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Hanging Out with Toxic Males
I don't enjoy John Cassavetes movies that much, but I've watched quite a few of them because of his importance to the development of independent American cinema and because of their uniqueness. I think "Husbands" will be my last Cassavetes film. I've seen it, "A Woman Under the Influence," "Faces," and "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," and I feel like I can put him to rest with a thorough knowledge of his style and preoccupations.
What I do like about Cassavetes is that he explored in a way few writers/directors at the time did the complexities of male emotions. His male characters don't fall into easy categories and neither do their interior lives. In what he has his characters say and do, it's like he wanted to present the male id on screen visually, in all its obnoxious glory.
But the flip side is that it makes his characters unpleasant and exhausting to be with. I went out with a bunch of guys for a bachelor party once, and one of them was talking loudly about how ugly and fat a girl was sitting at a nearby table in a bar. He clearly wanted her to hear, and it's like he was performing for the rest of us. The other guys, because they didn't want to be accused of ruining the evening I guess, or because they genuinely found it funny, played along and encouraged him. The whole experience was so uncomfortable and toxic that I left shortly after and didn't go on to do the rest of the things planned for the evening.
Watching "Husbands" is like two hours of that experience. It's watching three guys hang out and desperately try to avoid the emotions stirred up by the recent death of a fourth buddy. This means they fight, get maudlin, get drunk, get abusive, treat women like crap. We don't get to know these guys. We're just dumped into the middle of their circle of friendship and sent off with them into the night to hang out for a couple of hours. I can't relate to Cassavetes movies. I'm the same age as the guys in this movie, maybe even a little older than they're supposed to be, with a wife and kids. I don't understand the contempt and anger they show for the world, for their wives, for each other. They don't live in a world that resembles anything I've directly experienced. And since Cassavetes just observes rather than explains, I don't learn anything about it that might help me understand more. I just get claustrophobic and want to leave the party early. Like every other Cassavetes movie I've seen, this one felt more than anything else like an endurance test.
The Loved One (1965)
Misses the Tone of the Book by a Mile
I had recorded "The Loved One" on TCM a long time ago without knowing much about it, and not realizing that it was based on an Evelyn Waugh novel. Then I decided I would read the novel first, which I did. It's not bad, but it's a trifle. It feels like something Waugh hammered out while killing time in between writing better things. I watched the movie the day that I finished the book and...oof!...is the movie bad.
It was aired on TCM as part of a tribute to gay Hollywood and to John Gielgud, the acclaimed gay actor. The hosts of the segment went on and on about how great he was in the movie and gives its best performance. I couldn't figure out how that could be possible, since the character he plays in the book dies within the first couple of pages. I thought maybe they revised the adaptation so that he was in the story longer. But no...he indeed dies within the first five minutes of the movie. While he's in it, he's ok, I guess, but I can't for the life of me figure out why the hosts were fawning over him. As for the rest of the film, it tries to capture the tone of Waugh's book, which is black black comedy (it's set in a mortuary, for starters), but it misses by a mile. Nothing the movie attempts works, and the performances are mostly ghastly. Robert Morse mugs and grimaces his way through the lead role, while Rod Steiger minces around as if he was told he was in a completely different movie. By the time the movie was over, I outright hated it.
After the airing, the hosts came back to talk about it some more, and it became clear then (oh sure, after you've convinced me to watch it), that they didn't think it was a good movie either. They gave it some lukewarm praise in the "well, it's got some good moments" and "it's turned into a cult classic" vein, but they didn't try very hard to convince their viewers that it had much merit.
Read the book, skip the movie.
Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)
Somber and Bleak
A somber, bleak film about an aging boxer (Anthony Quinn) whose money-grubbing manager (Jackie Gleason) wants to push him into the exploitative world of phony wrestling while a do-gooder (Julie Harris) convinces him that he can have a meaningful job and life outside of a ring.
I appreciated the nuance and complexities of this movie's characterizations. It's easy at first to assume that Gleason's character is just selfish and greedy and wants to capitalize off of the success of his dim-witted friend and client. At the same time, it's easy to root for Harris's character and her plan to get Quinn a job supervising children at a camp. But as the movie plays out, it becomes less clear who exactly has Quinn's best interests at heart. We realize, in a heartbreaking, lengthy scene in which a drunken Quinn stumbles around an apartment building trying to find the location of his job interview for the camp counselor position, that the future Harris has convinced him he wants is utterly unrealistic, and her efforts to get his hopes and expectations up start to seem obsessive and even slightly cruel. Meanwhile, it starts to seem like Gleason might have his buddy's best interests at heart after all -- he alone fully understands and accepts Quinn's limitations and knows what a realistic future for him looks like.
I've never liked Anthony Quinn more than I did here. I usually tire of his movie performances, as they've always struck me as rather one note. He rants and yells a lot most of the time, and there's little in the way of subtlety. But here he's quiet and mumbly, he shuffles and shrugs. He gives a painfully accurate portrait of a man who's washed up and doesn't know it.
The film also stars Mickey Rooney, craggy and subdued himself, as another of Quinn's buddies who has Gleason's number, even if he can't do anything but watch the tragedy unfold like a slow motion car accident.
El secreto de sus ojos (2009)
Entertaining Pot Boiler
A fairly compelling Argentinean pot boiler that weaves past and present into a part mystery thriller/part romantic drama about life's unresolved dilemmas.
A former legal counselor is haunted by a brutal rape and murder case that goes unsolved -- or rather, it's solved, but the criminal isn't brought to justice because of corruption within the Argentinean legal system. Meanwhile, he's also filled with regret about a romantic relationship he failed to pursue with his boss, passions which are reignited when she comes back into his life years later as he is gathering research for a novel he plans to write about the rape/murder case.
"The Secret in Their Eyes" is at its best when dealing with the criminal investigation at its center. It's on shakier ground with the romance, primarily because the two leads don't have a lot of chemistry. We're just told they're smitten with each other, but we never really feel it. Also, the film's execution at times teeters toward the painfully strained, most notably in a scene where the two protagonists are trying to bully a confession out of the man they suspect of being the rapist/murderer. I always felt the film was trying to be smarter than the material would allow, as if the film makers couldn't be content with letting it be a plot-driven thriller (which is what it's really begging to be). But despite these criticisms, it's a very good and crafty film. I'm not surprised that Hollywood decided it needed an American remake, and I'm even less surprised that the powers that be (by all accounts, as I've not seen it) botched it.
"The Secret in Their Eyes" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. While it was a respectable choice for that honor, the award should hands down have gone to "The White Ribbon." The first film may leave you with a feeling of quiet unease; the second will get into your head and stay there forever.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
At Least It's Funny
I think I saw the first "Thor" movie. All of these superhero movies blend together in my mind. I know I missed some of them, because there was clearly plot exposition that probably would have made "Thor: Ragnarok" make more sense. Oh well, these movies don't make much sense even if you have seen them all. They all devolve into loud and flashy spectacle by the time they're over and hope you'll be so dazzled that you'll forget any crappy parts. It's harder and harder for me to watch movies like this and get past the weapon fetishism they all wallow in -- there's such an emphasis on how cool you look wielding your big gun, the bigger the better. In the increasingly disturbing American gun culture, it's no longer possible (for me at least) to shrug stuff like this off as "only a movie." But whatever...I acknowledge that I probably shouldn't be watching movies like this in the first place if that's going to bother me.
As for the rest? It's pretty funny, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it's got Cate Blanchett looking sexy as hell in a dominatrix outfit (that is, until she puts on a ridiculous hat that makes her look like one of Satan's reindeer). I got tired of it, but as you might have gathered if you've stayed with this review, I'm probably not the target audience for it.
Saw the Sequel First
I saw the original "Ant-Man" after its sequel, "Ant-Man and the Wasp." I thought the second one was better, because the first is all origin story and I always find the origin stories of superheroes to be the most boring parts. I really don't like anything about superhero movies all that much, but this one is pretty good, because, like the second one, it's funny and it doesn't take itself so seriously and it's got Paul Rudd, who's able to make just about anything at least watchable.
We the Animals (2018)
Everyone's throwing around the phrase "toxic masculinity" lately, but I have yet to see very many artists exploring what exactly that is or what fuels it. "We the Animals" does just that. It shows us a mom and dad raising their three sons in desperate financial circumstances. Both parents experience extreme depression and despair in one form or another; to them, life is a trap they can't escape from. The boys are left on their own most of the time to figure out how both to literally survive (what are they going to eat?) and make sense of the world and their place in it. Two of them seem content to mimic their dad, whose way of dealing with feelings he can't articulate is to be physically and emotionally abusive to his wife, and to teach his sons to be "MEN," mostly to compensate for his own feelings of inadequacy as a husband and father. But the third and youngest seems troubled by what he observes, and doesn't seem comfortable with the aggression and dominance that the other two embrace. And his budding sexuality is drawing him more to boys than girls. Young as he is, he's mature enough to recognize that life is as much of a trap for him as it is for the adults. Will he be able to break free and soar?
"We the Animals" answers that question, sort of, beautifully and visually. This isn't a movie with a lot of dialogue; the characters wouldn't be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings anyway. Instead, it's a movie about emotions roiling under the surface of just about every character in the film, but in an atmosphere where they're not allowed to come to the surface. It's also a movie about the artistic impulse, and how art can be used to express feelings we sometimes can't express -- or aren't allowed to express -- in any other way.
This is the kind of movie I recommend to friends since it's not one many people have heard of.
Pasqualino Settebellezze (1975)
A Strange Rhythm
"Seven Beauties" has a strange rhythm that it might take some viewers a while to settle into. It reminded me at times of the 1997 film "Life Is Beautiful" in its attempt to juxtapose the darkly comic to the stark horror of Nazi work camps, but the comparison really just highlights how superior Lina Wertmuller's 1976 film is to Robert Benigni's bit of sentimental hokum in just about every conceivable way. After Benigni inflicted his movie on us, I figured trying to find humor in such terrible subject matter was just a mistake, and that anyone would fail in the attempt. But Wertmuller proves that it's possible after all, and the comedy makes the horror that much more horrifying.
Wertmuller became the first woman ever nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, and the film received additional nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Actor (Giancarlo Giannini), and Best Original Screenplay. Though it didn't win anything, with a set of nominations like that one assumes it had to be close to making the cut in the Best Picture race that year (1976), a year that saw "Rocky" ultimately win the top prize. How's that for cinematic schizophrenia?
Vox Lux (2018)
Dud of a movie that stars Natalie Portman as a pop star whose life is in a shambles but who is idolized by millions despite the fact that her concerts look like the child that would result if ABBA and "Starlight Express" got drunk at a party and had unprotected sex in the bathroom.
The gimmick is that the actress who plays Portman's character as a young woman plays Portman's daughter later in the film. Portman's character was the survivor of a school shooting, which somehow impacts the person she becomes and presumably accounts at least partially for what a total raving nut job she is, but the movie is so ineptly made that it's never made clear how or why. The film also brings in themes of terrorism and the responsibility famous people have to account for real-world actions they may have a role -- whether intentional or not -- in influencing. This is actually an interesting idea to explore further, but I guess we'll have to wait for a different movie to do so. This one is too preoccupied with following Portman around as she competes for the title of Most.Aggravating.Pop.Star.Ever and dares us to keep a hold of our patience and composure while we do so. Seriously, do people in the entertainment industry thing having talent and being addicted to drugs is enough to make people interesting? They're not, and watching Portman aggressively try to act like she's having a non-stop nervous breakdown for an hour and a half is about as tedious as it sounds. Nothing is helped by the fact that Portman doesn't have the acting chops to pull this character off. Maybe she just needs better direction, because Darren Aronofsky managed to make her convincingly unhinged in "Black Swan." Here she isn't remotely believable for one second as an aging pop star.
I would say I want my money back if I had actually spent any to watch this.
A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Eerie and Funny
Typically strange (in the best way) film from the team of Powell and Pressburger, "A Matter of Life and Death" manages to be eerie, haunting, and funny all at once. It's missing a bit of something that has made me adore some of their other films -- "Black Narcissus" comes to mind -- but it still manages to have that ahead-of-its-time quality that so many of their films had and that makes them so watchable today when some of their contemporaries feel antiquated in comparison.
David Niven plays a British pilot who was supposed to have died in WWII but somehow doesn't; the majority of the movie is about Heaven and its minions trying to sort things out and the suspense is in whether or not Niven will get to hang on to his life, which now includes a love interest played by Kim Hunter, or pass on. Niven's natural comedic presence is juxtaposed to the very sad realities of WWII, which hadn't been over very long when this movie was made, and a beautiful and haunting musical score keeps the audience off kilter, jaunty when it should be gloomy and menacing when it should be spritely.
Kathleen Byron, who played the nun who goes off her rocker in "Black Narcissus," has a small but memorable role in this film as well. Not memorable necessarily because of anything she or the character does, but just because I find her as an actress to be fascinating.
The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
Gentleman Bank Robber
This just may be the most genteel bank robber movie ever made.
Robert Redford flexes his considerable screen charm to play Forrest Tucker, a real-life bank robber whose predominant characteristic was how nice he was to everyone he robbed. He never wanted to scare or hurt anyone, just relieve them of their money and be on his way. As portrayed in this movie, he had a pathological need to steal, and almost relished in the idea of being caught, which he was more than once before eluding authorities again and again. Casey Affleck is the detective who becomes obsessed with bringing him to justice, while Sissy Spacek is a woman who falls for him, the fact that he's a career bank robber be damned.
This movie is directed by David Lowery, whose last film was the enigmatic and fascinating "A Ghost Story." This one is much more conventional and narratively traditional, but it still shows Lowery to be a filmmaker of tremendous promise. The movie is easy going and laid back and is almost entirely about watching Redford and Spacek, two veteran pros, in an acting tennis match, lobbing expertly delivered lines back and forth like champs who no longer have to prove how good they are at the game.
Armored Car Robbery (1950)
A no nonsense heist film in which the heist, of course, goes wrong and we watch to see how bad things will get before they get better. There's not a lot to the movie, but it's got a muscular grittiness that appeals to me in films of its kind. It's also very short, so it's an ideal candidate for a film noir double feature, something I like to enjoy on a rainy Saturday.
While the City Sleeps (1956)
The race to crack the identity of a serial killer is used by a newspaper tycoon as a dangling carrot to make three newspapermen compete for a promotion. What follows is a film in which the serial killer story, which you'd think might be the centerpiece of the film, fades into the background, giving way to the drama of a news office. That the film portrays the office environment as being as jaded and sleazy as the dark streets haunted by the serial killer is no coincidence.
Fritz Lang directs a crackerjack cast with style to spare, and he nimbly handles a lot of characters and their stories without ever making the film feel talky or sluggish. Frequent cutaways to the killer himself and the world he inhabits help, as do the performances he gets from his cast, which includes Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, George Sanders and Thomas Mitchell. Rhonda Fleming, Sally Forrest, and Ida Lupino are the ladies, and one notable thing about this film is the degree to which women are used as bargaining tools by men. It doesn't paint a very flattering picture of sexual and gender politics in the 1950s.
Pride of the Marines (1945)
Pride of the Marines
Boy and girl fall in love, boy goes to war and comes back blind, boy spends rest of movie trying to convince girl to move on with her life because he doesn't want to be a burden to her.
This is no frills, straight-down-the-middle post-WWII film making here. There's nothing fancy, but it does boast good performances by John Garfield and Eleanor Parker as the couple in love. And, because this was made in 1945 (I'm not sure if it was released before or after the actual end of the war, but no matter), it's allowed to be cynical about the futures of the vets returning home, something films made during the war, which were saddled with the burden of being patriotic propaganda, were not.
Albert Maltz received his first of two career Oscar nominations for writing the film's screenplay, which was adapted from a book by Roger Butterfield.
Billy Liar (1963)
Strong Performance by Tom Courtenay
Good, somewhat dated film about the restlessness of British youth in the decades succeeding WWII, kind of a British version of "The Graduate" (though not in the same league as Mike Nichols' film).
Tom Courtenay plays the title character, a young man who resists the traditions and mainstream path laid out for him and instead retreats into a world of fancy and imagination. That his ultimate dream, being a professional writer, is unlikely to ever materialize lends a tragic air to Billy's resilience. How long before the idealism of youth gives way to the bitter resignation of adulthood?
Courtenay gives a tremendous performance, and he pretty much IS the movie. It's all really a bit one note -- the movie makes its point early on and keeps making it over and over. It's a testament to Courtenay's performance that he keeps the movie engaging despite that, and despite the fact that we should really be pretty sick of Billy by the time the whole thing's over.
They Won't Forget (1937)
A breathtakingly cynical film from usually dull director Mervyn LeRoy about a man wrongly accused of murder who becomes the symbol of the bitter rivalry between northerners and southerners in Depression-era America.
This film does none of the things films from this time period usually did to appease their audiences. The chief bad guy -- in this film a prosecuting attorney using the trial to further his own political aspirations and played by Claude Rains -- far from going unpunished, is actually rewarded. The hero, in this case the wrongfully accused school teacher, gets beaten to death by an angry mob after being found guilty on trumped up charges. Interestingly, the only character who mans up and does the right thing is a black janitor, who himself is threatened by those in power if he doesn't lie for them. The whole film is like a punch in the gut; it's cynical even by today's standards.
I wish I could say the animosity between northerners and southerners who still haven't accepted that they Civil War is over is a quaint relic, but things don't look all that different in the America of today as they did the America of 1937.
The Connection (1961)
Bizarre and Tedious
"The Connection" gets some points for pushing the envelope for its time, but my goodness what a tedious movie it is.
The end credits reveal that the film was based on a play, which did not surprise me in the least. It's set in one room and follows a bunch of junkies while they're waiting for their dealer to arrive so they can get their next fix. There's a movie director and his cameraman in the room filming the whole thing, so the film we are watching is really the film within the film. Each character gets a moment to monologue about something, but everything is delivered in the same sweaty, rambling style so that it all blends together and no one character is really distinct from another. Meanwhile, a few of the guys improvise jazz in the background for nearly the entire length of the film, which becomes insanely irritating about mid-way through. I think the idea is that it's all supposed to be so cinema verite that we aren't sure what's real and what's not, but the dialogue sounds so scripted, and the acting is so unbelievable, that we never for a moment are fooled into thinking this is anything but fiction.
Free Solo (2018)
Entertaining if not super enlightening documentary about the cult of free climbing.
Despite knowing that the film's subject survives to tell his tale, the movie is still a white knuckler, especially if you have a fear of heights and/or plummeting to your death.
I don't understand the mind set of people like Alex Honnold, the documentary's subject. I don't need to feel like I'm cheating death to feel like I've accomplished something or am living a fulfilling life. Fear (within reason) is an instinctual response in animals that's there for a reason -- it prevents you from doing things you probably shouldn't be doing. And I don't feel compelled to overcome that instinct. But the dude in this movie for some reason does, and I guess good for him that he hasn't yet died. The film didn't really make me understand him, but maybe there isn't anything to understand really.
The Wife (2017)
I'm Glad Close Didn't Win For This
I'm glad Glenn Close didn't win the much predicted Oscar for this film. Not because I don't like Close, or think she wasn't good in the role (she's the best thing about the movie), but because this movie isn't good enough for her. Her winning would have been like Julianne Moore winning for "Still Alice," an actress who deserved to win for about ten previous movies finally winning for something mediocre.
The central premise of "The Wife" becomes too unrealistic to support the film built around it. Close and Jonathan Pryce (also very good) try valiantly to carry the material, and the film is at its best when the two of them are going at it with simmering resentment. But by the end, the melodramatic plot developments had lost me, and I was mostly saddened that Close's considerable talents had been wasted on something beneath her.
And what the hell is with the character of the son in this film? Why is he like 30 years old but acts like he's fifteen? And why does he hang around with his septuagenarian parents all the time? I started the film just being moderately annoyed by him, and ended by being actually skeezed out by him.
Green Book (2018)
"Green Book" is the kind of movie my mom likes, and trust me, that's not a compliment. It's for people who are willing to watch a movie about racism as long as the black character who's the victim of it is whiter than any of the white characters. It's for people who want to pat themselves on the back for being open to a "serious" movie that doesn't challenge a single belief or make them the slightest bit uncomfortable. It's for people who like music cues that tell them exactly what they're supposed to be feeling at every single moment. It's for people who think the answer to racial problems is for whites and blacks to compromise and find some middle ground where they can agree to overcome their differences, as if black people have any responsibility in the fact that they have been marginalized ever since the very first one set foot on American soil. No one who is the slightest bit tuned in to racial problems in contemporary America could possibly stomach this movie.
Personally, I found it to be patronizing and damn near insulting. It consists of scene after scene of our black protagonist getting himself in trouble, only to be saved from the situation by the white guy. By the end, the white guy has taught him how to be more black and embrace his own culture, which in this movie is defined by liking fried chicken, listening to Little Richard and Aretha Franklin, and playing some funky piano. Oh but wait, defenders will say. The white guy learns something too, like how to be less racist and how to write really good love letters to his wife. In fact, the entire guys' racist family learns to not be racist by the end and welcomes the black guy to their Christmas dinner. They're just casually racist, you see, but not racist in ways that really matter. Barf.
Seriously, this is the Sesame Street version of racism. In a year that gave us "BlackkKlansman," "Blindspotting," "The Hate U Give," and "Sorry to Bother You," all movies made by minorities about the black experience in America, it's pretty telling of where we are as culture right now that the race movie mainstream America glommed on to was this piece of feel-good hoo-hah. Mainstream America doesn't want to have its beliefs challenged, and it certainly doesn't want to be told it's part of the problem. Instead, it wants a hallmark movie that makes it feel good about itself.
One thing saves "Green Book" from being an utter waste of time, and that is the performance of Viggo Mortensen.
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
There's been an assassination attempt. The victim is a scientist who holds the key to technology that can shrink things and people down to microscopic particles, which will be useful in warfare. The only way to save him from death is for a team of scientists to be miniaturized by the very same technology and injected into his bloodstream so that they can repair his brain from within. Apparently, being injected into another person's bloodstream isn't as easy as it sounds....go figure....and all sorts of mishaps occur.
This daffy premise is actually an intriguing one, but "Fantastic Voyage" manages to be a bit of a let down. The pace of the film is funereal, and most of the film lacks any kind of musical score. I imagine these choices were made to make the film seem more serious and academic, but this isn't a story that needs to be taken very seriously. In fact, it needs to have a sense of adventure and whimsy, which the film doesn't bring.
A whole slew of famous people are in this one. Stephen Boyd is our hunky leading man, but the little submarine these folks cruise around in has more personality than he does. Donald Pleasance is to the movie what Ian Holm was to "Alien." It would be a spoiler to say he turns out to be the bad guy if you couldn't see that plot twist coming five minutes into the movie. Arthur Kennedy is the doctor we're SUPPOSED to think is the bad guy, while Edmond O'Brien and Arthur O'Connell sit in an office drinking coffee and occasionally telling the audience what's happening, in case we can't follow events on our own. This film launched the career of Raquel Welch, who provides some much needed estrogen. I was convinced she would be stripped down to a bikini by the time this film was over, but I was wrong. They keep things professional and scientific, and they even let the lone woman talk once in a while. When she still hadn't said a word 20 minutes into the movie I was beginning to wonder.
The special effects are a hoot. I'm sure they were state of the art at the time, but they're goofy as hell to look at now. The film is set in, I think, 1995, and it's always fun to compare the visionary future created by older movies to the real thing. In 1966, scientists could shrink a submarine full of people and inject it into another human being, but they couldn't think of a better way to actually track the submarine's progress through the host body than to have a dude literally move around by hand a little submarine on a giant diagram. I kept thinking of "Dr. Strangelove" and the "big board!"
Art Cruickshank won the Special Effects Oscar for imagining what it might actually look like for Raquel Welch to be attacked by a bunch of antibodies. Jack Martin Smith and Dale Hennesy also won an Oscar for the film's color art direction, which goes hand in hand with the visual effects in creating the inner world of the circulatory system. Additionally, the film received nominations for its color cinematography, film editing, and sound effects.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Thank You Paul Rudd
I usually hate superhero movies, but I liked this one. I didn't see the first one, or any of the other Marvel movies that the character of Ant-Man may have been in, so it took some time for me to figure out what was going on. But let's face it, these movies aren't exactly the equivalent of brain surgery, and plot is such an afterthought in most superhero movies anyway (which is one of the things I hate about them), that I didn't have to expend a lot of effort on catching up.
"Ant-Man and the Wasp" is funny, it's short, and it has the huge advantage of starring Paul Rudd, who single-handedly makes the film worth watching. No, I take that back. Michael Pena deserves a lot of credit for that as well.
A Private War (2018)
A Private War
I can't decide whether Rosamund Pike is really good in this movie or whether she's overacting to the high heavens.
At the end of the film, there's some brief footage of the real Marie Colvin, the war correspondent who Pike plays and who serves as the focus of this film about her career and eventual death in Syria. Whatever else might be said about Pike, she certainly looks and sounds like the real woman. As for her performance, Pike tears into the role as if she's daring someone to not nominate her for an Oscar. She goes at it hard in every single scene, playing Colvin as a high strung disaster, which maybe she was. The result is a pretty decent film, but one that's exhausting, since Pike is in virtually every scene and one can only take so much of someone else's mental disintegration. It's also an oddly detached film. I found myself unmoved by Colvin's story or her fate.
The film also stars Jamie Dornan, who manages to keep his clothes on and hides behind a big lumberjack beard to boot.
Call Northside 777 (1948)
Well Made But Not Especially Exciting
"Call Northside 777" is one of those late 1940s police procedural films that often get lumped in with films noir but isn't one really. It looks like one because it's in gritty black and white and it's primarily set in jails and police and newspaper offices. But really this is just a crime drama about the efforts of a journalist to prove a man's innocence, reluctantly at first and then with more and more conviction as the weight of evidence begins to overcome his cynical doubts.
That journalist is played by James Stewart, and of course he's terrific in this, as he was in everything. He alone elevates this from something you could easily miss to something worth seeing. Also standing out in the cast is Betty Garde as a boozy slattern. She only gets a couple of scenes but one of them late in the film is a real doozy. Lee J. Cobb plays Stewart's boss and for once manages to keep himself subdued -- I'm used to Cobb shouting and blustering in everything he's in.
"Call Northside 777" isn't especially exciting. Like many films of its kind, it almost seems more like a semi-documentary about the technology behind forensics and police work. We get a whole scene devoted to an explanation of the mechanics behind polygraph machines, and the climax of the film hinges on whether or not a photo can be blown up enough to unmask a crucial detail. Interesting in its own way, but not exactly the stuff of nail-biting suspense.
Wonder Park (2019)
Lame animated film that feels like it was created by committee, because it probably was. No cliche is too cliche to be included, while not a single joke or sentiment in the film is one you haven't seen a hundred times before in much better films. It's movies like "Wonder Park" that give "movies for kids" a bad name. The thing is, kids have standards too, and mine gave this stinker a thumbs down.