Archives for posts with tag: 3 out of 5

To be honest, I enjoyed the hell out of this. Does that mean it’s any good? Yes and no. Look, it’s not my fault if you expected this to be either the happy-go-lucky nonsense of the Brendan Fraser original or an actual proper film. Would either option have been better? Probably.

You know the plot. An Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), nearly manages to summon Ultimate Evil into the world, but she’s stopped just in time, mummified alive, and buried in the desert. Some time later, an unscrupulous antiquities looter, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise), his dimwitted sidekick (Nick from “New Girl”), and a beautiful archaeologist, Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), find the mummy, free the mummy, and must defeat the mummy. Since this one is set in the present, there’s more ISIS and science-adjacent goofiness. Neither of these is an improvement.

MV5BMjM5NzM5NTgxN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDEyNTk4MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Among the film’s strengths are its energy, Cruise’s commitment, and, occasionally, Nick from “New Girl”‘s comedic chops. One gets the impression that every pitch meeting Cruise attends now ends with him saying, “Sure, but turn it up to eleven.” Mummy not enough for you? Crusader zombies! Tom Cruise has been on screen for seven whole minutes? Drop a missile on him! Archaeologists in films aren’t wifty enough already? Add Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) into the mix! And Edward Hyde (Russell Crowe with less make-up)!

So, yeah, it’s not half-assed. But it’s not really something worth whole-assing. It doesn’t add anything except unnecessary moralizing and special effects. It’s not quite silly enough–one feels the lack of John Hannah keenly. Boutella, one feels, is wasted in her rôle. We all know she’s athletic and beautiful, but Ahmanet could have slightly more personality. And whatever, Jenny. I get that we don’t want to have Evelyn’s cutesy incompetence, but you’re a cipher. And no woman archaeologist wears her hair down in the field.

Everyone told me this was awful, and it wasn’t awful. It was mindless and full of explosions, which is what I expected and wanted. Get a great big bag of popcorn.

Director: Alex Kurtzman
Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes
Score: 3/5

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

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

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

“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony.” So begins Rafael Sabatini’s best-known (though not best) novel, Scaramouche. It is the tale of the young lawyer André-Louis Moreau in the early days of France’s (first) revolution, who inadvertently becomes, in order: a firebrand, an actor, and a fencing-master-cum-politician. It is a rollicking tale told with verve and humor.

mv5bmtyxody4mzczov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmjayotyymje-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_This movie is great, and when I first saw it at the age of ten or so at fencing camp, I loved it. Tons of swashbuckling, Mel Ferrer at his most gloriously supercilious, French revolutionary nonsense, Eleanor Parker….

Unfortunately, as with Howl’s Moving Castle, this movie is only great if you have either never read the book or are capable of keeping the book and the movie in different compartments in your brain. It’s not so much that Stewart Granger is a bad André-Louis Moreau as that the script makes no attempt to make him be any kind of André-Louis Moreau. To be sure, it would be bad casting regardless, but he was all right as Rudolf Rassendyll in The Prisoner of Zenda. (Or at least the most abominable miscasting in that film was James Mason as the villainous Rupert of Hentzau.)

In turning André into a middle-aged womanizer, the film misses most of the point of him. It is the touching naïveté underlying the pose of ironic detachment that is his charm, not the pose itself. The real André is both too high-minded and too incompetent to get himself involved in a love triangle, even if presented with the temptations of Eleanor Parker and Janet Leigh, which are many and mighty. The politics–and thus André’s principles–get short shrift as well, but, to be fair, they are complicated, and this movie is not the first to shirk their involvements.

So…a 3 for nostalgia’s sake, and also: who could play André, then or now?

Director: George Sidney
Rating: tame
Length: 115 minutes
Score: 3/5

Jack Reacher is not very good. It’s competent, and sometimes even pleasing. But it half-asses everything. There’s weird family drama, there’s strange unexplained personal mystery, there’s Werner Herzog. Not one of those things goes anywhere.

Because he is a shadowy ex-military type who decides to go in for his own personal brand of morality or justice, Reacher (Cruise, obviously), has no possessions. So he must wash his shirt while speaking to Helen (Rosamund Pike), and doesn’t have another one to wear. So he’s shirtless. She is the DA. That is a thing that happens.

And then Reacher has to be incognito, briefly, so he wears a Pittsburgh Pirates cap. The audience has just enough time to be put off that Tom Cruise is wearing anything other than a Red Sox or Yankees cap before, with a self-aware smile, he hands it to the man next to him. It’s a very strange meta moment.

That’s what I remember about this movie. So, as always, if you like watching Tom Cruise do Tom Cruise things, this is a reasonable installment.

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Rating: PG-13
Length: 130 minutes
Score: 3/5

If you were to tell me that a movie in which Ricky Gervais learned to be a better person both existed and was not terrible, I would laugh in your face. But apparently I am not always right.

Frank (Greg Kinnear) is cheating on his wife, Gwen (Téa Leoni), but then gets hit by a bus and killed. Dr. Pincus (Gervais) is a dentist, and he is awful. Being a dentist insulates him from human contact, because people hate dentists and dentists get to stuff cotton in people’s mouths when people become irritating. Dr. Pincus has to go into the hospital for an operation, and a comically young Aaron Tveit as the anaesthesiologist (which is a completely awful word but apparently the correct one for status reasons) manages to kill him for seven minutes.

Now Pincus can see a bunch of dead people, and they want his help. Frank in particular wants help in keeping Gwen from marrying again. Naturally, Pincus has no desire to help anyone at all, at least until he meets Gwen.

The rest of the film is largely predictable, if appealing. It is not one of cinema’s great triumphs, but it manages to harness Gervais’s bedrock ghastliness while also having you root for him. Which, I think we can all agree, is a major achievement.

Stray observations:

  • Gwen works at the Met, and apparently the Met has big, open, brightly-lit storerooms full of random, picturesque antiquities where anyone can go and poke around. And mummies just lie around for passing dentists to inspect.
  • Pincus’s dental colleague, Dr. Prashar (Aasif Mandvi) is exactly the kind of generous eye-roller I love.

Director: David Koepp
Rating: PG-13
Length: 102 minutes
Score: 3/5

This movie could have been substantially worse. But let me run a few things by you:

  1. Mystique is angry at everyone and lectures people about mutantdom or something (and basically acts a lot like Katniss Everdeen, which isn’t more attractive if you’re blue and naked).
  2. Erik Lensherr needs to be reminded that humanity is probably worth saving, Nazis and other bigots notwithstanding. But first people are awful and somebody dies.
  3. Somebody gets into Charles’s head, and it’s a problem.
  4. Some long-latent cosmic power is defeated with suspicious ease by an unlikely bunch of mutants who realize at the last moment that they need to work as a team.

Does that sound like…every X-Men movie?

Everyone’s phoning it in at this point, with the exception of Rose Byrne’s Moira McTaggart, who remains the only person in these movies with any sort of consistent and rational appeal. This is the point of Moira, of course. Jennifer Lawrence is just recycling her pouting noxiousness, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are visibly bored (which is understandable), and Oscar Isaac is unrecognizably painted blue, so you can’t really tell if he’s acting. The kids have very little to do–there are too many characters to bother caring about them, particularly when Psylocke (Olivia Munn) is given practically no dialogue (or clothing!). Conversely it’s probably a relief that Jubilee (Lana Condor) is barely there.

The fights are fine; the effects are fine; the Egyptian stuff is Mummy levels of insane nonsense, but who really cares.

Hmm. Maybe I just need to stop watching superhero movies until they seem less samey and dumb. Except Ragnarok: Once Thor with Feeling. I am going to see that a hundred times.

Stray observations:

  • Apparently Ally Sheedy has a small part. I didn’t notice.
  • “I’m blue! I’m Kurt!” Nightcrawler is always going to be the most charming.
  • Young Scott is not handsome enough.

Director: Bryan Singer
Rating: PG-13
Length: 144 minutes
Score: 3/5

Technically, this is a rewatch, but I read the book recently, and I wasn’t really paying too much attention on the first watch.

And…you can’t get away from it: Anne Hathaway’s British accent is awful. Sometimes it’s not there, sometimes it’s normal posh, sometimes it’s middle school drama Cockney, and sometimes it swings wildly Yorkshire (its target), usually on the word “money.” It’s not clear why this happens, as she successfully fakes British accents in both Becoming Jane and Les Misérables, but…it is intrusively dire. And in a film that has Jodie Whittaker in the cast! She’s from Yorkshire!

In the shadow of that accent, Emma Morley (Hathaway) and Dexter Mayhew (Jim Sturgess) run into each other in vignettes on most every July 15th from 1988 to 2006. In the first, they are graduating from the University of Edinburgh, and almost have an amorous interlude. This is interesting, of course, because Emma is northern and pinko, and Dexter is posh and probably wouldn’t actually spit on Margaret Thatcher. Naturally they become best friends but not romantically involved, because Emma has a crushing lack of self-esteem and Dexter is more or less a shallow cad. We check in on them as Dexter wanders about India and Europe finding himself while Emma slaves in a miserable Mexican restaurant, as they go on holiday to the seaside together (but Rules against Romance), as Dexter becomes an increasingly unpleasant television presenter and Emma is increasingly unpleasant about it, as Dexter marries rich and lovely Sylvie (Romola Garai) and Emma dates failed comic Ian (Rafe Spall), and…well, I think you know where this is going.

It’s really rather well done. Horrible clothes are worn, and dreadful hairstyles abound. The 90s were a sartorial catastrophe, in case you didn’t remember, and Emma’s Doc Martens and round glasses are spot-on for the self-serious anti-nuke would-be writer she is at 22. Dexter is plausibly over-smooth and fashion-victim-y in an hilarious series of jerkier and jerkier haircuts. He becomes really unlikeable. Which is the point.

Aside from the accent, it’s well-acted: Rafe Spall’s Ian is infuriatingly but touchingly useless; Romola Garai’s Sylvie is icily beautiful and deeply humorless. Patricia Clarkson is of course lovely and natural as Dexter’s mother; Tom Mison is disappointingly scummy for fans of “Sleepy Hollow.”

The conceit is slightly cheesy, and the book certainly introduces more shades of grey, but this is an above-competent adaptation, and I don’t understand why people hate Anne Hathaway so much. Sure, the accent is bad, but I’ve heard worse, and she’s otherwise charming.

Director: Lone Scherfig
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes
Score: 3/5