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

A horror movie based on an old Stephen King novel. It's got high production values and excellent special effects. But…

It's set in the largish Maine town of Derry, sometime in the late 1980s. As it turns out, the town has been cursed by periodic appearances of the evil clown Pennywise, who's especially fond of luring young people to their doom. The townspeople mostly live in fear/denial of this unfortunate happenstance.

But this time he's up against a group of young "losers". The leader is a stammering kid who's lost his kid brother to Pennywise. There's a black kid, a Jewish kid, a kid who's too smart-alecky for his own good, a fat kid, an asthmatic, and a girl who's been branded a slut.

Gosh, this sounds a lot like Stranger Things, doesn't it? Even though I know that it was Stranger Things ripping off paying homage to Stephen King, my movie-brain kept seeing the causality go the other way. And I also couldn't help but notice how manipulative the whole lovable-losers-vs-evil schtick was.

Still, a decent yarn. Along the way, there's a lot of grossness, scariness, occasional humor. It's long, and (I assume) they didn't want to make it longer by spelling out where Pennywise came from, the nature of his relationship with the town [it's pretty clear that some adults are at least semi-complicit], nor [semi-spoiler] what happened to all those kids at the end, or what the red balloons mean.

One from the Heart

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

This movie came out in 1982; I remember saying to myself "Francis Ford Coppola, Teri Garr, how bad could it be?" But I never got around to finding out. It was a box office disaster, gone from theaters in an eyeblink. It was still a few years before VCRs were common, so it slipped through the cracks.

But I noticed that it was streamable via Amazon Prime. And so I decided to give it a try. And I can see why some people hated it back then. It wasn't like anything else: a simple story buried in quirkiness and garishness. (Since then, Baz Luhrmann has taken over this creative space, I think.) More to the point, it wasn't like the four previous movies Coppola directed, which were: (1) The Godfather; (2) The Conversation; (3) The Godfather: Part II; and (4) Apocalypse Now. Whoa.

Anyway, it's about Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr), who have been living together in Las Vegas for years, but can't seem to reconcile their differences: she's looking to be carried off on romantic getaways, while he's looking to put down domestic roots. On their Fourth of July anniversary, an argument escalates into Frannie walking out on Hank. ("You stupid bastard, Hank. She looks just like Teri Garr!")

Frannie and Hank find consolation and advice from close friends (Lainie Kazan and Harry Dean Stanton, respectively). And they wind up canoodling with interesting new people (Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski, respectively). Will they return to each other, or will one or both wind up with another?

The whole movie was shot inside a studio, including a replica of Las Vegas' McCarran Airport - complete with a jetway and jet airliner. Impressive! But maybe also ill-advised, as it led to Coppolla's eventual bankruptcy.

One review I read trashed Teri Garr's dancing. I thought she did fine.

Much of the movie is accompanied by songs sung by Tom Waits and … again, whoa … Crystal Gayle. There's an odd couple for ya, but Ms. Gayle did a fine job singin' with Mr. Waits.

The Accountant

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

Netflix's auto-rating system thought I would like this movie, and they hit the nail on the head. It's an intelligent crime thriller, with stellar acting. (Two Oscar winners, Ben Affleck and J. K. Simmons. Two other Oscar nominees, Anna Kendrick and John Lithgow. And some folks who'll be recognized someday, I'm sure.)

Mr. Affleck plays "Christian Wolff" (an alias), a high-functioning autistic, and he's in the titular occupation. His claim to fame: he helps all sorts of people (often bad people) track down financial irregularities in their (often criminal) enterprises. That's an extremely lucrative, but also extremely dangerous, calling. So far he's survived. But a brash young DOJ agent is tasked with tracking him down. Also, his newest assignment for an ostensibly honest tech firm turns out to be as dangerous as the ones he accepts from mobsters.

The main narrative is punctured with flashbacks to "Wolff's" family history and influences. This doesn't seem necessary, until it is. Stay with it, and pay attention. This movie does a better job of tying up loose ends in unexpected fashion than any I've seen recently.


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

One of Mrs. Salad's picks. She loooves Brad Pitt. Spoiler: she did not care for the ending. I had high hopes, slightly disappointed, due to Robert Zemeckis being in the director's chair. This is no Back to the Future. The following description is about what you would get from watching the trailer, but (beware) it's about the whole first half of the movie.

It's another WW2 movie for Brad. He plays two-fisted assassin Canadian Max Vatan, going undercover in Casablanca around 1942. ("I wonder if he'll go to Rick's? Everybody goes to Rick's." But I think this set is after Rick left town.) Max's assignment: kill the German ambassador to Morocco, because he's an asshole Nazi. To accomplish that, Max must hook up with the local pièce de résistance, specifically including the lovely Marianne Beauséjour, played by the equally lovely Marion Cotillard. They must pose convincingly as man and wife to get invited to a party….

Real love develops between Max and Marianne, because they are Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, duh. Post-Casablanca, they settle down to domestic bliss in London, having acquired a lovely infant daughter along the way. But (oh oh) Max is called in by his superiors, who have bad news: Marianne is suspected of being an asshole Nazi spy! Friends, you might think you have domestic troubles now and then.

It's a decent movie, although I wish it had moved along a little faster. It made the Hollywood Reporter list of 2016's biggest box office flops.


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

This 2014 movie has been rattling around my Netflix queue for years; finally faced with the decision to either get it or delete it, I decided to get it. Bad call. It's not awful, but I wish I had gone with any of a few dozen others.

Liam Neeson plays air marshal Bill Marks. His job is to thwart airplane-based terrorism by riding undercover on flight after flight. The thing is, he hates flying. He's also a drunk, and sneaks cigarettes in the lavatory. (Yes, he intentionally tampers with the smoke detector, which, as anyone who listens to the flight attendant announcement knows, is a violation of Federal law, which provides for a penalty of up to $2,000.)

So Bill is pretty miserable. But it gets worse. He gets a message on his phone telling him that that people on the flight will be murdered, one every 20 minutes, unless $150 million is deposited into an offshore account.

And even worse! The account is in his name, leading to suspicion on the ground that he might be behind this whole scheme.

There are a lot of suspects, red herrings, accusations, etc. Bill is not a very clever detective. The denouement is not very credible either.

The Founder

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

Breaking news: Ray Kroc was a visionary. Also a megalomaniac, a cheater (in both his business and his marriage), and a ruthless manipulator.

This movie tells his story, starting from when he was a failing milkshake-mixer salesman, traipsing over the countryside pushing his five-spindle mixers to mostly unreceptive drive-in restaurant owners. But one little outfit in San Bernardino buys a lot of 'em, so Ray drives out there to see what's going on. It's the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, who have ingeniously re-invented their restaurant with walk-up windows, disposable packaging, bare-bones menu, and an optimized production design. Ray sees the future, and the rest is history. Including a lot of rewritten history, as Ray eventually squeezes out the innovative brothers and presents himself as the McDonald's "founder".

The McDonald brothers were transplants from New Hampshire! I did not know that.

I like movies about business, and this one held my interest throughout. Michael Keaton is a force of nature as Ray, and the rest of the cast is first rate, especially Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the screwed-over McDonald brothers.

Bonus: when Ray meets wife-to-be Joan (played by Linda Cardellini), she's playing piano and singing in a prospective franchisee's swanky restaurant. At this point they're both married to other people, but that doesn't stop them from getting moony-eyed over each other. Pretty soon, they're duetting on Joan's piano, and that's actually Michael Keaton and Linda Cardellini performing. They're good!

If you watch The Founder, and you're interested, you can do a reality-check here, a page set up by Lisa Napoli, author of the biographical Ray & Joan. As might be expected, the movie did a lot of fact-manipulation in order to tell a good story.

Last Modified 2017-09-06 9:57 AM EDT

Patriots Day

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

This, I probably don't need to tell you, is the based-on-reality movie describing days around the 2013 bombing near the Boston Marathon finish line. It's grim, powerful, and chilling, as was the reality.

The one noticeable fictionalization is the casting of star Mark Wahlberg as "Tommy Saunders", a composite of a bunch of Boston cops. He's present at the bombing, at the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, meets Big Papi on the day of the "this is our fucking city" speech at Fenway, and a lot of places in between. No actual Boston cop did all that, but that's OK, he's Mark Wahlberg.

Nothing more to say, really, except the movie's a good reminder that all the happy talk about the unlikelihod of being killed in a terrorist attack (Example: You’re more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist.) doesn't make terror any less real.

The IMDB parents guide counts about 150 f-bombs, and David Ortiz only has one; most of the others are from law enforcement.

Keeping Up with the Joneses

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

This movie is another example of the rule: Good actors can save a movie from dreadfulness. (I note that IMDB rating is, as I type, a pretty dreadful 5.8. Rest assured: it could have been worse.)

Zach Galifianakis and Isla ("Anna Kendrick wasn't available") Fisher play Jeff and Karen Gaffney. They are the very definition of normal: Jeff is an HR guy for a defense firm, Karen is mostly a housewife, but also an interior designer. Their lives are disrupted by new neighbors, buying a house in their cul-de-sac: Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) and wife Natalie (Gal Gadot); they have an unlikely globe-trotting lifestyle that screams "cover story". And Tim seems overly interested in Jeff's interactions with his co-workers. Karen is (rightly) suspicious.

What transpires (explosions, gunplay, chases, etc.) is overly predictable, but watchable. Particularly watchable: Gal Gadot. In fact, I defy any straight American male (and a lot of non-straight ones too) to look away from the screen when she's on it. I don't think it's possible.

The movie is PG-13 with appropriate levels of "sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language" (i.e, one f-bomb dropped). I think I noticed a little sloppy editing: a joke that would have made more sense with some pre-establishment, which I speculate was cut.

Kong: Skull Island

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

I dearly love King Kong movies, but this one … eh.

After a small opening scene set at the end of WWII, we jump forward to 1973, as American troops pull out of Vietnam. That leaves warriors like Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) sad. Fortunately, he and his troops are roped into a mad scheme hatched by Bill Randa (John Goodman): to explore Skull Island, which has only now been discovered by satellite photos.

Of course, we have a general idea of what they'll find. Along for the ride are hero James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and heroine Fay Wray Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Humor, sort of, is provided by the survivor from that WW2 scene, played semi-crazed by John C. Reilly.

Acting is pretty good, as you might expect with that cast. Special effects are fine, but (honestly) we're used to that by now. There are numerous shout-outs to Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Apocalypse Now. These come off as pretentious. Other than that, the script goes through the motions. Spoiler: they don't get Kong off the island, so there's no New York climax with planes and skyscrapers, and only a few characters escape with their lives. There's some effort to be imaginative with the carnage; the best scenes involve Kong fighting off the invading helicopters.

A post-credits scene sets up the patient audience for what comes next. Hint: starts with "God", ends with "Zilla".

Bottom line: I prefer Peter Jackson's version.


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

[That's not a movie image. Amazon doesn't have one, as I type. I'll fix it someday.]

So anyway: Pun Son and I went down to Newington to check out this critical favorite. I was … not that impressed.

The story (as you've probably heard) is Christopher Nolan's take on the miraculous extraction of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from the French beaches off Dunkirk. His method is to follow three stories: a not-particularly-brave British soldier trying to get off the beach; a very brave British civilian taking his boat across the channel; an equally brave RAF fighter pilot doing his best to shoot down German planes bombing and strafing the good guys.

There is some timeline trickery: for example, we see scenes of a sinking boat in the channel before we see how its hapless passengers got on board. But other than that Nolanesque touch, it's a straightforward story of bravery and cowardice in the face of horror.

But… well maybe it was because we saw it in an RPX theater, but the bass was boosted up so high that I had difficulties at times hearing the dialog. (The thick Brit accents might have been a factor too.) And—not to sound racist or anything—all those British soldiers kind of look alike. Which ones are we supposed to keep track of, again?

And, all in all, there's not a lot of reason to get involved with any of these characters, with the exception of the determined civilian boat captain.

I kept looking at the actor playing one of the British officers—I've seen him before, where? Ah, IMDB has the answer: he played Jarvis in the late lamented TV show, Agent Carter. He's OK here too.

Last Modified 2017-08-07 9:29 AM EDT