Where'd You Go, Bernadette

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

As previously mentioned, we're getting into the weeds on my Netflix DVD queue. I was slightly surprised by this one, very much in the "woman undergoing life crisis" genre. Maybe I was just in a good mood. That happens every so often.

Netflix's "genres" for the movie are: "Comedy, Mystery, Dramas Based on the Book, Indie Comedies, Indie Dramas". Mystery? I don't think so. (We know where Bernadette went.) And there are some funny scenes, but …

"Bernadette" is Bernadette Fox (played by Cate Blanchett), a middle-aged wife and mother living in a tony area of Seattle. We are plunged into her life without (yet) knowing her backstory. But it becomes apparent that she's prickly, motormouthed, know-it-all, hostile to her neighbors, especially Kristen Wiig. Her house is a fixer-upper, that's not being fixed up. Hubby is a computer genius, and thanks to some unspecified earlier work, the family's lifestyle is adequately funded by what's called "Microsoft money".

Daughter is graduating from middle school, and wants to go to Antarctica to celebrate. Here's what drives me crazy: everyone in this upper-class milieu pronounces it "Antartica". Which caused me to say, at increasing volume, "Ant-ARK-tica!" I'm not sure if this contributed to Mrs. Salad's movie enjoyment.

I suppose the mystery is: why is Bernadette the way she is? Is she dangerously nutso, or…? We eventually find out, and (somewhat despite myself) I found myself interested in the answer, and what happened.

The Current War

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

What's good: Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Alva Edison. That's some serious acting talent right there.

What's not so good: While I love American capitalism and innovation, the movie doesn't really make it interesting, at least not cinematically interesting. Edison was famous for that saying about 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration; putting that nose-to-the-grindstone sweaty stuff up on the screen is (I assume) a major challenge.

Anyway: it's the story of the Westinghouse/Edison competition to electrify America, with Westinghouse behind AC (which won), Edison clinging to DC, because he thought it to be safer. And that's where his patents were. Hanging around both guys is prickly genius Nikola Tesla, who doesn't fit in well with either corporate culture. There's also a bunch of family stuff. The sets are pretty amazing.

Thanks to it being a Harvey Weinstein-related production, the movie didn't really show up in theaters, and didn't make back its production budget.

Playing a young Samuel Insull, by the way, is a kid who looked sort of familiar… who the heck is that? Finally the credits rolled, and, whoa, it was Tom Holland! Spider-Man! And Doctor Strange! Together again!

Skyscraper

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

Disclaimer: call him "Dwayne Johnson" all you want, friend; he'll always be "The Rock" to me.

An opening scene tells the tragic tale of our hero, Will Sawyer: confronting a crazed Minnesota husband, he makes a merciful, humane, but also very bad mistake, causing the loss of limb (his) and life (probably a lot of the other people involved, but that's not explicitly shown). He winds up marrying the brilliant and beautiful doctor who saves his life. (I don't recommend this as a good strategy for meeting women.)

Ten years later, he's a security consultant, he has two cute kids, he's invited to Hong Kong to inspect a (guess what) new skyscraper, the tallest building in the world, filled with imaginative architecture and high-tech gadgetry. Unfortunately, the zillionaire builder is also the target of a well-oiled extortion plot carried out by a team of casually-murderous henchmen, and one henchwoman.

I liked it fine. But it's a by-the-numbers, no-surprises, big-budget thriller. It's like an AI was given the script for Die Hard and The Towering Inferno and was told: "Mix these up." And hence you can see a lot of things, big and small, coming:

  • There are bad guys who have infiltrated the zillionaire's inner circle. For the viewer, they might as well be wearing "I AM A BAD GUY" buttons on their lapels.
  • That murderous henchwoman? Of course, there will be a final confrontation between her and Will's wife.
  • That cute scene where Will "fixes" the Mrs's phone by turning it off and on again. Will that be replayed later? Sure.
  • The skyscraper is partially powered by huge internal wind turbines, the blades whooshing impressively. Will Will be dodging those blades later? You bet!
  • Will is shown (for some reason) a holodeck-like virtual reality chamber with dozens of huge high-def screens. Also a key plot mover later? Need you ask?

As a reviewer pointed out: the primary bad guy is no Alan Rickman.

Although the movie did poorly in American theatres, a lot of foreign audiences are apparently Rockhounds, so it did OK overall.

Little Women

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

The end of the normal TV season combined with the lack of Red Sox baseball means we've been hitting the Netflix DVDs. I keep my Netflix queue sorted in descending order by their personalized-for-me predicted rating, but we're getting pretty far down into the three-star area: "not bad, not great, just OK."

Hence, Little Women. It has a very good IMDB rating, but I suspect this is due mostly to Women. (I know, sexist. Sue me, Joe Biden.) It was nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture), but only won one (Costumes). Again, I blame women and earnest males kowtowing to feminism. ("I am not Harvey Weinstein, see my Oscar ballot?")

I am unfamiliar with the Louisa May Alcott source material, but fortunately there are articles that tell me how it's different.

Both the book and the movie center on the March sisters (Jo, Meg, Amy, Beth), growing up in mid-19th century Massachusetts. Although the main character is Jo, played by Saoirse Ronan. There's also Mom (Laura Dern) and Aunt (Meryl Streep). And eventually Dad shows up. (Hey, that's Saul Goodman! Good move, Saul! The cartel will never find you in 19th-century Massachusetts!)

The movie (apparently unlike the book) zips back and forth in time. The acting is fine, everything is easy on the eyes, the sex scenes are tasteful, the alien invasion that turns the March's neighbors into murderous zombies is believable.

Western Stars

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

Probably for Springsteen fans only. It's (mostly) a concert film, staged in his barn, with a 30-piece orchestra, mostly strings, backing up more standard guitars, keyboards, and drums. The songs are from his latest album, which are drenched in modern cowboy mythos.

In between songs, Bruce monologues his thoughts on life, romance, etc. Which—and I say this with all respect—is mostly new agey psychobabble and gobbledygook. The scenery is gorgeous, though: it's apparently (thanks, IMDB) Joshua Tree National Park in California. Even though his barn is in New Jersey. There are occasional various home movies of (I assume) Bruce's earlier life, from when he was a kid, a scruffy struggling rocker, and (very sweet) canoodling with a much younger Patty Scialfa.

Along the way, he makes reference admiringly to Jimmy Webb's songwriting. And he winds up with a really good cover performance of the old Glen Campbell song, "Rhinestone Cowboy". Here's the audio-only YouTube:

Judy

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

Renée Zellweger won the Best Actress Oscar. But that was it, Oscarwise. (Just one other nomination for "Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling". Zzz.)

The main thread is the 1969 version of Judy Garland. She's kind of a mess in every way: broke, abuser of many substances, a number of failed marriages. But she still has her singing voice and showbiz talent, wowing them in Westminster. When she can shake her bad habits long enough to show up.

And, as a closing title at the end reminds us, she was only a few months away from an untimely OD death.

There are flashbacks to Judy's Wizard of Oz days, where (apparently) her problems began with psychological abuse from Louis B. Mayer, and a steady supply of diet pills from studio handlers. (Can't have a fat actress!)

While admiring Ms. Zellweger's talent, it wasn't enough to make the movie even vaguely interesting for me. Talented performer succumbs to inner demons—so why should I care? Your mileage may vary.

Midway

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

A perfectly fine war movie, the kind they say they don't make any more. No deep lessons, no complex characters, no unexpected twists, no revisionist dark threads revealing inner American corruption, … Think The Longest Day with better special effects. You'd swear they really did blow up all those ships, planes, and people.

It's the story of the early history of the war against Japan. Starting in 1937, when Navy guy Edwin Layton is winding up his peacetime tour of Japan, trading cautious diplomatese with Admiral Yamamoto. Then Pearl Harbor, Marshall Islands, the Doolittle raid, Coral Sea, and (finally) the Battle of Midway.

It's star-studded, and (if I'm reading the credits correctly) considerably financed by Chinese studios. There's a lot of unrealistic dialog that serves mainly to set up historical context. (E.g., Layton: "Pearl Harbor is the greatest intelligence failure in American history." The response could be "Duh!". But isn't.)

Uncut Gems

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

Adam Sandler in a serious drama? OK.

He plays Howard Ratner, a jeweler who's in over his head with romantic, family, and financial problems, mostly self-inflicted due to his multiple character flaws: he's dishonest, impulsive, narcissistic, prone to rage. Usually I prefer a more likeable character, but Howard is more of an amoral force of nature, so it's easy to suspend judgment. As the movie proceeds, he resorts to ever more frenetic and high-risk schemes to keep all the plates spinning.

The main thread of the plot involves Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett ( playing himself), who's interested in … I am not making this up … a rock with the titular "uncut gems" embedded within. This invites social commentary: do NBA players really look around for flashy junk like this to spend their money on? Well, it's their money, so I guess I don't care.

This movie has Serious Oscar Contender written all over it, but it got skunked, with zero nominations. Adam Sandler did, however, win AARP's "Best Actor" in its Movies for Grownups department.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

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

Another comic book-based movie. It absolutely wallows in its absurd premises, but still winds up killing a lot of people along the way. Fine. The MPAA rates it R, for the usual reasons: "sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material". But no female nudity, sadly. It's like that's the new taboo.

It is a sequel. The survivors from the first movie are back (however some of them only briefly). And one of the non-survivors is back too: Colin Firth, who Samuel L. Jackson shot in the head. That sort of thing is recoverable in this universe.

There's a new group of baddies, led by Julianne Moore, who seems to be having fun. She runs a massive drug cartel, and has a scheme to go legit by poisoning all the users of her products, withholding the antidote until and unless the War on Drugs is called off. Unfortunately, the President of the US, Captain Pike, thinks getting rid of all the druggies would be just great! So, no help there.

And the Kingsmen Brits ally with their American counterparts.

Bottom line: to really like this movie, you have to really like tongue-in-cheek carnage, accompanied by bad language. I liked it a little better than the first one, but I might just have been in a more receptive mood.

Destination Wedding

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

A not-bad, not-good, just OK romantic comedy from Amazon Prime. Because we were in the mood for this sort of thing.

Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves play (respectively) Lindsay and Frank, who meet at the boarding gate for a puddle-jumping plane that will take them up to San Luis Obispo for a … well, you see the title up there? That.

They immediately take a dislike to each other, which means they will eventually get romantically entangled. He is the groom's brother, and they do not get along; she is the groom's ex-fiancée, and they broke up contentiously. Most everyone else is having a good time, but Lindsay and Frank unite in their general distaste for the proceedings.

The trick to the movie (quoting IMDB trivia):

Winona Ryder (Lindsay) and Keanu Reeves (Frank) hold the only on-screen speaking roles in the movie. Movies playing on the TV in their rooms and announcements made over PA systems are the only other voices heard.

So here's the thing: the movie entirely relies on the Lindsay/Frank dialog being funny and clever. But that's a hit and miss thing. Also a "how long can this go on" thing.