God's Pocket

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

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. And then (could I confide in you here) she decided she didn't want to see it. And I didn't particularly want to see it either, but how can one in good conscience send a DVD back to Netflix unplayed? So after a few months, she's off to lunch with her ex-coworkers, and…

IMDB classifies this in the "Crime, Drama" genres. Sure. Maybe a bit of Film Noir. And some very, very dark comedy, but you probably shouldn't laugh at these poor folks. Although I eventually did.

This was the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's last movie, and I hope it didn't send him over the edge. He plays Mickey, small-time crook, full-time loser. He's married to hot chick Jeanie (Christina Hendricks), though. But she doesn't seem very happy about that, or anything else.

Mickey is saddled with a pill-popping semi-psychotic stepson, Leon. At least for awhile. Because while he's at work, he threatens an old black guy, who promptly knocks his lights out, permanently, with a piece of pipe.

Problem: Mickey can't afford a decent funeral from the local ghoul/mortician, "Smilin' Jack". Mickey just pulled off a minor league heist with some buddies (including John Turturro), but that went very wrong, and the cash is not forthcoming. Maybe a hot tip on the ponies will come through.

Meanwhile, a "neighborhood" column-writer for the local newspaper (Richard Jenkins) decides to write about Leon's death. Which means interviewing Jeanie, with whom he's immediately smitten. And then…

Well it was based on a novel. Maybe it all came together in the book. Onscreen, it's kind of a mess. Sort of watchable, if you like watching pathetic people wreck their lives.

Acting is first-rate though. Too bad they weren't acting in a better movie.

Green Book

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

It won the Oscar for 2018's Best Picture! So what if I liked Black Panther better? This is still pretty good. And the IMDB raters have it at number 123 on their list of best movies of all time.

But approximately 1942 naysayers started their reviews with "It's like Driving Miss Daisy, except that…".

It's also kind of like The Odd Couple.

Viggo Mortensen plays "Tony Lip", maitre'd/bouncer at the Copacabana. While the club is being renovated, he's out of a job. Fortuitously, an offer comes in: famed pianist Don Shirley is going on a tour in the Deep South, and needs a driver/gofer. A deal is struck.

Complicating things: (1) it's the early sixties; (2) Don is an African-American; (3) as it develops, he's also gay; (4) Tony's the kind of guy who'll throw away perfectly good glasses because his wife let a couple of black plumbers drink from them.

It's based on a true story, but I can imagine the script nearly wrote itself. There's gonna be continuing culture/race-based clashes between Tony and Don. Each will Learn Things, Grudging Respect will be earned, eventually Steadfast Friendship will be established. So, no real surprises.

But the acting is first rate. (Viggo Mortenson plays Tony, Mahershala Ali plays Don.) Peter Farrelly co-wrote, co-produced, and directed; that's quite a change for a guy whose previous movie was Dumb and Dumber To.

Bottom line: very watchable.

Toy Story 4

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The IMDB raters (as I type) have Toy Story 4 ranked #177 on the best movie list of all time.

Hey, maybe. I certainly liked it a lot. Mrs. Salad and I went to BarnZ's in Barrington, and—hey!—since we were there last, they installed reclining seats! Gotta keep up with the times, I guess.

We may also have been the only people there without kids in tow. We are no longer ashamed of this.

Plot: Woody and the gang have settled in with new owner Bonnie. And Woody's super-protective, even to the extent of tagging along to Bonnie's Kindergarten orientation. Where Bonnie is initially miserable, but a little deft interference gets her started on a craft project: a spork, pipe cleaners, tongue depressor, googly eyes, etc.… et voilà! Forky is alive!

Really, those are the rules of the Toy Story universe. Unfortunately, as we've seen before, those rules don't guarantee that the toys will be smart or well-adjusted. Remember, years back, when Buzz Lightyear thought he was an actual astronaut? Well, Forky considers himself to be … trash. And, true to that nature, he keeps trying to throw himself away. Suicidal! Woody decides this must not be allowed!

And some wonderful high jinks ensue. Those Pixar folks can still tell a story, simultaneously hilarious, suspenseful, and heartstring-tugging. New characters are introduced while we're under way, and old characters are rediscovered.

Particularly good: Keanu Reeves as "Duke Caboom", Canadian motorcycle daredevil. Doomed to not quite live up to his TV commercial hype. That's a crisis.

Only complaint: the aliens are mostly MIA. I love those guys.

Spider-Man: Far from Home

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

Pun Son and I decided it was time to see at least one more summer blockbuster. (Mrs. Salad begged off.) And with the heat and humidity outside, it was a good evening to spend in air conditioning that someone else was paying for.

(Well, technically and indirectly, we were paying for it. It's easy to delude yourself.)

The movie describes the travails of Peter Parker, smitten by his smart/funny/dark classmate MJ. He has concocted a romantic scenario for their class trip to Europe. Will he be able to implement it?

Peter doesn't even want to take his Spidey suit along on the trip. But superherodom raises its inevitable head, as "Mysterio" appears, battling the "Elementals", huge monsters threatening the existence of Earth itself. Nick Fury and Maria Hill get into the act; they welcome Mysterio's help but also enlist Spider-Man as kind of backup.

People who remember the comic books will realize that Not All Is What It Seems.

Marisa Tomei returns as Hot Aunt May. Am I wrong to feel disturbed when the movie's "Aunt May" is actually younger than I am?

Not too much of a spoiler: the first post-credits scene has an appearance by … J. Jonah Jameson, played by J.K. Simmons, perhaps the most perfectly cast actor in a comic book role, ever. (Is there an Oscar for that? There should be.)

Apollo 11

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

Fortuitously, this DVD arrived from Netflix so we could watch it amidst all the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the event. It's a bare-bones documentary, using a considerable amount of recently-unearthed 70mm footage, never before seen. The movie was released in IMAX theaters earlier this year, and watching it off a DVD at home is a definite second-best. But it's still good.

All the footage is contemporaneous. There are no after-the-fact interviews, no what-does-it-all-mean chin pulling, and only a little effort to drag in contemporaneous events. (There's one reference to Teddy Kennedy's Chappaquiddick accident, one report of the Vietnam War being relatively quiet.) The sonorous voice of Walter Cronkite is occasionally heard. Also Richard Nixon.

So there's not a lot that's new for those of us who obsessively followed the mission 50 years ago. But (hey) I didn't know that the astronauts played John Stewart's "Mother Country" on their tiny tape player on the way home. In a brilliant moving moment, the filmmakers replace replace the tinny playback with the high-fi version. This might be the most patriotic movie moment I'll experience all year. "Oh, mother country, I do love you…".

This movie also shows the picture of Neil Armstrong in First Man to be (at best) misleading. First Man's Armstrong was a closed-off introvert; but the real Armstrong here is affable and upbeat, occasionally funny.

Black Mass

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

The IMDB trivia-gatherers count 254 f-bombs in this movie.

Johnny Depp plays the late, not particularly lamented, James "Whitey" Bulger; the movie documents his rise from a small-time South Boston hoodlum to a one-man crime wave… and then his fall. There's no great moral lesson to be learned from Whitey's character arc.

On the other hand, Whitey's corruption of his boyhood pal, FBI agent John Connolly, is a moral lesson, but it's pretty straightforward: don't be corrupt.

Along the way there's a lot of unglamorous violence. Depp does a fine job of portraying Bulger as a creepy unpredictable psycho. ("Probably not that much of a stretch for him.")

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Whitey's brother, Boston politician Billy Bulger. He's fine, of course, but doesn't look a bit like Billy. (Maybe the movie producers figured they had too many potato-faced actors in the movie already.)

Stan & Ollie

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

Why yes, it has been a long time between Netflix DVDs. I'm pretty sure we got this one in the mail back in April or so. Still we keep sending them their monthly fee…

Oh, well. We killed off our subscription to the sad Monday-Saturday Foster's Daily Democrat. (Keeping Sunday, for the coupon flyers and the crossword puzzles.) So, overall, we're ahead of the game, moneywise.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, Stan & Ollie. It's not bad, being the sorta-true story of the late career of two legendary funnymen. It opens in 1937, on the set of Way Out West. Stan Laurel attempts to wangle a raise out of the tyrannical producer Hal Roach, but he has little leverage on his own: Hardy's still under contract to Roach. And Hardy, being under constant financial pressure due to his lavish womanizing/gambling habits, doesn't want to rock the boat. So the team splits up.

And we jump forward to 1953, where Stan is trying to revive their career with a new movie. Part of the deal is a vaudeville-style tour of the British Isles, where he and Ollie perform some of their classic skits. It's not promising, as their first dates are sparsely attended. And the would-be movie producer is continually unable to take Stan's calls, never a good sign. And Ollie's health isn't the best…

Stan and Ollie are played (respectively) by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, and you probably couldn't do better than that. Thanks to prosthetics and makeup, the physical resemblance is very good. A few skits are reproduced and (at least to my dim memory) they seem to be on target. (Still funny? Well, they don't make them like that any more; tastes have changed.)

Avengers: Endgame

[5.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As I type, the IMDB raters have pegged this at #8 on their list of best movies of all time. Well, I don't know about that. But I had a real good time.

It's set after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which ended on an incredible downer, Thanos gaining all six Infinity Stones, and successfully carrying out his mad mission to liquidate half of living species throughout the universe. And unfortunately, that also got rid of a significant fraction of the Avengers team.

What happens next? Well, the survivors deal with it the best they can. And you won't be surprised, I hope, that they deal with it with bravery and resourcefulness.

Consumer notes:

  • I rewatched Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix just to refresh my memory, and that was a good idea. Generally speaking … and it's difficult to do this without spoilers: the more Marvel movies you've seen, the more you'll pick up watching this movie.

  • It's three hours, really, and that doesn't include previews. So plan according to your own characteristics and abilities, restroom-wise.

  • I don't really consider it to be a spoiler, but don't sit through N minutes of credits simply because you're used to Marvel movies having amusing/revealing mini-scenes in mid-credits or post-credits. Not here.

Spotlight

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

I must reveal that Netflix sent me this DVD nearly four months ago. Mrs. Salad (who is Catholic) didn't want to see it. And I kept finding other things to do. But it's good! It won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in 2016, and was nominated for four more. The acting talent is overkill: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci,… and a bunch of others.

It is the story of how the Boston Globe "Spotlight" investigative team unveiled the slimy history of kid-molesting priests in Boston. The Church did its utmost to keep the problem under wraps, the Massachusetts "justice" system was agreeable, and bad priests walked free, often to offend in different parishes.

There's not a lot of action. Amend that: there's not any action, it's just people pretty much talking to each other. Occasionally shouting. But I stayed awake, while I've been known to fall asleep during the fight scenes in thrillers.

And, hey, guess what? This means I've watched all eight of the 2016 Best Picture nominees. Given the Oscars' current penchant for nominating tediously woke movies, I doubt I'll manage this feat again.

The Hate U Give

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

So this movie was part of the annual MLK tribute at the University Near Here this past February. As discussed at the time, the title is (allegedly) based on the rap artist Tupac Shakur who had a "THUG LIFE" tattoo, which he alleged was an acronym for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everything". (The movie spells this out, but not enough times to imperil its PG-13 rating.)

I was encouraged to view the movie thanks to this [NRPlus] review by Kyle Smith.

Anyway: the hero is beautiful African-American high schooler Starr. She is the beloved daughter of a semi-intact middle-class black family, residing in a nice house in the "predominantly black" community. But the local public high school is a horror show, so her parents sacrifice to send her to a good, heavily upper-class white school further away. She self-conciously adopts an alternate "non-ghetto" persona for use while there. And she even has a white boyfriend.

But she also has connections back close to home. So she attends a party where (oh well) gunshots erupt, which causes everyone to chaotically scatter. She's offered a ride home by an old boyfriend who just happens to be a member of the local drug-dealing gang. Who, when they are stopped by a white cop, is not very smart about obeying orders. And when he makes a Sudden Move, he gets shot.

This puts Starr in conflict with both the white culture at her school and the black culture. The local drug lord doesn't want her to testify to the grand jury investigating the shooting (although the reasons for that are unclear). And her best girlfriend thinks the cop was justified in using deadly force.

So: there's a lot of conflict and anguish. Starr's family and acquaintances are well developed, the acting is fine. The overall tone is a little strident. (But is redeemed somewhat when an uncle reminds Starr about the realities of police life.)