My Cousin Rachel

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

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. I think she enjoyed it, but I couldn't wait for it to end. It's not particularly long (1.77 hours), but when your brain is screaming I don't like these people, I don't care what happens to any of them, I don't care whodunit. … well, it can seem longer.

It takes place mostly on the scenic Cornish coast, I think sometime in the 19th century (sorry, wasn't paying attention to that). The protagonist, Philip, is enraptured with/by Rachel, the widow of his older cousin Ambrose. Even though Ambrose suspected that Rachel was poisoning him, and in league with the slimy Italian Count Rainaldi. There's a large estate involved.

It is based on a Daphne Du Maurier novel, just like a lot of good movies are. In fact, this is a remake of a 1952 version that starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton! Masterpiece Mystery did a version, too.

I suppose part of the appeal is all the scenery, the costumery, the mansions, the English accents. Wonder how it would work translated to present day Omaha? Calling Alexander Payne…

Rachel Weisz plays Rachel, and I think I will give this flick an extra half-star for that. Because she delivered one of my all time favorite movie lines in The Mummy.

Last Modified 2018-03-18 7:13 AM EDT

Blade Runner 2049

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

To be honest, I'm not sure if I've ever made it through the original Blade Runner without nodding off somewhere or other in the middle. All those dark artsy atmospherics kind of put me to sleep.

And similarly with Blade Runner 2049, I'm sorry to say. First try was a dismal failure, as I cut out about twenty minutes in. Second try was better, I'm pretty sure I only missed a few minutes. Or maybe slightly more than a few minutes. Difficult to tell, really. It's very long (only 17 minutes short of three hours).

Ryan Gosling plays "K"; like Harrison Ford's original Deckard, he's a replicant (sorry, spoiler there for the original) who's tasked with hunting down and (if necessary, and it's always necessary) terminating fugitive replicants.

His latest mission uncovers a decades-old box of bones. They're easy to track down because of a replicant serial number, and—guess what—they are Rachael's. And they can tell she died in childbirth. Oh oh.

So K starts looking for the missing kid, which involves him finding (I'm pretty sure you know this already) Deckard. But the Evil Corporate Forces behind it all have their own plans too, involving (for some hazily-specified reasons) heartless and arbitrary violence.

I liked this mainly for Harrison Ford's performance; I think he should have gotten an Oscar for it. And the great Edward James Olmos comes back as Very Old Gaff, too.

Moral, I think: always make sure your girlfriend is routinely backed up to the cloud.

Black Panther

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

So we went to see a theater movie, one that pretty much everyone else in America has seen by now: Black Panther. There was a surprisingly decent crowd in the theater for a 12:50pm Monday showing.

The hero, of course, is T'Challa, in line to ascend to the throne of the Kingdom of Wakanda with the blowing-up death of his father in the last Captain America movie. Wakanda is trying to keep secret its vast riches and technical prowess, a result of its sitting on a vast amount of vibranium, the major ingredient in Cap's shield. It turns out it's a major source of technological mumbo-jumbo as well.

But there are problems, because the bad guys are figuring out the vibranium stuff, too, notably "Ulysses Klaue", who masterminds the theft of an invaluable vibranium weapon from a British museum. He is assisted by "Erik Killmonger", who (it turns out) has reasons of his own for wanting to torment T'Challa and Wakanda.

So: a rich story, very good acting, very very good special effects. I'm pretty immune to the hoopla about finally having a superhero of African descent. (Hey, we're all of African descent, kids.)

Bad Moms

[0.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Mrs. Salad pick. She said a lot of the women in her Facebook milieu, mostly ex-students, loved it. I tremble for the future of our country, also their families. It was awful.

Mila Kunis is the protagonist, Amy, Bad Mom Prime. She is every cliché in the book: time-stressed, overworked, underpaid, on the hairy edge of a nervous breakdown. And, oh yeah, her slimy husband is cyber-cheating on her.

So she tosses him out of the house, and takes up with two other Bad Moms, meek Kiki (Kristen Bell) and earthy Carla (Kathryn Hahn). They band together to find their liberation, which involves a lot of gutter language and alcohol abuse.

I'm not kidding about the gutter language, it's at Tarantino levels. If that's what floats your boat, go for it. But I think Kathryn Hahn kind of goes over the line; without getting into specifics, she uses a word to describe her son that, um, no mother should ever use to describe her son.

Christina Applegate plays the PTA president-from-hell, Gwendolyn. The sole reason for rating this movie a half-star: she has a pretty amusing video presentation accompanying her announcement of how the upcoming school bake sale will be run. See if you can find this on YouTube, and you'll find the only thing I chuckled at in this movie.

The Judge

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

I was prepared to like this movie better than I did. I like Robert Downey, Jr. Also Robert Duvall is great (he got an Supporting Actor Oscar nomination). But…

It's very long, 2 hours and 21 minutes, and it obviously doesn't need to be.

Mr. Downey plays high-powered Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer. He specializes in getting his obviously guilty clients acquitted by Whatever Means Necessary, but that's the (insanely well-paid) job. Only problem: his marriage has fallen apart, probably due to his neglect. He has a cute precocious daughter.

And then his small-town Indiana mother dies. He's been estranged from his family for years, but goes back for the funeral. He's immediately at odds with "The Judge", his father, played by the aforementioned Mr. Duvall. The Judge is a hard-nosed lock-em-upper. There are also two brothers: Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) a once-promising athlete now relegated to managing a tire store, and Dale, mentally challenged, obsessed with filming everything that goes on. (And when I say "filming", that's literal 8mm stuff. Can you even get that developed anywhere?)

Obviously, Hank wants to vamoose back to the big city ASAP. But—oops—fate intervenes when the Judge is credibly accused of intentionally using his Caddy to run down a miscreant just out of the slammer. Obviously, Hank has to come to the Judge's defense. Which involves staying in Indiana for… well, it seems like forever.

Victoria & Abdul

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

As the Oscars approach, 'tis the season to … check out a movie that was obvious Oscar bait, but nonetheless got nearly completely snubbed. (Two nominations, for Makeup and Costumes.)

Although Judi Densch did get a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy". Only problem: this movie is not a musical. Therefore…

Anyway, Dame Judi plays Queen Victoria. As we begin, in 1888, there's a lot of Wretched Imperial Excess involved in celebrating her 50th year as Queen. This includes importing a small golden coinlike object from India, plus two "Hindus" to present it, with all due ostentation.

The movie turns on this oddity: one of the presenters, Abdul (who's actually a Muslim), defies royal protocol, catches the Queenly eye, and eventually works his way into Vicki's good graces. For good reason: he's charismatic, exotic, and charming. But this scandalizes the royal retinue, who are outraged at Abdul's darker complexion, but even more outraged at their relative eclipse from the Queen's favor.

The movie sent me to History vs Hollywood to find out how much liberty was taken to make a good story. A significant amount, it turns out. For one thing, Queen Vicky was probably not very close to the stalwart racial progressive portrayed here. And real-life Abdul wasn't quite as saintlike as portrayed either.

Still, not a bad try. Although she's not Oscar-nominated, Dame Judi acts the heck out of her role, and the rest of the cast is pretty good too. There's a lot of anti-imperialism boilerplate, and the fact that Abdul was a Muslim also hits some PC themes. But it's mainly a good, mostly true, story.


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

One of Mrs. Salad's Netflix picks. I did not fall asleep while watching it, which these days counts as moderate praise.

Bryan Cranston plays Howard Wakefield, a New York lawyer. He's married to Jennifer Garner (woo!), has two nice twin daughters, a big house in some unspecified suburb, and is kind of a shithead. One day a power failure makes his commute home a nightmare. This (for some reason) tips his vague feelings of dissatisfaction into action. He refuses his wife's incoming calls, and when he finally gets home, he clambers up into the storage space over his garage and spies on his house through a grimy window.

Stupid joke, or something more? Something more. Flashbacks, fantasized scenes, and voice-overs give us a more complete picture. (But that more complete picture just fleshes out the fact that Howard is a demented shithead.) The logistics of living undetected 30 feet away from your family are hinted at; Mrs. Salad pointed out every violation of food safety guidelines. (Readers, do not, under any circumstances, eat a foil-wrapped baked potato that's been allowed to cool off.)

Not bad, but kind of pretentious. Based on a New Yorker story by E. L. Doctorow, which (in turn) was based on a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story. Which you can read here if desired.

Midnight Special

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

Well, first: Why is the movie called Midnight Special? The closing credits feature the traditional folk song , but—trust me—that doesn't answer the question.

It's questions like this that makes me happy to be a skilled Google querier. Here's the answer, such as it is, from writer/director Jeff Nichols:

Q: Let's start with the title, Midnight Special. Why did you decide to call it that?

A: Well to be honest, you know, when I was still developing the story I was just mainly thinking about the genre elements. I hadn't really attached all the personal elements from my life yet, and when I was thinking about it kind of simply as a genre film, it's kind of this badass homage '70's and '80's sci-fi chase movies. I just thought of – I thought of that title and I thought it sounded tough, I thought it sounded cool and I thought it was evocative of the style of film. I wanted it to make it sound like a midnight drive-in movie or something, it just felt kind of muscular, just felt cool. I was a big fan of the song, but there was no real direct connection at that time to the plot, although maybe they kind of crept into my mind through osmosis or's a great song, and I thought it was a cool title.

So… now we know. Sort of. We also know that Jeff is not the kind of guy to just say "I thought it was a cool title" right up front.

The movie, to its credit, starts off on the run: guys named Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) are on the lam with a kid named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher, the hero from It). The cops are in pursuit, an Amber Alert has been issued, …

The movie gradually fills in the answers to all the what's-going-on questions. All is not as it seems. Alton has Strange Powers. Roy is his bio-dad, and whatever their other flaws, he and Lucas have his best interests at heart. And it turns out they're not only on the run from the normal cops, but also a wacky religious cult (led by Sam Shepard in one of his last movies) and the full force of the FBI/CIA/NSA/DHS/etc.

There are a lot of did-not-see-that-coming plot elements. I like those a lot.

All the acting is first-rate. Especially good is Adam Driver in a pre-Kylo Ren role as a sympathetically nerdy NSA analyst. (And I couldn't help but think how much better he is in this role than he is as Kylo Ren.)

The Man Who Knew Infinity

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

A Mrs. Salad pick, and it's not bad!

It is the "based on fact" story of the wonderful collaboration between mathematicians G. H. Hardy (played by Jeremy Irons) and Srinivasa Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel). The as-is truth is pretty good: Ramanujan was largely self-taught in mathematics in India, and took to sending his research notes over to England for the recognition that was hard to come by locally. Hardy invited him to Trinity College, where they bumped noggins on all sorts of thorny problems. But Ramanujan grew ill, and moved back to India, and kicked the bucket shortly thereafter.

There are cameos from Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam) and John Littlewood (Toby Jones). World War I took place contemporaneously, and that horror is shown, as is the casual expected racism toward Ramanujan by ordinary folk and some of the Trinity faculty. The loneliness of Ramanujan's child bride in India and the posessiveness of his mother also play roles.

It's sort of by-the-numbers (heh) with very good acting. It's pretty brave to make a movie about mathematicians, I suppose. Once you go through John Nash, Alan Turing, and Ramanujan, … I can't think of a lot of stories ripe for moviemaking. Maybe Emmy Noether?


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

I think this is the first James McAvoy movie I've seen where I haven't wanted to give him a good slap. There's something about him…

But here "Slappy" plays [small spoiler alert] a couple dozen different characters. And, what do you know, he's actually very good at that.

Things kick off when he abducts three teenage girls; two, Claire and Marcia, are good-time partiers. But the third, Casey, is unplanned collateral damage, she's unpopular, dark, and moody, and is only in the mix due to a spontaneous ride offer from Claire's dad.

So who do you think will be the plucky heroine here? Good guess.

Also in the mix is Betty Buckley, playing the villain's shrink. It's through her that we gain insights as to what makes the bad guy tick. But she gets surprised at the sheer nature of his disorder. Right in time to be … too late. (Geez, didn't she play the same sort of role in Carrie, the Sissy Spacek one? Yup.)

The movie is written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and it's kind of a return to form for him, after a string of poorly-performing movies. And here's another spoiler: the final scene reveals a surprising connection to a previous Shyamalan movie. And, oops, looking at IMDB shows that its actually a sequel setup. I'm in.