evanston_dad

IMDb member since January 2005
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Reviews

Us
(2019)

Same Missteps as "Get Out"
Jordan Peele's follow up to "Get Out" recreates both much of what worked about that earlier film and the missteps that ultimately made it less than satisfying.

"Us" ratchets up the tension nicely as it introduces us to a loving family on vacation in a cabin in the woods. It then explodes into an invigorating blend of visceral horror and very funny comedy as that family is attacked by a group of doppelgangers bent on doing them harm for unknown reasons. But as the film draws to its obtuse conclusion, Peele feels the need to over explain, and the creepy mystery at the film's center instead turns into awkward and literal plot exposition. How much more satisfying everything might have been if left unexplained.

Still, most of this film is wildly entertaining, and Peele is one director who makes films that feel completely plugged into our troubled times. He really does have a unique style, and both "Get Out" and "Us" bear the stamp of a formidable originality. It's just his storytelling that needs some work.

The acting in this movie is fantastic, especially by Lupita Nyong'o, who's fierce in a double role as the mom and the mom's frightening twin. It's not an exaggeration to say that her performance is award worthy.

Grade: A-

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
(1927)

Atmospheric Hitchcock Silent
Super atmospheric Hitchcock silent film set in London about a young male boarder who may or may not be a serial killer.

The boarder is played by actor Ivor Novello, and the main draw for me in this film -- aside from it being a Hitchcock movie -- is that Ivor Novello is a character in Robert Altman's murder mystery "Gosford Park," and "The Lodger" specifically is mentioned in an exchange between Novello (played by Jeremy Northam) and a snooty dowager played by Maggie Smith. In "Gosford Park," Novello is constantly singing and playing the piano, and it wasn't until I watched "The Lodger" and learned a bit more about Novello that I found out he was more known as a musician than an actor, and that much of the music in "Gosford Park" is his.

So this isn't really a review as much as a lot of trivia, but I don't have a lot to say about this movie anyway. I enjoyed it, and it feels like what it is -- an early film by someone who would eventually grow into one of the masters of the art form.

Grade: B+

The Getaway
(1972)

Unapologetic Peckinpah
Sam Peckinpah does his own version of "Bonnie and Clyde," and the result is a cynical, unapologetic heist movie with repellent characters and not an ounce of humor.

I didn't enjoy "The Getaway" exactly; it's far too nihilistic to enjoy. But I did find it very interesting to compare it to "Bonnie and Clyde," one of the seminal films of the American counter culture. "Bonnie and Clyde" was bleak too, and crafted a building sense of impending doom, but it was also tragic. The characters created by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were victims of circumstance. They were young kids who got themselves in over their heads and couldn't see their way out. We liked them, even if we didn't like the things they did, and though we maybe wanted to see them brought to justice, we didn't want to see them destroyed.

At the other end of the spectrum is "The Getaway," a film in which everyone's a bad guy and we don't like anyone. The brutality toward women and the casual violence inflicted on everyone else is hard to stomach, especially in the absence of a hero to root for. This movie came out after the attitudes of the American counter culture had curdled into the stuff of nightmares (the Manson gang, anyone?) and it's like that disillusionment found its way into Peckinpah's vision and manifests itself on screen. The characters in this movie are who Bonnie and Clyde would have turned into if they had lived.

Steve McQueen brings his usual tough-guy coolness to his role, but he plays a vile character. Ali McGraw is simply terrible, wooden as a tree stump. And poor Sally Struthers exists for the sole purpose of being treated horribly.

"The Wild Bunch" and "Straw Dogs," two other Peckinpah movies that I like a lot, are hard to watch as well, but they both feel like they have something to say about the violence they traffic in, which makes them worth sticking with. I'm not sure "The Getaway" has much of anything to say, and the whole thing feels uncomfortably exploitative, even as Peckinpah's irresistible style keeps it entertaining.

Grade: B

Kong: Skull Island
(2017)

Goofy
Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson make for unlikely action movie stars in this goofy mashup of "King Kong" and "Jurassic Park."

Samuel L. Jackson wears out his welcome awfully fast as a gun totin' military hothead who wants to just blow everything up. It's John C. Reilly, who pops up mid-way through the movie as a crazy island recluse, who steals the show.

Or should I say it's the Oscar nominated visual effects that steal the show. Kong is an impressive CGI creation, as are the mean chicken lizards he's constantly fighting.

A post-credits sequence hints at a sequel. Though this movie was moderately enjoyable, I'm not sure whether or not that counts more as a promise or a threat.

Grade: B-

Angel Face
(1953)

Simmons is Tremendous Fun
Jean Simmons is tremendous fun as the femme fatale in this Otto Preminger noir from 1953. She stars opposite Robert Mitchum, the quintessential tough guy who's way too cool to be taken in by a scheming dame until....guess what?....he is. But not in the way you might expect. This movie has to have one of the most jaw-droppingly abrupt endings I've ever seen.

The movie until then is pretty good, even if it does have its slow parts. It suffers a bit from an identity crisis. Is it a moody thriller? A courtroom drama? A domestic melodrama? It's a little bit of all of these, and I think I would have preferred it if it had been leaner and more focused on the sleaze and less on the romantic escapades.

But that ending though.....

Grade: A-

Her Smell
(2018)

Endurance Test
I saw one Internet review of "Her Smell" that said the real movie begins at 1:20, and I found that to be absolutely correct. The question is whether or not you can make it that far without giving up on the repulsive mess that is this movie for the first hour and twenty minutes.

That's an awful long time to ask us to spend with a character as abhorrent as the one created by Elisabeth Moss, a troubled rock star who you want to see get run over by a truck within the first five minutes of the movie. Seriously, "troubled" does not even begin to describe the creation concocted by Moss and her director. She's pitched at such an insane level that you wonder how she manages to cross a street by herself, let alone function as the lead singer of a band. The film is one sustained note of frenzy that practically dares you to stick with it, as if it doesn't really want to be watched in the first place. I did stick with it because I was promised that it turned into something different, which it does. It's quieter, and there's more character development. There are moments in the latter half of the movie where I found myself moderately engaged. But overall the payoff was not worth the assault of the film's first half.

There is one moment in the film that made me unequivocally glad I stuck with it, and that is when Moss sings a sweet version of "Heaven" to her daughter while sitting at a piano. But it would be stretching it to say the film is worth sitting through for that. Just watch that scene on YouTube and forget the rest.

Grade: C-

The Train
(1964)

Nonverbal Action Movie
A nonverbal action movie that stars Burt Lancaster as a train operator trying to thwart the plans of Nazi operatives to move precious artworks from France to Germany in the last losing days of WWII.

John Frankenheimer directs in stark black and white, and the film has his trademarks all over it -- kinetic compositions, rapid-fire editing, ragged documentary look and feel. Paul Scofield also stars as the obsessed Nazi and Jeanne Moreau has a role as a French woman who reluctantly aids and abets Lancaster. The sheer physical production is astounding; in the days before CGI would have done everything for them, Frankenheimer and company staged massive set pieces involving bombed railroad yards, crashing trains, you name it. I can only imagine how much pressure the special effects guys were under to get everything right the first time because re-staging it for a second try would have been a bear.

"The Train" brought Franklin Coen and Frank Davis an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Story and Screenplay at the 1965 Oscars.

Grade: A-

Wonder Man
(1945)

Not So Wonderful
I think I like Danny Kaye better when he's the goofy sidekick rather than the leading man.

There's just a bit too much of him in "Wonder Man," a musical fantasy in which he gets to play twin brothers, one alive, one dead, many times appearing in the same scene with himself thanks to cinematic tricks that won this film the Oscar for Best Special Effects in 1945. The story is paper thin, and the musical numbers are of the show-within-the-show variety rather than used to move the plot along. It's kind of like watching a Danny Kaye nightclub act with a little bit of plot to string things together. If you like Kaye, then you'll have a good time. If a little Kaye goes a long way with you, you might find yourself resistant to this film's modest charms.

In addition to its Special Effects Oscar, "Wonder Man" was nominated for Best Musical Scoring, Best Original Song ("So in Love"), and Best Sound Recording.

Grade: C

Between Two Worlds
(1944)

Not Your Typical Disney Cruise
A group of impressive actors are assembled to play a bunch of dead people on an ocean liner to the afterlife in this melancholy, misty-eyed rumination on what makes a life well lived.

I imagine this film had more impact in its year of release (1944), when the idea of death weighed more heavily on everyone's minds. Watching it today, I could admire its premise and the performances, but it's all a bit slow and stage bound. I liked seeing rich, privileged people being given the what for for living their lives as selfish jerks, but I didn't get that engaged in any of the other stories.

There's a last-minute happy ending manufactured for the lead couple that feels like a cop out. How much more interesting it would have been had the movie let one or both of them stay dead.

Grade: B

Booksmart
(2019)

Wasn't Funny
A raunchy comedy about the coming of age of two young women? Sounds great! A buddy movie directed by and starring females? Just what we need! A movie from the point of view of anyone other than a straight white man? Sign me up!

So why do I give "Booksmart" such a low rating? Because it's not funny. It thinks it's funny, and it tries awfully hard to be so. But it's just not. There are moments here and there that made me chuckle, but for the most part this movie was like watching "Saturday Night Live" when the first really good opening skit is over and you still have an hour of show left -- a series of sketches, some funnier than others, but all of which go on too long and aggressively milk a one-note joke for all it's worth.

And this movie had a great premise. And it had two appealing actresses in the lead, both of which show promise of having comic ability. But it just falls flat on its face one too many times.

I have to believe that the only reason critics have been so kind to this film is that it was directed by Olivia Wilde and gives us a story about girls in a cultural moment when people are clamoring for more movies by women and about female characters. But even movies made by women still have to be good.

Grade: C+

Jacob's Ladder
(1990)

Sound and Fury
"Jacob's Ladder" is like a David Lynch movie without the guts to just be a David Lynch movie.

Adrian Lyne has done a good job convincing people that he's a bolder director than he is thanks to the shock value in movies like this one and "Fatal Attraction." But at heart he's really a fairly pedestrian director, and "Jacob's Ladder" suffers for it. The film teases us with the possibility that it might go completely off its rocker, but the ending, though probably quite a plot twist at the time before there was an entire industry of plot twist movies, ties everything up with a disappointingly literal and dull bow. The movie has so many fits and starts, going back and forth in time, blurring the lines between reality and fiction, that it never really gets going. And Lyne and Co. mistake loud and gross for compelling and atmospheric; the film plays like one prolonged hysterical note of randomness. Crazy things just happen, but they happen so often and so relentlessly that we stop caring about why they're happening, and indeed even stop thinking they're that crazy within the world of the film. Roger Ebert, in his review of the film "Labyrinth" (which he didn't like by the way), said that if everything is arbitrary, then nothing matters. That's how I felt about "Jacob's Ladder."

The ending felt like a cheap trick rather than one grown organically from within the movie that preceded it.

Grade: B-

Mr. Lucky
(1943)

Surprisingly Good
A surprisingly entertaining and quite rich film that stars Cary Grant as a gambler and swindler who grows a conscience while trying to bilk a war relief organization out of its funds.

The film plays as either a very serious comedy or a drama with lots of humor in it, depending on your mood while watching it. I say it's surprisingly entertaining only because I'd never heard of it, and I figured such an obscure movie starring such a big-time actor must be obscure for a reason. But it's really a very pleasant surprise. Grant has oodles of charm and screen presence. Anyone with eyes in his/her head and a half-way functioning brain can understand why he was such a huge star. He's a big reason why this film is something special rather than a throw-away trifle made during the war years and meant to serve as a morale booster. But while Grant deserves much of the credit, lets be fair to Laraine Day, who's fetching and winning herself as his love interest.

The film also features Charles Bickford, who always played crusty codgers and always did it so well, and Gladys Cooper, a hoot in a small but hilarious role as one of the biddies who works for the organization Grant is trying to dupe.

Grade: A

The Petrified Forest
(1936)

Atmospheric But Stagebound
An atmospheric if rather stage bound film version of the Broadway play.

"The Petrified Forest" and its examination of the toll WWI took on the world's psyche is fascinating to watch now, knowing that a second and even larger war was looming on the horizon at the time of this film's release. Leslie Howard plays a man with an artistic and philosophic temperament who sees nothing but doom for the human race due to his experiences in the war. Bette Davis is a young waitress rotting in a middle-of-nowhere diner who longs for something more. She gives Howard a reason to live; he gives her the opportunity to stretch her wings and fly. Meanwhile, Humphrey Bogart is a gangster on the run who hides out in the diner and takes everyone hostage, and who has his own nihilistic outlook on life.

"The Petrified Forest" doesn't quite know how to open up the world of the play from which it's adapted and make it feel more like a movie. There are a couple of moments of promise -- like an opening long shot of Howard walking down a desert road, or a reverse tracking shot of Davis standing on the porch of the diner as Howard is driven away in a car -- brief little moments that almost evoke the moody and stoically beautiful style of a John Ford film. But while there may be too few of these, the ideas and performances are enough to make this movie interesting to a modern-day audience, especially if you have an added interest in seeing how WWI affected popular culture when it was the only world war people had been through.

Grade: B+

I Confess
(1953)

Hitch Makes a Snoozer
I never thought that the complaint I would level at a Hitchcock movie is that it's dull, but oh Lordy, Lordy is this film a snooze.

To be fair, I don't have a religious fiber in my body, and even if I did, I wouldn't be a Catholic. Therefore, I have no reverence for the Catholic church or for priests, and their vows mean nothing to me. Without that reverence, the dramatic conflict at the center of this movie is nonexistent. It just becomes a movie about a dude who could easily solve a murder for the police but infuriatingly won't. But my own personal beliefs aside, this film would still be a bore. Montgomery Clift is wooden in the role of the conflicted priest and looks like he could barely muster the energy to show up on set. There's none of the trademark Hitchcock style; the film is static and inert. The whole thing feels way longer than it probably is.

The rare Hitchcock misfire.

Grade: C-

Werk ohne Autor
(2018)

Portrait of the Artist
"Never Look Away" is director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's fictionalized biography of artist Gerhard Richter, who's most known for painting photo-realistic pictures of actual photographs.

The film is huge in sweep, beginning in WWII and following Kurt Barnert's (the Richter surrogate) development into famous artist of the 1960s. I don't know how much of Richter's actual life served as material for the film, but surely it wasn't as soap operatic as what's given us here. For starters, Barnert falls in love with the daughter of the Nazi war criminal who was responsible for sending Barnert's aunt to her death as part of a purge of mentally ill people. This allows the film to develop a cat and mouse thriller vibe, as we wait to see when (because we know it's not going to be "if") one or the other of the men figures out their connection. This would be enough for a feature length movie of its own, but there's also a subplot involving the young couple's efforts to have a child, not to mention Barnert's struggles to find his artistic voice. Whew....that's a lot of ground to cover. No wonder the movie is more than three hours long.

But you know what? Preposterous as much of this might sound on paper, I didn't find any of it so in the execution, and I didn't feel the film's length at all. My wife and I started this at nearly 10:00 pm, and neither of us found ourselves having to keep ourselves awake or even restlessly waiting for the movie to end as 1:00 am came around. That's pretty high praise for a director's ability to keep his movie engaging.

Grade: A

Lost Highway
(1997)

Typical Lynch
A pretty typical mind bender from David Lynch, a sort of warm up to his ultimate masterpiece, "Mulholland Drive," though I do have to say that my practice watching David Lynch movies has paid off and I didn't find this film to be nearly as incoherent as I might have at an earlier time in my life.

Bill Pullman plays a jazz saxophonist who's framed for the murder of his wife. Or a least he plays a jazz saxophonist until he morphs into a mechanic played by a completely different actor. Until he morphs back into Bill Pullman. And his wife isn't really dead. Or maybe she is dead, but there's another woman who looks just like her. Or maybe they're really two facets of the same woman. And why does Robert Blake look like someone's creepy aunt dressed up as Joel Grey from "Cabaret"?

This is David Lynch, so asking such questions is bound to result in a head-slamming-into-wall incident. Better to just relax into the film's noirish vibe, which for me is always easy to do, and think about how the movie makes you feel rather than what it's about.

Grade: A-

Columbus
(2017)

Strangers in Passing
In outline, "Columbus" might seem like the kind of film we've seen before. Middle-aged man meets much younger woman while both are drifting through separate life crises. The relationship they strike up -- first platonic, then romantic -- helps both of them see their way forward. Like "Lost in Translation" set in Indiana.

But "Columbus" manages to carve out its own little niche and feel like a fresh spin on a common set up. This is due largely to the terrific performances of John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson and to the film's setting, which makes Columbus, Indiana seem like an oasis of creativity and thought in a desert of Midwestern malaise. The film explores primarily the theme of filial duty and the point at which a sense of responsibility for and to our parents can become something malignant that stops our own personal growth. It's a very quiet, ruminative movie, one that's in no hurry to make its point or rush its conclusions.

Indeed, if I had to criticize anything about the film, it's how visually stagnant it is. It's like there's a breed of indie filmmakers who think to actually move their camera is to dilute their films' authenticity, ignoring the fact that the word "move" is literally built into the word "movie." Would it have killed the director of "Columbus" to give me a zoom, a pan, something?

But still.....an excellent movie and one that both requires and rewards patience.

Grade: A

Un beau soleil intérieur
(2017)

All Hail Juliette Binoche
A rather one-note film about a frustrating character that I probably would have reviewed more harshly had it not starred the luminous Juliette Binoche.

Binoche plays a woman who's fallen into a repetitive cycle of starting up love affairs -- sometimes with the wrong guy, sometimes with someone who might be a right guy -- but then bailing on them because of her own inability to open herself up emotionally. And that's the movie. There's not much of a character arc to her -- the life events that have put herwhere she is have already happened when the movie starts, and she doesn't learn much of anything about herself or her own responsibility in being lonely and miserable that suggests anything is going to change. A generous interpretation of the ending might, I suppose, hint at future happiness, but I chose, cynic that I am, to interpret it instead as yet another desperate attempt made by Binoche's character to find love that requires no effort on her part. Apparently, she thinks she can just wait patiently and it will fall from the sky into her lap.

"Let the Sunshine In" isn't a boring film, but it's not an especially engaging one either. You will have to find Juliette Binoche herself interesting as an actress if you're going to enjoy this film, as it's virtually a one-woman show.

Grade: B

Husbands
(1970)

Hanging Out with Toxic Males
I don't enjoy John Cassavetes movies that much, but I've watched quite a few of them because of his importance to the development of independent American cinema and because of their uniqueness. I think "Husbands" will be my last Cassavetes film. I've seen it, "A Woman Under the Influence," "Faces," and "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie," and I feel like I can put him to rest with a thorough knowledge of his style and preoccupations.

What I do like about Cassavetes is that he explored in a way few writers/directors at the time did the complexities of male emotions. His male characters don't fall into easy categories and neither do their interior lives. In what he has his characters say and do, it's like he wanted to present the male id on screen visually, in all its obnoxious glory.

But the flip side is that it makes his characters unpleasant and exhausting to be with. I went out with a bunch of guys for a bachelor party once, and one of them was talking loudly about how ugly and fat a girl was sitting at a nearby table in a bar. He clearly wanted her to hear, and it's like he was performing for the rest of us. The other guys, because they didn't want to be accused of ruining the evening I guess, or because they genuinely found it funny, played along and encouraged him. The whole experience was so uncomfortable and toxic that I left shortly after and didn't go on to do the rest of the things planned for the evening.

Watching "Husbands" is like two hours of that experience. It's watching three guys hang out and desperately try to avoid the emotions stirred up by the recent death of a fourth buddy. This means they fight, get maudlin, get drunk, get abusive, treat women like crap. We don't get to know these guys. We're just dumped into the middle of their circle of friendship and sent off with them into the night to hang out for a couple of hours. I can't relate to Cassavetes movies. I'm the same age as the guys in this movie, maybe even a little older than they're supposed to be, with a wife and kids. I don't understand the contempt and anger they show for the world, for their wives, for each other. They don't live in a world that resembles anything I've directly experienced. And since Cassavetes just observes rather than explains, I don't learn anything about it that might help me understand more. I just get claustrophobic and want to leave the party early. Like every other Cassavetes movie I've seen, this one felt more than anything else like an endurance test.

Grade: B

The Loved One
(1965)

Misses the Tone of the Book by a Mile
I had recorded "The Loved One" on TCM a long time ago without knowing much about it, and not realizing that it was based on an Evelyn Waugh novel. Then I decided I would read the novel first, which I did. It's not bad, but it's a trifle. It feels like something Waugh hammered out while killing time in between writing better things. I watched the movie the day that I finished the book and...oof!...is the movie bad.

It was aired on TCM as part of a tribute to gay Hollywood and to John Gielgud, the acclaimed gay actor. The hosts of the segment went on and on about how great he was in the movie and gives its best performance. I couldn't figure out how that could be possible, since the character he plays in the book dies within the first couple of pages. I thought maybe they revised the adaptation so that he was in the story longer. But no...he indeed dies within the first five minutes of the movie. While he's in it, he's ok, I guess, but I can't for the life of me figure out why the hosts were fawning over him. As for the rest of the film, it tries to capture the tone of Waugh's book, which is black black comedy (it's set in a mortuary, for starters), but it misses by a mile. Nothing the movie attempts works, and the performances are mostly ghastly. Robert Morse mugs and grimaces his way through the lead role, while Rod Steiger minces around as if he was told he was in a completely different movie. By the time the movie was over, I outright hated it.

After the airing, the hosts came back to talk about it some more, and it became clear then (oh sure, after you've convinced me to watch it), that they didn't think it was a good movie either. They gave it some lukewarm praise in the "well, it's got some good moments" and "it's turned into a cult classic" vein, but they didn't try very hard to convince their viewers that it had much merit.

Read the book, skip the movie.

Grade: D

Requiem for a Heavyweight
(1962)

Somber and Bleak
A somber, bleak film about an aging boxer (Anthony Quinn) whose money-grubbing manager (Jackie Gleason) wants to push him into the exploitative world of phony wrestling while a do-gooder (Julie Harris) convinces him that he can have a meaningful job and life outside of a ring.

I appreciated the nuance and complexities of this movie's characterizations. It's easy at first to assume that Gleason's character is just selfish and greedy and wants to capitalize off of the success of his dim-witted friend and client. At the same time, it's easy to root for Harris's character and her plan to get Quinn a job supervising children at a camp. But as the movie plays out, it becomes less clear who exactly has Quinn's best interests at heart. We realize, in a heartbreaking, lengthy scene in which a drunken Quinn stumbles around an apartment building trying to find the location of his job interview for the camp counselor position, that the future Harris has convinced him he wants is utterly unrealistic, and her efforts to get his hopes and expectations up start to seem obsessive and even slightly cruel. Meanwhile, it starts to seem like Gleason might have his buddy's best interests at heart after all -- he alone fully understands and accepts Quinn's limitations and knows what a realistic future for him looks like.

I've never liked Anthony Quinn more than I did here. I usually tire of his movie performances, as they've always struck me as rather one note. He rants and yells a lot most of the time, and there's little in the way of subtlety. But here he's quiet and mumbly, he shuffles and shrugs. He gives a painfully accurate portrait of a man who's washed up and doesn't know it.

The film also stars Mickey Rooney, craggy and subdued himself, as another of Quinn's buddies who has Gleason's number, even if he can't do anything but watch the tragedy unfold like a slow motion car accident.

Grade: A

El secreto de sus ojos
(2009)

Entertaining Pot Boiler
A fairly compelling Argentinean pot boiler that weaves past and present into a part mystery thriller/part romantic drama about life's unresolved dilemmas.

A former legal counselor is haunted by a brutal rape and murder case that goes unsolved -- or rather, it's solved, but the criminal isn't brought to justice because of corruption within the Argentinean legal system. Meanwhile, he's also filled with regret about a romantic relationship he failed to pursue with his boss, passions which are reignited when she comes back into his life years later as he is gathering research for a novel he plans to write about the rape/murder case.

"The Secret in Their Eyes" is at its best when dealing with the criminal investigation at its center. It's on shakier ground with the romance, primarily because the two leads don't have a lot of chemistry. We're just told they're smitten with each other, but we never really feel it. Also, the film's execution at times teeters toward the painfully strained, most notably in a scene where the two protagonists are trying to bully a confession out of the man they suspect of being the rapist/murderer. I always felt the film was trying to be smarter than the material would allow, as if the film makers couldn't be content with letting it be a plot-driven thriller (which is what it's really begging to be). But despite these criticisms, it's a very good and crafty film. I'm not surprised that Hollywood decided it needed an American remake, and I'm even less surprised that the powers that be (by all accounts, as I've not seen it) botched it.

"The Secret in Their Eyes" won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. While it was a respectable choice for that honor, the award should hands down have gone to "The White Ribbon." The first film may leave you with a feeling of quiet unease; the second will get into your head and stay there forever.

Grade: A-

Thor: Ragnarok
(2017)

At Least It's Funny
I think I saw the first "Thor" movie. All of these superhero movies blend together in my mind. I know I missed some of them, because there was clearly plot exposition that probably would have made "Thor: Ragnarok" make more sense. Oh well, these movies don't make much sense even if you have seen them all. They all devolve into loud and flashy spectacle by the time they're over and hope you'll be so dazzled that you'll forget any crappy parts. It's harder and harder for me to watch movies like this and get past the weapon fetishism they all wallow in -- there's such an emphasis on how cool you look wielding your big gun, the bigger the better. In the increasingly disturbing American gun culture, it's no longer possible (for me at least) to shrug stuff like this off as "only a movie." But whatever...I acknowledge that I probably shouldn't be watching movies like this in the first place if that's going to bother me.

As for the rest? It's pretty funny, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and it's got Cate Blanchett looking sexy as hell in a dominatrix outfit (that is, until she puts on a ridiculous hat that makes her look like one of Satan's reindeer). I got tired of it, but as you might have gathered if you've stayed with this review, I'm probably not the target audience for it.

Grade: B

Ant-Man
(2015)

Saw the Sequel First
I saw the original "Ant-Man" after its sequel, "Ant-Man and the Wasp." I thought the second one was better, because the first is all origin story and I always find the origin stories of superheroes to be the most boring parts. I really don't like anything about superhero movies all that much, but this one is pretty good, because, like the second one, it's funny and it doesn't take itself so seriously and it's got Paul Rudd, who's able to make just about anything at least watchable.

Grade: B

We the Animals
(2018)

Toxic Masculinity
Everyone's throwing around the phrase "toxic masculinity" lately, but I have yet to see very many artists exploring what exactly that is or what fuels it. "We the Animals" does just that. It shows us a mom and dad raising their three sons in desperate financial circumstances. Both parents experience extreme depression and despair in one form or another; to them, life is a trap they can't escape from. The boys are left on their own most of the time to figure out how both to literally survive (what are they going to eat?) and make sense of the world and their place in it. Two of them seem content to mimic their dad, whose way of dealing with feelings he can't articulate is to be physically and emotionally abusive to his wife, and to teach his sons to be "MEN," mostly to compensate for his own feelings of inadequacy as a husband and father. But the third and youngest seems troubled by what he observes, and doesn't seem comfortable with the aggression and dominance that the other two embrace. And his budding sexuality is drawing him more to boys than girls. Young as he is, he's mature enough to recognize that life is as much of a trap for him as it is for the adults. Will he be able to break free and soar?

"We the Animals" answers that question, sort of, beautifully and visually. This isn't a movie with a lot of dialogue; the characters wouldn't be able to articulate their thoughts and feelings anyway. Instead, it's a movie about emotions roiling under the surface of just about every character in the film, but in an atmosphere where they're not allowed to come to the surface. It's also a movie about the artistic impulse, and how art can be used to express feelings we sometimes can't express -- or aren't allowed to express -- in any other way.

This is the kind of movie I recommend to friends since it's not one many people have heard of.

Grade: A+

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