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The Girl Most Likely to... (1973)
dark comedy for TV
College student Miriam Knight (Stockard Channing) is an ugly duckling. She's desperate for a man but nobody likes her. She is bitter and lonely from the endless slights. After a car accident, she gets plastic surgery and becomes a beauty. Instead of going on with her improved life, she decides to take revenge against those who have wronged her. As she murders, police detective Ralph Varone (Edward Asner) investigates.
This is a TV movie on ABC. It's a dark, dark comedy considering that it's network TV. I don't know much about movies of the week back then. This seems a little dark for the medium. Normally, the ugly duckling has an inner beauty. She does not have that. She's bitter. She's needy. It's not that funny. It's hard to laugh at her and there's nothing to laugh with her. She could have kept playing in the pool hall and become one of the guys at least. Let's just say that there is more than one reason nobody is sitting next to her. She's a lot and most of it is unappealing. All of this is perfectly fine and I'm glad that it devolves into murder but it doesn't make it funny. Quite frankly, the plastic surgery is unnecessary. A murderous ugly duckling would have been also interesting.
The Bedford Incident (1965)
fine military thriller
Two men are delivered to the American destroyer USS Bedford in the North Atlantic by helicopter. Civilian photojournalist Ben Munceford (Sidney Poitier) is doing a story and is slack with regulations. Dr. Potter (Martin Balsam) starts a new tour on active duty after 20 years in the reserves. The medical staff is excited by the garbage being found. They suspect a recent Russian sub. Hard-nosed Captain Eric Finlander (Richard Widmark) is hunting for his Russian sub and has no use for either of the newcomers. Commodore Wolfgang Schrepke is a former Nazi submarine captain who is now a NATO adviser. Captain Finlander pushes the pursuit until a mistaken command leads to dire consequences.
This is fine military drama. Sidney Poitier is pushing the clueless civilian character a little too far. It's not that funny and a bit annoying. Otherwise, the actors are top notch. The story is pretty simple. The miniature action is minimalist. They do use some realistic sets and real ship action to intensify the reality of the story. This is solid.
Appointment in Tokyo (1945)
lots of war action
The US military produced a war documentary of the advance towards Tokyo. It's only a few months after the official surrender on USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. It's got plenty of war action from the military and some captured footage from the Japanese. They are unbelievable and some familiar explosive action to any who has seen a lot of WWII docs. There are some compelling war footage of the fighting in Manila. Quite frankly, I thought the bloody asian man crawling on the ground towards the camera is something from Vietnam. The narration has the tone of heroic patriotic determination. In today's 24 hour news cycle, this is a relic of a bygone era. I don't know how people saw it back in the day but I'm sure this is some of the freshest footage in middle America theaters.
Angel Face (1953)
Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) arrives after Mrs. Tremayne is poisoned. He meets her hysterical step-daughter Diane (Jean Simmons). They go out to dinner and she schemes to get rid of his girlfriend. She maneuvers him to be her family's chauffeur. She has murderous intent against her stepmother. When her parents die in the malfunctioning car, she becomes the sole heir and the main suspect along with Frank.
Some of this is badly written. I don't see Mary having lunch with Diane who is a complete stranger. That scene should be the same conversation with Diane surprising Mary at her door. The writing is rather pulpy. I don't think the marriage idea works. Spousal privilege usually only starts on the wedding day. Quite frankly, I doubt that they wouldn't be convicted anyways. The movie is concentrating on the angel faced Jean Simmons set against the juxtaposition of her villainous actions. Robert Mitchum is sitting on the fence with her. He suspects her but still goes along. This may work more as a mystery if her villainy is not so in your face. As director Otto Preminger had set it up, she's like a sledgehammer pounding on the audience. It's an effective hammering without being melodramatic. I like it more than Laura.
Quante volte... quella notte (1971)
date rape Rashomon
Gianni is a hound dog. Tina is out walking her dog. He follows her in his car. She agrees to go on a date. They go to a dance club. She goes back to his apartment complex. She returns home with a torn dress. Her mother is distressed about the dress until she tells her about a harrowing escape from the lecherous Gianni. Next we see the story as Gianni recounts the night to his buddies. The third is the peeping Tom doorman who recounts a wild night of debauchery. Finally, the truth is revealed.
This is essentially a Rashomon tale of a date rape allegation. It has some great possibility of drama. The first two is a story of he said, she said. That's fine. The third one goes off the deep end. I kept thinking how the creep would know what's being said inside the room. The answer is he wouldn't. It's all lies from a crazed pervert. It's supposed to be funny but humor is hard to translate especially here. I really don't see the humor although the situation is a rather modern one.
In 1985 Moscow, CIA agent Lenny Miller (Cillian Murphy) loses nine operatives to KGB chief Vassiliev. Years later, Anna (Sasha Luss) is struggling in life and signs up for the Russian Navy. KGB agent Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans) recruits her to be an assassin under the supervision of Olga (Helen Mirren).
It's another hot assassin movie from Luc Besson. La femme Nikita is almost 30 years ago. He's like an old painter who keeps returning to the same style over and over again. He's trying something a little grittier and a little more real. It's not his lane. His lane is hot girl doing wild actions with simplistic story. He tries to add layers to the story. At last, he's no Graham Greene which brings to mind the acting skills of model-turned-actor Sasha Luss. She tries and the character is essentially her without the killings. She's surprisingly functional but she's no Meryl Streep. Finally, I would try to clean up the constant time-jumps in the plot. They are supposed to be shocking reveals but they mostly confuse and are unnecessary. If he does a straight forward timeline, the movie may actually gain some tension of wondering if anybody can be trusted. He's probably not capable of doing the truly gritty espionage movie. Somebody should do a film retrospective of his hot female assassin movies.
Somebody Help Me (2007)
fine copying until it devolves
A young black man borrows his uncle's cabin near Lake Arrowhead for a birthday gathering. The group of young people party but soon they are disappearing one by one. The captured ones are being tortured by a mad man who is cutting up his victims. The sheriff is unwilling to talk about an incident from three years earlier.
This is a horror in the vein of Turistas which was released a year earlier. It's interesting to see black cinema trying to copy a horror genre. In this case, the white folks are the first to die and that's a fun little twist on the convention. The torture is gross. It is what it is. It's torture porn. The acting is not that great but it's fine. The girls scream. I am surprised that the sheriff isn't a racist redneck. I'm glad that this movie is willing to play against some conventions but it can't escape other conventions. Then there is little white girl. It would be fine if some kind of ground work is laid down for that turn. The movie doesn't do that and it suffers.
Cass Timberlane (1947)
don't see the chemistry
Ginny Marshland (Lana Turner) testifies in front of Judge Cass Timberlane (Spencer Tracy). Despite a twenty years difference and a cat allergy, they fall in love and the rich conservative judge marries the tomboy working class girl. They drift apart and she finds herself connecting more with his friend Bradd Criley.
The basic problem is that I don't buy their chemistry. The twenty years difference is a problem although it's less so back in the day. Mostly, I don't buy Lana Turner. She's young and playing baseball by the rail tracks. She doesn't look like it. Her hair is always curled up and done. She doesn't fit her character. I don't buy their courtship. This feels like a realistic take on a romance novel. I just don't see the chemistry despite the top notch actors. Without chemistry, it's a slow grind.
Blood Alley (1955)
American merchant Captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne) is stuck in a Chinese Communist prison. He escapes with the help of the locals organized by missionary Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall). She needs him to pilot a flat bottom river boat to transport the local villagers out of Red China and sail to Formosa down Blood Alley. It's a treacherous 300 miles to the safety of Hong Kong.
This should be a great action adventure of a fight on the river. Instead, the movie is stuck in the town for over half of the time. It should also be a tense action-packed thriller. John Wayne does his cheese humor and it drains the intensity every time. The juxtaposition between the attempted rape of Cathy to John Wayne's grab as humor is tone-deaf. For movies of its time, there are the expected annoying white-people-playing-Chinese but it's excusable. Overall, it's not that great even for its time. It's functionally watchable. There is the exotic nature with its background actors. It's unrealistic for the river boat to escape the naval ship. I expected more shooting action. Quite frankly, they could have run into some pirates. I really like the lack of chemistry between Bacall and John Wayne until they force in a romantic relationship. This is marginal.
Fat Camp (2017)
something's wrong with Hutch
Hutch (Chris Redd) is an irresponsible slacker who is obsessed with workouts and women. It's 4 years after leaving college and he's still unemployed. His mother (Vivica A. Fox) has had enough and kicks him out of her house. His friends are unwilling to take in the loser. Big Mike (Mel Rodriguez) gives him a job as a counsellor at a failing health camp for kids and institutes a $5k competition for the counsellor whose kids lose the most pounds. Charlie and Abby are fellow counsellors.
There is an annoying jerk in Hutch without the joy of a fun clown. There is a potential for dark comedy but this is strictly trying to be traditional feel-good underdog comedy. It doesn't really work. Then Hutch does an 180 in the middle which only suggests that he's the wrong character at the beginning. If he could be someone else... If it could be a different character... I don't know how to fix this. Hutch needs to be an obsessive gym rat. The opening section should be him at the gym failing to be a trainer. No. No. Forget that. He should be Bill Murray in Meatballs. Alright, Chris Redd can't be Bill Murray. I don't know how to fix this.
The Upside (2017)
it gets better
Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) has always been about himself. He's on parole and all he cares about is getting signatures for his employment sheet. He doesn't care about the jobs and accidentally stumbles into a job interview. Philip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) is a billionaire quadriplegic in need of a live-in caretaker. He is bitter at still being alive after his business assistant Yvonne Pendleton (Nicole Kidman) disobeyed his DNR. He is depressed from the death of his wife and the hopelessness of his condition. Dell is struggling to get back into his estranged son's life.
This is adapted from the 2011 French film The Intouchables which is a flawed movie with a sincere message. In my opinion, this remake is far superior to the French original. The original is mostly about race and class. While that is part of the issue in the new movie, it is mostly about Dell's criminal past and his irresponsible attitude that is the center of the premise. That is a far more effective personal drama. As for the acting, it's expected from Cranston and Kidman while Hart is a big surprise. He needs to do a few more dramas. That's not to say that this is in any way a perfect movie. There are several moments when the old clichés go too far. The opera is one of those moments. Dell's conversion is obvious and expected. The movie needs to add something to distract from its inherent conventional nature. I would add a line with Dell saying, "You didn't tell me that she was going to be sista." I really like switching out the egg for the book. I really like the relationships. I love Julianna Margulies' scene. I really like this movie.
Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz) lives in Manhattan in the apartment of her college friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). She finds a handbag on the subway train. She decides to hand deliver it back to its owner, Greta Hideg (Isabelle Huppert). Greta's daughter lives in Paris. Frances befriends the lonely woman until she accidentally discovers a cache of similar handbags ready to be placed in the subway. She tries to ignore Greta which only intensifies the stalking.
This is generally fine. It's single white female with a motherhood bend. With movies of this type, the question becomes whether Frances does something unreasonably stupid. She really shouldn't care about the dog, or lie in church, or go down to the basement. Otherwise, I'm fine with all of her moves. The tension is not as high as one would hope for mostly due to the lack of physical threat from Isabelle Huppert. Although I do like the phone pic stalking of Erica. That is probably the most tense situation of the movie and it's well done. There is fine creepiness from director Neil Jordan and Huppert but the thriller needs more intensity.
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Marx Brothers in all their glory
Mr. Hammer (Groucho Marx) runs Florida resort, Hotel de Cocoanut. The staff is frustrated with not getting paid but he is able to talk them out of wanting money. Polly loves the desk clerk, Bob Adams. Her mother would rather her marry the rich Harvey Yates. Only he's secretly a jewel thief with his partner Penelope. New arrivals, Chico and Harpo, are a couple of wacky con men.
It's the Marx Brothers. It's their first film after perfecting their show on Broadway. It takes about twenty minutes before Chico and Harpo get into the movie. It has all the hallmarks of the brothers. There are musical numbers. The brothers have a fun physical time going in and out of two connected rooms. Groucho and Chico have an extended conversation with a "viaduct/why a duck" confusion. It's classic although it's lesser known than their other movies. It may not be their best work but there is plenty of them in it. Honestly, the other people and the other story gets in the way of the Marx Brothers humor.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019)
Max doesn't see the appeal of human babies until his owner Katie has a baby of her own. He finds himself falling for the kid to the point of being neurotically fearful for him. The family goes to the country where the dogs are mentored by the confident sheep dog Rooster. Max leaves his favorite toy Busy Bee in the care of Gidget who promptly loses it to the old lady's numerous cats. Snowball sees himself as a superhero ready to help the helpless. Daisy comes in looking for help with a tiger imprisoned in a circus.
The first one is fine for little kids. It's loud and it's brightly colored. The story gets too big and too outlandish. This one is a little better. I don't find myself getting quite as bored with the story. The scale of the story is pulled back to a more reasonable level. The circus is probably as outrageous as it can get without going over. The plot does split up into three stories which is a major drawback. This franchise succeeds more when the characters join up and gain more chemistry. The gang needs to stay together. This one takes a step up from competent entertainment for little kids to acceptable time for a family to spend together.
Super Gidget (2019)
Gidget is a superhero. When Max is taken by the evil squirrels, Super Gidget is called upon to save him. Only it's not the squirrels that is the big bad. The bad turns out to be a super flea with mind control powers. I like this. It's short and fun. What I like most is an idea for the third movie. The gang needs to find the evil squirrels.
Minion Scouts (2019)
good Minions short
The Minions are entranced by the girls' merit badges. They join the Badger Scouts to get badges of their own. It's only a four minute short. It is very Minions with a montage of chaotic misadventures. It is short simple fun. The only thing missing is the girls joining the Minions at the scout gathering.
Naughty or Nice (2012)
interesting premise for a Hallmark movie
Life is not going well for Krissy Kringle (Hilarie Burton) during the Christmas holiday season. The hot water is out. She's expecting to be promoted but gets fired instead. She's the only without decorations despite being on Candy Cane Lane and gets harassed by her neighbor. She is mistakenly delivered Santa's Naughty or Nice list. The book reveals everybody's naughty acts. Krissy uses it to out people and take revenge against her enemies.
For a Hallmark movie, this actually has an interesting premise. There are a few laughs. Hilarie Burton has a little fun. It's pretty good considering it's Hallmark. It is a little clunky and the production has its limitations. It needs a few more rewrites and a few more bucks. I really like some of the ideas in the premise.
Mortal Engines (2018)
The long forgotten world was destroyed in sixty minutes by a weapon called Medusa. It's now a post-apocalyptic world where cities are mounted on wheels and devouring each other for the limited remaining resources. London has crossed a land-bridge to raid the dwindling supply of smaller settlements. Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) is the ruthless leader working on a secret program. His daughter Katherine is innocent. Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan) is a historian trying to hide the salvaged ancient weapon tech. When Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) tries to assassinate Thaddeus, Tom uncovers one of his secrets and gets thrown out of London.
I really like the outlandish premise. There is fun craziness. Hester is a great character and played by the compelling Hera Hilmar. On the other hand, Sheehan is playing his usual talkative know-it-all. He's a bit annoying and not the best romantic lead. Quite frankly, it's better to have Sheehan and Ronan Raftery switch roles. Ronan seems more like the boy scout type and would pair better with Hera. Sheehan would give more spice to the pairing with Leila George. It may still be a great movie until the third act turns into a grinding never-ending ending.
I would rearrange the final battle entirely. After defeating Shrike, Hester finds the crash drive. Hester and Tom sneak back into London. They reunite with Katherine and the group sneaks into St. Paul's. Thaddeus fires the weapon once which starts to malfunction. Random strikes hit everywhere including London and the small group fights to stop Medusa saving not just the wall but also London itself. It's a tighter ending. It's not as action packed but it's much better to have the group together. Overall, I like this movie. I like the start more and the ending is not so bad. It could definitely be better. For one thing, the world should be deader. There is way too much green plant life. The world should be a desert. It's post-apocalyptic after all.
Brandon Sinclair (Stephen Nichols) brings out the ouija board at a party. With Linda Brewster (Tawny Kitaen), he tries to contact a young spirit named David. Linda's jealous boyfriend Jim Morar (Todd Allen) disrupts the seance. Later, she contacts David by herself. As David threaten to possess Linda, Brandon is desperate to retrieve the ouija board and calls in medium Zarabeth (Kathleen Wilhoite).
This is a gosh darn campy horror. I'm not sure if it's a cult classic but I can see it. There are weird lines coming out of nowhere like the bomb lines. The acting is bad but there is something funny about it. Jim is a dumb as and everybody is over-acting. Wilhoite is trying so hard. Tawny Kitaen jumps through another glass naked. It's not a scary horror. It's not a good movie. It's not bland and it has a fun sensibility with its badness.
The Mule (2018)
old man humor
Korean War vet Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is an award winning flower grower. Times are tough and he loses his business to internet competition. His constant travels have alienated his ex-wife (Dianne Wiest) and daughter. His granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga) is getting married. He needs money to contribute to the wedding and a wedding guest has a suggestion. He becomes a mule for the drug cartel. Agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is new to the DEA and he's tracking the mules.
First off, the cartel is overpaying for transportation. He's only moving the drugs within the States. The only reason to pay that much is to deliver the drugs across the border. I'm not sure why Clint is not doing that for this movie. It probably costs more to construct a border crossing and it may be difficult to film there now even for the GOP giant. There's not enough tension and crossing the border has the ability to inject vast amounts of intensity. This is generally a well constructed and functionally structured movie. Clint can do this in his sleep. The problem is that he thinks certain scene are hilarious but it's old-man hilarity. It's hilarious to old men who yell at kids to get off their lawns. The negro scene is hilarious. The five minutes of danger is hilarious. Jimmy Stewart is a great bit. The internet is a catch-all. It's old man humor done in an accusatory way. Relax old man, I've changed my tires before and I've even changed an air filter or two. He is directing the humor at the audience rather than with the audience. Of course, Clint has to be a sex machine and I actually find this somewhat funny. Finally, the DEA agents are not seen in the best light either. If they know that it's a black truck, one would think that a drug sniffing dog would be discreetly deployed around every dark colored truck. Quite frankly, the earlier dog scene is really good. There is a lackadaisical feel to the writing. This is not Clint's best work.
Death by Invitation (1971)
In colonial times, a woman is killed for witchcraft. In present day, Lise seeks revenge upon her ancestor's killers' descendants. Writer/director Ken Friedman seems to have been a minor filmmaker. That's the feel of this indie. It's a minor work of a minor creator. It's boring. Even with an indie, the filmmaker's style can be retrieved. One can see the skills even without the budget. Kevin Smith has his humor in Clerks. Christopher Nolan has his intrigue in Following. Darren Aronofsky has his weirdness in Pi. This indie is boring. Friedman does try but he isn't doing anything good. Shelby Leverington has some beauty but staring at her face in closeup for extended time ends up being boring and pretentious. It's not weird enough to be camp. It's not daring enough to be interesting. It's boring. Even the blood looks weak. There is some competency in the filmmaking but it's not enough.
17 years earlier at the Douglas Academy Boarding School, Jane is found dead in a storeroom at the end of the hall. It's assumed to be a suicide and her journal is missing. Present day, Jane's best friend Courtney Snow (Sara Rue) returns to the school for a reunion after writing a successful novel about her dead friend. She is struggling to write a second novel and is convinced to join the faculty. She reconnects with former classmate Brett who is the son of Headmaster Ian Ramsey. The storeroom has been reopened and student Laurel McAvoy living there resembles her dead best friend Jane.
There are requirements that this movie never fulfills. Sara Rue does not really resemble Amber Borycki. It's always problematic to switch back and forth to the flashbacks. It's probably better to simply put a wig on Sara Rue and have her play her younger self. The role of Laura/Jane needs someone much more distinctive. It needs someone with a recognizable face which immediate screams out doppelganger. Aside from those issues, this is a rather choppy, weak movie. As a horror, there is nothing scary or even spooky. Some of ghostly aspect is downright bad. There is a general poor quality to the production.
One Last Thing (2018)
flip it and reverse it
Quiet Florida dentist Dylan Derringer (Wendell Pierce) spends his spare time perfecting his golf game. Jaime (Joanne Froggatt) is his assistant. He tracks down his daughter Lucy (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) in Brooklyn. She's a daughter that he didn't know he had for 25 years.
This doesn't have the loudest of dramas. It's very quiet. At first, I'm expecting Hallmark channel but this is trying to throwback to a quieter melodrama. I appreciate Wendell Pierce. For the drama, I would flip the characters and have Lucy search for her father. She could be searching for organ donors and that would give additional colors to their relationship. It would make another layer to everything and elevate this rather slow melodrama.
The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
end of an era
It's 1981 Texas. Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is driving his getaway car after robbing a bank. He stops for Jewel (Sissy Spacek) and her broken down truck. He tells her that he's a bank robber but she does not believe him. Forrest is with his partners Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). They're robbing yet another bank right under the nose of police detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck). Hunt soon realizes that the life-long criminal Tucker has been robbing banks across the American southwest.
Like the movie's protagonist, this is an easy-going, gentle crime spree. It's melancholy. Redford and Spacek are poignant alluding to another era in Hollywood. The Casey Affleck part reminds me of David Fincher. Director David Lowery is obviously a fan. There is one moment when a young Robert Redford shows up and his cinematic history comes flooding back. All his other cinematic moments pop up in my mind. It's a great nostalgic move. On the other hand, I'm uncertain about the meeting between Tucker and Hunt at the diner. It's too convenient but more problematic, Hunt would arrest Tucker. At least, he would follow him. Now watch, it's probably the only real moment from the true story in the whole movie.
A Boy and His Dog (1946)
Young Davy Allen rescues a dog brutally chained to a fence. He releases the collar and brings the dog home. Mean Mr. Thornycroft comes looking for the dog but Davy refuses to hand him over. Thornycroft sends the sheriff to force the issue. The judge holds court in the local general store. It turns out that the magistrate is also a local director of the SPCA.
He did steal the dog. I mean to say that Davy did steal the dog. It's not like the dog was being beaten. Thornycroft is the classic mean old man. I also don't know about treating the dog as an individual. That's a bit too progressive. Again it would help if Thornycroft would give the dog a few wacks. Otherwise, there is no real evidence against him. Being a mean old man is not enough to steal his dog. This won the Oscar for best short subject.