Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 28, 2018


Dr. Strange 
Here are some mini-reviews of films that are less than twenty-five years old:

Deadly Whispers (1995). Director: Bill Norton. An investigation ensues when young Kathy Acton (Heather Tom) goes missing, and suspicion falls upon her father (Tony Danza). There are several good performances in this fact-inspired telefilm, especially from Pamela Reed as the missing girl's mother -- she is outstanding. **1/2.

Lonely Hearts (2006). Writer/Director: Todd Robinson. This is the third version of a true story already told in The Honeymoon Killers and Deep Crimson, only the focus in this version is on two homicide detectives (well-played by John Travolta and James Gandolfino, especially the former) with their own issues who track down the  exploiters and killers of lonely women, Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto) and Martha Beck (Salma Hayek). Leto and Hayek make a sexy and deadly duo of sociopaths,but making them share attention with the cops harms the movie. **1/2. .

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). Writer/director: Woody Allen. When Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) walks out on his ding-bat wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), and marries a hooker, his daughter develops her own marital problems with her writer-husband (Josh Brolin). Meanwhile an alleged psychic, Cristal (Pauline Collins), is telling Helena how everyone should live their lives (past and future). This is a very entertaining and very well-acted comedy-drama that just misses being really special. It's typical Woody Allen, with lots of infidelity and screwed-up relationships. One plot point, in which a character steals a dead man's manuscript and presents it to a publisher as his own, has been much better handled elsewhere. **1/2.

Margin Call (2011). Director: J. C. Chandor. In 2008, after the head of their risk department is fired, an investment firm discovers that they are heading for a financial disaster; arguments ensue as to exactly which path the company will take to survive. Top-notch acting from such players as Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany and Simon Baker, among others, helps keep this suspenseful and riveting, although some may be disappointed at the lack of highly dramatic fireworks. ***.

Honeymoon (2014). Director: Leigh Janiak. A couple (Harry Treadaway of Penny Dreadful and Rose Leslie) go to a cabin on their honeymoon and strange things begin to happen. Are one of both of them having a psychotic breakdown; is another couple nearby causing problems; or is there something odd going on in the woods? The movie is very well-acted and suspenseful but much too slow, and the wind-up borders on the ludicrous because it ultimately makes little sense. Too bad, because it holds the attention for quite awhile. **.

Home Sweet Hell (2015). Director: Anthony Burns. The acting is splendid in a very black comedy in which a man (Patrick Wilson) with a domineering and sociopathic wife (Katherine Heigl) is importuned by her to murder his avaricious and dishonest mistress (Jordana Brewster). Jim Belushi also scores as Wilson's friend and employee, but the movie becomes increasingly over the top and rather ridiculous. **1/2.

The Accountant (2016). Director: Gavin O'Connor. Two Treasury agents try to track down a mysterious CPA (Ben Affleck) with a strange family history who runs his own business but seems to have a number of dangerous sidelines. The picture has interesting twists and turns but ultimately it becomes a little silly. The acting is good, with J. K. Simmons a stand-out. This probably would have worked better as a novel. **1/2.

Dr. Strange (2016). Director: Scott Derrickson. Marvel's "Sorcerer Supreme" reinvented for the movies retains the idea of an arrogant surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) who searches for meaning after he loses the medical use of his hands. Tilda Swinton makes her mark as "The Ancient One" (given a sex-change from the comics), Cumberbatch [Star Trek Into Darkness] is okay, and there are some fine special effects, especially a sequence in which Manhattan is seemingly turned topsy turvey during a battle. The depictions of other-dimensions are interesting but there's nothing as bizarre as what artist Steve Ditko came up with in the comic book. The whole project is just kind of blah. Stan Lee's cutesy cameos in these things are getting tiresome. **1/2.

Logan (2017). Director: James Mangold. This tremendously over-rated movie takes a last look at the character of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) -- James Logan of the X-Men -- and his mentor, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), while adding a little girl, possibly Logan's daughter, who runs around beheading people with her claws. Meant to be moving, Logan is instead kind of silly and so restricted by dumb popular tastes that even a certified X-Men fan like myself found it stupid and tedious. The actors, however, are excellent and deserve a better vehicle. **.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2017). Director: David France. This documentary follows Victoria Cruz of the Anti-Violence Project as she tries to investigate the death of transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson. Was she murdered, or did she simply fall through the literal cracks in the pier near where her body was found? The movie has no real answers. It also looks at the life of transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, who became good friends with Marsha after their initial rivalry. There was criticism of the film because it was made by a white, gay, non-transgender (cisgender) man, but the real problem is that it borders on the superficial. One suspects that despite the very real challenges and discrimination Johnson and Rivera had to face, they had self-destructive streaks that only added to their problems. Johnson and Rivera get points for helping homeless transgender youths of color, but their work as LGBT political activists has been somewhat exaggerated. **1/2.

The Beguiled (2017), Director: Sofia Coppola. This remake of the near-classic Clint Eastwood film mixes Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, and Kirsten Dunst but comes up short. The simple truth is that while Farrell is arguably a better actor than Eastwood -- and he's quite good in the film -- Kidman is no match for Geraldine Page nor Dunst for Elizabeth Hartman from the original. Both of those actresses provided neurotic emotional fireworks that the new ladies lack. Still, it's an entertaining picture but not nearly as good as the earlier version. **1/2.

Batman and Harley Quinn (2017). Director: Sam Liu. Batman and Nightwing team up with reformed villainess Harley Quinn to stop a plot by her old friend Poison Ivy and the Floronic Man. This is the nadir of DC comics animated features, a disgracefully awful, self-indulgent mess that even includes jokes about flatulence. The worst Batman project ever, everyone involved in this should hang their heads in shame. Written by Bruce Timm and Jim Krieg. Why does DC keep foisting the irritating and obnoxious Harley Quinn on everyone? 1/2*.

Bad Match (2017). Written and directed by David Chirchirillo. An Internet stud hits the sheets with the wrong woman, who turns out to have a screw loose, acting like she's his fiancee when they've only had a couple of "dates." Before long he winds up fired from his job and accused of downloading kiddie porn onto his computer. Most men in this situation would stay far, far away from this "psycho bitch" who could easily accuse him of rape if he were ever alone with her, but our hero is so stupid that he goes to her apartment twice -- and worse. The film is not badly acted and has some suspense and a couple of twists, but it lacks the strong characterization and impact that might have made it more memorable. This is a good illustration of the old adage "it isn't what happens to us but how we react to it." **1/2.

Batman vs. Two-Face (2017), Director: Rick Morales. This is another animated film that is inspired by the sixties Batman TV show and which employs the voices of Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman). The dynamic duo's main adversary is Two-Face, who also works with Hugo Strange and at one point auctions off Batman's secret identity to such villains as Bookworm, Joker, Riddler, and Penguin. King Tut also appears. The film is "cute," but the highlight is the closing credits in which the entire cast dance the "Batusi." Aunt Harriet can really shake it! The well-animated picture is dedicated to the late Adam West.**1/2.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017). Director: Jon Watts. Marvel has rebooted the Spider-Man franchise by turning him back into a high school kid (in the comics he didn't have much to do with the Avengers until he was an adult). This makes the movie with its 15-year-old hero (an enthusiastic Tom Holland) seem even more like a Disney movie for kids. Scenes of the boy's high school life rapidly become tedious in this very overlong movie which is distinguished strictly by two scenes: a battle on the Staten Island ferry, and a climactic mid-air fight involving a plane and a crash landing at Coney Island. These sequences are fairly spectacular, but there aren't enough of them, and the film goes on for fifteen minutes after the climax! The new supposedly high-tech versions of Spider-foes The Vulture (Michael Keaton) and Shocker aren't half as striking as the originals. In this The Vulture is the father of Spider-Man's crush Liz, and is using stolen alien technology to make weapons. Jacob Batalon makes an impression as Spider-Man's friend, Ned. **.


angelman66 said...

Have only seen a couple of these, Bill, but agree with you totally about The Accountant (Ben was good, but the script was lacking) and Lonely Hearts (the cop subplot with Travolta got in the way of the Martha and Ray con game...and the Honeymoon Killers is a masterpiece anyway so why bother!)
- Chris

William said...

Good point! I will have to revisit "Honeymoon Killers."