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 shocker...you 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 +