Avengers: Endgame

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

As I type, the IMDB raters have pegged this at #8 on their list of best movies of all time. Well, I don't know about that. But I had a real good time.

It's set after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, which ended on an incredible downer, Thanos gaining all six Infinity Stones, and successfully carrying out his mad mission to liquidate half of living species throughout the universe. And unfortunately, that also got rid of a significant fraction of the Avengers team.

What happens next? Well, the survivors deal with it the best they can. And you won't be surprised, I hope, that they deal with it with bravery and resourcefulness.

Consumer notes:

  • I rewatched Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix just to refresh my memory, and that was a good idea. Generally speaking … and it's difficult to do this without spoilers: the more Marvel movies you've seen, the more you'll pick up watching this movie.

  • It's three hours, really, and that doesn't include previews. So plan according to your own characteristics and abilities, restroom-wise.

  • I don't really consider it to be a spoiler, but don't sit through N minutes of credits simply because you're used to Marvel movies having amusing/revealing mini-scenes in mid-credits or post-credits. Not here.

Spotlight

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

I must reveal that Netflix sent me this DVD nearly four months ago. Mrs. Salad (who is Catholic) didn't want to see it. And I kept finding other things to do. But it's good! It won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in 2016, and was nominated for four more. The acting talent is overkill: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci,… and a bunch of others.

It is the story of how the Boston Globe "Spotlight" investigative team unveiled the slimy history of kid-molesting priests in Boston. The Church did its utmost to keep the problem under wraps, the Massachusetts "justice" system was agreeable, and bad priests walked free, often to offend in different parishes.

There's not a lot of action. Amend that: there's not any action, it's just people pretty much talking to each other. Occasionally shouting. But I stayed awake, while I've been known to fall asleep during the fight scenes in thrillers.

And, hey, guess what? This means I've watched all eight of the 2016 Best Picture nominees. Given the Oscars' current penchant for nominating tediously woke movies, I doubt I'll manage this feat again.

The Hate U Give

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

So this movie was part of the annual MLK tribute at the University Near Here this past February. As discussed at the time, the title is (allegedly) based on the rap artist Tupac Shakur who had a "THUG LIFE" tattoo, which he alleged was an acronym for "The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everything". (The movie spells this out, but not enough times to imperil its PG-13 rating.)

I was encouraged to view the movie thanks to this [NRPlus] review by Kyle Smith.

Anyway: the hero is beautiful African-American high schooler Starr. She is the beloved daughter of a semi-intact middle-class black family, residing in a nice house in the "predominantly black" community. But the local public high school is a horror show, so her parents sacrifice to send her to a good, heavily upper-class white school further away. She self-conciously adopts an alternate "non-ghetto" persona for use while there. And she even has a white boyfriend.

But she also has connections back close to home. So she attends a party where (oh well) gunshots erupt, which causes everyone to chaotically scatter. She's offered a ride home by an old boyfriend who just happens to be a member of the local drug-dealing gang. Who, when they are stopped by a white cop, is not very smart about obeying orders. And when he makes a Sudden Move, he gets shot.

This puts Starr in conflict with both the white culture at her school and the black culture. The local drug lord doesn't want her to testify to the grand jury investigating the shooting (although the reasons for that are unclear). And her best girlfriend thinks the cop was justified in using deadly force.

So: there's a lot of conflict and anguish. Starr's family and acquaintances are well developed, the acting is fine. The overall tone is a little strident. (But is redeemed somewhat when an uncle reminds Starr about the realities of police life.)

Us

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

Hearing good things, Pun Son and I went to the Regal in Newington to take in this horror movie. Whoa. Whoa. I am fully prepared to hand writer/director Jordan Peele my Mastercard and say: just buy me tickets to your next ten movies. Mr. Peele knows how to do creepy and scary. (And also, sometimes, funny.)

Little Adelaide goes with her family to the Santa Cruz boardwalk one summer night. A bit of parental inattention (Whac-A-Mole) allows her to wander off to a deserted part of the park, she enters a spooky funhouse that turns out to be a gateway to… well, that would be telling. Let's just say it's a life-changing experience.

Years later, she seems to have recovered, acquired a husband and kids of her own, but she's still extremely reluctant to return to the boardwalk. Understandably, as it turns out. After some disturbing experiences, the family returns home, only to be confronted by a group of doppelgangers who are looking forward to a night of harrowing mayhem. Which happens.

The movie rewards your careful attention to detail. There's a recurring reference to Jeremiah 11:11:

11 So now I, the Lord, warn them that I am going to bring destruction on them, and they will not escape. And when they cry out to me for help, I will not listen to them.

That is (because I could not resist using it) the "Good News Translation". Why, that doesn't sound like good news at all!

Goosebumps

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

Yet another wasted Netflix pick. Some algorithm glitch said: "Paul's really going to like this. More than Ralph Breaks the Internet or that Magnificent Seven remake with Denzel."

Nope, not even close. Although Jack Black tries his best.

There's a teenager, Zach, new kid in school. His mom is also new in school, she's the new Vice Principal. (I may have missed the movie's necessity for this stretch.) They have moved in next door to a spooky old house, inhabited by a disagreeable neighbor who preemptively warns Zach to stay the heck away.

But it turns out the house also holds Hannah, a cute teen who seems to be interested in Zach, so…

And finally, it's revealed that the grumpy neighbor is actually the author of the Goosebumps series, R. L. Stine. And the monsters in those books are real, and they are only being held at bay by their original books' texts being kept under lock and key.

Remarkably flimsy locks as it happens. And the upshot is obvious and very, very, predictable. I napped a lot, but did not feel the need to rewatch in order to fill in what I missed.

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.