Avengers: Infinity War

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

It looks to be a bountiful summer for movie blockbusters, and it seems this will be one of the blockbusteriest. So Mrs. Salad and I travelled down to Newington on a rainy Sunday afternoon to check out Marvel's latest effort.

Mrs. Salad's thumbnail review: "So much fighting." Mine: "Cool!"

Anyway: this is the big lollapalooza that the movies have been foreshadowing for about six years: Thanos is coming to town, looking for those "infinity stones" that have been carelessly scattered around the galaxy. Oh, but he has a noble purpose in mind: slaughter of half the population to forestall scarcity and ecological disaster.

Yes, Thanos is evil, but he's also a moron. Given that we're also seeing easy interstellar travel and limitless energy sources, it's difficult to imagine that it wouldn't be simple to arrange prosperity for all sentient creatures. Certainly simpler than his herculean efforts to obtain the stones.

But that wouldn't make much of a movie, I guess. As we begin, the Avengers have split up, thanks to the spat in the previous movie. And a few members are totally MIA. But (fortunately) those lovable Guardians of the Galaxy stumble in to assist. And Doc Strange, Mister of the Mastic Arts. A lot of battles ensue over far-flung planets and Earth. All winding up in a big showdown in Wakanda.

And a truly shocking conclusion. Albeit one with enough ambiguity to gift us with overwrought fanboy speculation until the next movie comes out next year.

Coco

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It would be easy, all too easy, to dismiss this flick as a politically-correct attempt by a major motion picture studio to cater to the Hispanic demographic. I was apprehensive, myself. But my doubts were quickly swept away, as the movie hit all of my right buttons: a paean to family, honesty, love, and courage. Which still crosses ethnic lines.

It's also gorgeous to watch.

The hero is not Coco. Took me a few minutes to get that straight in my head. It's Miguel. He's a young boy with big dreams in a big family. Unfortunately, his big dreams do not involve the family business, which is shoes. He wants to be a musician, like his hero, the late Ernesto de la Cruz, a movie star/crooner.

Miguel's problems also involve the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday where everyone's passed-away ancestors are officially remembered. Due to some supernatural mixup, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead, where everyone's a skeleton except him. He gets to know his non-living ancestors. But—hey, just maybe—he can meet up with de la Cruz and get his blessing…

One amazing thing about this movie is its consistent rules about the interactions between the real world and the dead world. Yes, once you buy the premise, and why shouldn't you, it all makes a certain amount of wonderful sense.

Small hint/spoiler: as is common in Pixar movies, the villain is… I can say no more.

Also, I liked the doggie. Pay attention to the doggie. More there than meets the eye.

Ready Player One

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

So we went to the cinema to see Steven Spielberg's latest. I liked it a lot.

Set in a mildly-dystopic 2045, where (seemingly) most of the US population has decided to spend its spare time in the virtual reality world of the "Oasis", a huge cyber-environment set up years ago by the late James Halliday. The hero, Wade Watts, lives in a Columbus trailer park slum, but he's gained a measure of virtual fame, via his Oasis avatar "Parzival". His ambition, like that of millions of other players, is to find an Easter Egg Halliday hid in Oasis before his death, and thereby become heir to the Halliday cyber-empire. He is joined by some other plucky young people, and finds himself in conflict with a greedy corporate behemoth.

It's kind of a wonderful mishmash. Let's see if we can sort it out:

  • 50%: gorgeous, amazing, over-the-top CGI virtual-reality exploits and battles, with piles of inside jokes and pop-cultural references.
  • 30%: a standard story of young misfits against the previously mentioned corporate behemoth.
  • 20%: a surprisingly bittersweet backstory of two friends and business partners in love with the same girl, which eventually breaks up their friendship and their business.

Me, I thought Spielberg could have played up the backstory more, and toned down the CGI stuff. Good as it is, it's not the reason we go to the movies, Steve.

The Shape of Water

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

Politics and movies are nearly always a toxic mix, and I was prepared to find this movie pretty tedious, based on comments referring to it as "SJW Splash". But, guess what, if you go into a movie expecting it to be ludicrously cartoonish in its good guy/bad guy setups, you can actually have a good time.

It had 13 Oscar nominations and won 4, including Best Picture, so it really does have more stuff going for it than its political correctness.

It is set in 1962 Baltimore. The heroine, Elisa (Sally Jenkins), is a lonely mute living above a dying movie theatre. She's friends with Giles (Richard Jenkins), an equally lonely closeted gay artist. She's fond of self-gratification in her bathtub. And she works at a super-secret underground government complex (with colleague Zelda, Olivia Spencer).

Which is fine, until the villainous feds bring in a creature discovered in Brazil, for no apparent purpose other than torture and eventual vivisection. The villains behind this are Michael Shannon, and also Nick Searcy as his cold-blooded military superior.

The creature, of course, is intelligent, which Elisa discovers. She also finds him sexy. So (eventually) she hatches a scheme to rescue him and return him to a safe watery abode.

IMDB genricizes this as "Adventure/Drama/Fantasy", but I'd add "Comedy". If you're in the right frame of mind, it's frickin' hilarious.

Pan

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

This movie made the "Biggest Movie Bombs of 2015" lists. There was a lot of competition, including Jupiter Ascending, and Tomorrowland. But Mrs. Salad saw a preview, and asked for it to go on her portion of the Netflix queue. And so here it is.

It is the origin story of Peter Pan. Left at the door of a London orphanage by his teary mom, Peter grows up under the thumb of the tyrannical nuns that run the place. And as it turns out, the nuns are also greedy; their side business is allowing a few orphans each night to be kidnapped by pirates flying in from Neverland. Eventually, Peter is grabbed.

Yeah, but not that pirate. The head guy is named "Blackbeard" (played by Hugh Jackman), and he uses his orphans to supplement his slave labor force, working in the mines to extract fairy dust. Er, for some reason. Brings immortality, or something? I may have nodded off briefly.

Anyway: Peter meets up with fellow-prisoner Hook, who's more or less a Han Solo character here. (Even though he's called Hook, he still has both his hands in this movie.) Hook and Peter form an uneasy partnership, escape from Blackbeard's clutches and join up with Tiger Lily, whose native tribe engages in warfare to protect Neverland from Blackbeard's ecological depredations.

Also appearing: Smee, crocodiles, mermaids, Tinkerbell. The movie obviously had a very big budget. But: it can't make up its mind whether it wants to be silly or deadly serious. At times, it nearly becomes a musical. Seems a lot longer than 111 minutes. Slight spoiler: there's room for another movie between this one and standard-Disney-issue Peter Pan. But (see "bomb" comments above) that movie will never be made.

Marshall

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

This movie has Oscar-intentions written all over it. Didn't work out, sorry: just one nomination for "Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)". And it lost to a song from Coco.

"Marshall" is Thurgood Marshall, and it's set just before World War II. Marshall (played by T'Challa/Jackie Robinson himself, Chadwick Boseman) is a lawyer working for the NAACP, looking to stop the judicial railroading of African-Americans wherever it occurs. And in that timeframe, it happens a lot.

The movie centers on the alleged rape of a Greenwich socialite (Kate Hudson) by her chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown). The trial is set in Bristol County, Connecticut, which is not as bad as Mississippi, but almost. Marshall hooks up with local lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) for the trial. And what follows is pretty standard courtroom drama, with the added complications of racial tension.

There's a lot of good acting here, and extra points for earnestness, but no surprises. As is standard with "based on a true story" movies, there were liberties taken with history.

Here's what I didn't remember about Chadwick Boseman: he was in an episode of Justified! It was not a recurring role, unfortunately, as his character made the mistake of waving a gun around Rachel Brooks.

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.