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Official Secrets (2019)
It's 2003 and America is making the case to go to war with Iraq. Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) is a British intelligence translator in GCHQ. They secretly listen in on communications around the world. Everybody gets an email ordering them to work with the Americans to dig up dirt on other UN Security Council states and push them to pass a war vote. Katharine is shocked. Despite the powerful Official Secrets Act, she risks everything to leak the damaging memo to the public. Journalist Martin Bright (Matt Smith) breaks with his paper's endorsement of the war to publish the article as the power of the state bears down upon Katharine and her refugee husband.
I am surprised at the tension of this movie. It helps that I remember a little of the story but not its outcome for Katharine. One thing that frustrated me early on is the attitude of the husband. Without any insights into his character, he can come off as a callous clueless buffoon. The movie needs to lay out his situation from the beginning so that the audience can appreciate his point of view. The other minor issue is the title. It is the blandest of titles. The book's title "The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War" would be vastly better. This movie has lots of tension as a thriller and loads of insight into war creating.
Nanook of the North (1922)
Filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty follows Nanook and his family in northern Quebec as they survive in the traditional ways. This is a modern documentary that would be a compelling watch for audiences of today. It also faces many of today's controversies including staging the story. Nanook's name is not correct and his family is not his family. Their adaptation to modern life is ignored such as the use of a rifle. They are not as primitive as the film purports to show. It's really a window into an older world that was already fading away during that time. Speaking of window, I have never seen a skylight being installed in an igloo. Building an igloo is always going to be mesmerizing and that window is brilliant engineering that is beyond my imagination. This has scene after mesmerizing scene.
Bedlam in Paradise (1955)
Shemp is deathly ill. His cousins Larry and Moe's incompetence finally kills him. He floats up to heaven but is refused entry. He is bound for Hell unless he can reform Larry and Moe.
Shemp is a secondary Stooge in my eyes but here, he has an amazing section in heaven. I actually like his solo work there. The rest is fine Stooges.
The Star (1952)
Bette Bette Bette
Margaret Elliot (Bette Davis) is a faded Oscar winning movie star who can't get a role to save her life. Her daughter Gretchen (Natalie Wood) still worships her and is living with her ex-husband and his wife. She is bankrupt and can't even pay the rent. Her sister and her husband come demanding their monthly payment. She gets arrested after drinking and driving. Jim Johannsen (Sterling Hayden) bails her out to repay her for a past kindness.
Bette Davis easily falls into this role. I didn't recognize Natalie Wood at first. She's a little too sexy on the boat. Her character must be strictly a child unless the movie is willing to go to that romantic triangle route. Also, their relationship is a little odd. It would have been better if they had a continuous connection over the years. Overall, this is Bette's movie and she excels.
Terror in a Texas Town (1958)
Ruthless gunman Johnny Crale (Nedrick Young) working for Ed McNeil has been terrorizing the locals to grab their land. Jose Mirada finds oil and tells his friend former whaler Sven Hanson. Sven refuses to sign over his land. The only weapon he has is his old harpoon. Johnny promptly shoots him dead. Sven's son George (Sterling Hayden) arrives to see his father and starts digging into his death.
Sterling Hayden is a little stiff in some of his roles but it works perfectly here as a stiff Swede. On the other hand, Nedrick Young doesn't have the brutish thuggery that the character is calling for. At best, he is a dad-bod villain who is past his prime. Mostly, I am impressed with the utterly memorable harpoon. I love the abrupt ending which is so matter of fact. It is completely fitting with the Swede. I love his scenes with Crale and McNeil. I love Mirada's stand. This is a great western.
Suddenly is the name of the town but nowadays, nothing happens suddenly in this quiet community. Pidge lost his father during the war. Sheriff Tod Shaw buys him a toy gun despite his pacifist mother Ellen Benson's objections. Suddenly, word comes over the wire that the President plans to arrive on the train. Five secret service agents led by Dan Carney arrive to survey the grounds. Ellen's father-in-law Pop Benson happens to be Carney's former boss. John Baron (Frank Sinatra) and two thugs arrive to assassinate the President.
Sinatra is great. He's a better actor than one expects. This is a tense little thriller. It has a couple of solid call backs. The gun is especially intense. That does bring up a little problem. Ellen's pacifism is played up too hard. There is an obvious point being made and both sides are too strident. There is also some overacting although Sinatra is the one who truly shines.
Death Ship (1980)
Wearied passenger cruise captain Ashland (George Kennedy) is on his final trip and is tired of playing host to the tourists. His second-in-command Trevor Marshall (Richard Crenna) is set to take over his ship. A mysterious freighter relentlessly pursues the cruise ship until it rams and sinks it. The survivors climb aboard and find a disturbing death ship.
This has the bones of a good ghost ship B-movie. It would have been nice if the cruise ship is more like the Love Boat. The movie shows that the freighter is German and the machinery is 40 years old. It's not much of a leap to the Nazis. Someone should have found a room full of swastikas quickly after those two discoveries. Holding back that reveal gains no value. The blood shower has potential but the space is too confined to make it work. More could be done but this lacks the imagination.
Under the Volcano (1984)
It's November 1, 1938 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, The Day of the Dead. Former British consul Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) is drunk walking the streets in a tux with no socks. He is despondent over his divorce from Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset). She and his half-brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews) arrive to help him recover his senses.
Albert Finney delivers a fascinating performance. Of all the characters, I am most uncertain about is Yvonne. I think it's more compelling for his ex-wife to be an object of faraway longing. She is too nice anyways. Bisset is gorgeous. She is too perfect. She should be a source of conflict instead. Overall, Finney's compelling performance drives this train. Director John Huston knows how to draw it out of his great actors.
Crime Wave (1953)
solid crime noir
Three men rob a gas station and ends up killing a cop. It's the latest in a series of crimes since the group led by 'Doc' Penny escaped from San Quentin. Police Det. Lt. Sims leads the manhunt and zeroes in on former cellmate parolee Steve Lacey who is trying to start a new life with his wife. The trio shows up with their wounded comrade.
This is solid crime noir. It starts well with a good amount of violence. I would have liked a clearer protagonist. The movie follows various characters around. Gene Nelson is a little dull which makes him hard to be the central character. I like Ted de Corsia the most but he's too ethnic to be the lead. That leaves Sterling Hayden but I like to follow the criminals. It has all of the tick tock but the volume is not set at the highest.
Land of Doom (1986)
bad but not the worst
In a poisoned post-apocalyptic world, marauders destroy all the good that is left. Harmony (Deborah Rennard) survives a raid which devastates her village. She encounters wounded warrior Anderson who is being hunted by ruthless raid leader Slater. She distrusts him but joins him anyways.
This is a straight up B-movie. The acting is bland. Rennard lacks charisma. Usually, this type of movie would try to sex her up. I can give it points for making her functional as a post-apocalyptic survivor rather than a bikini-clad killer. She tries to be seductive in one scene and it is so awkward. There is barely any chemistry between the two leads. Mostly, I like the Turkey locations. The style is somewhat silly. I don't mind the simplistic plot. It's a bit boring but it's not the worst.
Driven to Kill (2009)
Mysterious Russian Ruslan (Steven Seagal) is an L.A. crime novelist. His ex-wife Catherine calls. He returns to New York to meet his daughter Lanie's fiancée, Stephan Abramov, who turns out to be the son of a Russian mob kingpin. Gunmen kills Catherine and brutalizes Lanie. He goes on a revenge rampage taking along Stephan with him.
I don't like Seagal anymore and that's very fitting for this character. He's not a nice guy and that's fine. He's a borderline bad guy taking out even worst guys. This should be easy but the movie tries to make it hard. While I like Goldstein's reveal, the rest is a bit too messy. I'm not sure that Lanie could be doing what she is secretly doing. There seems to be a conflict of interest which would make her job impossible. Also, life insurance is one of the first things that cops would check for. It's a ball of yarn that could unravel if a loose thread is pulled. The non-stop shooting may help to distract from asking too many questions.
Disney all the way
It's 1925. Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) drives his dog sled home to Nome, Alaska and his wife Constance (Julianne Nicholson) ahead of an epic storm. The team is led by his beloved lead dog Togo. There is a diphtheria outbreak which threatens the town's children and there is only one man who can travel the distance to retrieve the needed serum. His dire quest becomes a media sensation.
This is an old fashion Disney doggie movie in the best way. It is Based on a true story. It has its thrills. It is heart-warming. It's a simple adventure. Dafoe is great. The ice stuff is fantastic. The Balto bit is the cherry on top. This is Disney at its old fashion finest.
Promised Land (1987)
Davey Hancock (Jason Gedrick) is a high school basketball star. Mary (Tracy Pollan) is his cheerleader girlfriend. Everybody knows awkward teen Danny, "the Senator" (Kiefer Sutherland) but he is mostly a friendly joke to them. He quits school, and goes on the road. Two years later, Hancock has joined the local police after his college scholarship gets taken away. He and Mary had parted but she has returned to town. Danny gets married to flighty Bev (Meg Ryan) and decides to go home. In the background, there is the spectra of Ronald Reagan.
This is most notable for being commissioned by the Sundance Film Festival. It certainly has the high value indie feel. It has some notable 80's actors. Gedrick used to be a thing. Pollan is more noted as a better half. The Gedrick Pollan pairing seems to have a small town indie drama and that feels different than the Sutherland Ryan pairing. That duo does need more setup for its conclusion. They need to be the outlaw couple. The ending comes out of nowhere. It needs to build up to that point. Overall, it has a high concept of a Reagan era living but it doesn't really hit the target.
Little Women (2019)
best one yet
It's the classic American story by Louisa May Alcott about the March sisters; Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen). During the Civil War, their father is away helping the Union troops. Their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) leads the girls in doing good deeds for the community. Theodore 'Laurie' Laurence (Timothée Chalamet) is the new boy moving in with his rich grandfather. The movie opens with young adult Jo trying to sell a story in New York City. It would alternate between the adult sisters and their younger teenage selves.
I have never read the book although this is the fourth adaptation, among the countless versions, that I have seen. Greta Gerwig has changed it up and in the process, has given even more depth and more life to the characters. She has added to the theme of the story. She divides the movie into about half teenage years and half young adult years. In many ways, the romance between Amy and Laurie is given more space to grow. Saoirse, Florence, and Timothée gave the movie three great performances. They are backed by solid work from the likes of Laura Dern and Emma Watson. My only problem is the furnishings in this house. It's a little too nice considering that they give away so much to the needy. Overall, this is the best adaptation of the four that I've seen.
The Fighting 69th (1940)
it is what it is
It's 1917. Brash troublemaking misfit New Yorker Jerry Plunkett (James Cagney) is training to be sent off to war. He's part of the 69th New York Irishmen. His bravado is first revealed to be false when he faints after getting a shot. It continues onto the battlefield. As he faces court-martialed, he is given a second chance.
This is a pro-military, pro-unity film as war looms for America. Cagney is a his tough guy persona but in this, he is shown to be a coward when real heat is applied. That's an interesting twist and that makes this interesting. He still gets his heroic redemption. In the meanwhile, it is a lot of sermons and good intention from Father Duffy. Overall, this does what it intents to do and it does it well.
needs more tension
In 2007, Destiny (Constance Wu) is a struggling new dancer at a Manhattan strip club. She befriends veteran dancer Ramona Vega (Jennifer Lopez) who shows her the ropes. The clientele are Wall Street traders and times are good. Then the 2008 crash happens. The movie jumps around in time with Destiny being interviewed by reporter Elizabeth (Julia Stiles) in 2014. After the crash, Destiny gets pregnant, kicks out her no-good boyfriend, and reluctantly returns to stripping. That's where she runs into Ramona again. She joins her and her minions, Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart), in a scheme to return to the good old days.
This movie is in need of more tension. Filmmaker Lorene Scafaria should be thinking about injecting tension into every scene. Quite frankly, this doesn't start until the halfway point. Destiny finding her way in the strip club is the least exciting drama. I was expecting Ramona to be a dominating presence. I would insert a line where she tells Destiny that her split is 70-30 at least. Destiny should be a little more wide-eyed. It would help if she sheds a few tears when she goes up to smoke with Ramona. She needs to be more damsel-in-distress. For the second half, I like the moral descend of Destiny. I want Ramona to be harder sooner. It may be silly but Annabelle's vomiting is at least funny. On the other hand, Elizabeth is mostly a mistake. Her sections reveal too much and saps more tension away. She could get into the movie at the end. She does have something to add to this movie but she cannot reveal the ending before the plot.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982)
great duo performance
It's 1792 Paris. The French Revolution is claiming its victims. Outwardly pompous English nobleman Sir Percy Blakeney (Anthony Andrews) is actually the Scarlet Pimpernel who rescues French aristocrats from the guillotine. Famous actress Marguerite St. Just (Jane Seymour) is involved with Chief Agent for the Committee of National Security Paul Chauvelin (Ian McKellen). In reality, she secretly has a different allegiance and falls for the Englishman Percy. When the King is executed, he sets out to rescue the young Dauphin.
At first, I'm not feeling the cinematic style but then I realize that this is a TV movie. It has good production value but the directions are lacking. Mostly, Anthony Andrews delivers a great duo acting performance. Percy's relationship with Marguerite is very interesting. I simply find it hard to root for the ruling class even if they are facing persecution. So the basic premise is a tough sale for me but this movie does the best that it can.
King Ralph (1991)
being King is no fun
When the entire British royal family is accidentally electrocuted, a world wide search is launched until they find (*shock) struggling lounge singer Ralph Jones (John Goodman) in Las Vegas. Cedric Willingham (Peter O'Toole) is his secretary. The pompous Percival Graves (John Hurt) is the next in line to the throne and schemes to take over. Ralph falls for shy rookie stripper Miranda (Camille Coduri).
Ralph is not the right character for this. He is too self-assured to be pushed around as the story requires. He should a fun, personable fool. Goodman can do it. Quite frankly, Pauly Shore would do better in this role. It would easier for him to be a fish-out-of-water. He would be dumb enough to be manipulated. The royal arranged marriage is from another century. Instead of being quirky fun, it's ridiculously stupid and Goodman is not playing his role that way. This is a comedy with no real laughs.
Purple Hearts (1984)
In the Vietnam War, doctor Don Jardian (Ken Wahl) fights to save his patients. He pushes to send his dying charge to a hospital. There he falls for surgical nurse Deborah Solomon (Cheryl Ladd).
My initial feeling about the opening battle is that this is an inferior film. The explosions aren't big enough. The filming isn't doing action well. The music is not right. Director Furie's 80's output are mostly B-movies. It feels more like a TV movie at first. Ken Wahl is a good B-actor and Cheryl Ladd is the same. Both are known more for their looks. That's not to say that this movie doesn't try. The relationship has some good chemistry even if it gets melodramatic. The war setting makes the melodrama fit. The action also picks up. By all rights, this should be a B-movie but it does try to rise above its station.
Killing Moon (1999)
Various people board a red eye flight. One of them is seriously ill. The man dies while spitting out blood. He had stolen a vial of military virus. Soon, the two pilots are taken ill. Clayton Durrell is the angry passenger. On the ground, NSC agent Frank Conroy and Laura Chadwick from the CDC are working the problem.
This is a lower grade made for TV movie. The production is on the weaker side. The acting is functional and that includes the bigger names. Kim Coates is overacting but at least, he's injecting some energy. Mostly, this is really flat with little tension. Something does happen midway through which is more and less silly. The only interesting aspect is that smoking man shows up. I insist on seeing this as a side adventure from the X-Files. This movie is technically questionable and is generally pretty bad.
Meet Wally Sparks (1997)
Wally Sparks (Rodney Dangerfield) is the loud-mouthed host of a trashy daytime talk show. His boss Lenny Spencer (Burt Reynolds) threatens to cancel the show due to sponsor pressure. He is given a week to change the tenure of the show. He attends a party of conservative critic Georgia Governor Floyd Preston (David Ogden Stiers) which turns into publicity bonanza.
This is pure Dangerfield in his character and the quality of the movies that he leads. It's low brow comedy. He's crass and he's good at it. He remains the loveable everyman. It doesn't really make sense for him to stay in the mansion but making sense is not the highest priority. It has its fun but it doesn't really hold together. It's a bad good bad comedy.
Nice Dreams (1981)
Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin are selling happy herbs out of their dumpy ice cream truck pursued by bumbling cops. Sgt. Stedanko (Stacy Keach) has turned into a drug fiend testing out different strains of marijuana which is transforming him into a lizard.
Cheech and Chong do their antics. I love their little bits like Cheech burning falafels. They do some silent era comedy. The story meanders around. The bumbling cops are really stupid without being funny. Stacy Keach gets weird and that's weirdly interesting. It has an Edith Prickley character but doesn't have Andrea Martin to play it. It has Pee-wee Herman before he's Pee-wee Herman. Despite a few funny bits, the movie has no direction or flow. It's weirdly wacky and partaking would definitely help in its enjoyment.
Super Fly (1972)
Life is rough. Drug dealer Priest (Ron O'Neal) decides to get out of the game after one final big score. He's looking to do a million dollar deal with his partner Eddie.
What a car! What a song! This is a relatively simple blaxploitation movie. Ron O'Neal is a functional lead. The production is what's expected. Most of all, the title is cool, the song is cool, and that's half the battle.
The Last Thing He Wanted (2020)
a grim grind turns into a confused thriller
In 1982, journalists Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway) and Alma Guerrero (Rosie Perez) are traveling with rebels in El Salvatore. They barely escape murderous government soldiers and Elena finds evidence of munitions from America. Two years later, she is pushed off her investigation and assigned to follow the Regan campaign. Her father Dick McMahon (Willem Dafoe) is struggling. Her investigation leads to exports of excess American munitions to Nicaragua and Washington insider Treat Morrison (Ben Affleck).
The first half is a grim grind. Hathaway is doing a rough no-makeup character. The film is washed out. The camera is often close up. I'm willing to go with the style and at least, Hathaway is trying to do something different. The overall pacing is rather boring and then there is a change in the middle. It starts with something questionable and it doesn't stop. The bad guys try to set her up with a brick of coke. My question is why they wouldn't simply kill her in that random Central American hotel and plant the coke on her. I don't get her relationship with Treat. I don't get why she's using the fake passport. I don't get a lot of this story. I'm willing to believe that she's not doing the smartest things but these things still need to be set up better. It is bad writing compounded by bad directing.
Three Loan Wolves (1946)
Larry, Curly, and Moe tell their son of how he came to have three fathers. The guys inherit a pawn shop from their uncle. Hoodlum Butch McGee comes in to collect money for the gashouse protection society. Curly accidentally knocks him out. Molly and Butch are hiding from the cops. She's holding her sister's baby to throw them off. The criminal duo decides to leave the baby in the pawn shop.
I'm not a fan of gunplay with the Stooges. This one goes the next step by giving it to a baby. Larry seems to have a bit more to do in this one. He gets a few scenes by himself. Curly is probably struggling to carry his weight at this point. He still has a few good wacks in him. Otherwise, this is a solid Stooges short.