Mary Poppins Returns

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

Spoiler Alert: in this movie, Mary Poppins returns. As Emily Blunt, not Julie Andrews.

I can't help but observe that this moves Mary up a couple notches on the sexy scale. Is it just me?

You need to remember that the original movie had Mary nannying Michael and Jane. They're all grown up here, and widower Michael has his own brood: Annabel, Georgie, and John. And Michael's in deep financial trouble, about to lose his house.

Fortunately, Mary shows up. (It seems to take a real long time for her to show up.) And does her usual thing: taking the kids into semi-animated fantasies with big song-and-dance production numbers.

And (spoiler alert for real this time): Dick Van Dyke!

Dead Reckoning

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

Back in ancient times (1972), Woody Allen made funny movies. I enjoyed Play It Again, Sam, in which an illusory Humphrey Bogart provides real-time romantic advice to Allen's character.

Well, actually not Bogart; it's the character Bogie played in numerous movies: hard-boiled, cynical, self-assured, and a chick magnet. At one point, Bogie seeks to calm Allen's date-night jitters: "Relax. You're as nervous as Lizabeth Scott was before I blew her brains out."

Well, trivia fans: this is the only movie Bogart made with Lizabeth Scott. And (spoiler alert) he does not blow her brains out.

Also, Bogie never (quite) said "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca.

So don't put Woody Allen on your team for movie trivia night.

But this movie: Bogart's character, 'Rip' Murdock, is returning from WWII to America with his Army buddy Johnny. When Rip reveals that they're headed to Washington, where Johnny is to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, Johnny inexplicably takes a powder, hopping a train to WhoKnowsWhereVille.

Rip is nonplussed by Johnny's behavior, and resolves to find out what's going on with his buddy. He tracks Johnny to Gulf City, a sin-filled Southern town. Unfortunately, what he finds is a corpse in the morgue, burned beyond recognition. A little research in a newspaper archive finds the problem: before he signed up with the Army, Johnny was a murder suspect. The victim was a rich guy, and testifying against Johnny was the rich guy's wife… ah, there she is, Lizabeth Scott! And a little further investigation shows that she's somehow tied up with local racketeer Martinelli.

So who killed the rich guy? And who killed Johnny? And … hey … who killed the bartender whose corpse has been planted in Murdock's hotel room?

It's a complex plot, all right. I think it gets straightened out in the end. Lizabeth doesn't get her brains blown out, but something else bad happens.

The Gentlemen

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

Produced by Guy Ritchie. Written by Guy Ritchie. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Good job, Guy.

It's a complex, intricately plotted story of the British marijuana trade. Since pot is still illegal in Great Britain, the folks in charge are criminals. Very rich criminals, but still.

The narrative is framed by sleazy private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant) blackmailing Ray (Charlie Hunnam); Ray is the consigliare to the big boss, Michael (Matthew McConaughey). (Fletcher was hired by even-sleazier tabloid magnate "Big Dave" (Eddie Marsan) to expose Michael, in revenge for a social slight, but Fletcher figures he can do better for himself via his blackmail scheme.)

Michael is trying to put together a nine-figure deal (where those figures are in British pounds) to sell off his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong); his goal is to retire and kick back with his lovely wife Rosalind (Lady Mary herself, Michelle Dockery). But there's no honor among thieves, and a lot of effort is put into pushing the deal off the rails. Violently.

Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are a few more major characters, and a bunch more minor ones. And there's not a lot of downtime, no strolling by the river to ponder the meaning of it all. The also movie jumps back and forth in time a bit, too. You have to pay attention!

There's also a considerable amount of absurdity and humor amidst all the mayhem. Good stuff.

Heaven Can Wait

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

A fun screwball comedy from 1943, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

The way the afterlife works: you get to apply to the place you want to go to. Poor Henry (Don Ameche) decides to go straight to Hell ("where innumerable people had told him so often to go"). He's apparently not big on self-esteem. This involves an interview with "His Excellency", aka Satan. (Laird Cregar, a role he was born to play.) We are then taken on a cinematic journey through Henry's life, centering on his romance and marriage with Martha (Gene Tierney). It's full of hijinx and as much innuendo as you could get away with in 1943. The supporting cast is wonderful too.

The movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture. But it lost to Casablanca. There's no shame in losing to Casablanca.

Mrs. Salad remarked on how much Laird Cregar looked like a modern American pol. What do you think?

[Laird and Ted]

Bill & Ted Face the Music

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

Well, it was a nice try, I suppose. In the sense that one of these coldly-calculated sequels to fondly-remembered movies is a "nice try" to shake some cash out of movie-fan wallets.

The original movies were in 1989 and 1991. Let's see, math… yes, thirty years ago. I watched them both. They were kind of amusing fluff. But this movie relies on me remembering plot details of three-decade-old fluff in order to make sense out of what's happening here.

Anyway: Bill and Ted are older, still married to the medieval princesses they grabbed in the first movie. They each have a daughter, who echo their fathers' blissful cluelessness. Unfortunately, they've failed as a rock band, and (more importantly) failed to fulfill their promised destiny of writing and performing a song that will bring the world together in harmony. And time's running out for that: they're notified that they have a little over an hour to accomplish the feat, else the universe will be destroyed.

It's amazing how little I cared about the universe being destroyed.

The movie gets one star, thanks to this bit of trivia

When dialing infinity Ted speaks the number sequences "2718" (pause) "1828". The natural base of logarithms "e" is 2.718281828...

I like math jokes. Too bad there weren't more of them.

[2021-01-07 update: I listened to this week's Reason interview on this morning's dog walk. Nick Gillespie interviewed Alex Winter, who plays Bill. Or maybe Ted. I forget. But anyway: Alex Winter is nothing like his character: he's intelligent, articulate, well-read. Which means he's a great actor, becuase you'd never get that from the Bill & Ted movies.]


Last Modified 2021-01-07 10:34 AM EST

Ava

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

A Netflix streamer. For some reason, Hollywood makes a lot of these lady assassin movies, where the lady assassin's employers decide she's more trouble than she's worth. Where they decide to take her off the board with extreme prejudice. And soon discover they've got more than they bargained for. How long have they been doing this? Well, I thought back to The Long Kiss Goodnight where Geena Davis filled the role.

So anyway, the lady assassin here is Ava, played by Jessica Chastain. Her handler is father-figure Duke, played by John Malkovich. And Duke's boss, the one who decides he's had enough of Ava's quirks is Simon, played by Colin Farrell.

What's different is that when Ava decides she needs to get her head on straight, she heads back to Boston and her estranged family: sister Judy (Jess Weixler), her ex-boyfriend and Judy's current boyfriend Michael (Common), and they go to visit Mom in the hospital…

And, whoa: Mom is played by Geena Davis. I did not see that coming.

Anyway: lots of bad language, violence, smoking. And (spoiler, why not) an inconclusive ending. If you hate those, avoid. Or turn off the set about thirty seconds before the movie ends.

Jexi

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

Truth be told, this is an OK comedy, raunchy division. Not great, not awful. The star, Adam Devine is an Iowa boy, like me and Neal Stephenson. So we'll give him a pass, and hope he works on better projects in the future.

He plays Phil, who has a sweet San Francisco pad, coupled with a soul-deadening job at an Internet content farm; he and his co-workers have the non-stop everyday task of composing clickbait listicles. ("Ten Cats That Look Like Ryan Gosling") He's a friendless loner, shies away from any sort of risk-taking, dedicated to the phone he looks at incessantly. (Like all San Franciscans, the movie claims.)

Two things happen: he meets the lovely Cate, proprietor of a bike shop. It's a "meet cute", involving destruction of said phone. So he needs a new one, he gets one from Wanda Sykes, and it has one of those new-fangled AI assistants, named "Jexi".

It turns out that Phil's copy of Jexi is all too advanced, complete with character flaws. For one, she's foulmouthed. (The first five times Jexi deadpans an f-bomb, it's pretty funny. The next few hundred times… maybe not so much.) Jexi dedicates all her CPU cycles to improving Phil's life. And guess what, it works!

It works all too well: as Phil and Cate hit it off, Jexi feels ignored and gets jealous. And dedicates herself now to ruining Phil's new life.

I stayed awake. These days, that's pretty high praise.

Night and the City

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

Another movie directed by that blacklisted ex-Commie, Jules Dassin. It's set in filthy 1950 London. Specifically, in the filthiest parts of town, among the denizens of the semi-underworld: gamblers, black marketeers, forgers, barflies, hookers (thinly-disguised as appropriate for a 1950 movie).

And then there's Harry Fabian, played by frenetic Richard Widmark. He works as a tout, on commission for one of those dens of iniquity, the "Silver Fox Club", bringing in high-rolling tourists to be fleeced. He has a saintly girlfriend, Mary (Gene Tierney, in a far different role that the last movie we saw her in.) And he has big, big plans. He wants badly to "be somebody". But, as Lily Tomlin could have told him, he should have been more specific.

The scheme he latches onto involves breaking into the wrestling promotion business. He erects a complex house of cards to finance his effort, involving the Silver Fox's fat owner, his unfaithful wife, an aged Graeco-Roman wrestler, the wrestler's mobster son, various others on society's edge.

Herbert Lom plays the mobster son. Man, nobody did dead eyes like Herbert Lom. I think Al Pacino studied Herbert Lom's performance here for Godfather II.

Rope of Sand

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

I watched Rope of Sand on the TV of Sand, while sitting on the Futon of Sand. And slept through most of it, darn. So I got up early and watched it downstairs on the Computer of Sand. Much better.

No subtitles, though. What the hell. Well, I got the gist.

You'll notice something right away about this 1949 movie it reunites a bunch of actors from Casablanca: Peter Lorre, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid. (Also, thanks to IMDB's collaboration search tool: Georges Renavent, uncredited in both movies.) Rains and Lorre play very similar characters to their Casablanca roles, Henreid very different. And according to IMDB:

Hal Wallis and screenwriter of "Rope of Sand" saw it as a re-teaming of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. The producer of "Casablanca" did not get the stars but managed to recruit supporting players Claude Rains, Paul Henried, and Peter Lorre.

That would have been neat. We got Burt Lancaster and Corinne Calvet instead.

It's set in South Africa. Henreid plays Vogel, a sadistic mining company cop, dedicated to protecting the diamonds that poachers might retrieve out of the desolate company-owned forbidden zone. That's his job, but really, he just enjoys inflicting pain on people.

Then arrives a man Vogel tortured but failed to break years back: Mike Davis (Lancaster). He had found a fortune in diamonds out there in the desert wastes, but their secret location stayed with him.

In the background: company man Arthur Martingale (Rains), who despises Vogel but must keep him around. He gets acquainted with Suzanne (Calvet), variously described as a "Capetown trollop" and "French harlot". However, you just know that under about three inches of mud there beats a heart of gold. Martingale hires Suzanne to worm the diamonds' location from Mike.

There's a lot of betrayal, violence, sweating, sadism, smoking, cheating at cards, late-40s sex. If you can stay awake, it's a lot of fun.


Last Modified 2020-12-25 5:29 AM EST

Shockproof

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

So this got me wondering about movie titles. Shockproof? Who's supposed to be shockproof here? What happens over the course of the movie could (I suppose) be shocking to some of the characters. But they all seem to be appropriately shocked. So I don't know about the title. I suppose it's better than Parole Officer Temptress?

It's the story of Jenny Marsh (played by Patricia Knight), fresh out of the slammer where she's spent a measly five years for murder. She buys some new duds, gets a bleach job for her hair, and is off to meet with her new parole officer, Griff (Cornell Wilde). He's no-nonsense, at least at first: here are the rules (which are pretty strict by modern standards), break them and I'll send you back to the pen. He's particularly adamant that Jenny not associate with previous boyfriend, Harry. Harry's a dapper well-to-do semi-criminal, still has the hots for Jenny. And he's very persistent in his affections.

To complicate matters, Griff gets the hots for Jenny himself. And he fulfills his duty to find her a job… by setting her up in his house, taking care of his blind (but oh-so-wise and saintly) mother.

So it's a volatile situation, and it rapidly moves toward the inevitable gunplay.

The Netflix DVD is a disk out of "The Samuel Fuller Film Collection"; he co-wrote the movie. Apparently his ending was very much a downer; it was rewritten to … semi-spoiler coming … provide a much sappier and less believable conclusion.