Hello, My Name Is Doris

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's easy to make fun of Sally Field, because of (1) Gidget; (2) The Flying Nun. But that was (honest) nearly 50 years ago. And I don't know if I'm getting sentimental and sappy in my old age, but I found her to be excellent in this movie.

Yes, I can't deny the fact that I like her, right now, I like her! This movie could have been awful, but she makes it very enjoyable with her powerful performance.

Let me explain: Ms. Field plays the titular Doris. As the movie opens, she's bidding farewell to her mom, who she's been taking care of for decades in Mom's humble Staten Island home. She has problems: The house is stuffed to the gills with horded crap. She dresses funny and wears a ludicrous wig. She wears two pairs of glasses simultaneously. She has a Manhattan office job, but it seems she's kind of the female version of Milton from Office Space: a tolerated oddball.

But a chance meeting with a new employee, John, sets her mind reeling with improbably romantic scenarios. (Oh, yeah: she's also prone to spacing out while constructing inner fantasies.) Guess what? At this point, a few minutes into the movie Ms. Field has managed to make me care about what happens to Doris next. (A life-changing odyssey, as it turns out.)

The movie also has a clever script, and a great supporting cast: Stephen Root as Doris's brother, Wendi McLendon-Covey as his wife, Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley!) as a gay co-worker, Tyne Daly (Cagney, no Lacey) as Doris's best friend, Peter Gallagher as a self-help guru who actually seems to believe his own bullshit. Even Max Greenfield, who plays John: he could have been one of those interchangeable Hollywood pretty guys—I thought for a moment he was the guy who plays the Flash on TV—but he gives a fine performance too.

10 Cloverfield Lane

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

Two movies in less than a month about a young woman being held prisoner by a wacko. Although this one isn't as arty as Room.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, who's decided to dump her husband, leaving their unhappy home, driving off to points unknown. We don't get to learn much about her plans, though, because she's waylaid in a nasty traffic accident. When she wakes up, she's in a … Room, with an IV drip, and her leg manacled to the wall.

Her captor, Howard, shows up, and hey, it's John Goodman! But is it Good Goodman, like in Roseanne, or is it Bad Goodman, like in Barton Fink? Or Batshit Insane Goodman, like in The Big Lebowski?

Well, Howard has a tale to tell: they are in his underground bunker, and they are the only survivors of a huge attack on America by persons or beings unknown. Also present is Emmett, a guy who helped Howard build the bunker. The three develop an odd relationship: Howard is clearly more than a bit off-balance, but is he crazy enough to have made up the whole invasion yarn?

Although the movie's title contains the word "Cloverfield", and was produced by J. J. Abrams, as was Cloverfield, you don't need to have seen Cloverfield to watch this one. Might help with the suspense if you didn't, actually.


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

This was lingering in our Netflix DVD queue for a long time; we were out of DVDs, so we queued up the streaming version, and voilà.

It's an interesting example of a science-fiction premise done right: imagine one new thing, in this case a fantastic invention, and see where that takes you in an otherwise normal situation. The invention in this case is the "Timer", a gadget that implants on your wrist. If your one true love also has a Timer, your devices will synchronize and begin counting down to the day you will actually meet. And on that day, it will start counting down the hours, minutes, and seconds until you lock eyes. At that point a tasteful chime goes off, and you wander off into a lifetime of romantic bliss.

There are a few other rules: if your true love doesn't have a Timer, yours will stay blank until they get one. And you can have your Timer removed, but that's very rare. If you get it removed, however, you can't get it back.

Interweave this sci-fi premise onto a standard romantic comedy, and you have TiMER.

The movie shows how a Timer-infested world impacts the life of heroine Oona. She has a blank Timer, which means her true love hasn't gotten one yet. So her dating life is restricted to Timerless dudes. If things start getting serious, she asks them to get a Timer implanted… and so far, that's resulted in no synchronization, and so … it's welcome to Dumpsville, baby, population: you. We also get glimpses of how the Timer (or lack thereof) has changed the lives of people in Oona's orbit, mostly her family.

Mrs. Salad didn't care for the ending, but it was inevitable.

Terminator Genisys

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It seems I just mentioned that I'm cynical about Hollywood filmmakers resurrecting beloved characters in slapdash efforts to vacuum money out of the suckers' pockets. Sometimes that works for me (Star Trek, Rocky) and sometimes it doesn't, like here.

In fact, I am kind of at a loss to even describe the plot premise. The series has gone back and forth in time over and over. Associated paradoxes, multiple timelines. Multiple actors playing the same character. The only constant is our old friend Arnold, who plays Good Terminator once again here. I'm just not sure where he came from.

Suffice it to say: there's a Bad Terminator relentlessly pursuing the Good Guys. The Good Guys are on a quest to avoid Armageddon, and in order to do that, something needs to be blown up. Along the way there is considerable amounts of gunplay, explosions, crashes, yelling of "get down". And someone says "I'll be back" and "Come with me if you want to live".

"Hasta la Vista"? I could have missed it. I don't think so.

Executive summary: special effects are great, J. K. Simmons is great, everything else is mediocre.


[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I got this from Netflix mostly for Mrs. Salad: a period drama revolving around a young woman gradually finding her way in a strange land. (She also likes Outlander.) I was prepared to be bored into slumber; instead I was somewhat surprised: I liked it too.

As the movie opens, the time is early-1950's, and young Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) has no prospects in Ireland. She's stuck in a menial job, and has no suitors. Fortunately, America beckons, specifically… well, you see the title up there. Helped out by her church, she hops on a ship, and gets set up with a retail job and a spot in a rooming house with other immigrant Irish women, run by mother-hen Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Waters). Eilis is desperately homesick, but she's helped out by a kindly priest (Jim Broadbent) and unexpectedly takes up with earnest Italian-American Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). He's a plumber with no apparent mob ties. She starts taking bookkeeping courses at Brooklyn College.

Things are looking up. Then tragedy strikes. Eilis is called back to Ireland, and feels the pull of her old home. Will she stay or go?

The movie was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. (Didn't win any.) It is a well-acted, interesting story with sympathetic characters. That's rare enough these days.

I also found myself talking with an Irish accent for a couple hours afterward. Scary, but I got over it.


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

I fell off the Rocky series by missing Rocky V 26 years ago (!) and Rocky Balboa 10 years ago. I am as cynical as the next guy about Hollywood filmmakers resurrecting beloved characters in slapdash efforts to vacuum money out of the suckers' pockets.

But I heard that Creed was pretty good. Sylvester Stallone was Oscar-nominated for his performance. And, yeah, it was pretty good.

The idea: Apollo Creed had an illegitimate son, Adonis. Fortunately called "Donnie" here, mostly. As the movie opens, Adonis is in some sort of juvie, and parentless. (We knew about Apollo, but his mom also passed away.) He's an angry young man, who likes to punch other kids.

Fortunately, Apollo's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad, woo!), becomes aware of young Adonis and takes him away from his orphan life. He gets a good education, a good job in finance, and… well, he still has the urge to hit people, fighting in Mexican venues. That's his true calling.

Mom's not happy about that, but Adonis takes off to Philly, tracks down Rocky, and inveigles him into becoming his trainer. You can probably plot out the narrative arc from there, right?

Sylvester Stallone fits into the Rocky role like a glove. A boxing glove, sure, but still. The movie is heavy on sentiment and nostalgia for past movies, but you know what? It all worked for me.

Star Trek Beyond

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

Another Star Trek movie. Some people say: stop, already. I say: bring it on!

Although I feel a touch of geezerhood seeing all the "Star Trek 50th Anniversary" notices slapped on all the merchandise lately. Yes, I was there at the beginning. It's beginning to look as if I won't be there for the end. Because Star Trek will never end.

In this dandy entry, both Kirk and Spock are experiencing midlife crises. Kirk is finding that the Enterprise's five year mission is getting a tad boring. (Boring? The recent movies take place in an alternate timeline from the Original Series, more boring, but with superior special effects.) And Spock is shocked by the passing away of the Spock from the TOS timeline, and wonders if it's not time to turn his efforts into preserving Vulcan heritage.

After a brief but amusing (seemingly irrelevant) diplomatic mission, the Enterprise visits Yorktown, a fabulous Death-Star-sized space station. Also arriving, a tiny ship inhabited by a desperate alien, requesting that the Federation help rescue her crew, inexplicably taken hostage on a planet hidden inside a mysterious nebula.

Sure thing, Kirk says, we can do that. But (guess what) it turns out to be more than he bargained for. Things don't go well for the Enterprise, way too many of the crew are wearing red shirts, and Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty are split up, some held in captivity by the mysterious villain Krall, others merely in mortal danger.

It's a fine entry in the continuing series. Oh, yeah: Sulu is totally gay. I would have thought Chekov, but…

The Jungle Book

[4.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

By the time the animated version of The Jungle Book came out in 1967, I considered myself "too old" (16) to see Disney movies. Nearly 50 years later, they're must-see. It's a funny old world.

Even better, this was a free showing, put on at the Memorial Union Building at the University Near Here. The 3-D version was playing in the theatre next door, but we opted for the 2-D version. I think that may have been a slight mistake.

Anyway: it's the story of "man-cub" Mowgli, orphaned at a young age by the evil tiger Shere Khan, rescued by the good panther Bagheera, adopted by a pack of wolves. (Mowgli's one of those rare kids who, when asked if they were "raised by wolves", can answer "Yeah, you got a problem with that, bigot?")

Years later, Shere Khan puts Mowgli in his sights, a very dangerous place to be. It's decided to return Mowgli to civilization, but that plan goes awry when the good-hearted but lazy bear Baloo enters the picture, and decides to use Mowgli's man-resourcefulness for his own purposes.

The movie is fun, the kid playing Mowgli is fantastic, and the actors providing voices to the various animal heroes (Ben Kingsley, Bill Murray, Lupita Nyong'o, Giancarlo Esposito) and villains (Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken) are outstanding.

There are also a lot of sly and subtle gags. Favorite: Mowgli finds an old cowbell, rings it, and… who does it summon but King Louie, voiced by Mr. Walken.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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

I noticed this was streamable from Netflix, and with Mrs. Salad out of the house for the evening, why not? I was shocked to discover that I'd watched the original Sin City back in 2005; was it really that long ago?

My comment at the time: "Not recommended for anyone under 45, or over 55." Now I'm well over that suggested age limit.

In any case: this movie connected to the original through some of the characters. There's Marv (Mickey Rourke); Nancy (Jessica Alba); Gail (Rosario Dawson); Dwight (Josh Brolin here, was Clive Owen previously); the evil Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). And Hartigan (Bruce Willis). There are multiple subplots revolving around new characters: cocky gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and manipulative Ava (Eva Green, also providing nudity).

It's all sordid and violent. Most people seem to think it's not as good as the original; it also seems to not be as original as the original.

Into the Storm

[1.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Did you see Twister? I saw Twister. I liked Twister. And, Into the Storm, you're no Twister.

The plot is so formulaic that it might have been sketched out by algorithm. Monster tornadoes threaten Midwesterners. Documentary filmmakers are under pressure to get gripping video to please their corporate masters, and the leader is willing to risk everything to further his career. A widowed father struggles to raise his two teenage sons, one a whiner, one a troublemaker. Needless to say, the events bring them Closer Together.

It was never easier to pick out victims and survivors. The only question is: will that one guy perish in an act of (a) greed-driven stupidity or (b) redemptive courage. (Spoiler: the latter, as it turns out.)

Richard Armitage, Thorin Oakenshield himself, plays the dad. I think he may have gobbled up 80% of the acting budget. Everybody else is pretty generic. How much acting talent do you need to shout "Get down!", or mutter "Ohmigod"? Over and over. I didn't keep exact count, but I think these two lines were repeated dozens of times.