Once Were Brothers

Robbie Robertson and the Band

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

A documentary about The Band. A group that I didn't "get" until they were almost over. And they haven't faded in my estimation, unlike some others. (The Eagles? Fleetwood Mac? They're OK, but not as great as I once thought they were.)

It is specifically Robbie Robertson's version of The Band's genesis and eventual demise. He's the only member shown in non-archival footage. Somewhat understandable: Rick Danko died, allegedly of heart failure, at age 55 in 1999. Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986, age 43. Levon Helm died of cancer in 2012, age 71. That leaves Garth Hudson, but he's not here. Bob Dylan shows up a lot in old clips, but nothing filmed for this documentary.

Anyway, it's pretty much the standard story: scrappy beginnings, fortuitous early connections (in this case with Ronny Hawkins), a general recognition of musical genius, lots of booze and drug use, an ego-fueled breakup. The Band reformed for a while in the 1980s without Robbie, so it's easy to speculate that the other members couldn't stand him. That's left relatively unexplored.


Last Modified 2020-08-04 7:25 AM EDT

Onward

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

Pixar's latest. As you might remember, it was released to the theaters in early March, just as Covid was getting going. So it did poorly for a Pixar flick. Sad! But it's pretty good. Not up there with Up or Toy Story N, but still pretty good.

It's set in a world populated by various mythical creatures: elves, centaurs, manticores (maybe just one manticore), ogres, etc. And while magic still exists, it's been de-emphasized and disrespected since modern technology was developed. Our hero is Ian, whose family (seemingly like most Pixar families) is missing a dad: he died before Ian was born. Again, sad! But there's an out: on Ian's 16th birthday, his mom reveals a long-concealed gift: a magic staff and a spell that will bring dad back for just one day.

Unfortunately for Ian, but fortunately for the movie plot, the spell only half works. Ian and his goofy brother Barley set off on a dangerous—and, yes, perilous—quest to acquire the magical Maguffin to finish the spell, and reunite with dad.

If you watch it, I suggest going to the IMDB trivia page afterward to find out what you missed. In my case, a lot.

Remember the Night

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

A pretty good comedy/romance/drama from 1939 with (as you can see from the box on the right) Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. Written by Preston Sturges. No, it's not the noir one where they plot to bump off her husband for the insurance money, and <spoiler>both end up dead</spoiler>. That's Double Indemnity. This is more lighthearted.

But Barb is still on the shady side of the law. The opening scene shows her lifting a fancy bracelet from a New York jewelry store, but getting nabbed when she tries to hock it. She goes to trial, and Fred is the ace prosecutor determined to put her behind bars. How determined? The trial is just before Christmas. He thinks the jury would be more likely to acquit, simply to avoid having to stick someone in jail before the holiday. So he wangles a delay until after Christmas.

Which still leaves Barb in jail, because she can't afford bail. Here's where Fred's heart of gold kicks in: he posts her bail. Which (due to misunderstandings and Barb's continuing lack of cash) means he is more or less stuck with her until court resumes in January.

And (it turns out) they're both from Indiana. Mishap-filled holiday road trip! And Barb winds up spending the holiday week with Fred's colorful downhome family and surrounded the warmhearted Indiana folks. And smooching ensues.

So what happens when they get back to New York? Will Fred throw the case so they can live happily ever after? Guess what, I've given away about 90% of the movie, and I probably should leave it there.

Emma.

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

It's not particularly uncommon to append a question mark (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) or an exclamation point (Airplane! Scoob!) to the end of movie titles. But this one has a period at the end. It's Emma-full-stop.

I think I saw an explanation somewhere. It must be easy to Google… Ah, here it is.

This is not the kind of movie I typically like much, but it won me over. Based on the Jane Austen novel, set in early 19th century England, specifically its rich upper crust. I'm pretty sure we never see an actually-poor person. When the characters refer to someone as "poor", they mean someone who actually has to work for a living, like a farmer. Or servants.

The eponymous heroine is fond of meddling in the love lives of her friends and acquaintances. She is judgmental of some of their quirks. This can, and nearly does, lead to irrecoverable disaster, but (spoiler) things get sorted out at the end.

You know, HTML should really have a <spoiler> tag for spoilers.

The IMDB lists nine other movies and miniseries based on the Austen novel. So you have your pick. This one has excellent acting, gorgeous cinematography, and I assume fine costumery, although how would I know?

Murder by Decree

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

Another movie I'm claiming to have watched. Because I saw about a half hour of the beginning, maybe 40 minutes of the end and… I don't know, maybe 10 minutes here and there in between?

Part of the problem: the disk offered no subtitles. Really, this is a must. Especially when everyone has an English accent, ranging from plummy to downscale.

Anyway: it's a Sherlock Holmes movie, with Christopher Plummer as The Man Himself, James Mason as Dr. Watson. They are up against a formidable foe: Jack the Ripper.

Now I'm going to give you some spoiler-level details: the ladies aren't being murdered at random, as everyone assumes. They're being offed because they may know something. Something that might damage a very important personage. So it's a vast conspiracy. Involving Freemasons, I think. (This is based on an old non-fiction book setting forth this theory.)

Anyway, there's a lot of good acting, and some fighting. Donald Sutherland is in it too, but I couldn't figure out why exactly. It's directed by Bob Clark, who went on to direct less-classy movies like Porky's.

After the Storm

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

An arty Japanese movie, undubbed. Not for those who don't like reading subtitles, therefore. But it's pretty OK.

The protagonist is Ryôta, who's kind of a mess. He used to be a novelist, publishing his first book to critical acclaim, but didn't manage to follow up. He's now a private investigator, and not an honorable one: when he gets the goods on a cheating wife, he and his partner offer to keep the news from their client, her husband, for a price. Sleazy!

He's also divorced, with a cute son. And due to a nasty gambling habit, he's behind on his child support payments.

(Did you know that in Japan, they bet on bicycle races? Neither did I. But don't worry, Ryôta also buys lottery tickets, a more American tax on irrational innumeracy.)

There's also a meddling (but very sweet and funny) mother. And an impending typhoon.

It's a pretty good movie to remind us of a couple things: first: Japan is wonderfully weird. But second: not that weird; everyone here operates with emotions and motivations and foibles that are instantly recognizable to any red-blooded American. That's sort of comforting in these "diverse" times.

The Limehouse Golem

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

So I thought a golem was some sort of Yiddish-legend Frankenstein-monster. Check Wikipedia… yeah, that's pretty much right.

So I'm not sure where this movie's title came from. There's no indication that anyone here is Jewish, and the movie's "Golem" is just a plain old serial killer, not a supernatural claymation monster.

Unless they explained this in one of the stretches where I was asleep. I can't say that's unlikely. I dozed off pretty solidly for awhile there. Not enough to deter me from counting this movie as "seen in 2020", though.

Uh, the plot: in Victorian-era London the Golem is killing people, but there's also the gruesome poisoning of John Cree, husband of Elizabeth. Suspicion naturally falls upon her, and she finds herself on whatever it is they called Death Row back there and then. But Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) finds evidence possibly linking John Cree to the Golem murders! And did I mention that Elizabeth is a music-hall singer with aspirations, John a struggling playwright?

It's pretty convoluted, perverse, and unbelievable. Karl Marx apparently has a cameo, but I slept through it.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

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

I bet someone told Annette Bening she was finally going to win an Oscar for this. You've been nominated four times. This time, for sure!

Well, she didn't. But she really acted the crap out of her role here, playing an about-to-die Gloria Grahame. (IMDB trivia: "Annette Bening was fifty-nine-years-old at the time of this movie's release, making her two years older than Gloria Grahame was when she died.")

It centers around Ms. Grahame's 1978-1981 on/off romance with Peter Turner, a young Brit actor. Despite the three-decade age difference, they hit it off. Problems: Gloria's kind of a diva (of course), and is very sensitive to any reference to her age, or her predilection for younger guys. (In real life, she was married four times, the fourth time to her stepson from her second marriage. Scandalous! A female Woody Allen!)

And there are those health worries, which she tries to cure with apricot kernels and black grape juice. She avoids doctors, which doesn't turn out well.

As near as I can tell, no effort was made to recreate Ms. Grahame's amazing eyebrows for Ms. Bening. I swear they arched halfway up her forehead! But maybe I'm imagining that. (Ms. Bening admits she did attempt to mimic Grahame's eyebrow arch.)

A Kiss Before Dying

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

The IMDB puts it in the "film noir" category, which seem contestable to me. But it's OK anyway. This is the 1956 version, and it's star-studded: Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Joanne Woodward, and, whoa, Mary Astor. You'd think she'd make it noir by her mere presence, but unfortunately, her role is pretty minor.

Adding to Mrs. Salad's travails: I couldn't help but blurting out "It's Captain Pike!" every time Jeffrey Hunter popped up onscreen.

Anyway, the plot: Robert Wagner is romancing heiress Joanne Woodward, and (in the opening scene) she announces her pregnancy. The fact that Wagner is a devious lying weasel is obvious to all except her. Unfortunately, he's also demanded that she keep their relationship super-secret. Which will make it easier to… well, you know pretty much what the deal is.

The movie is decently twisty and suspenseful, but you kind of have to put up with 1950's-style over-acting. Jeffrey Hunter's character keeps an unlit pipe clenched between his teeth pretty much 24x7.

According to IMDB trivia, Joanne Woodward once stated that she not only considers this the worst of her movies, but the worst Hollywood movie ever made. Come on, Ms. Woodward, it's not that bad.

Also, Mrs. Salad now believes that Robert Wagner killed Natalie Wood. No argument here.

Hangover Square

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

It's billed as a film noir, and it has a lot of the trappings: black and white, tricky lighting, a black-hearted dame bringing misery to our protagonist.

Although the protagonist is pretty miserable all by himself. He's George Harvey Bone, played by a slimmed-down Laird Cregar, a composer of music. He's supposed to be working on a concerto, serious stuff. But he makes the mistake of getting tied up with the devious Netta, a sleazy nightclub singer. George writes her a song, and she immediately figures out that if she can get him to write more songs, she'll be able to sing her way to fame and fortune.

But here's the funny thing: George also has this funny mental problem: when he hears loud discordant noises, he goes a little crazy. No, make that a lot crazy, as in homicidal maniac-crazy. Eventually he snaps out of it, but y'know, not until after he's done some pretty bad shit.

For some reason, as near as I can tell, this malady is not cataloged in DSM–5.

Anyway, things lumber along to a grandiose noirish finish. The acting is over the top, especially when George gets all bug-eyed as he slips into one of his murderous states.

Trivia: did I mention Laird Cregar's loss of weight? This was his last movie. He died in his early thirties, and most people seem to blame his untimely death on his absurdly unhealthy efforts to slim down. He apparently wanted to avoid being typecast as an obese villain. I.e., a heavy. Too bad.