A Star Is Born

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

Your mileage may definitely vary: this movie won one Oscar (Best Song) and was nominated for seven more (including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay). The IMDB raters give it a 7.8, pretty decent.

And the Netflix algorithm thought I'd love it.

Wrong. But maybe I was just in no mood for seeing the story of impossibly rich, majorly famous, allegedly talented people destroy their lives.

Anyway: Bradley Cooper plays Jack, the musical superstar with substance abuse problems, a dysfunctional relationship with his older brother, Bobby (Sam Elliot) and also tinnitus. After a performance, he's on a desperate search for booze and goes into a drag bar, where Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing La Vie en Rose. He is enraptured, and before you can say "Are you sure this is a good idea?" she's sharing the stage with him, which launches her career into the stratosphere. Which sets him up for his inevitable eclipse, futher substance abuse, and…

Well, you get the idea. Hollywood loves this plot; IMDB counts four previous movie versions. (One of which I saw, the one with Barbra Streisand, and I didn't like that one either.)

Except… whoa, that was Andrew Dice Clay?

Captain Marvel

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

I would have skipped this movie except that it seems to be a prequel of sorts to the upcoming Avengers flick. Which, frankly, I wish I'd seen instead. It's tough keeping track of the plot when so many of the participants are shape-shifters, able to impersonate (apparently) any vaguely humanoid form factor. And I'm pretty weak, in any case, on a lot of the details: are there two tesseracts? How did Carol get her suit back? (Mrs. Salad asked about this too.)

Anyway: as the movie opens, Brie Larson plays Vers, a member of an elite Kree mercenary squad, headed up by Jude Law. They're in conflict with the shape-shifting Skrulls, and a botched mission sends Vers crashlanding to planet C-53, aka 1995 Earth. Where she discovers details about her long-lost past (she's actually from Earth herself, and she's Carol Danvers!) and disturbing revelations about her current situation.

The feminism is pretty strident, but seems to be limited to, hey, let's watch the empowered enlightened girls blow up the bad guys and save the day. Also … spoiler alert! … the Skrull turn out to be the good guys (a little unsettling to those of us who were reading Marvel comics in the 1970s), and before you can say "family separation" they are refugees victimized by the Trumplike racist policies of the Kree. Egad.

Still, it's OK. A certain amount of fun. Don't leave until the credits are over.

Tully

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

I'm not proud to admit that Netflix sent me this DVD many moons ago, and it languished next to the Blu-ray player. Kept finding different things to watch. And Mrs. Salad was uninterested, from what she read about it. But she went out with the church ladies, so I bit the bullet and… Hey, it was pretty good.

It's the story of no-longer-young mother Marlo, who's about 11 months pregnant with her third child. She's no longer enthusiastic about that prospect, given her young son, Jonah, who has serious behavioral issues (euphemistically described as "quirky"). And her husband is increasingly adept at detaching himself from parental responsibilities, retreating to their bedroom for long stretches of video gaming.

Things get worse after the baby arrives, with Margo increasingly on edge. But there's an out: her rich brother has offered to pay for a "night nanny", someone who can appear in the evenings to take care of the kid, while mom gets some rest.

Showing up is "Tully", a free-spirited young thing. And she's fantastic! In more ways than one. But things get progressively weirder as Tully and Marlo interact.

And there's a big twist at the end. Unfortunately, I knew a little too much about it. Don't make that mistake, reader: watch this movie knowing nothing. In fact, try to forget you just read this.

Death Wish

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

Last year's remake of Death Wish, with Bruce Willis playing Charles Bronson popped up as a free streamable Amazon Prime movie, so I bit. And it's OK!

You probably know the story: home of mild-mannered urban professional Paul Kersey gets targeted by home invaders while he's away. His wife is killed, daughter sent into a coma (but not raped, as in the previous version). And the guy turns into a vigilante, shooting bad guys in the street.

Well, there are some major differences. It's Chicago, not New York. Kersey is a gifted surgeon, not an architect. This turns out to be important when his profession delivers him an important clue to the identity of his family's attackers. And so it turns into more of a revenge drama than a vigilante tale. Which is fine.

The acting is pretty solid. I haven't seen a lot of Bruce Willis movies lately, but he's very believable.

Vincent D'Onofrio plays his brother. The most recent thing I've seen him in was the last season of Daredevil, where he played Kingpin. There couldn't be two more different characters, and D'Onofrio is completely buried in both roles. Amazing actor.

And Dean Norris plays the Vincent Gardenia character, a dogged cop who (finally) figures out Kersey's game, and is unsure what to do about it. I've been a fan ever since he played Hank Schrader, the flawed but eventually tragic/heroic DEA cop in Breaking Bad. He's good here too.

Gun Crazy

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It appears we kind of exhausted all the good film noir movies already. I stuck this one in the Netflix queue a few years back, it was about to die of old age, so…

The theme is "crazy", and not just about guns. One of the afflicted is Bart, who just loves guns. So much so, that as a kid, he throws a rock through a storefront window in order to get one. Unfortunately this crime gets him shipped off to reform school. Then it's a stint in the Army, where he develops his sharpshooting skills. And then back home to start up an honest working-class life, except…

He and his boyhood buddies head off to the carnival that happens to be in town. Where he meets up with carny sharpshooter Ruby. And it's lust at first sight.

Unfortunately, Ruby is… well, maybe not a homicidal maniac. It's just that when she's in a stressful situation, her first instinct is to shoot someone that's irritating her.

Before you can say "crime spree", Bart and Ruby are off on a crime spree. And you know how those end.

Not awful, certainly watchable. But I watch so few flicks these days, I wish I'd spent time on a different one.

Loving

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's kind of amazing that it took me until the middle of February to watch my first movie of 2019. I used to be more of a movie fanatic. Nowadays, not so much. Not sure why.

Anyway: For some reason, the Netflix algorithm thought I would like this movie a lot. I thought it was, instead, kind of a snooze.

Not that its heart isn't in the right place. It is the true story of Virginia couple Mildred and Joe Loving (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton, respectively) who fell in love, and got married in the District of Columbia in 1958. Unfortunately, Mildred was "colored", Joe was white, and that was a no-no in Virginia. They were arrested, jailed, and exiled from the state that today claims to be "for lovers". Eventually, they decided to sue, and their case caused the Supreme Court, in 1967, to strike down all laws banning interracial marriage.

So that's good.

Unlike a lot of "based on a true story" movies, Loving is very historically accurate, according to the research at History vs Hollywod. Which is (sorry) kind of the problem. What drama there is is molasses-slow. There are a lot of scenes where nothing much happens. Michael Shannon shows up as Life photographer Grey Villet, shoots some pix, and then vanishes. Just like what actually happened, but… not particularly interesting.

A Simple Favor

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

We squoze this Netflix DVD in New Year's Eve, waiting for the ball to drop. By the way, I am not sure why we do that ball-drop thing any more.

IMDB genrecizes this as Comedy/Crime/Drama, which is about right. The five-foot-two Pride of Portland ME, Anna Kendrick, plays Stephanie: a seemingly perfect single suburban-CT mom with a mildly popular "vlog" where she perkily shares recipes, crafts, and homemaking tips. Her cute son, Miles, demands a play date with his new friend Nicky, which kicks off her involvement with Nicky's mom… well, let's call her "Emily", since that's her name in the credits, played by the 5-foot-10 Blake Lively. Emily is foulmouthed, hard-drinking, rich, and, uh, oversharing. Significantly, even with her salary as a NYC PR person for a glitzy fashion company, and her hubby's teaching gig at a local university, she claims to be on the edge of financial ruin.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie for the titular "simple favor": could she pick up Nicky from school and watch him for a bit? Fine, but Emily doesn't appear later to pick Nicky up. Or ever. She goes missing. What happened to her?

From there, the story takes a number of unexpected twists. No spoilers here, at least none other than you can get from the blurbs. A lot of R-rated fun (involving, according to the MPAA, "sexual content and language throughout, some graphic nude images, drug use and violence").

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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

So, as I type, this movie is #29 on IMDB's Top Rated Movies of all time. Reviews have been rapturous. I went in with super-high expectations, dragging Mrs. Salad and Pun Son along with me, and…

Well, it's not bad. Fun, even. But I don't get all the hoopla. I don't think this would even make my top-29 list of superhero movies.

Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

Anyway, the deal is this: in a closely-adjacent universe (there are little hints that it isn't the same one displayed in previous Marvel movies), there's an African American kid named Miles who gets bitten by the radioactive spider; but there's already a Spider-Man in town, and he's in the process of attempting to foil a nefarious plot hatched by Kingpin and his minions. Said plot involves ripping apart space and time in order to resurrect Kingpin's late wife and son from a different timeline; unfortunate side effect being that the entire world would probably be destroyed.

Anyway, in the first big battle, disaster results. But (side effect) a number of heroic Spider-beings from other continua show up in the aftermath to mentor Miles into superhero-dom and assist him in defeating the bad guys.

A lot of humor, sight gags, apparently Stan Lee's last appearance (his voice anyway), and I didn't fall asleep. But I maybe have an aversion to alternate universes; I don't think much of the gimmick on the Flash TV show either.

The Equalizer 2

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

Denzel Washington is Getting Up There (his birthday, as I type, is tomorrow, December 28, and he will be 64 years young.) He remains a believable action star, however. Here he reprises his role as Robert McCall, the Equalizer. His job is to bring his brand of vigilante justice to the people for whom the normal channels are unavailable or inefficacious. This often requires prodigious amounts of spectacular violence, at which McCall excels.

McCall lives modestly in a working-class Boston apartment, but he's well-off enough to jaunt off to Europe to retrieve a kidnapped child from (what I'm pretty sure is) the Orient Express. Mostly he sticks to home: comforting a Holocaust survivor (Orson Bean, not dead yet!) or mentoring a black kid wavering between thug life and nurturing his artistic talent.

But the main plot is driven by international intrigue: a CIA "resource" and his wife have been gruesomely murdered, the scene set up to look like a murder/suicide. This brings in McCall's old CIA boss, Susan (Melissa Leo) to check things out. Which (eventually) brings in McCall, too. The bad guys handle "loose ends" in the classic bad guy way.

A thrilling conclusion is set in Marshfield MA, seaside during a nor'easter/hurricane. And that's neat too.

Force of Evil

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

Another "thought I would like it better" movie. It even has a little video extra where Martin Scorsese tells us how he saw it as a kid, loved it, and went on to make movies influenced by it. But…

John Garfield plays Joe, a lawyer in the employ of the mob. As the movie opens, he's about to hatch a scheme involving the numbers game in New York City: have the number "776" come up on the Fourth of July, a day when everyone plays "776". This will drive the small-time numbers "banks" into bankruptcy, and the mob can just waltz in, and take over.

Problem: Joe's brother, Leo, owns one of those banks. Although expressly forbidden to do so by his gangster boss, Joe tries to warn Leo about what's going to happen. Leo declines the help; he's got nothing but contempt for his mobbed-up brother.

Of course, Leo's operation is also, technically, illegal. He's just small-time, though, so it's OK.

Joe tries Plan B: call in the (corrupt, of course) cops to raid Leo's operation. This doesn't go well. In addition, Joe catches the eye of the lovely, innocent, Doris, who works for Leo. (Yes, she's "innocent" despite working the numbers racket. Everything's relative.)

It's a film noir, so consequences are dark and tragic. There are a lot of visually striking noirish shots.

The director/screenwriter, Abraham Polonsky, was blacklisted for not "naming names" for HUAC. (He was, however, a Communist Party member, so ick.

John Garfield "acts" by (unfortunately) yelling a lot.