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

A deeply weird 1946 movie with Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Netflix's AI thought I would like it slightly better than I did.

Ne'er-do-well smalltime gambler Johnny (Mr. Ford) is about to be mugged and probably killed in an Buenos Aires back alley, when he's saved by tungsten tycoon/casino owner Ballin Mundson (played by George Macready). I don't think a reason was given for Mundson to be on the scene; even less explicable is what happens next: he invites Johnny to his casino, and after some gay repartee, hires him to do some vaguely-described duties.

The relationship between Mundson and Johnny is tense, and it doesn't get any better when Mundson returns from a brief trip with a new wife: Gilda, played by Ms. Hayworth. Gilda and Johnny are hostile toward each other from the get-go, and, as it turns out, there's a very good reason for that… But that's enough plot description.

Let it be said that there's enough dysfunction in the triangular relationship between Johnny, Gilda, and Mundson to send a marriage therapist into a different line of work. Mundson's tungsten machinations turn out to be a source of dangerous intrigue as well. Rita Hayworth sings and dances. Everybody smokes and drinks way too much.

Oh, and the ending is … well, it's damned odd, given all the ominous foreshadowing.

Please Stand By

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

IMDB genericizes this as Comedy/Drama, which I guess is accurate enough. Netflix's rating algorithm also thought I'd like it, and it was also accurate.

Wendy, played by Dakota Fanning, is autistic. Although I'm not a doctor, I'd say she's a low-functioning autistic. She lives in a San Francisco group home, where she gets supported by sympathetic Scottie (Toni Collette). Her sister Audrey (Alice Eve) has placed her there, worried about whether her autism might bring harm to infant daughter Ruby.

But Wendy (like many autistics) has an unexpected gift. She's a good writer. And a Trekkie. And when Paramount offers a contest to write a script for the next Star Trek movie, she's all over it like a tribble on quadrotriticale.

Unfortunately, she lets things go right up until the deadline. And due to unforeseen circumstance, she realizes that the script can't reach Paramount via mail on time. And so she sets out on an Unauthorized Autistic Odyssey to Hollywood, where she can drop off the massive script in person.

Needless to say, things don't go smoothly.

A few random thoughts:

  • We don't get the entire plot of Wendy's script, but from the quoted snippets, I would totally go see the Star Trek movie based thereupon.

  • For those of us used to seeing Dakota Fanning back when she was a child actress, … well, she's all grown up now, playing big-girl roles.

  • It would be easy to make a "problematic" movie with autism as a plot device, but it seems to me that Wendy's disability was treated with sympathy and respect. I haven't researched to find if it angered activists, though. Because I don't care.

  • The movie relies on a lictor ex machina, in the person of Patton Oswalt, who just happens to be… nope, that would be a unnecessary spoiler.

In short, a good watchable movie.

Love Crazy

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

William Powell and Myrna Loy starred in (it says here) fourteen movies together between 1934 and 1947. They had an undeniable chemistry, and the DVD has a trailer that shows that the studio exploited that chemistry in its marketing.

This one is a screwball comedy from 1941, about the midpoint of their collaboration. Bill and Myrna play happily-married couple Steve and Susan, about to celebrate their fourth anniversary when things start going wrong, led off by an unexpected visit from Susan's meddlesome mother. Who is injured in a freak accident. Which sends Steve out of the apartment where he happens to meet an old flame. Who isn't adverse to a bit of extramarital relations, but they wind up in a stalled elevator (manned by—hey, that's Elisha Cook Jr.). Which… well, you get the idea.

After a series of misunderstandings and miscommunications, Susan decides she wants a divorce. Steve's only recourse is to fake insanity (which, given his basic screwball nature, isn't much of a stretch). Because (for some reason) you can't get divorced if your spouse is nuts.

It has a bit of a slapped-together vibe. Like the moviemakers were saying "OK, what should we do today? Hey, how about putting William Powell in drag?"

Everything's funny, though. For some reason, I liked actor/director Jack Carter's repeated line: "The name's Willoughby, Ward Willoughby." For some reason, it gets more amusing every time it's repeated.

Last Modified 2018-09-12 6:57 AM EDT

Deadpool 2

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

Let's see… The MPAA rated this R for "strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material". That understates it a bit. I waited until Mrs. Salad was out-of-house to watch it.

Mr. Pool, played by Ryan Reynolds, gets a quick comedown from the happily-ever-after ending of Deadpool, when Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) gets seriously killed by (yes) a guy that Deadpool let live in a previous scene. Those guys always come back to get you.

After a gruesome suicide attempt, Deadpool joins up with X-Men member Colossus to perform a goody-two-shoes X-Men-style mission: rescue a misbehaving kid from a mutant re-education center. This is complicated somewhat by Cable (Josh Brolin), a visitor from the future, back to avenge/prevent the deaths of his family at the hands of the future kid. And then…

There's a considerable amount of fighting and imaginative special effects. In addition to the aforementioned violence and language, there's a lot of fourth wall breaking and myriad references to other movies. (Someone should count them.) (Should? Some nerds probably have counted them.)

Not recommended for the easily offended. Or even the uneasily offended.

A Quiet Place

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

Heard good things about this, and they were all true. It would have been kind of neat to come into the movie knowing nothing about the plot, but (alas) in our world, that is not an option.

In fact, if you haven't seen the movie, and you don't know anything about it, I recommend you stop reading right now. As Will Ferrell parodying James Liption would say: "Go to a place where movies are rented, sold, or seen and rent, buy or see this movie. It is delightful"

Still here? Well, the Abbott family (John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, some kid actors) is trying to survive an alien invasion; they are apparently the last remnants of humanity. The aliens are blind, but hypersensitive to sound, which means the Abbotts have to be, as Elmer Fudd would say, vewy, vewy, quiet.

They don't always succeed at that. And an early scene details the tragic consequences, and causes everyone to not only be scared, but also guilt-ridden for the rest of the movie.

Acting is first-rate, the filmmakers know how to put the scares in. Ending (however) is non-credible, once you think about it for a few seconds. Mouseover if you're inclined: [Mom and daughter invent an impromptu, but effective, anti-alien sonic weapon! Are you telling me nobody else in the entire world thought of that?].

2001: A Space Odyssey

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

Jeez, spoiler alert for the frickin' Blu-ray box. What is the universe coming to?

I saw this movie when it came out, when I was a callow 17-year-old. At the Indian Hills Cinerama theater in Omaha; as the Wikipedia will tell you, the screen was the largest of its type in the United States. And the place is now a parking lot.

Anyway, for the movie's fiftieth anniversary, Christopher Nolan restored the 70mm print for IMAX theaters. OK, I'm sentimental. Mrs. Salad and I trundled up to Saco, Maine on a hot afternoon to blow our tiny minds once again for Stanley Kubrick's deeply confusing masterpiece.

There were, I think, maybe five other people in the huge IMAX auditorium. Not everyone is as sentimental as I am.

I usually put a small plot synopsis in these movie reports, but… OK: Pre-humans. Tapirs. Monolith. Spaceships. Small-talking bureaucrats. Monolith again. Astronauts. Homicidal AI. Monolith once more. Acid trip. Monolith again. And… Star Baby!

There you go.

I guess, as I type, that it's winding up its IMAX run. But if you get the chance, it's a good experience. (Hopefully your theater won't have an errant fly buzzing around the projector.)

Crazy Rich Asians

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

Two words: Michelle Yeoh. Even though she plays the sorta-baddie here. How can anyone take their eyes off her when she's onscreen? Can't happen. Extra star for this movie, just because: Michelle Yeoh.

And (besides Ms. Yeoh) the charm of this movie is that everyone's (a) Asian and (b) rich (with associated garishness). (I know they're supposed to be crazy too, but that's pretty mild.) Take away the crazy rich factor, and it's a very formulaic romantic comedy.

Anyway: heroine Rachel is an econ prof (specializing in game theory) at NYU. She and her hunky boyfriend Nick are mutually smitten, so Nick uses the excuse of a friend's wedding in Singapore to invite Rachel over to meet his family as well.

And they are, as my mom used to say, falling-in-the-ditch rich, a little detail that Nick has not disclosed to Rachel. Rachel gets her first clue when they don't get seats on the plane for the flight over: they get a private suite. And the holy-cow-they-are-rich revelations keep on coming.

But the fly in the ointment is Nick's mom, who has different ideas about a proper girl for Nick. She considers Rachel to be a "banana", yellow on the outside, white (specifically: American white) on the inside. And this leads to the inevitable crisis. Which (in turn) leads to … well, if you've seen more than six or so romantic comedies, you won't be surprised how it turns out.

Fortunately, nearly everyone has either an impeccable American or English accent. Unfortunately, and don't get me wrong, there are a lot of characters, we meet them in a very short time, and I had a they-all-kinda-look-alike problem.

And really don't get me wrong, this isn't particularly a racial thing: I have the same issue with some movies where the cast consists of a lot of young and pretty white people.

But (bottom line) a not inconsiderable amount of fun. Mrs. Salad and I attended s Super Bargain Tuesday showing at the Brickyard Square 12 in Epping, a mere $10 for both of us.

Last Modified 2018-08-30 6:30 AM EDT


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

I saw this movie once before, back when I was a grad student. 'Twas back when Boston's channel 5 showed classic movies on Saturday night, hosted by the late great Frank Avruch, also known as the first nationally syndicated version of Bozo the Clown.

So about 45 years ago, give or take.

It was made in 1939, as World War II loomed. It begins with three Russians coming to Paris in order to sell some jewelry confiscated by the Commies from its previous aristocratic owners. (Stalin's Russia is in desperate need of cash, because starvation and murder aren't cheap.)

But (as it turns out) the aristocrat ("Grand Duchess Swana") is now living in Paris too. The sale immediately gets complex, as Swana's boy-toy Count Leon d'Algout easily "corrupts" the three envoys with all the worldly delights Paris has to offer.

Enter Nina Ivanovna Yakushova, aka Ninotchka, a no-nonsense Moscow enforcer who arrives to see what's going on. And she is played by Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, aka Greta Garbo. She's humorless and grim, and contemptuous of the bourgeois antics of Count Leon, … until, yeah, they fall in love.

The trailer was included on the DVD, and its prominent tagline was "Garbo Laughs!". Apparently that was not something she had done in previous movies. And it's an inside-baseball reference to her first non-silent movie, Anna Christie which was taglined "Garbo Talks!"

And the movie's not shy about making winking reference to one of her previous movies: "Do you want to be alone?" "No."

Lots of talent involved. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and Billy Wilder was one of the writers.

And there are pointed references to current events. Stalinist horrors are occasionally mentioned. ("Hello! Comrade Kasabian? No, I am sorry. He hasn't been with us for six months. He was called back to Russia and was investigated. You can get further details from his widow.") And—this is 1930s Paris, remember—a couple of Nazis greet each other at the train station with a hearty "Heil Hitler!". And it's played for laughs.

Excellent movie. I'll put it on the list to watch again in another 45 years or so…

John Wick: Chapter 2

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

In a perfect world, the movie's title would be John Wick 2: Electric Boogaloo. Alas, we do not live in that world.

Netflix thought I'd like this a lot more than I did. It's OK, but eh.

At the end of the last movie, John I-just-wanna-retire-because-I-don't-want-to-be-an-assassin-anymore Wick (Keanu Reeves) has a loose end to tie up from the last movie, getting his sweet car back. This involves killing a lot of people. And mostly destroying the car. But, anyway, he's ready to bury the hatchet after that. And also burying an array of weaponry and gold coins.

But (and there's always one of those) a new bad guy shows up and coerces John into a new job: killing the bad guy's sister so that he can get her seat in some underworld crime organization.

So what ensues is a lot of violence, but we kind of get the point: Wick is the kind of guy who can take on dozens of killers concurrently, leaving them all mostly dead, while just incurring some minor boo-boos himself. I lost track of how many of these mass-carnage set pieces there were. They differ only in their settings (which, truth be told, are decently imagined).

One nice touch: Laurence Fishburne! I think he and Keanu were in some other movies too, right?

Spoiler: the movie ends with John in big trouble with nearly everyone left alive. And, oh yeah, that means John Wick 3: Parabellum. I pre-emptively declare: not going to bother.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

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

Probably the last of the summer blockbusters we'll get to. We waited for the hoopla to die down some, and it was pretty easy to get our usual seats. (Third row center, baby!)

Ethan Hunt (played by a young actor named Tom Cruise) and his team (minus Jeremy Renner) are back. So is the lunatic evil genius from the previous movie, with a new wicked apocalyptic scheme.

You might understand what's going on better if you remember the previous movie. Unfortunately, I thought the previous movie was pretty forgettable, and hence… I forgot most of the details. Sigh.

The bad guy's plans include mass terror and death, sure. That's standard operating procedure. But they also involve exacting personal revenge on Ethan and his ex-wife. Someone should have told the bad guy that adding needless complications to your nefarious plots can increase chances for failure.

So: masks, deceptions, fights, chases, gunplay, betrayal. The action is not non-stop, but when it starts, it goes on for a long time. It's imaginative and (often) funny. I could joke about how Tom Cruise does his own stunts, as described in many articles out there, but… you know what? I actually consider this kind of awesome.

And yes, it's "good". In the sense that I didn't fall asleep. But there are little "this is a movie" moments. For example, the doomsday McGuffin is weirdly complex, in a way that invites you to think: "yeah, that design kind of dictates exactly how the last scenes are going to play out."