Archives for the month of: February, 2017

Somehow, this is a movie about not having an affair with Alexander Siddig. Which seems like the difficult and worse option.

mv5bmzewodmxnjiwnl5bml5banbnxkftztcwmjc0mji3mw-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) is married to a man called Mark (played by somebody, I’m sure) who works for the United Nations in the Gaza Strip. They plan to meet in Cairo, but he is held up, so he deputizes his old bodyguard Tareq (Siddig) to look after her.

She is clueless, and it’s extremely irritating. Patricia Clarkson’s face is natively intelligent, so when Juliette is a big ol’ dummy, it doesn’t work. She appears to know nothing about anything, but enjoys lecturing Tareq about education and women’s rights and his own romantic life. She pulls a stupid and possibly dangerous stunt, and then gets resentful when Mark has the audacity to suppose, in consequence, that she has no concept of reality. She also wears a lot of sundresses, which, with her complexion, seems like a bad call.

Other than that, it’s slow and rather silent, and if Juliette weren’t a moron, I think it would be quite pleasing. The juxtaposition of pyramids with Cairo’s sprawling concrete is visually striking, and Juliette wears a very beautiful turquoise dress, which you see on the cover. Tareq owns a café, and exists in a stylish smoky haze of linen shirts and ironic eyes. Ironic but smoldering.

The best moment is his response to Juliette’s desire to see Alexandria: “You know the library burned down.”

Director: Ruba Nadda
Rating: PG
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 3/5

You know how New York in movies now is always clean and, even if people aren’t rich, everything is nice? This was not always the case. New York used to be gross, and housewives from Fort Lee might get amnesia and be mistaken for prostitutes.

Our titular Susan (Madonna) is the sort of person who keeps all her possessions in a hatbox and mooches shamelessly off her friends. They find this charming. In fairness, it is the early 80s and everyone has a completely fake job (magician’s assistant, cinema operator) but a giant apartment, so maybe that’s just how things were. Through a completely absurd sequence of events, another small blonde ends up with Susan’s distinctive jacket, and then gets hit in the head, so everyone thinks she’s Susan and she doesn’t know any better. This small blonde, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), is married to a jacuzzi salesman, Gary Glass (Mark Blum), and he is the worst. His sister Leslie (Laurie Metcalf) is gloriously insane in the Joan Cusack mold. In a crisis, when everyone is stress-eating, she yells, “Take a Valium like a normal person!” They get involved in mix-ups but are largely off-stage.

mv5bmtizmza5njizof5bml5banbnxkftztywota2nti5-_v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_So: Roberta has no memories, Susan’s clothes, and only her own common sense. That is not much. She is like a polite woodland animal, caught in 80s New York and surrounded by people who think she’s a wild free spirit. Fortunately, both onstage and sympathetic is Dez (Aidan Quinn), who lives an enormous loft in Tribeca and works in the projection room at the Bleecker Street Cinema.

It is delightful nonsense. There is both antiquities theft and a murderer on the loose, but that doesn’t detract from how surprisingly appealing Roberta’s cluelessness is. The movie is well encapsulated when Dez asks Roberta if she wants a drink, and she says Diet Coke or Perrier would be fine.

“There’s Miller Lite, or Heineken,” he deadpans.

Director: Susan Seidelman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 4/5

PS OMG SO EIGHTIES

The current trend of biography is lengthy and complicated (see “The Crown,” or “Victoria”), which is possibly admirable. If, however, you are looking for the film biography equivalent of a chocolate soufflé, look no further than The Young Victoria.

As the title suggests, this film deals only with the early, Cinderella-type years of Victoria’s life, when she falls in love and is kind of bad at being the queen, and before she gets jowly and depressing. Helpfully, Victoria’s life was peopled with engagingly cartoonish heroes and villains, and they find excellent avatars here. Victoria (Emily Blunt) is so young, and slightly too pretty, and she is liable to listen to Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) because he is handsome and she is frighteningly sheltered. Her mother (Miranda Richardson) and Sir John Conroy (Mark Strong) would like to control her, and have made a decent go of it for the first 17 years of her life. Sir John is so evil, and so delightful. He wears amazing trousers.

mv5bmtm4mjexmdk3nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwmtu3otmwmw-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Enter Albert (Rupert Friend), who is also unbelievably young, and unbelievably Romantically German. His hair! His shirtsleeves! His awkward love of Schubert! His hilariously tolerant brother Ernest (Michiel Huisman)! Apparently Ernest was awful in real life, but here he just rolls his eyes when Albert is adorably dumb about Sir Walter Scott.

To be sure, the most interesting thing about Victoria was not her romantic life, but it makes a good feature film. She and Albert are so young, and so silly, and so in love, and so well dressed. They care just enough about the poor and about progress that you aren’t grossed out by their fake problems. You’re sad when they fight and pleased when they make up, and why can’t some dreamy moron come visit me with a pair of giant dogs?

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Rating: PG
Length: 105 minutes
Score: 5/5

mv5bmtc5otk4mtm3m15bml5banbnxkftztgwodcxnjg3mde-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_In the near-ish future, aliens invade. They seem to be octopus-whirlwinds of metal and energy, and they are unstoppable. It turns out that part of why they are unstoppable is that they can manipulate time, and therefore can restart battles every time they lose. In an unsubtle touch, they landed first in Hamburg, and we see their shadow spread across Europe.

As the film begins, the united armed forces of the rest of the world are preparing for an all-out assault, a landing on the Normandy beaches from flying troop-carriers. A single victory, at Verdun (of course), has given them new confidence. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the Angel of Verdun, is their new hero. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) arrives in London, thinking he will continue his job in military PR. And he will, but while embedded in a unit that storms the beaches. He is…not sold on this.

This is the glory of the film. Cage is handsome, smooth, amoral, and needs a swift kick in the ass. When he wakes up in Dover and Bill Paxton yells at him to join his comrades and not wimp out of something for the first time in his life, you are on Bill Paxton’s side. You’re a little bit sorry for him as he lands in the shallows and struggles onto land, because no one even bothered to tell him how to take the safety off. And then he dies! Both he and Rita have managed to acquire the aliens’ time-shifting ability, and so Cage must figure out how to use this to win the war. Progress is incremental, and painful. Rita trains him painstakingly–his pains. Since time resets when he dies, it makes sense to put him out of his misery any time he is even slightly injured. You get to watch Tom Cruise bite it so many times.

And a lot of those times, Emily Blunt shoots him in the goddamn face. She, too, is amazing in this movie. Rita’s absolutely tough as nails, but there’s never the feeling that the rôle was written for a man, as is often the case in such situations. Since they do not share memories (time-jumping will do that), they both get hideously frustrated and sad about their inability, sometimes, to communicate. It’s surprisingly affecting.

This movie is funny, clever, different, and unexpectedly deep. You should watch it.

(Also, it has a billion minor British actors–Jonas Armstrong, Lara Pulver, Charlotte Riley, Noah Taylor–who are a delight.)

Director: Doug Liman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 113 minutes
Score: 5/5

So, I’m pretty sure that the impetus behind this film was that Tom Cruise saw a photo of Claus von Stauffenberg and thought, “I am doing humanity a disservice if I do not make a film about this man.” Also maybe felt that his résumé was lacking a movie where he got to thwart Nazis. Of course, he doesn’t actually get to thwart any Nazis. The Valkyrie plot failed, and nobody got to kill Hitler but Hitler, pace Quentin Tarantino.

mv5bmtg3njc2odeyn15bml5banbnxkftztcwntawmzc3na-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Valkyrie is however a pretty good movie.  While Cruise as Stauffenberg gets to do a lot of jaw-jutting moralizing, the logistical problems–not to mention those of spinelessness–are well handled by everyone else.  Eddie Izzard (Fellgiebel) and Tom Wilkinson (Fromm) in particular waver and falter and smoke nervously in very convincing ways. Tom Hollander (Brandt) is as usual excellent in an as usual ungrateful part.

The film’s main strengths are the small things, though. A switchboard operator has to decide whether to put through the communiqué from the Wolf’s Lair or from the coup leaders, and his face eloquently says how far this is above his pay grade. Thomas Kretschmann, handsome as always and filled with ennui as the commander of a home guard division, likewise is never sure whether it’s a drill or whether the sky is falling and he should arrest Goebbels. Stauffenberg’s a.d.c. (Jamie Parker) is welcomed into the office with an offer of risky involvement in high treason and shrugs a yes. You actually watch the movements of the explosive-laden briefcase with some trepidation.

It’s not subtle. Goebbels (Harvey Friedman) and Goering (Gerhard Haase-Hindenberg) are sneering, evil cartoons. Hitler himself (David Bamber) is insufficiently mad for July of 1944, but still just awful. The ominous mass of greatcoats and jackboots hangs over the film. On the other side, Stauffenberg loves his wife, his children, and Jesus. The Stauffenberg children are relentlessly blond and play soldiers to the accompaniment of a phonograph playing Wagner and Tom Cruise’s agonized eyes. When the members of the plot are all rounded up and shot (spoiler alert!), Terence Stamp as Ludwig Beck gloriously observes, on learning that he is to be spared, that he’d like a pistol. For personal reasons.

And just in case you were wondering if it’s as hell-for-leather awesome as Tom Cruise movies usually are: he is blown up not once but twice within the first six minutes and then has to wear an eyepatch.

Director: Bryan Singer
Rating: PG-13
Length: 121 minutes
Score: 4/5