Archives for the month of: April, 2017

It’s good that Dakota Blue Richards has figured out what to do with her life and has a solid gig on “Endeavour,” because the beginning of her career was a series of bad fantasy movies in which she was an irritating child, first Golden Compass and then this, and Secret of Moonacre is even worse than Golden Compass. I’m guessing the original book wasn’t much cop, either.

Maria Merryweather (Richards) is a Victorian orphan, and her father left her debts and a magic book. Her governess, Miss Heliotrope (Juliet Stevenson), takes her to live with her uncle Benjamin (Ioan Gruffudd) in the country. He has an enormous and beautiful house, bad manners, and unexplained misery. Maria is obnoxious and inevitably gets lost in the great big forest where Uncle Benjamin has expressly forbidden her to go.

MV5BMjIzMTM3MjY0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTA0MzQ4Mw@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The magic book tells Maria about a longstanding curse on the area, which is called Moonacre. Some witch (Natasha McElhone) had some magic pearls, and the two families (the De Noirs, which I am not making up, and the Merryweathers) want control of them, so there are five hundred years of Capulet-Montague nonsense and when the next moon rises the whole place will fall in the sea, I think. Tim Curry is the current head De Noir, and his minions or possibly sons are emo steampunk morons. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but also some things are over-explained. And there’s a big dog that sometimes turns into a black lion.

There are a lot of tiny dumb things–how Maria’s bustle and train are just the frame with no fabric, how Juliet Stevenson is ludicrously under- and mis-used, the possible love story of Maria with a De Noir son/minion–but they get lost under the giant pile of stupidity.

Director: Gabor Csupo
Rating: PG & PG-13
Length: 103 minutes
Score: 1/5

Sometimes you’re in the mood for bad romantic comedies. It’s like bad Chinese food. You know there is good Chinese food, and you could eat that, but what you want is greasy General Tso’s and an extremely dodgy egg roll. These movies are that, but for the eyes and brain.

MV5BNmRjYWE3OTQtYzEwOC00OWM4LTk3MzktZTUyZTgzNjY4NDc0L2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Ostensibly, the premise–four young women who are best friends forever, share a magical pair of jeans, and support each other through all of life’s vicissitudes–is charming. Bridget (Blake Lively) has lost her troubled mother, Carmen (America Ferrera) discovers that her father is about to remarry into a perfect family in the Carolinas, Lena (Alexis Bledel) puts her foot into unexplained family nonsense in Santorini, and Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) is an irritating so-called rebel with terrible dress sense. She makes films, obviously. Some of these are real problems, and some of these deserve sympathy, and every single one of these people acts like a total dickhead.

It doesn’t help that only America Ferrera, of the four, is able to deliver her lines with any hint of conviction. At least we’re mostly used to that. She, however, is saddled with the worst nonsense. Her parents are long-divorced, and her dad (Bradley Whitford) has failed to tell her that he’s going to get married to a lady with two kids of her own. Which isn’t great, but, honestly, what can you expect of Bradley Whitford? So she goes to visit, and the new family is a little dippy and clueless, but Carmen’s self-involvement borders on the solipsistic. Because the new family is skinny and blond, Carmen decides that their lives are perfect and that her dad is trying to pretend she doesn’t exist. And this, after she learns that the son goes to visit his dad in a rehab facility every month. She throws a hissy fit and then a rock at their window.

Elsewhere, Bridget works out her daddy issues in the most hackneyed way possible, Tibby has to deal with mortality (but finds a very cute boyfriend in the person of Leonardo Nam’s Brian), and Lena makes out with Kostos (Michael Rady).

MV5BMTMwNDYyMTY5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAwMjY2MQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_In the second movie, they’re all at fancy colleges (two Ivies, RISD, and NYU for Tibby because rebellion; she also works in a video store). This has not lessened their gyroscopic tendencies. They all have increasing secret pains which they don’t talk about and then scream at each other for not knowing about, and it is tiresome to a degree.

And then, movie-style, unearned rewards are thrust upon them.

Director: Ken Kwapis (1) & Sanaa Hamri (2)
Rating: PG & PG-13
Length: 119 minutes & 119 minutes (for reals)
Score: 2/5

This came out in between A Few Good Men and Interview with the Vampire, and that feels about right. And apparently there was a time when you could cast David Strathairn as Tom Cruise’s black sheep of a brother. The early nineties were weird.

Mitch McDeere (Cruise) works his way through Harvard Law by waiting tables. He is married to Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who is from a well-off family and gave up everything to be with him. This comes up a lot but never pays off. Every law firm wants to hire him, but despite Abby’s Stepford heebiejeebies, he takes a job at a small family outfit in Memphis. They assign him Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) as his mentor.

MV5BMTgxMjM5NDYwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkzMzk5MDE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Abby’s reservations do not go away, and then people start dying in the Caymans, which, in the nineties, was probably the most suspicious place for inconvenient people to die. To stir the pot unnecessarily arrives an FBI agent in the person of a bald Ed Harris. He wants Mitch to help the FBI take down the eponymous Firm, which launders money for the Chicago mob. But this interferes with Mitch’s honest lawyering! Disclosing those documents would violate lawyer-client confidentiality, which sounds less bad than laundering money for a crime family, but I’m not a lawyer, so I could be wrong.

Meanwhile Mitch’s mom lives in a trailer park and his brother is in prison and he hires Eddie Lomax (Gary Busey) to investigate things. Tammy (Holly Hunter) works for Lomax, because of course she does. And everyone is being hunted by a near-albino man.

Obviously this will proceed in the manner which will allow Tom Cruise to set his jaw the most righteously. And apparently everyone just had Mickey Finns lying around all the time back then, and few qualms about using them. Basically, most of the people in this movie play painfully close to type, which works because most of the plot in this movie is a series of painful clichés. I’d cut it slack for being the Casablanca of overwrought legal dramas, thereby exonerating it from the charge of banality, but it’s not that good even if you correct for that.

Director: Sydney Pollack
Rating: R
Length: 154 minutes
Score: 3/5

To be fair to this movie, I didn’t see all of it, couldn’t hear it at all, and I may have been napping while I got a mani-pedi for large swaths of it. That may be the reason it got a one rather than a nil out of five. I’m definitely sure I don’t want to know more about it.

A Chinese general raises a long-dead emperor for purposes I’m not aware of. This long-dead emperor is played by Jet Li because I guess Jet Li also must pay the bills. Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (not played by Rachel Weisz this time but instead Maria Bello) are trying to find Shangri-La, I think. They do, anyhow. They bring their son, named something other (Luke Ford), and, of course, John Hannah.

The son meets a girl, Lin (Isabella Leong), and eventually we find out that she is the immortal daughter of Michelle Yeoh, who guards the fountain of youth(?) in Shangri-La. Naturally Jet Li needs to find the fountain to be brought fully back to life and regain his ability to turn into a three-headed dragon. Which he does, and also raises the famous army of terra cotta soldiers to fight….something. It looks pretty cool, I won’t lie.

But Michelle Yeoh’s long-dead husband then also raises a zombie army to fight the terra cotta soldiers so we’re back at square one? But I think Rick’s kid finds out how to love or something, after a long series of mildly to moderately gross firearm/genital jokes.

Also, there are yetis, but they’re on our side.

Director: Rob Cohen
Rating: PG-13
Length: 112 minutes
Score: 1/5

MV5BNjM1M2Y3NWUtOWM1MS00YjUzLThiNmEtNjdiMTZmMzg3NTY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_UY268_CR1,0,182,268_AL_An ancestral curse gives Penelope (Christina Ricci) a pig face, and she therefore struggles to find love. Especially because, by the terms of the curse, it is assumed (particularly by her mother, played by the inimitable Catherine O’Hara) that she must marry a rich man. So she needs someone from old money, still rich, who doesn’t mind the pig face. Tricky.

People are bigger assholes than you’d expect, though. The deformity is pretty mild (especially on Christina Ricci, where it’s a bit…on the nose*), and she comes with a lot of money. You’d figure someone would be happy to cope, even if Penelope weren’t fairly interesting and nice, which, of course, she is. Also Richard E. Grant is her dad, which is a 10/10, dad-wise. But Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods) is cartoonishly appalled by her face, and he runs off to a reporter (Peter Dinklage) who’s been trying to get a glimpse of Penelope for years.  The usual shenanigans lead to a mistaken identity gambit in which Edward and the reporter hire Max (James McAvoy) to pretend to court Penelope.

It’s cute. It’s not careful, or especially clever, or particularly original, but it’s cute.

Stray observations:

  • Nigel Havers is in this movie.
  • Reese Witherspoon is also there, to teach Penelope a little sass.
  • Ostensibly, Penelope takes place in the States. But it is very obviously filmed in England, and nearly everyone in it is British.

Director: Mark Palansky
Rating: PG or so
Length: 104 minutes
Score: 3/5

* I am so, so sorry.

This resembles the John Buchan short story in very few particulars and is, I’m sure, worse than the Alfred Hitchcock movie I haven’t seen. Moreover, it is chock full of battle-of-the-sexes clichés and heavy on modern-audiences-don’t-know-what-an-oubliette-is exposition. It is, nonetheless, completely charming.

Summer, 1914. Richard Hannay (Rupert Penry-Jones) is a mining engineer back in London from South Africa, and he is full of ennui. Just when he’s about to chuck it in and head back, a man (Eddie Marsan) is killed in his flat, having left Hannay with a notebook in code and a lot of stuff about a German spy ring. Naturally, Hannay is suspected of the murder. He goes on the run, concluding that his best bet at not being hanged is to expose the spy ring. Trains, planes, automobiles, suffragettes…

MV5BMTYyMjcxNDExNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzE2MTIwMw@@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Victoria Sinclair (Lydia Leonard) falls in his way and is somehow not irritating. She tells him off, withholds information, climbs walls, and generally does everything that such a character usually does, and yet is charmingly spunky rather than hamfistedly shrill. Also they have very good chemistry, even when she calls him a “prehistoric boor” and he calls her an “unhinged hysteric.” We’ve seen it all a thousand times, but here it manages to be amusing instead of hackneyed and lame.

Oh, obviously there are spies, and Patrick Malahide is quietly sinister while David Haig flutters about the place. It’s not, you know, good, but it is deeply enjoyable.

Stray observations:

  • At the beginning Hannay is wearing a white necktie with a godawful white waistcoat and a ventless black jacket. No one has ever worn this combination on purpose, and certainly didn’t in 1914.
  • Patrick Kennedy as Victoria’s brother is so much less unbearable than he is as Carstone in Bleak House or McKechnie in Parade’s End.

Director: James Hawes
Rating: PG or so
Length: 90 minutes
Score: 3/5