriela not to go. Gabriela's abuela tells her not to go. She goes anyway, and finds herself mixed up with the kind of Mexicans that haunt Donald Trump's dreams. Rambo (after tossing away his meds) goes down after her on a rescue mission. Which soon turns into a revenge mission. And the violence gets pretty spectacular.

Dumbo

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

I surprised myself by liking this movie significantly more than I expected. Certainly more than the IMDB raters, Metacritic, or Rotten Tomatoes. And even the Netflix algorithm thought I'd find it a three-star mediocrity.

But nay, it has a fine director (Tim Burton), lavish sets, a bevy of good actors (Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Colin Farrell, Eva Green), and … well, heck, a flying elephant. Sorry, slight spoiler there.

I am not sure I ever saw the 1941 animated movie. I can recall bits and pieces, but maybe that's because I only saw bits and pieces.

The movie opens with the return of Holt Farrier (Mr. Farrell) to America after his stint in World War I, minus his left arm. And his wife has died of the Spanish Flu in his absence, leaving him with his young son and daughter. But they're part of Max Medici's old fashioned circus family. Which has its problems, like a sadistic elephant trainer. And Mrs. Jumbo, a pregnant elephant. After a visit from a stork, voila: her son is born. Unfairly castigated as a freak because (why else) those big ears.

But soon, Dumbo's flying talent is discovered. He's an instant sensation. Which brings the attention of V. A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton, who's really good). He's like a bearded-Spock-universe version of Walt Disney. (I'm kind of surprised this Disney film went that way.) Dumbo is shipped off to his semi-demented amusement park, to become an even bigger spectacle, setting up conflict and eventual climax.

Taken on its own terms, it's a lot of fun. I had a good time anyway.

Enola Holmes

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

A recently-released Netflix streamer. Amazon lacks a product for the movie, so the picture/ad/link goes to the kids' book on which the movie is based. I watched it because (a) I'm a minor Sherlock Holmes fan; (b) I'm also kind of a Millie Bobby Brown fan (but not in that way, I'm not just old enough to be her father, I'm arguably old enough to be her grandfather.); and (c) a rave review in the WSJ on Thursday.

But come on, it's not that good.

Enola is the sixteen-year-old younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, still living at home with her widowed mother. Well, until the movie opens anyway. Because Mama Holmes has up and vanished. Both brothers come up to detect. There's no sign of foul play, all signs say she left voluntarily. Guardianship of Enola falls to elder brother Mycroft, and (since he's a traditional male chauvinist conservative) he decides that Enola must enroll in a finishing school for young ladies, run by the tyrannical Miss Harrison.

Understandably, Enola escapes to track down her mom, and to find out why she left. Which causes her to run into the young Lord Tewkesbury, who ascended to his Lordship upon the untimely death (via falling tree branch) of his dad. It turns out that he's being pursued by a murderous creep; he and Enola barely escape with their lives. So that makes two mysteries.

It's a certain amount of fun, but the plot turns on (spoilers follow) an unlikely device: the expansion of the franchise to most men and many women (which actually happened in 1918). The legislation is viewed by both sides as something to kill people over. The bad guys, of course, are the conservatives who want to maintain the status quo. But somewhat understated is the "good" side's willingness to go into Guy Fawkes mode (kaboom!) if they don't get their way. Really?

Millie is excellent as Enola, though. She brings a lot of intelligence and humor to the role.

Slightly Scarlet

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another entry in the 2020 Pun Salad NoirFest. It's pretty bad: lousy acting, ludicrous plot, loopy wooden dialog, unbelievable characters. But in color. And the sets are pretty amazing, 1950s garish. It's based on a James M. Cain novel, but not one of the good ones.

Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming play sisters, one good, one bad and crazy. (I'm not sure which is which, and it doesn't matter.) As the movie opens, the bad/crazy one is getting out of jail, picked up by the good one, the tender scene being surreptitiously photographed by John Payne for some reason. (Again, it doesn't matter.)

There's election skullduggery, where a corrupt city administration is ousted, and the head cop is replaced by … oops, John Payne working behind the scenes, via his wooing of Good Sister, who works for the new mayor. He also has plans to replace the current mob boss, who he's fingered for the murder of a reform-minded political financier.

Meanwhile, Bad/Crazy Sister is giving in to her kleptomaniac urges. Also her nymphomaniac urges (which are depicted as clearly as you could in a 1950s movie). Can she stay out of jail? And out of the line of fire between John Payne and the mob boss?

I'm not quite sure how it turns out, because I fell asleep near the end. Still, I watched most of it, so it counts.

Glass

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

This 2019 movie turns out to be the final entry in M. Night Shyamalan's movie trilogy that started with Unbreakable (2000, 19 years previous) and Split (2016). This was teased in Split's final scene, where Bruce Willis's character (David Dunn) learns about James McAvoy's character (Kevin, plus his multiple personalities).

So it wouldn't hurt to maybe rewatch Unbreakable and Split before you tackle this one. Although we managed OK.

Anyway, Kevin (and his multiple personalities) are up to their old tricks, kidnapping cheerleaders for their usual demented purposes. David has been in the shadows since Unbreakable, occasionally doing some vigilante work, assisted by his superpowers; the cops want to catch him for this freelancing. (Philadelphia is apparently no place to be a superhero.) He's assisted by his son, Joseph. (Nice touch: Joseph is played by the young adult actor who played the same role, as a child, in Unbreakable.)

But soon enough, both Kevin and David wind up in custody, under the care of Dr. Ellie. Who seems determined to demonstrate that there's nothing superpowered going on here. Why? Well, that's eventually revealed. But also in the same facility is Elijah, the bad guy from Unbreakable, Samuel L. Jackson. He seems to have been drugged into catatonia, but come on, we know he's faking, and he's only waiting for the chance to cause some mayhem.

It's supremely silly, but also pretty watchable, at least for me. McAvoy's multiple-personality schtick is a lot of fun to watch, I like Bruce Willis no matter what, and Mr. Jackson always scares the crap out of me.


Last Modified 2020-09-23 7:06 AM EDT

Serenity

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

Not to be confused with the 2005 Joss Whedon space movie with Nathan Fillion et. al.. And it may not be your cup of tea, as it was not the cup of tea with IMDB raters (see above). Also with a dismal Metacritic score. (But Richard Roeper says its "one of the most entertaining thrillers in recent years", right on the DVD box. So, it may be your cup of tea.)

And there's a lot of talent involved. Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, for example. And I see they were nominated for this movie too: for "Worst Actor" and "Worst Actress Razzies.

It starts out as a pretty standard film noir in fact. Lots of booze, cigarettes, and hard-boiled dialog. Baker Dill (McConaughey) is a charter fishing boat captain obsessed with catching a specific tuna. His Ahab-like behavior is putting him in dire financial straits, but out of the blue comes ex-wife Karen (Hathaway) with one of those simple propositions: my new husband is brutalizing me and your son, he'll kill us if we try to leave him, could you please murder him, I'll give you $10 million.

As I said, it starts out in that honorable tradition. But things take an odd turn. Odd enough so that I'm not even tempted to spoil them. I'll say this though: the IMDB genre classification is "Drama, Mystery, Thriller", but a more honest description would add at least one more.

[OK, if you really want to know what's going on, click here.]

And here's an interesting coincidence: actor Djimon Hounsou is in this, and he was also in the 2005 Serenity! Producers, if you want to get Djimon in your movie, you know what you have to title it.