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.

Everything Everywhere All At Once

[5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Everything Everywhere All At Once]

Wow, what a great movie. If Michelle Yeoh doesn't win the Best Actress Oscar next year, I'll never watch the Oscars again. Add a Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis. Best Supporting Actor, Ke Huy Quan or James Hong? Hm, I'm torn there.

Yes (sigh) I haven't watched the Oscars in years. But if the right people are nominated, I might.

Ms. Yeoh plays Evelyn Wang. Her dysfunctional family lives in a cluttered apartment above their failing Simi Valley laundromat. While Ms. Yeoh is justly famous for her martial arts skills, her character's marital arts skills are sorely put to the test here. Her husband (Mr. Quan) is considering divorce, her lesbian daughter is dissatisfied with her mothering skills, she's been long at odds with her aging and demanding father (Mr. Hong) and (worst of all) she's in tax trouble with the IRS, specifically agent Deirdre Beaubeirdra, played very unglamorously by Ms. Curtis.

As it develops, Evelyn is seriously confused between hobby expenses (not deductible) and business expenses. (Ah, I remember the days of filing Schedule C!)

But to make matters worse, there are numerous leaks from nearby multiverses. (There's a gimmick that allows those different-multiverse Evelyns to inhabit each other's bodies temporarily.) And she's called to save the various multiverses from destruction by an unexpected menace.

Fortunately, one of those multiverse Evelyns does have major martial arts skills.

The Protégé

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

A free-to-me Amazon Prime streamer. And yet another kick-ass lady assassin as the main character.

Why do they keep making these movies? And why do I keep watching them?

Well, I guess those questions answer each other. Still, you'd think the broader viewing public might be getting a little overdosed on them.

Maggie Q plays Anna, the Protégé of Moody (Samuel L. Jackson); he rescued her from a Vietnamese gang thirty years prior, and she's grown up to participate in his business of killing people for money. She's ruthlessly efficient, as an early scene shows. But she also is a tad sentimental about Moody, and when he's apparently taken off the board by a hit squad, she vows revenge.

Moody was investigating… um, something. The details were a little fuzzy. But Anna's investigations soon enough put her in the crosshairs too, and eventually put her at odds with "Rembrandt" (Michael Keaton). They develop an (um) interesting relationship.

I have a question that is, unfortunately, also a spoiler, so mouse-highlight if you're interested: Why does Rembrandt continue to pursue Anna even after his employer is dead?

The MPAA R rating is due to "strong and bloody violence, language, some sexual references and brief nudity." They ain't kidding about the violence; it's pervasive and (I have to admit) pretty imaginative.


[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Windfall]

Another Tuesday night movie during the March Madness dearth of new TV, a Netflix free-to-me streamer. I saw a review at WIRED that got me interested enough to watch it.

The IMDB raters are pretty brutal (5.8 as I type); I liked it somewhat better than they did.

The movie opens with a guy (billed as "Nobody" in the credits) wandering around a very nice house opening drawers, finding money, an expensive watch and a gun. When he's careful to wipe his fingerprints from the surfaces he's touched, we get the clue (aha!) he's up to something illegal. Unfortunately, the home's owners (billed as "CEO" and "Wife") show up unexpectedly, discovering the thief.

That's just the first complication "Nobody" encounters. "CEO" turns out to be a tech billionaire, and "Wife" is his vaguely-dissatisfied spouse. Things rapidly turn into a negotiation about how best to extricate themselves from this unstable and sticky situation. And it is really sticky, because "Nobody" is tempted by CEO's offer of more cash, enough to start a new life far away and hopefully not be arrested. But getting that much money takes time, and that lets the movie last for about 90 minutes, as all three players get seriously on each other's nerves. Eventually, another character arrives making things even more unstable, violence ensues. Who will walk away?

The Adam Project

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Adam Project]

Gee, I've been watching a lot of Ryan Reynolds movies lately. What can I say, I like the guy. This was free-to-me on Netflix, and it was a perfectly pleasant Saturday night movie. Better than average. Didn't fall asleep.

As the movie begins it's the year 2050, and middle-aged Adam is flying his "time jet" far above Earth; he's been shot, and the bad guys are on his tail. He manages a nifty escape, via time travel back to the year 2022. Where he meets his 12-year-old self. Young kid Adam is in pretty sad shape: he misses his dead father (Mark Ruffalo, it turns out), he's bullied unmercifully at school, he's growing distant from his frazzled mom, Jennifer Garner.

But middle-aged-Adam has travelled back in time for a good (if somewhat audacious) reason. We're gradually informed of that. And he winds up with young-kid-Adam as a teammate to … well, no spoilers.

It's rated PG-13 for "violence/action, language and suggestive references". So (young-kid-Adam shouldn't see this movie?) There's a lot of Reynolds-style wisecrackery and (see above) I'm a sucker for that. But also murder. And… unintentional suicide?

Turning Red

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [Turning Red]

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did. I love Pixar. And it's the usual stunning riot of visual imagery.

Set in Toronto, it's the story of young Meilin, a Canadian-Asian girl on the threshold of adolescence. She has one of those Tiger Moms that presses her to academic excellence and family duty. As a result, she's a totally admirable, straight-arrow, young lady. Alas, she's soon stricken with an unusual issue: she turns into a giant red panda when undergoing emotional stress. (And she's at an age where such stress happens a lot.)

Complicating things is the upcoming concert by the boy band "4*Town" that has the hearts of Meilin and her three besties a-throbbing. But unfortunately, the tickets are $200 a pop; that's in Canadian money I guess, but still pretty steep for kids. Gee, could they somehow turn that panda-transmogrification thing into a money-making opportunity? (Spoiler: yup.)

And (by the way), the panda thing (it's too nifty, really, to call it a "curse") is also a family trait. As Meilin soon discovers.

Well, I guess something along those lines happened, but I must admit I kind of dozed off toward the end. There's only so much 13-year-old girl perkiness and Asian family friction I can take at my age. Woke up to see that there was a happy ending, though!

Songs are also meh. Lin-Manuel Miranda was apparently uninvolved.

The Courier

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

[Consumer note: the Amazon link above goes to a "playback region 2" DVD. Apparently, there's no US-playable disc currently available.]

A pretty good Cold War spy thriller, based on true events. It's the dark days of the conflict, early 1960s. MI6 and the CIA are trying to get reliable information out of the USSR, and they seize upon the offer of Oleg Penkovsky, a GRU higher-up dismayed by the bellicose rhetoric and provocative actions of hard-liners like Khrushchev. But making contact with Penkovsky could be dicey, they need someone who's not an obvious spy. So they hit on Greville Wynne, a British businessman with no obvious MI6 attachments.

Greville is incredulous and reluctant, but after some soul-searching, accepts this new role, acting as (see the title) a courier for the information Penkovsky wants to smuggle out to the West. But it's a dangerous game, and the wrong people are getting suspicious, moles on our side are reporting back to the USSR about the intel Penkovsky is providing. So things don't go smoothly.

Greville is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who surprisingly did not get an Oscar nomination for his work here. (Why don't they just auto-nominate him for every year in which he's in a picture.)

I kept looking for any Cold War revisionism here. Only one bit, where the deployment of US missiles in Turkey is mentioned as a counter to the discovery of Russian missiles in Cuba. Other than that, though, it's pretty blunt about (accurately) portraying the USSR commies as brutal thugs.

West Side Story

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

My pick for Thursday night viewing was this Steven Spielberg musical tragedy, recently moved to free-to-me status on the Disney+ streaming service. It has been nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

I almost always do plot descriptions, no matter how unnecessary, so here you go: it's set in a dying Manhattan neighborhood in the 1950s, due to be demolished to make room for Lincoln Center and other urban renewal projects. But the turf is still considered worth fighting for by the youngsters, split into a white gang (Jets) and a Puerto Rican gang (Sharks). Into this toxic mix are thrown (1) Tony, a Jet recently let out of the slammer, trying to go straight; and (2) Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl. When they espy each other at a local dance, it's love at first sight. Maria dumps her date to canoodle with Tony under the bleachers. But…

Yes, to belabor the obvious, it's based on Romeo and Juliet.

The musical/dance numbers are impressively staged and filmed. Steven Spielberg looks to be a decent director, and I hope we'll hear more from him in the future.

The actress playing Maria, Rachel Zegler, is very pretty. According to the IMDB, she was hired straight out of high school, and this is her first movie role. Impressive.

Free Guy

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

Well, I certainly wasn't going to watch Biden's State of the Union speech. Due to the strong possibility I might throw things and damage the TV.

Brief summary: enjoyable, great CGI, marred by slow spots, too long (just under two hours). Mrs. Salad didn't enjoy it, falling asleep for about the middle half.

Guy lives in a world where violence is the norm: in his job as a bank teller, he's routinely interrupted by gun-wielding thieves. Outside, explosions, gunfire, and wanton destruction are the norm, thanks to heavily-armed warriors, maniacal drivers, and battles between futuristic vehicles on land and in the air. Guy and the rest of the town's citizens take it all in stride.

As it turns out they are "NPCs": non-playing characters in "Free City", a video game; all the carnage is caused by real-world people playing. And (as it turns out) Guy's programming has bequeathed him with sentience and free will. He becomes embroiled in a real-world dispute between the megalomaniacal owner of the company that produced "Free City" and a couple of its developers. The game becomes a battleground for that fight, bewildering everyone.

Most of the reason the movie works is Ryan Reynolds, bringing his usual charm and wit. Jodie Comer is also pretty good as one of the developers, flitting between reality and Free City in her quest for justice.

The Woman in the Window

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Woman in the Window]

The IMDB rating is pretty dismal. And it garnered no fewer than five Razzie nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Actress (Amy Adams), Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay.

And yet, I kind of enjoyed it. I didn't fall asleep, it kept me guessing. The pandemic may have lowered my standards. And a small confession: I only watched it because a WSJ review of the recent The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window miniseries suggested I should watch this first.

Amy Adams plays Anna, and she's pretty messy. She lives in a large Manhattan townhouse, with only a grubby tenant occupying an equally grubby apartment in the basement. A nasty case of agoraphobia makes it impossible for Anna to go out. (Her shrink has to make house calls.) She's on a bunch of prescription drugs, which she freely mixes with goldfish-bowl-sized glasses of wine. She tells people she's separated from her husband and daughter. And she spends her free time surveilling whatever neighbors she can see from her windows.

Which means (of course) that she witnesses a murder in the apartment newly occupied by the Russell family. But is it real, or is it a hallucination enabled by the drugs, wine, and her general looniness?

You'll notice a lot of big names on the poster. Among them, only Amy Adams is onscreen for very long.

Last Modified 2022-02-13 10:03 AM EDT