Saturday, December 30, 2017


STARS: Matt Damon,  Hong Chau,  Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig
DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne
GENRE: Comedy/Drama

For viewing Downsizing, I'm suggesting you adopt a totally different mindset. One you would enter when preparing for a sitting meditation. You don't get the full effect of meditation until afterwards. In between, your mind may wander. You might feel bored. But if you're patient and hang in there, you'll find yourself in something of an altered state. And altered states are what Downsizing is (literally) all about. 

Paul Safranek (Matt Damon), and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), are a lower middle class couple dissatisfied with their station in life. When a scientific breakthrough allows humans to be shrunk to around five inches tall and live in doll house communities with others who have undergone the procedure, the implications for the planet are huge. Something I've harped on for decades--that all of the world's major problems can be traced back to overpopulation--is at the heart of this film's premise. With people taking up much less space and using fewer resources, and polluting on a much smaller scale, perhaps Mother Earth could begin to recover. It doesn't hurt that a family of modest means can live like kings in the new scaled-down world either. 

Paul, who's a hapless kind of dude who is just trying to roll with the punches of life (many can relate), sees brighter days ahead, and undergoes the shrinking procedure. His wife balks at the last minute, and leaves him in this brave new world all on his own. 

He's going to learn that everything from the macro  pretty much transfers to the micro. People are people wherever you go. When slum tenements are shown, it's something of an epiphany. As above, so below. There is no utopia.

What makes Paul's journey (and this film) memorable is the relationship he develops with a hobbled Vietnamese woman named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau). She pulls no punches, and will lead him to come to terms with who he is...and who he ultimately wants to be. (And Hong Chau is going to win something for this performance!)

While comedic elements abound--one of them is Christoph Waltz as Paul's free-spirited neighbor (the other memorable turn here)--the end of this visually and emotionally stunning film left me meditating on the ultimate fate of mankind. Will we wake up in time to save ourselves...or continue down the current path to self-destruction? 

That's a movie coming soon from a future generation.

Grade:  A


Watching Downsizing brought me back to a time when I was obsessed with building a doll house. Everything normally used for what it was meant to be used for became something else: white bottle caps were tables, pennies turned into patio pavers, etc. So when these pint-sized people began appearing, I loved it.

At first, I thought the movie was going to be about Damon's relationship with his decidedly larger wife. (Whose decision not to miniaturize herself was one I definitely identified with!) Then it became another movie – about Damon's survival in his strange and sterile environment. And lastly, the movie morphed into yet another Cocoon like tale. Too disjointed for me. And I'm not comfortable with too many plots. Or too much overt preaching.

I, too, think Hong Chau will be nominated for her brilliant performance. And it's not the first time director and co-writer Alexander Payne has introduced us to an Asian lady with acting chops. Remember Sandra Oh in Sideways? (Granted Oh is Korean and Chau is from Thailand but you get my drift....)

And Christoph Waltz has always been one of my favorites. I remember when he received a Best Supporting Actor award for his role in Inglourious Basterds as a totally evil, totally believable Nazi. I half expected him to be equally evil in person. Quite the opposite. He was humble, almost shy in his acceptance speech.

But I felt Downsizing dragged in spots, especially towards the end. It's not the first time shrinking humans have been depicted in a film (Meet Dave with Eddie Murphy, Tooth Fairy with Dwayne Johnson, Gulliver's Travels with Jack Black, etc.) I'm sure it won't be the last. I just hope next time, the movie will stick to one theme.

Grade: B-

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Rated:  R

STARS: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
DIRECTOR: Guillermo del Toro
GENRE: Drama/Sci-fi/Fantasy

The Shape of Water wants to be an endearing movie. It tries really hard. It wants to be E.T.  It wants to be La La Land. It wants to be Creature From The Black Lagoon.  It wants to be Beauty And The Beast. That's too many films for me to keep track of in my head.  It wants to be poetic...and yet there's an overabundance of gore. It's like having Freddy Krueger reciting Emily Dickinson at the end. What the hell was that? Bottom line, it doesn't know what it wants to be.

Elisa Espisoto (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaning lady who hears just fine but doesn't speak. She works at a secret government lab that is housing an "Amphibian Man" who looks a lot like the Gill Man from Creature From The Black Lagoon. The merman was captured in the Amazon by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon), who gets his kicks by abusing the poor thing with a cattle prod. (Fish Guy gets a measure of revenge by biting off a couple of Strickland's fingers.) The evil fed wants to kill the amphibian (played by Doug Jones) and study him like a dead frog in a biology lab. Strickland is opposed by scientist Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who wants to keep the scaly being alive. It's 1962--in the thick of the cold war--and a subplot has the Russians trying to get their mitts on Amphibian Man for their own nefarious purposes.

Elisa, being an outcast herself, repeatedly sneaks into the chamber (security seems to be really lax for an "asset" of this magnitude) where the creature sits in a tank tethered by a chain around its neck. She and Amphibian Man hit it off right away. Cut to the chase: An escape plan must be hatched, as the creature's days are numbered. With the help of Elisa's unemployed artist neighbor (Richard Jenkins), and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), she springs the fishy dude from his confines (like I said, security is really lax) and takes him to her abode. That's where the real fun begins, as Elisa ends up naked in the shower with him and discovers he's a lot more like a regular guy than meets the eye!

Okay...The Shape of Water is a fantasy, so anything goes. But to buy into it hook, line and sinker, the willing suspension of disbelief must kick in. That was hard for me because Amphibian Man looks sorta like Frankie Valli in a wet suit with barnacles hanging off him. At no point are you going to think it looks like anything but an actor dressed up in a cheesy rubber costume--a la those laughable creature features from the fifties. The only reason I can imagine why  director Guillermo del Toro--in this era of CGI wizardry--chose to go this low tech would be as a way of paying homage to that era of cinema, which he seems to love.

But The Shape of Water does have its visual delights, and one of them is Sally Hawkins. They've got her made up to look really plain--as befitting a lowly toilet cleaner--but they couldn't hide her light under a bushel for the whole movie, and that becomes abundantly clear when she strips down for the steamy shower scene.

There are aural delights as well, with a big band flavored soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat. There's Andy Williams, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and a silky rendition of "You'll Never Know" from opera singer Renee Fleming.

Nice touches...but not enough to make me gush about this movie.

Grade:  C +


Finally. Tim and I disagree! I found The Shape Of Water to be absolutely brilliant, even Oscar-worthy. (Hell, it's already nominated for seven Golden Globes.) For starters, the opening underwater sequence deserves a special award for its dank and delightful originality. I was not prepared to like this film since sci-fi and/or fantasy is not one of my favorite genres. But I'm so glad I allowed myself to see it!

The girl I went with, a visitor from Oregon, liked it too. But afterwards, she mentioned how similar this creature was to the creature in Hellboy. I later looked up that movie and was blown away by the physical similarities. And the fact that both films were directed by Guillermo del Toro!

I do agree with Tim about the lax security. But by then, I was hooked on saving the poor creature from any more cattle-prodding. And since Tim gave away the finger chomping bit, another friend pointed out how the smell of rotting flesh would have been apparent to both Agent Strickland and anyone else long before those blackened digits departed. Sure, there were a lot of implausible scenes in the The Shape of Water but romances between humans and non-humans have worked for a long, long time. (Beauty and the BeastPhantom of the OperaKing Kong, etc.)

The Russian plot was, for me, unnecessary. But I did find it interesting that the roles played by the two Michaels (Shannon and Stuhlbarg) were reversals of the roles they played in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire." In that one, Stuhlbarg played mafia boss Arnold Rothstein and Shannon was a bumbling FBI agent. And Richard Jenkins, who never turns in a bad performance, was superb. (I wept for him at the end.)

Grade: A

Monday, November 27, 2017


Rated:  R

STARS: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
GENRE: Dark Comedy/Drama

Think of how hard it is to get through life without making a wrong move. Or a boatload of them. Next to impossible. It's not easy in the movies either, which portray life in a manner that involves a lot more forethought than most of us use in our real life decisions. It's easier to go off the rails than not. Wrong moves in casting...pacing...length...effectiveness of the message--if there even is one, etc. That's why it's rare to find a movie that makes all the right moves from start to finish--and that film is 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which deftly balances the darkly comical aspects of its characters with the serious drama they create.

A young woman has been raped and murdered. The perpetrator has not been caught. The victim's mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), is a feisty old firebrand (the townsfolk have other names for her) who has grown weary of the lack of progress since many moons ago in solving the case, and she's out to hold the local sheriff, Bill Willoughby  (Woody Harrelson), accountable. This she will do in a big way, by renting out three billboards that remind the locals of the crime, and call the sheriff out by name.

Sheriff Willoughby is well-liked in the town, and there are folks who want Mildred to shut her trap. And some will try to do it for her. One of them is officer Jason Dixon, a mama's boy and a racist, with a penchant for violence. Sam Rockwell plays him to clueless perfection, and that's why when Dixon actually stumbles upon a major clue--as things really begin to heat up--he becomes a more interesting and unpredictable character. It's the unexpected twists and turns of 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that are part of the reason why it's so good. Along with providing tasty food for thought in asking the question: Should one man pay for another man's crime, solely because it appears he may have committed a similar evil?

Frances McDormand will undoubtedly receive an Oscar nomination for her work here--and I wouldn't be surprised to see Rockwell and Harrelson joining her. And let's go on record as predicting a Best Picture nomination as well. That's what comes when you make all the right moves and go down the right roads right up till the end...which, by the way, is as poignantly perfect as any I can recall.

Grade:  A


Dammit, Tim. Our readers prefer these joint reviews when we disagree. But that won't happen this time as I couldn't agree with you more. Except perhaps for the movie's lengthy title. (Three Billboards would've worked just as well.) The one element you didn't mention that I just loved was the score. Carter Burwell has outdone himself this time. I'm not at all surprised that he also created the musical background for another cinematic gem that was set in a small town with a bumbling sherriff's deparment:Fargo.

But since Tim has covered just about everything I would've written, I want to digress. About a month ago, I was watching "Real TimeWith Bill Maher" on HBO. He and Woody Harrelson were reminiscing about the good old days when they were both pot smokers. Apparently Harrleson has been clean now for a year. Maher remarked that his friend's new weed-free status had undoubtedly upped Woody's film-making energy! (I would have to agree since we've reviewed him in three major movies in the last three months: The Glass CastleLBJ and nowThree Billboards.) Right on, Woody. Right on!

What I admired most about Three Billboards was its unexpected twists and turns. I'm not one of these movie-goers who automatically predicts outcomes before they happen. Many of my movie buddies are which often makes me feel like a mental sloth. But I challenge any of them to guess the outcomes in this flick! (Full credit belongs to English director/writer Martin McDonagh.)

If for no other reason than you are addicted to "Game of Thrones," go see this movie for the wonderful cameo by Peter Dinklage.

Grade: A

Sunday, November 12, 2017

LBJ (2017)

LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

Rated:  R

STARS: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Richard Jenkins
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
GENRE: Docudrama

Many of us who lived through the sixties remember Lyndon Baines Johnson as a redneck from Texas who rose above the prejudices of his upbringing to instigate the most important piece of social legislation in the history of the United States--the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But we also despised him for escalating the Vietnam war, and it was his unpopularity due to the war that brought him to the decision not to run for a second term. That aspect of his legacy is given scant attention in LBJ. Instead, the film concentrates almost exclusively on the period leading up to the historic legislation of 1964 and how it was accomplished. So in this particular version of history, the man comes out smelling like a rose.

The major flaw in LBJ is that it's too talky--way too talky--as Johnson twists arms and makes deals, even while sitting on the crapper. Not unexpected, I suppose, for a character study about a politician (too much talk and not enough action!) Rob Reiner--a director I admire--does what he can to counteract the draggy parts by interspersing them with an impressively realistic recreation of that terrible day in Dallas when John Fitzgerald Kennedy met his fate.

Woody Harrelson knocks it out of the park in the title role. Only they've got him made up to look even uglier (sorta grotesque even) than the real Lyndon Johnson was, and that's saying something. On the other hand, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird Johnson is so spot on in appearance and mannerism it's scary. You have to use your imagination with the rest of the supporting cast---Jeffrey Donovan in particular, who bears little resemblance to JFK, though he has the accent down. I guess William Devane is too old to play the forever young president now. 

Those who remember the charismatic Bobby Kennedy will be taken aback by Michael Stahl-David's portrayal. He comes off as a kind of vindictive little shit in his not so well publicized at the time feud with LBJ. I don't think it does Bobby's legacy justice.

But LBJ is a film you may want to see--especially if you're a history buff--as it provides some deft insight into the character of the 36th president of the United States.   

Grade:  B -


Tim pretty much covered it in his review. I, too, thought they overdid the makeup on Woody Harrelson. (On the other hand, I thought Bryan Cranston as LBJ in "All The Way" looked incredibly like the former president.) What I admired most about this cinematic slice of history was the editing. Whether the credit belongs to Rob Reiner (director), Joey Hartstone (screenplay writer) or Bob Joyce (film editor), the way they kept flashing back and forth between Dallas and JFK's actual assassination, and LBJ's life before that horrific event, was a definite tension-builder.

For me, the one actor Tim didn't mention gave an Oscar-worthy performance. Having already received a Best Actor nomination for The Visitor(2009), Richard Jenkins deserves a Best Supporting Actor this year for playing the old school segregationist Senator Richard Russell. (Jenkins became one of my personal favorites when he appeared in the TV series "Six Feet Under.")

But while I'm on the subject of Oscars, I'm sorry that Woody Harrelson, who will probably be nominated twice this year for both this flick and The Glass Castle, won't win anything. (Double nominees never do.) If I were voting, I'd give him the gold statuette for his role as Rex Walls not LBJ....

As I was leaving the theater, comparing notes with my film-going accomplice, an elderly woman turn to us and said "We lived through this time, didn't we!" It made me wonder how a younger generation, one unfamiliar with this particular segment of political history, would view the movie. Would it hold their attention? I'm betting it would.

Grade: B +

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Rated:  R

STARS: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg
DIRECTOR: Tomas Alfredson
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

The Snowman, adapted from the novel by Joe Nesbo,  is hauntingly reminiscent of a Stieg Larsson tale, and not just because it's set in Norway. As with most screenplays of the the murder mystery/suspense/thriller genre, the plot will have you scratching your head--lagging one step behind the action as you try to keep up--and in the end just settling for trying to enjoy the performances; after all, it has Charlotte Gainsbourg in it, so it can't be all bad. (Tell me what it is about her...TELL ME!!!)

Michael Fassbender stars as police detective Harry Hole (no puns from me required--at least they didn't make him a female detective).  He's a drunk who needs a case to work on to keep him focused. And then a young woman disappears, and other women start disappearing, and Harry figures there's a serial killer on the loose. It's all tied in with a strangely bizarre prologue about a young boy and his mother. I won't go into further detail because it's pretty convoluted, and I hate convoluted. And anyways you deserve to suffer through it the same as I--saying  HUH? all the way through, should you decide to tackle this one. 

Harry Hole is paired with a female detective named Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). The character names are the only comic relief in The Snowman--unless you want to count when she says early on to him, "You're not going to try to sleep with me, are you?"  He responds in the negative, which normally would set the two of them up for just that kind of thing to happen...but it doesn't. What a waste. And then we have the not often used plot twist of one of the  principal characters biting the big one half way through the film. That's a don't expect it...they've got you thinking this person is integral to the story and will be there to the end...and then they aren't. And that sucks. 

The infamous Chloe Sevigny has a bit part--she's had a lot of those lately--and likewise Val Kilmer and J.K. Simmons. A waste of an interesting cast--and ultimately a waste of your interesting money.

Grade: D + (the plus is for Charlotte Gainsbourg!)


Tim called it 'convoluted.' The fellow I saw The Snowman with muttered "Obtuse," as we left the theater. For me, the one good thing about this time-waster was thinking up other words to describe it: disjointed...confusing...fragmented. You get the idea. But according to my own rigid movie-viewing rules, I must now find something cinematically redeeming about this film.

I guess it would have to be the photography. Dark, moody, snow-filled and unrelenting – like the hard-to-figure-out plot. So many bit parts played by good actors, too. This only added to my befuddlement. Who was I supposed to root for? Who was I supposed to be suspicious of? And what was the damn movie about!

Okay, onto what really pissed me off. The bombastic, hit-you-over-the-head score by Marco Beltrami. "Be afraid," the music kept screaming at you. "You're watching a very scary movie!" If it were up to me, I'd make Mister Beltrami write 'subtle is good' six hundred times in his music notebook. And then, just for good measure, I'd handcuff him to a chair and make him watch Jaws. Over...and over...and over!

There is another positive: I love seeing a really bad movie and looking forward to lambasting it on this blog. Some of you may buy into that old bromide about 'saying something nice or not saying anything at all,' but I sure don't. Movie prices being what they are these days, at least venting allows me a verbal bang for my buck.

Grade: D -

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
GENRE: Drama

We live to play dress-up and let's pretend! Pretend that we're better than you, and deserving of the wealth and privilege we've been born into when we've done zilch to earn it. What, pray tell, does the curmudgeonly reviewer have in his gunsights now? Why, the royal family, of course!

Things haven't changed much in that respect from the days of old as evidenced by the obsequious pretense and butt kissing the royal staff maintained on a minute by minute basis--part of the job description--as attendants to Queen Victoria, the monarch who sat upon the British throne for 64 years.  It's all done up with lavish style and great comic effect in Victoria & Abdul, with Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as the widowed queen who seemed to long for some genuine human connection, and found it in the person of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), a Muslim clerk from India (under British rule at the time) who'd originally been selected to do nothing more than present a ceremonial coin to the queen on the fiftieth anniversary of her reign and then make himself scarce. He wasn't even supposed to look her at her (flashing on Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet...don't look at me...don't look at me!) But he did anyway--cheeky bugger. He caught her eye--had her at hello--and the rest, as they say is history.

Based upon the real story of these unlikely bedfellows (not literally, as she was HUGELY his senior), Victoria & Abdul is a lighthearted romp, for the most part, until it turns sinister. Karim became the queen's companion, confidant and teacher, and Victoria bestowed upon him honors and titles in increasingly disturbing ways--to the royal staff, that is--a bigoted lot, as was the fashion of the day. (You've heard of the Isle of White? Never mind.) They highly resented being upstaged by an Indian, and they plotted against Abdul, trying to turn Victoria against him.

Dame Judi brings to her part a kind of humanity that on the one hand may be unexpected considering the role a queen has to play, but on the other totally necessary to explain her fondness for the "Munshi"--a Persian word for teacher. For his part, Fazal doesn't bring great depth of character to his role, but he has a kind of self-effacing charm that carries him through. But the real delight of this film is the talented supporting cast. They've got few lines, but they make the most of their screen time by being as priggishly British as possible.

The climactic scene is a bit over the top for melodrama, but all in all I found Victoria & Abdul to be the dog's bollocks...the mutt's nuts! And the closing shot is truly majestic!  Now, as a token of my affection for all things UK, here's a few lines from one of my poems (with Queen Lizzie in mind):

...yet some still say "Your Majesty" 
to another human being and
manage it with a straight face.

Kilimanjaro--that's majesty.

An old lady sitting on the crapper
in a funny hat
she never takes off

Grade:  B +


Two winners in a row? WOW. (As some of you may already know, Tim is a filmic fussbudget of the first order. Me, I'll go see anything. And usually, when I suggest a movie we should review, he immediately nixes the idea. So what I've taken to doing is seeing the movie anyway and then urging him—if it's a goodie—to go see it. Amazingly, Victoria & Abdul and The Big Sick were both handled in this manner. And both earned high marks from Mister Curmudgeon himself!)

I loved Victoria & Abdul. And a piece of casting trivia that I find interesting and quirky is that, in both her roles as Queen Victoria, Judi Dench's male partners (in the broadest sense of the word) are well-known comedians in Britain. For those of you who saw Mrs. Brown, the fellow who played John Brown was Billy Connelly – a Scotsman whose comic timing is universally appreciated throughout the UK. He's also an accomplished banjo player! As for the actor in Victoria & Abdul who played her wimpy yet cruel son Bertie? He, too, is a famous British comic: Eddie Izzard. As I said, interesting casting....

There's so much I enjoyed about this film – it's attention to detail, the insights it gave us about the loneliness of being a queen, the prejudice that drives people to do unthinkable acts....but if I had to praise just one thing, it would be how Judi Dench was made to look really, really old. (Since there are 22 names associated with The Makeup Department, I won't list them all!) And, as an aside, I so enjoyed how she looked so much younger when her 'Munshi' became her confidant. (Love does that to all of us!)

My only beef with this otherwise perfect film is that the size of the subtitles made them impossible to read. Even with glasses on!

Grade: B +

Friday, September 22, 2017


Rated:  R

STARS: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch
DIRECTOR: Michael Cuesta
GENRE: Action/Adventure/Espionage

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) sees his fiance gunned down by terrorists in a bloody massacre. He himself is seriously wounded. Eighteen months later he's doing a Rocky Balboa style training regimen--punishing those punching bags and target shooting...with automatic weapons. He's out for revenge and ready to kick some ass. Next stop, CIA black ops. His crusty, highly skeptical mentor, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) challenges him to prove himself at every turn. Now he's ready to head overseas and stick it to the bad guys. BAM BAM! BOOM BOOM! 

There's a rotating cast of bad guys that need hunting down. They all must be taken out in bloody and grisly fashion. BAM BAM! BOOM BOOM!  One group is trying to get their hands on a nuke.The stakes have been raised exponentially.

The plot, as is often the case with film adaptations of novels, is fast moving and will leave you in the dust if you look away for a moment to retrieve the popcorn you've dropped onto the floor for the purpose of stuffing it right back into your mouth. Like you, American Assassin tries to cram too much into a small space--in this case the just under two hours running time--consequently each plot element is given short-shrift and it's onto the next at breakneck speed.

VROOM VROOM! The cars are chasing each other through the winding streets of Rome and other exotic locations. While all of the surface level stuff is smashingly well done--the cinematography; the editing; the stirring score--in the end American Assassin is your standard revenge-justifies-any-and-all-means movie fare.

The only noteworthy acting turn is Michael Keaton's jaded hard-ass Stan Hurley. Beyond that, I have to ask myself why is it necessary for another film of this nature to exist? The ongoing, ear-piercing rat-a-tat; the cringe-worthy scenes of torture. It blends in with all the other nasty scenes from all the similarly nasty films out there that promote gratuitous violence (which American audiences feast upon like buzzards at a road kill). Which could have been mitigated to a degree had they attempted to place it in the context of a narrative that at least skimmed the surface of the complicated issues of why this tragic and unwinnable clash of ideologies exists in the first place. It's hard to take a film ostensibly about combating evil seriously when it's obvious the primary reason for making it is, in fact, the "root of all evil."



(You're too kind, Tim. BAM, BAM, BOOM, BOOM!) The only thing lacking in the opening beach scene of this ho-hum shoot-em-up was the theme from Jaws. We all knew something baaaad was about to happen. And happen. And happen....

In the beginning, I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, there'd be a kind of father-son relationship (a la John Wayne and Montgomery Clift in Red River) that would sustain my interest. I was wrong. Still hopeful, I thought maybe the love/hate trainer/trainee plot would make the movie watchable. (Remember Lou Gossett and Richard Geer in An Officer And A Gentleman?) No such luck.

Since a nuclear threat is currently sharing the news with hurricanes and earthquakes, American Assassin is at the very least timely. Perhaps if Kim Jong Un (AKA Rocket Man) was forced to watch it, he'd change his mind about nuking us. After all, despite impressive graphics when a nuclear device does in fact explode under water, nobody dies. And by then I was hoping everybody would!

The torture scene with Michael Keaton is worth a look and a lot of cringing. And some of the one-on-one fights were impressively choreographed. But really, folks. How many gut-punches can one viewer take? By the end, when our anti hero was battling with yet another villain on a moving speed boat, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud. I hope the actors were well paid for this turkey. It ain't worth the price of admission.

Grade: D

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Rated: R

STARS: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
GENRE: Romantic Comedy/Drama

There is plenty of irony, even in the title: The Big Sick. A young woman lies in a coma, fighting for her life. But there is another kind of sickness that permeates all of society--in every culture--and it's called prejudice. Here, though, we have a different twist. Instead of white folks being the bigots, it's a Pakistani family living in the USA that absolutely will not accept the idea of their son falling for an American girl--and a blonde, at that! Arranged marriages are their thing, and mom recruits a cadre of comely Pakistani ladies who just happen to "drop by" during dinnertime to meet her sitting duck son, Kumail.

But Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a stand up comedian, is smitten by Emily--an affable, quirky kind of girl--qualities brought out in spades by the delightful Zoe Kazan. Emily is so American that she believes couples should fall in love first, and proceed from there. This sets up a classic clash of cultures, as Kumail is chicken to reveal Emily's presence to his family for fear of the consequences. He's caught in the middle, and now, as Emily lies in a medically induced coma in the hospital fighting a life threatening infection, Kumail has her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) to contend with as well. What's a funny man to do...laugh it off?  Hardly.

It's a bit peculiar to See Ray Romano playing it straight as the concerned dad, though it's not that much of a departure from his normal deadpan style. Just the punchlines are missing. Who knows, maybe he'll morph into the next Steve Carell! And director Judd Apatow surely knew that Holly Hunter was a show stealer when he brought her aboard. Here he looks the other way as she commits grand larceny in a supporting role with a powerful and nuanced performance. 

The only thing that didn't ring true (to me) is that we we watch Kumail blow off all of these beautiful Pakistani women (and I cringed) in favor of his American crush. Hey, I would have found a way to fit some of them in...

But that's me. 

I almost didn't see The Big Sick (based on a true story) due to its highly misleading trailer. They took what comedic punchlines there were and stuck them all into the trailer, making the film appear to be lighthearted romantic fluff. It's MUCH more than that. Serio-comic would be the appropriate term. Thought-provoking would be another.  Damn good would be another. 

Bring tissue.

Grade: A


How I love to be right! And this time, at my insistence, Tim finally broke down and went to see The Big Sick. I'd seen it in California and knew he'd like it. A lot. Having spent many years in Vancouver, BC, where the Pakistani culture flourishes, I had witnessed a mother who actually pretended to be her own daughter, signing her up on a Pakistani dating site and corresponding with potential husband material. (I kid you not!)The Big Sick uses this arranged marriage business in wonderfully humorous ways. But in real life honor killings are no joke.

The story is based on the real life of stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, whose role as Dinesh on the HBO series "Silicon Valley" made his face a familiar one to TV viewers. His comic timing is impeccable and some of the lines he utters in The Big Sick (I won't ruin it for you by repeating them here) are guffaw-makers. If you want a taste of his understated brilliance check out this YouTube video:

The only criticism I could come up with was too much medical stuff, too many specialists. My west coast movie buddy Hank was quick to point out that some of those actors-turned-doctors were, in reality, fellow comics. (Good for Kumail for casting them in cameos...) I also want to mention that this same movie buddy agreed with Tim. He felt the pack of potential Pakistani wives, especially the last one, were far more appealing than his coma-induced American cutie. The Big Sick is layered, thought-provoking and a cinematic gem. No wonder it's been held over in movie theaters here for six weeks straight.

Grade: B+

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Rated: R 

STARS: Callum Turner, Jeff Bridges, Kate Beckinsale, Pierce Brosnan, Cynthia Nixon, Kiersey Clemons
GENRE: Drama
Oh, look who's seated at the table...there's Pierce Brosnan...and there's Cynthia Nixon...and there's-there's Wallace Shawn! Looking the same as he has looked for the last fifty years or so. There's no reason for him to do a cameo in The Only Living Boy In New York, except he always seems to show up for dinner. (Maybe he's looking for Andre?)

But let's rewind. In the beginning there was Thomas and Mimi. Thomas (Callum Turner) has just graduated from college and Mimi (Kiersey Clemons) is his hang-around pal. He is smitten by her, but she has consigned him to the dreaded "friend zone." But we needn't feel sorry for nice guy Thomas, because he will find what he is looking for in Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), who just happens to be the mistress of his New York publisher father (Pierce Brosnan). At first Thomas just wants Johanna to stop seeing his still married dad, because he doesn't want his mother (Cynthia Nixon) to get hurt. But he falls under Johanna's spell. And she's the type who goes for the flavor of the day, and figures she can juggle father and son and keep both balls in the air at once (whoops... didn't mean for it to come out quite that way!) To further complicate things, Mimi re-enters the picture, noticing that her friend's affections are being directed somewhere else, so naturally she wants him now. Added to the mix we have Jeff Bridges, looking almost unrecognizable as the mysterious boozy neighbor who acts as a surrogate therapist for Thomas, dispensing worldly advice about women and whatnot. But there's more to that connection than meets the eye, which will lead to the big twist at the end.

This is an interesting, subdued turn for Bridges. For some reason it reminds me of him as the affable alien in Starman.  Kate Beckinsale has tried on numerous  costumes--she played a ninja type in one flick--not believable at all with that willowy body. But here she is perfectly cast as the New York sophisticate...the temptress whose eyes are bigger than her tummy, and manages to bring some depth to the character. Pierce Brosnan has never been taken all that seriously--pretty boy and James Bond and all that--but I imagine the older and uglier he gets (if he ever does get uglier), the more respect he'll receive, and he deserves it. Cynthia Nixon is kind of wasted here, and I can't tell you anything about her performance because all I can think about when she comes onscreen is the one time I saw her full frontal, and I was so surprised...she was a goddess! Of course, that was a while back. Young Brit Callum Turner, as Thomas, has a good face for the movies. Kiersey Clemons, as Mimi, I felt was miscast. There was no underlying romantic tension between Mimi and Thomas, which would have laid the groundwork for her eventual rekindling of interest in him.

Critics are saying harsh things about The Only Living Boy In New York, but all in all, I liked this film. It didn't have me at hello. I was still wavering even in the middle. But it sure had me at the end. It's a sweet movie, and the last truly sweet film I think I saw was Dustin Hoffman in Last Chance Harvey, and that goes back to 2009. Strong points: Impressive cast and a great soundtrack. Simon and Garfunkel, of course. Bob Dylan. Lou Reed. Herbie Hancock. A musical feast.

Dig in, Wallace Shawn!

Grade:  B +


My poor, misguided friend. Those three-digit Tucson temperatures must have fried your brains. You actually liked this piece of cinematic merde? Oh dear.

Let me start with the boy called Thomas. Callum Turner, a Brit whose acting credits are scanty at best, has about as much sex appeal as a young Woody Allen minus the self-deprecating humor. How the two women in this implausible drama could be attracted to him in the first place made me queasy. As the film unfolded—at least it was mercifully short—this flaw was replaced by myriad others. I won't reveal the ending in case anyone is foolish enough to want to see this turkey. But as I walked out of the (totally empty) movie theater, I kept shaking my head. I'm sure if Jeff Bridges hadn't been one of the producers, this film would never have been made.

I do, however, want to give credit where credit is due. Rob Simonsen's song choices were terrific, as was his understated score. And as much as I thought I was familiar with all of Paul Simon's songs, The Only Living Boy In New York was new to me. For you trivia buffs, Simon refers to Garfunkel in the song as "Tom", alluding to their early days when they were called 'Tom and Jerry.' And the main character in this movie is called Thomas. Obviously, no coincidence.

I don't usually agree with movie critics but there's always a first time!

Grade: D -