The Lost City

[4.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

A free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. It's a lot of fun if you're in the right mood. And I was in the right mood.

Sandra Bullock plays Loretta, a famous romance novelist with terminal writer's block. Her latest work was particularly painful to finish. But she manages to go on one last book tour, where she shares the stage with "Dash", the hunky model featured shirtfree on her book covers. (That's Channing Tatum.) She's dressed up in purple spangly low-cut garb, which becomes kind of a running joke in the movie.

She's unexpectedly abducted by well-to-do-but-also-insane Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who (knowing Loretta's previous life as a student of ancient culture and language) demands that she help him find the fabled "Lost City" where a fantastic jewelled crown is hidden. And "Dash" for some reason puts himself on a mission to rescue her from her abductor.

Lots of comic-flavored action ensues. Brad Pitt is briefly in it as well. Everyone is very funny.

Some snarky Trivia contributor at IMDB did the ungallant math:

Lead actress Sandra Bullock is sixteen years older than lead actor Channing Tatum.

She's 58. But you know what? She's still very good looking.

Thor: Love and Thunder

[3 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The latest Marvel movie became a free-to-me streamer on Disney+, so I bit. Bottom line: I'm sort of glad I didn't pay to see it in the theater. (By the way, the company that owns our local Regal Cinema megaplex just went bankrupt. Just thought I'd mention that.)

The movie begins with a downer: Gorr, a very pasty humanoid played by Christian Bale, watches his young daughter die as his god ignores his plea for miraculous salvation. And then the god shows up with a luxurious oasis, and mocks Gorr for thinking he gives a rat's ass about him or his daughter. Gorr is righteously pissed, and there's a fortuitous god-slaying sword near at hand, and… well, there's your plot. Gorr acquires the means and motive to go on a god-slaying crusade. Not just his god, but all of 'em, including those comparatively decent Asgardians.

Thor has been hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and it's nice to see those guys again. But it's clear that their relationship is getting a tad strained. They agree to part ways, and Thor returns to the Earthbound remnants of Asgardian glory, now ensconced in a scenic Norwegian fjord…

Also meanwhile, Thor's ex-girlfriend Jane is dying of cancer. She travels to the previously-mentioned fjord, where the remains of Thor's old weapon, Mjölnir, are being kept as a tourist attraction. Miraculously…

Well, Thor and Jane soon find themselves in a desperate struggle with Gorr and his forces. Epic battles ensue, allies are (unsuccessfully) sought, et cetera.

There's a lot of jokiness involved, somewhat at odds with the girlfriend-cancer and dead-daughter themes. But it's funny, nevertheless. The director/co-writer, Taika Waititi, also wrote/directed Jojo Rabbit, with a similar horror/humor mix. That one worked better for me.

The Gray Man

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Gray Man]

This is a pretty expensive movie to have never been released in theaters. (IMDB backs me up on this.) I swear they shot up, blew up, and burned down a couple European cities some nice mansions, and a big old airplane. I hope they asked permission first.

It has a mediocre IMDB rating as I type, and that's because the plot is only the latest mutation in the boilerplate spy thriller genre: likeable, semi-ethical assassin (Ryan Gosling) becomes targeted by the CIA folks he ostensibly works for. He keeps prevailing despite being vastly outnumbered and outweaponed by his foes. He acquires some unlikely allies along the way, and loses some of them. His primary nemesis is another hitman (Chris Evans), charismatic but psychotic, too dirty for regular government employment, but available for freelance gigs like this.

Oh yeah: throw in a cute kid in danger.

I had fun. The acting (in service of a ludicrous and predictable plot) is first-rate. As noted, the action is amazing and non-stop. Locations are scenic (until they're destroyed). And Ana de Armas is extremely easy on the eyes.

At the end, I noticed that they left plenty of room for a sequel. Then I looked at Amazon and found out (yes, I'm not up on these things) that it's based on a character from a 12-book (so far) series. Yeah, I guess they could do one or two more.

Palm Springs

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I'm (apparently) a sucker for a good time-loop comedy movie starring a Saturday Night Live alumnus. This one isn't Groundhog Day, but what is? I still had a pretty good time. It went straight to Hulu last year. It's not the worst reason to subscribe to Hulu, either; they have other good stuff too.

Andy Samberg plays Nyles; as the movie opens, he's already been in the time loop for a long time, and is accustomed to the rules: he can't die, and breaking out is seemingly impossible. Instead of February in Punxsutawney, though, it's… well, you see the title. And it's a wedding! Nyles rescues Sarah (played by the saucer-eyed Cristin Milioti) from a disastrous reception speech, and they go off to canoodle, and … Nyles gets shot by an arrow aimed by a pissed-off Roy (J. K. Simmons!). For some reason, Nyles runs off to a glowing cave, Sarah follows against his advice, and she gets trapped in the loop as well. And in the next loop iteration, she's pissed off at Nyles too.

I had fun. That's all I ask. I'm pretty sure it wasn't as tightly plotted as Groundhog Day and not quite as funny.

It's slim pickings for comic actors these days, I guess. If you want to get depressed about that, Google is your friend.

Death on the Nile

[3.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Mrs. Salad requested this free-to-us streamer (from Hulu). She was unimpressed because she thought it was padded. (Two hours, seven minutes, according to IMDB.) Agreed, and I didn't much care for other things too.

But Gal Gadot is very easy on the eyes. Extra half star for Ms. Gadot. But also: minus half a star for (spoiler) making her the first murder victim.

A brief prequel gives an origin story. Specifically, the origin of Hercule Poirot's impressive mustache: it's to cover up scarring he incurred from a German booby trap in WWI. But after that prequel, we're off to standard Christie-based mayhem: a raft of characters we are (somehow) supposed to keep track of, updating their relationships after secrets are revealed during the flick. Never fear, though: Poirot eventually works out the motive and method, but not before a few more bodies pile up.

There's a lot of scenery. Also scenery-chewing. Fantabulous fashions are worn. One of the reasons the movie is so long is that the camera lingers after each costume appears.

Recommendation: watch Dead Again instead.


[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I was somewhat surprised to like this movie quite a bit. The IMDB raters despised it. The reviews I read were brutal. (To be fair, the numbers at Rotten Tomatoes are kinder.) Conservative Tim Allen was rudely shoved aside, replaced by pinko Chris Evans.

I might have been less sympathetic if I'd shelled out movie-theater cash. But it showed up as a free-to-me Disney+ streamer last Tuesday, so…

The setup is that Toy Story's Andy saw this movie back in 1991, which prompted his demand for his Buzz Lightyear action figure, setting off the events of that movie. OK, fine. Buzz is in charge of a colonization mission, responsible for the lives of 1200 or so civilians. He is an I'll-do-it-myself kind of guy, not a team player at all, so when disaster occurs as the ship crashes trying to escape from an aggressively hostile planet, Buzz blames himself.

His efforts to repair the ship and resume his mission involve a considerable amount of relativistic time dilation, as he endeavors to discover just the right mix of fuel elements that will power up the ship again. Along the way, he acquires a robotic cat, and a misfit bunch of helpers. All building up to his inevitable conflict with Zurg. (Big revision from Toy Story 2: Zurg is not Buzz's dad, but…)

OK, so there was some lesbianism involved. Buzz is cool with it, so I was too, although my eyes may have rolled a bit. The "teamwork with a diverse cast" is also heavy-handed, but equally easy to ignore. Bottom line: I had fun.

And, to tell the truth, I couldn't tell the difference between Tim Allen's Buzz voice and Chris Evans'.

Last Modified 2022-08-07 8:16 AM EDT

Downton Abbey: A New Era

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Mrs. Salad invited Pun Daughter in for dinner and a movie, specifically this one. (Free-to-us on Peacock.) I sighed deeply and said, "Oh, all right, I'll watch it with you." But I suspect they knew I was going to enjoy it too.

Big doin's at the Abbey: (1) a mysterious figure from the Dowager Countess's past has died and left her an opulent villa on the French Riviera, to be (eventually) passed down to young Sibyl, her great-granddaughter. But in the meantime: (2) a British movie company has asked to use the Abbey grounds and interiors to shoot a silent movie, The Gambler. To which the old and staid members of the household say, very Britishly, "Well, I never!". But once Lady Mary shows her dad the array of chamberpots in the attic catching raindrops from the leaky roof… well, the movie company's cash starts looking pretty good, so much for your snooty principles.

Part of the crowd runs off to France to check out the villa, and there's some friction between the Crowleys and the widow. But good manners and legal necessity win out. Robert gets some potentially distressing news about his parentage, and then he's aghast all over again. Could he be … part French? Soccer Blue!

Meanwhile back in Old Blighty, the movie production runs into a snag: it's supposed to be silent, but talkies are clearly ascendant, the studio is about to pull the plug. Before you can say "this subplot was ripped off from Singin' in the Rain", the household gets wangled in to playing a much larger role in the production than they planned. This is hilarious, especially when the downstairs staff get a chance to play dress-up, after being stuck in maid/cook/butler outfits for the past decades.

There's a lot of fan service here, as shameless as any Marvel movie. And I ate it up, just as I do while watching Marvel movies.

Top Gun: Maverick

[4.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The IMDB raters have this at spot #44 in the best movies of all time (between Whiplash and The Intouchables) and who am I to argue. Pun Son and I went to see it down at the Newington Regal. Expensive as movies are these days, it was worth it. Walking out to the parking lot, I told him that I was still unclenching from the Big Final Sequence.

OK, you probably know the premise, but I'm gonna type it in anyway. Thirty-six years after the events of Top Gun, Pete Mitchell is still a hotshot pilot, irritating most of the US Navy hierarchy by following his own rules. (An opening sequence has him flying a Mach 10 beast to prevent the cutting-edge program from cancellation.)

But menace looms in the form of a uranium enrichment plant about to go online in an unnamed rogue nation. The only possible solution is quite audacious, verging on impossible, a daring strike against ultra-long odds, facing advanced weaponry. Pete is tapped to train the next generation of hotshot pilots to take out the bad guys.

And he does, and they do, everything proceeds flawlessly, and everyone goes home happy.

Just kidding! Pete chafes at not being able to fly the mission himself. A long ago tragedy is unearthed. There are personality conflicts between the pilots. One of Pete's old girlfriends owns a bar near the training base.

And when the mission finally happens, Murphy's Law strikes hard. Quick decisions have to be made at near-supersonic speed. G-forces must be endured.

Yes, I saw the ending coming a few nautical miles off. And so will you, probably. This did not distract from my enjoyment.

And, oh yeah, thirty years after I first saw her in The Rocketeer, Jennifer Connelly is still jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

[2 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Well, it appears my desire for exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe may be waning. Possible spoilers ahead.

Doctor Strange, Mister of the Mastic Arts, is being tormented by nightmares involving spunky young America Chavez, ones where he tries and fails to save her from some nasty fate in the semi-supernatural realms of the Multiverse. Then in (so-called) real life, he manages to rescue her from a giant one-eyed space octopus. It seems she can traverse the Multiverse at will, a pretty neat trick. And it's eventually revealed that the source of her troubles is Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch. Wanda wants to be transported to a universe where her two young sons actually exist, unlike the figments of her tortured imagination in this one. (It helps if you've seen Wandavision.)

So we're off on a CGI-heavy conflict between two magical masters. And it goes on until it stops.

Call me old fashioned: I can put up with a certain amount of disbelief-suspension. I'm pretty sure every superhero movie involves some physics-defying nonsense. But (as near as I can tell) DSitMoM, with its combination of magic and multiversatility, operates in a rule-free anything-goes environment. And at a certain point it becomes boring. Who cares what happens over in Earth 838?

But Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen are fine actors, even more so that they're spouting absolute gibberish with a straight face for the entire movie's runtime. Extra star for that.

The Door into Summer

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Door into Summer]

When I reported on J. Storrs Hall's recent book Where Is My Flying Car? last month, I found it interesting to compare the IMDB writing credits for Robert A. Heinlein versus Philip K. Dick. And noticed a relatively new Heinlein adaptation: a Japanese version of The Door into Summer! One of my favorite Heinlein books! And it was available on Netflix!

Yes, I might have preferred a slightly more faithful adaptation. But this is 80% of the way there. And it's way better than the dreck Hollywood churned out under the Starship Troopers brand.

Brilliant young inventor Soichiro (tragic backstory) toils away on his groundbreaking work in robotics. It's going fine; he has a beautiful fiancée, a partner handling the business end of things, a devoted 17-year-old stepsister, Riko, and a great cat, "Pete". Who hates Japan's winters, and demands Soichiro open every door to the outside, as he searches for one that will get him back to warmer weather.

I'm confessing right here: that last bit misted me up a tad. Even in subtitles.

Anyway: Fiancée and Partner turn out to be conspiring to go for the quick buck, forcing Soichiro out of the business and swiping his ideas. When he gets obstreperous, they drug him, and send him into a 30-year "cold sleep". When he awakes, he acquires an android buddy named … Pete?! What a coincidence!

No it's not.

Soichiro tries to track down Riko, with disappointing results. His efforts to find out what happened only get him more confused, but he eventually concocts on an audacious scheme… well, no further spoilers.

Consumer note: I'm not sure how much sense this movie will make to someone who hasn't practically memorized Heinlein's book.

Fun fact: Heinlein's 1956 novel was originally set in 1970, with his protagonist sleeping-forward to the far future of … 2000! The movie goes from 1995 to 2025, and assumes we'll have lifelike AI androids by that date. Yeah, well, maybe in Japan.