Category: Movies


A Haunting in Venice


Alfred Hitchcock said that he did not make “mystery” movies because, unlike his preferred plotlines, whodunits rely more on logic than suspense. Hitchcock chose to feed information to his audience and then keep it on tenterhooks, anxious not about who the killer was, but on when or how the bad guy would strike.

Kenneth Branagh, starring in and directing his third adaptation of an Agatha Christie whodunit, seems to realize that Hitchcock was correct. A Haunting in Venice, in which Branagh once again plays the indomitable Hercule Poirot, swaps suspense for atmosphere. But oh, what atmosphere!

The plot: A cast of typical Christie characters are stranded in a cavernous Venetian palazzo during a storm and, following a séance, learn there is a murderer in their midst. Poirot must unmask the villain while simultaneously battling odd visions. Is he fighting an ordinary criminal or is the supernatural at work?

Not every plot element holds up to inspection, but Venice has never looked lovelier — or creepier. Release: 2023  Grade: B+


Would I watch it again? Eventually, yes.


© 2010-2024 (text only)



Bodies Bodies Bodies


I was ready to write off this movie after the first act. OK, I thought, it’s a whodunit like And Then There Were None meets Any-Slasher-Movie, Gen Z-style. Seven young people gather to party at a mansion during a hurricane, and they are picked off, one by one. Been there, done that — plus, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t stand the music on the soundtrack (yes, I am old).

But a funny thing happens at the end that redeems the whole movie. There is a brilliant twist that I didn’t see coming, and it was good enough that I’m upping my grade from, oh, C-minus to (see below). Kudos to three creative chicks: Kristen Roupenian and Sarah DeLappe, who wrote the film, and Halina Reijn, who directed. Release: 2022  Grade: B+


Would I watch it again?  Yes.


© 2010-2024 (text only)



The Invisible Man


This is what you don’t need when casting the titular character in The Invisible Man — Cary Grant or Clark Gable. Movie-star looks, it should be apparent, are irrelevant when you can’t be seen.

This is what you do need — A Voice.

Director James Whale hit the jackpot when he cast Claude Rains as doomed chemist Jack Griffin in this 1933 classic. Rains, whom we don’t actually see until the last scene of the film, had The Voice.

In normal-guy mode, Rains’s delivery is sonorous, commanding, and oh-so-British. But when poor Jack literally loses his looks, and then his mind … talk about putting the “mad” in mad scientist.

I still wake up in the middle of the night hearing his gleeful, piercing cackles.

OK, so the special effects are what you might expect from a 90-year-old movie (crude — but amusing). But overall, The Invisible Man has a winning combination: Rains’s incomparable voice acting and Whale, the king of campy horror, delivering fast-paced, entertaining set pieces.

Release: 1933  Grade: A-


Would I watch it again? Happily.


Whale, left, on the set of “The Invisible Man”






Eli Roth has been accused of making mean-spirited, unpleasant, misogynistic movies. I’m talking about films like Hostel, or The Green Inferno. That might or might not explain why Roth pivots toward more mainstream with his latest directorial effort, Thanksgiving.

Love or hate Roth’s previous films, they were at least interesting. Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is just another teen slasher flick. A masked killer picks off vapid kids, one by one. Gory kills abound. Sound familiar?  Yeah, too familiar. Release: 2023 Grade: C


Would I watch it again? No.




Evil Dead Rise


What I liked:

Actress Alyssa Sutherland has the perfect face to play a mother who is possessed by a demon. That face was not lost on the film’s marketing team; it’s what we see in most of the posters (see above). Sutherland has an excellent evil grin.

I liked the setting. The filmmakers ditch the obligatory cabin in the woods for a creepy, decrepit high-rise apartment building. Reminded me a bit of the old building in Rec.

What I disliked:

There is one movie trope that irritates me more than the “it was only a dream” cliché, and that is the monster who refuses to die. There is little suspense to be had when you can predict, with 99 percent certainty, that the “killed” demon is only resting.

Gore and a deafening soundtrack are no substitutes for genuine suspense — even in a horror movie.

I enjoy the Evil Dead franchise, movies and the TV series. But most of them have one element that is lacking in Evil Dead Rise: humor. Release: 2023 Grade: B-


Would I watch it again? Probably not.


© 2010-2024 (text only)




Thoughts on Big, Bad Barbie


Satire works best when it has at least a trace of subtlety. Barbie, the live-action cartoon from director Greta Gerwig, has all the subtlety of a fart in the face. Its message: Patriarchy is bad, patriarchy is everywhere. Patriarchy is responsible for all the (primarily female) misery in the world.

If only feminists always had the upper hand and men had more feminine natures, everything would be great!




Plot:  Margot Robbie’s “stereotypical Barbie” leaves her Mattel-created fantasy land and discovers the horrors of the real world, in which men dominate and women are downtrodden.

Barbie (and Ken) returns to fantasy land, having learned a valuable lesson. Everything is better when men are their “true” selves (i.e., more like women) and women assume their natural roles of running everything.






In the Barbies’ fantasy land, women drive pink convertibles (likely built by men) and live in dream homes (likely built by men) and idle away their days complimenting each other, dancing … and taking men for granted.

In the so-called real world (which is apparently 1965), construction workers slap women on the ass. Every Supreme Court justice is male. Every member of corporate boards of directors is male. The injustice of all this male domination culminates in a pity-party speech by Oscar-nominated America Ferrera (above). She wails about how difficult and unfair it is to be a modern-day woman.

I am sure there are coal miners, single dads, and military amputees — most of them men — who shed tears as they listen to Ferrera’s heart-felt speech.




Margot Robbie (not Oscar-nominated) and Ryan Gosling (Oscar-nominated) as Barbie and Ken:

They play plastic dolls in goofy, likeable manners. That’s it.

Somehow, I doubt that Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier are having their acting-chops legacies challenged.




Ugh. I had to pause this movie at the halfway point because it was so tedious. As if the insufferable musical numbers weren’t enough to put me off.

Here’s a novel thought: Maybe, just maybe, the world works best when men and women use their complementary traits to problem solve — rather than by glorifying one sex and demonizing the other.




I’m giving Barbie an average grade because, despite its propagandizing and politics, it is a handsome production, and it does have some witty dialogue. And although it’s too long, it’s certainly thought-provoking.

Release: 2023 Grade: C-




© 2010-2024 (text only)



Society of the Snow


There aren’t many true stories that inspire multiple first-rate movie and book adaptations. A 1972 plane crash in the Andes, in which just 16 of 45 passengers survived — including a grueling 72 days stuck on a mountain — is one of them. The book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors is superb. A 1993 movie, also titled Alive, is riveting. Now we can add this Spanish-language production, which might be the best rendition of all.

The harrowing flight disaster is remembered today, in part, because the group of mostly young men had to resort to cannibalism to survive. But what resonates most for me about this saga is not the cannibalism, but rather the heroism. Release: 2023  Grade: A


Would I watch it again?  Yes, but not right away.


© 2010-2024 (text only)



I finally got around to watching Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer. If you’d like to read a traditional review of the film, there are 484 of them on Rotten Tomatoes, and 442 on IMDB (probably some overlap between the two sites).

I’m not going to do a traditional review. Instead, here are some of my thoughts about the film:




Nolan’s biopic is ostensibly the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the enigmatic, scientific genius dubbed the “Father of the Atom Bomb.” But with apologies to Jordan Peele, I think Oppenheimer might have more accurately been titled Us. It’s about much more than a single man.

I was born long after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I’ve lived my entire life under the shadow of potential nuclear war, the specter of global annihilation. I presume that you have, too. It makes me wonder if the Japanese bombings fundamentally changed the psychology of the human race.

Did people born pre-1945 have a completely different outlook than those of us born later? If so, how does that manifest itself today? According to the movie, Oppenheimer himself was haunted by his creation. Shouldn’t we be, too?



I’m no scientist nor a historian, so I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of this movie. But as a dramatization, it is gripping and, for such a lengthy (three hours) production, moves at lightning speed.

It’s very talky. In that respect, it reminded me a bit of The West Wing. As in Aaron Sorkin’s TV series, I got lost trying to keep up with the incessant talk about subjects with which I was unfamiliar. In West Wing, that was often government policy; in Oppenheimer, it’s fission, fusion, isotopes — and the political climate of the 1940s- ‘50s. But there’s something mesmerizing about watching smart people discuss difficult subjects, whether we are well-versed in those subjects, or not.



There’s been a lot of praise for Robert Downey Jr., who as politician Lewis Strauss returns to “serious cinema.” From some Web-site articles, you might suspect that Downey had been kidnapped and held hostage in South America for the past ten years or so.

Uh, not really. He very happily grabbed lots of cash and turned his career into a series of comic-book movies.


Downey doing comic books




Oppenheimer makes me an even bigger fan of Cillian Murphy.

With his baby-face, I did not expect Murphy to completely own the role of a tough mobster in the TV show Peaky Blinders. But he excelled as Tommy Shelby. Ditto for Oppenheimer, in which Murphy nails the titular character. Baby face or not.


Baby-faced Tommy Shelby




I have never been a huge Nolan fan. I was underwhelmed by Inception and haven’t bothered to see his comic-book movies (about Batman). But this movie is clearly a triumph for him.

Nolan’s been criticized for making films that are “too much brain, too little heart.” I’m afraid that holds true in the final hour of this film, in which Oppenheimer comes under attack in the aftermath of the war and finds supporters in short supply. The last third of the movie should have been more powerful, like the two hours that precede it.


Release: 2023  Grade: A-


© 2010-2024 (text only)


The Last Voyage of the Demeter


If we must have yet another Dracula movie, it’s probably a good idea to have a change of venue. Rather than revisit castles, and London, and every other setting we’ve seen ad nauseam in previous movies, why not put Dracula aboard a cargo ship enroute to England? After all, that is the setting of chapter 7 in Bram Stoker’s novel. As for the captain and crew stuck on the ship with the vampire: talk about a captive audience.

Alas, The Last Voyage of the Demeter was just … so-so. You might expect that with such an inherently dangerous, eerie setting, the atmospheric possibilities for a horror movie would be delicious. Instead, the ship was kind of cool, but not that cool; Dracula himself was kind of cool, but not that cool; and the ominous sea was mostly missing in action.

I suspect the mediocrity of the film is due to the triumph of computerized effects over practical effects. Had Voyage been filmed in 1975 in a giant water tank on a soundstage, I think it would have been a better movie. Release: 2023  Grade: C+


Would I watch it again?  Not likely.


© 2010-2024 (text only)



The Killer


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: David Fincher is possibly our finest working movie director. Any filmmaker whose resume includes Se7en, Zodiac, and The Game — yes, The Game; you can have Fight Club, I’ll take The Game — is top-tier to me.

But Fincher’s latest, The Killer, is an underwhelming disappointment. We learn about the life of a perfectionist assassin-for-hire played by Michael Fassbender and … well, that’s about it. A hit goes awry for our protagonist, and he spends the rest of the movie tracking down the bad guys who retaliated for his screwup by assaulting his girlfriend.

The movie is what we expect from Fincher in that it looks great, and sounds great, and it is absorbing. But the most important element, the story, is no great shakes. Release: 2023  Grade: C+


Would I watch it again?  Possibly, but only to see if there is some hidden genius at work that I might have overlooked. (I doubt it.)




No Hard Feelings


In my misspent youth, I used to devour movies like this one as a matter of course — especially the good ones, like Risky Business starring a fresh-faced Tom Cruise.

But that was back in the sinful ‘80s and ‘90s.

I had a bad feeling about a 2023 sex comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence. I suspected it would be one of two things: watered down thanks to “MeToo,” and/or saturated with political correctness.

OK, so I was wrong. No Hard Feelings is actually a sweet, sometimes raunchy, occasionally laugh-out-loud good time. Lawrence plays a cash-strapped woman who is hired by a wealthy couple to “date” (whatever that means) their virginal son, who is seriously lacking in social skills.

Despite its 1980s-style, ballyhooed skinny-dip scene featuring a fully nude Lawrence, No Hard Feelings is less Porky’s, more John Hughes. Release: 2023  Grade: B+


Would I watch it again?  Maybe. Or possibly just the skinny-dip scene. 


© 2010-2024 (text only)




Housebound (2014)


Making a horror-comedy is a tricky proposition. If you manage to get the comedy right, good luck with the horror. Or vice versa.

New Zealand’s Housebound finds the perfect mix of laughs and chills — often at the same time. Morgana O’Reilly stars as Kylie, an irascible thief who, nabbed in the act and then confined to house arrest with her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), and her stepfather, notices odd and eerie phenomena in their spooky old house.

If you’ve seen even one ghost story, the first half of Housebound is a bit familiar. But once our heroine teams up with Miriam and with an eccentric security officer (Glen-Paul Waru) to investigate those bumps in the night — and a menacing neighbor — the pace picks up and Housebound becomes an absolute delight.


Miriam and Kylie have a strained relationship


There’s no place like home — especially when you’re wearing an ankle monitor


Top to bottom: Security officer Amos (Waru) sidelines as a ghost-hunter; intrepid investigators Kylie and Amos; Kylie’s smug social worker






[Rec] (2007)


Most found-footage horror movies have major credibility issues. No matter how dedicated the photographer is to capturing everything on video, when a killer is trying to stab you with a knife, or when a monster is chasing you through the woods, I’m sorry, but you are going to put down the damn camera.

But if you do that, we have no more movie.

[Rec], a 2007 horror-thriller from Spain, finds a clever way around those credibility problems (for the most part). The protagonists are a pair of TV journalists who, sensing they have stumbled onto a big story, decide they need to document everything on camera — no matter how horrific.



And horrific it is when our dynamic duo accompanies firefighters on a routine call to an apartment building that turns out to be anything but routine. There is a virus or infection on the loose — think fast-acting rabies — and it’s threatening everyone in the building. The infected immediately turn into, you guessed it, bloodthirsty monsters.

Adding to the problem: City authorities are aware of the situation and have quarantined everyone, the infected and uninfected, inside. So, yeah, no escape.

What follows is a frantic hour of suspense and horror that culminates in a truly nightmarish finale.


This film was so successful that it inspired a U.S. remake, Quarantine, and three Spanish sequels.



© 2010-2024 (text only)



Fair Play


Thinking about Oliver Stone’s masterful Wall Street (1987), it seems to me there were probably disparate audiences for his drama. Some viewers admired Gordon Gekko (“Greed is good!”), and others were horrified by the fate of poor Bud Fox, who wound up going to prison.

Fair Play, a drama set in the world of finance, targets the same two demos: people who salivate at the chauffeured limos and fancy meals available to Wall Street hotshots, and those who recoil from the human tradeoffs required to make it big in that profession. 

Fair Play doesn’t shy away from those moral questions, but it adds a new wrinkle: gender politics. When analyst Emily gets a big promotion that her lover/coworker thought was his, their relationship is put to the test. To put it mildly. Should Emily “stand by her man,” or should she subscribe to the feminist mantra, “you can (and should) have it all, baby”?  Release: 2023  Grade: B


Would I watch it again?  Probably not. The movie is well made and provocative, but its unlikable leads and downer resolution make it a once-is-enough-for-me, thank you.




Up the Down Staircase


Within a month of each other in 1967, two high-school-themed movies opened in theaters. The films were To Sir, With Love, and Up the Down Staircase. Chances are, you recall the movie with a big star (Sidney Poitier) and a titular song that topped the charts. The other movie might or might not be familiar.

I prefer Up the Down Staircase, starring Sandy Dennis as a teacher at an inner-city school who must choose between a job at a cushy, wealthy school, or the unceasing challenges of life at Calvin Coolidge High School.

Sir and Staircase both tug at the heartstrings, and they deal with similar themes. But to me the latter film is more realistic, and far less sappy. Release: 1967  Grade: A-


Would I watch it again?  I just did.




The Goldsmith


What I loved about 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was its tone of demented glee. When young people encountered a crazed family in Texas, we didn’t need (or want) “backstory” explaining the lunatics’ twisted history. We already know there are crazies in the world. Just bring on the madness, please. Chain Saw did just that.

The Goldsmith, another young-people-versus-loonies story, bores us with action-halting exposition in which we learn why the baddies are so bad. Also, it doesn’t help that the protagonists, a trio of thieves out to rob an elderly couple, are so unpleasant. When the movie degenerates into all-out body horror, I didn’t care what happened to anyone.

Goldsmith, from Italy, is a lot like its American cousin, Don’t Breathe. In both movies, what begins as a suspenseful break-in story morphs into something else entirely — but not in a good way.  Release: 2022  Grade: C-


Would I watch it again?  No.


© 2010-2024 (text only)