Here in Colorado the seasons are changing. Fall has arrived and the aspens are turning gold and orange. The cool weather is perfect for outdoor hikes and picnics, and when the sun goes down you might find yourself in the mood for a spooky movie. Here are some suggestions for your Halloween watch list.
A Quiet Place 2018 drama horror
A Quiet Place is a post-apocalyptic thriller co-written, directed, and starring John Krasinski with his real-life wife, Emily Blunt. The couple (Eve and Lee Abbott) and their three kids (not-real life) are living in rural isolation and silence to avoid a pack of mysterious, seemingly indestructible, creatures that are blind and hunt by sound. The monsters are vicious killers. In the opening scene the family is “shopping” in a deserted drug store. In fact, the whole town is deserted. We watch them quietly go about the store, barefooted and close mouthed. They use sign language to communicate. A sense of doom hangs in the air and the suspense tightens – When will something happen? No spoilers, but when the monster strikes it is shockingly fast and brutal. I was riveted to the screen.
Not only the horror aspect was good, but the dynamic between the family members is also very well done and gives the film a heart. I liked these simple characters and truly felt that this is a family that loves each other. The family home is not specified, but judging from the large corn fields and grain silos, I have to guess somewhere in the Midwest. The Abbotts do a heroic job of surviving a catastrophe – putting food on the table, home schooling the kids, and all the mundane chores of day-to-day life in the face of constant danger. We are in awe of their resourcefulness and bravery. Then it all goes terribly wrong – how will our characters survive?
No spoilers, but I will add that John Krasinski has come a long way from quarreling with Rainn Wilson over paper clips and action figures (dolls). I suggest you put this movie on your Halloween list. It’s the best monster movie I have seen in years.
A Star is Born 2018 drama, music, romance
Bradley Cooper makes his director debut and co-wrote the screenplay as well. He is a well-known A-list actor. Lady Gaga, in her first starring role in a major film, was a bit of a wildcard, but she nailed it and was Oscar nominated for best actress for her performance. I had only seen Lady Gaga perform once -at a Superbowl half time show – which is not the same as this work. Can I refer to her as “LG” for short?
Much to my surprise, my wife and I enjoyed the 2018 A Star Is Born. It was even better than the hype. It is so captivating and emotionally powerful with some great musical numbers. The film is perfectly paced and wastes no time introducing the two stars and getting a romance going. Bradley Cooper plays Jackson Maine, a 40-something rock star whose music seems like country or folk interspersed with dynamic rock guitar riffs. His music style reminded me of the Black Keys; one of my favorite groups. Maine is a brooding artist type with an alcohol and drug problem. He is also losing his hearing, which adds to his isolation and despair.
One night, after a concert, Maine is looking for a place to continue drinking and ends up at a drag bar where he sees Ally (LG) perform “La vie en rose.” She really belts it out of the park and brings the audience to their feet. “La vie en rose” is about the bliss and blindness of love, which foreshadows what is to come. They make eye contact and Jackson is smitten. He persuades Ally to hop in his limo, and off they go for an all-nighter of talking and singing. Jackson says to Ally, “Can I tell you a secret? You might be a songwriter.” He is in love, but she is a bit wary and not a typical groupie.
I was much impressed with LG’s performance as an actress. There is not a flat or a false note in her dramatic scenes. Just freshness and authenticity. She was outstanding in the musical scenes, but that is not too surprising. I suppose that the character of Ally is not too far from LG herself. Both Cooper and Gaga brilliantly portray artists because, well, they are artists. The reason Star Is Born gets remade over and over again is very obvious: it is the archetypal vehicle for a Diva. LG with her amazing singing voice, great acting and dancing skills make her the most powerful triple threat in the biz. No one today really compares to her. This is not to dismiss previous actress in the same role. Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand or Janet Gaynor, while in their prime, would most likely receive the same praise.
I won’t say much about the plot of this 2018 version – there already exists an immense amount of film commentary about all four A Star is Born versions (1937, 1954, 1976, 2018). I approached the movie naïvely and enjoyed it all the more. Through some miracle, I didn’t even know the ending. I don’t want to deny you the same pleasure. I highly recommend A Star Is Born – and turn up the volume for the music.
The Wheeler Dealers 1963 romantic comedy
Finally out on DVD, this old fashioned comedy follows the exploits of Henry Tyroon (James Garner), a business man with the proverbial “Midas Touch”. The opening scene establishes the storyline: Tyroon, a Texas oilman, arrives to witness a hilariously fake well test – it is a dry hole; his fourth in a row. His accountant is at the well test (never happens in real life) and he tells Tyroon to hit up his investors for more money to cover the incoming wave of debts (happens in real life all the time). Tyroon decides to travel to NYC and meet with investors. He starts wheeling and dealing, and dropping pearls of financial wisdom in his first cab ride. He tells the cabbie, "I'm interested in the economics of any situation.” Tyroon offers to buy the cab, with driver service, for his exclusive use in NYC, and then sell it back at a loss upon the conclusion of his business trip. The cabbie questions the logic of the deal, and Tyroon explains, “Only the tax man losses in a Henry Tyroon deal.”
Tyroon begins zipping around the Big Apple in his cab and hustling money. He gets a quick $300,000 from a trio of old business partners then tries his luck at a Wall Street brokerage house where he hustles the senior partner, Mr. Bear (Jim Backus). In a previous scene the audience discovers that the broker house is financially strapped and are trying to “pump and dump” some doggy, loser stocks in their portfolio. One of the worthless stocks, Universal Widgets, is assigned to broker, Molly Thatcher (Lee Remick). Tyroon starts off explaining the oil depletion allowance, but gets cut off when Backus starts hustling the hustler with an investment in Universal Widgets. Molly is summoned to educate Tyroon on Widgets. Tyroon falls for Molly and she is the blue eyes, blue chip stock that he really wants.
The movie shifts gears into the old Hollywood formula: boy meets girl, boy chases girl, does boy get girl? Along the way, Tyroon explains his business philosophy to Molly, “All the fun is in the wheeling and the dealing. Money's just a way of keeping score." James Garner created a host of great screen characters. Henry J. Tyroon is one of the best; right up there with Sheriff Jason McCullough and Commander Madison and Jim Rockford.
This is one of the better "Technicolor” comedies from the 60's. James Garner was at the top of his game and his love interest, Lee Remick is perfect in an intelligent role for a beautiful woman. The supporting cast were some of the 1960s funniest. Louis Nye, "the boss wrangler of the Henry Tyroon’s modern art collection", and John Astin, the manic SEC investigator, both have amusing scenes, and we get to learn about widgets along the way.
Check out more James Garner film reviews in the 'Movie Star of the Month' category
How the West was Won 1962 drama action
All those Hollywood legends in one exciting film. This movie tells a thrilling, colorful American history lesson -- from the 1840s, when the frontier was still the Ohio River Valley, to about 1885 - not so long a time, but long enough for three generations. The territory of the Western expansion depicted in the film is massive; stretching from the 85th Meridian to Meridian 125 (San Francisco). The storytelling is done with five distinct episodes, but there is a common thread. The narrative is formed around one family, the Prescott's, who set out on a journey West in 1839, with one of more Prescott in each episode. The movie gets off to a slow start with some corny dialogue and singing, but picks up steam when mountain man, Jimmy Stewart, arrives with a canoe full of beaver hides. When the film is good, it’s very good: a violent battle with river pirates, riding a flimsy log raft in class 4 rapids, Cheyenne attack on a wagon train, buffalo stampede and train robbery, each of them are good enough to be a highlight in separate movies. Nothing looks fake – the horses are magnificent and the buffalo herd is thundering and massive. Made decades before CGI, the action scenes will be hard for any Western fan to dislike. The Civil War was rather glossed over, and is the weakest link of the movie. The war scenes were thankfully short, and I was pleased to get back to the western expansion.
Many reviewers have noted the excellent soundtrack. I like the fun song and dance numbers which really showcased the amazing talent of Debbie Reynolds, playing the effervescent Lilith Prescott. If any of the stars could be said to be THE star of the film it would have to be Debbie Reynolds’ and it really is her character’s story. She's in the film almost throughout including the final chapter where, as a widow, she goes to live with her nephew George Peppard and his family in Arizona. The film is not without humor. In the funniest scene, Lilith Prescott is being wooed by the wagon train master, Roger Morgan. He gives a textbook example of how not to propose marriage; “Why with hips like yours, having children would be as easy as rolling off a log”. Lilith is shocked at being sized up like livestock, and quips a witty reply in return with a definitive, “no thanks.” Besides she already had taken a fancy to Cleve, a charming rogue played by Gregory Peck.
The movie has enough visual impact to please a modern audience, as well as many moving and powerful scenes. The film lingers in my mind, in a good way. Wide-screen DVD copies are now finally up to high standards, and worth the modest price. Just be sure to pick up the Special Edition Blu-ray release. The Blu-ray upgrade is a vast improvement over the older VHS and DVDs. The division into Cinerama three panels is gone and the surround sound is very impressive.
Is HWWW the American Western apotheosis? Some movie reviewers think so. I hesitate to agree because I have not seen all the Western movies. The newfangled Cinerama wide-screen plus the All-Star cast and ambitious scope certainly lifts HWWW into the top ranks of the old school Westerns made in the now extinct Hollywood Studio system and Hays Code era. Another slant on vintage Westerns is offered by “Deadwood” writer, David Milch, “I always thought they [Westerns] had more to do with what the Hays Office would allow than with what really happened on the American frontier. The more I came to read about the West, the more I realized how little what we called Westerns had to do with the West and how much they had to do with the vision of European Jews in the movie business who made a fortune selling a sanitized idea of American history back to America.”
All the glowing reviews of HWWW invariably end with the phrase, “HWWW really is a case of they don't make them like they used to.” I have to agree because by the end of the 1960’s the Hollywood studio system collapsed and the Hays Code was torpedoed by the US Supreme Court. The movie industry environment that birthed HWWW is long gone. So here we are in the 2020’s and the Hays Code has been replaced with the equally draconian Woke-PC Code. Western movies are still being made, but much fewer in number and with a due respect for feelings (wo, wo, wo feeeeeelings). HWWW is an unapologetic celebration of Western expansionism and, true to its production date, is unashamedly pro-White, as such; the film would never get made today. That said, I steadfastly maintain there exists common ground between HWWW and the most modern Western movie: A good man with a gun will solve the horrors and inequities plaguing his fellow citizens, and certain positive values will inevitably triumph. That is the American Way of the almighty Box Office.
Nice Guys 2016 crime comedy action
If you are looking for a buddy-bromance cop flick featuring two A-list actors, this is not the one. In the first place Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) are not police officers; instead, both are bottom-of-the-barrel private detectives. And the friendship theme does not exist. In fact early in the movie, Healy pounds the crap out of March and breaks his arm. So thankfully, I did not have to hit the bromance warning button (stop DVD). I made it all the way to the credits. Their co-worker relationship is more contractual and instrumental in the common pursuit of a missing person, a young girl named Amelia.
There is no doubt that Gosling is a perfect fit for the role of Holland March, a low IQ, silly, fool of a boy-man with a three day beard stubble, dull eyes, coffin nail hanging out the corner of mouth and glass of whiskey in his hand. In an early scene he goes clandestine to break into a bar to recover evidence, but a simple pane of glass defeats him. March quickly ends up in the emergency room with a slit wrist, without the important clue. Other good March scenes – showing off for a girl, he falls off a balcony and rolls down a steep hill into the woods (now that’s a good stunt man, not Gosling). In the woods March finds a dead man. He and Healy, for some reason, decide to “hide” the body. They chunk the corpse over a privacy fence into the neighbor’s yard, where it crashes onto a table of a wedding reception. Much yelling and screaming ensue (best laugh in movie?). Next March falls asleep behind the wheel and wreaks his car. He is unharmed in the wreck. I just wish he had to suffer and sacrifice even more, because I’m sadistic when it comes to idiot characters like March (Gosling).
To add some depth and gravitas to the movie, an evil conspiracy is mixed up with the missing person case. I have a sharp memory when it comes to conspiracy theories but even though I watched the flick last night I can’t say I recall the plot very much: Misty Mountains…. porn star, car crash. A Hollywood party… topless mermaids in pool. Kim Basinger was….. AG? Justice Dept. and Amelia’s mom. Something, something, catalytic converters. A carjacking, something, gun fight. Amelia killed. I think.
Funeral in Berlin 1966 thriller, espionage
This film is the coolest Cold War thriller since The Third Man. The use of the real Cold War era Berlin and the performance of Caine and Oskar Homolka (as Soviet Colonel Stok) power this film as the plot gets rather complex, but rewards close attention. The film is at its best when Harry leaves the comfortable and wealthy West Berlin and enters the lion’s den of the hard core commies in East Berlin. The change in atmosphere is shocking and was the real deal – the cold reception by the border guards, menacing guard towers, and the run-down buildings still showing the wounds of the horrific 1945 Battle of Berlin. A friend was a teenage army brat in Germany in the 60’s and saw with her own eyes a dead body hanging in the barbed wire of the wall. The victim was trying to escape East Berlin and the guards machine gunned him. They left the body hanging in the wire to send a grim message to others that dreamed of escaping East Berlin.
Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) has been labeled the anti-Bond; he wears a cheap rain coat instead of a tux, drives no fancy cars – in fact has no car at all, nor is he armed with technological gimmicks. What he has is sharp wits, iron nerves and knows how to handle a wheel gun. Berlin was a vortex of Cold War tensions with the British, Americans, Israelis, Russians, and East Germans all pursuing different goals. Palmer is ordered to Berlin to manage a high value Russian defection, but in order to stay alive he must figure out who's triple crossing all the double crossers in the murky, dangerous espionage underground. This movie is sharp, intelligent, and unsentimental. It ranks with the very best spy movies ever made, and is now available on DVD. What are you waiting for?
(Harry in East Berlin) Stok: Do you play chess? Harry: I prefer a game with a better chance of cheating.
(Harry in London meeting with MI5 boss) Harry: I didn’t pick her (Samantha) up; she picked me up. Ross: Well, you’d have to say that to get it on expenses.
Coherence 2013 drama mystery sci-fi fantasy
Shot in only five days with an unknown, yet talented ensemble cast and mostly improvised scenes and dialogue, Coherence is a master example of what can be achieved with a modest budget, some good luck and plenty of inventiveness. It also has one of my very favorite sci-fi storylines: Parallel worlds or universe. The plot is simple: four couples are having a nice dinner party, and we, the audience, are like a fly on wall, watching their evening and wondering what the hell is going on. Coherence is a downward spiral of a movie where what appears is not exactly what it seems.
The movie is set in modern day California on the night that Miller’s Comet is visible from Earth, streaking across the dark sky with a long, fiery tail. There is no danger of the comet colliding with earth; the orbit is a safe distance away. But we soon learn the celestial event is not without strange affects, i.e. power and phone outages and cell phones self-destructing. So in a way, this movie is about the ancient practice of Astrology which is based on the belief that the position of the planets, moon, comets and stars in the sky can directly influence human life. If one has the slightest belief in Astrology, it is easy to suspend disbelief and just go with flow on this movie.
Stop reading here, if you are paranoid about mild spoilers.
So how does the comet influence people on earth, and what is “Coherence”? Simply put – the comet combines the parallel worlds; thereby, disrupting the logic and consistency of the real, or natural, world our eight main characters inhabit. People can change worlds simply by going outdoors to see the comet. Actually the movie should be titled, “Loss of Coherence”. The guests at the dinner party encounter slightly different versions of themselves. Gradually they take notice of the little things that are off kilter, and that leads to confusion, fear, panic, and even violence by the same peaceful, sane people who gathered for a polite dinner party. This behavior would have unthinkable only a few hours earlier, but remember the old saw that goes something like this: There is only a thin, delicate veneer separating the civilized from the barbaric. This movie is a good reminder how just the right amount of pressure can completely destroy that fragile veneer we take for granted.
The movie is a real Mind Bender and I have read negative reviews that complain about not keeping track of the characters. Well, that’s kinda the point here, and what makes it a fun movie. Here’s a few tips – let’s call the first house, prime, and the people in it are Em-prime, Hugh-prime, Kevin-prime and so forth. Keep your eyes on Em-prime as she is the only one of the cast the camera faithfully follows and it is really her story. Early in the film when Hugh-prime and Amir-prime leave the house, it is Hugh-2 and Amir-2 that returns, and that holds true for everybody that leaves the house, with the exception of Em-prime.
Sci-Fi movies these days tend to have so many similarities, that when a movie like this comes along, it’s refreshing to see something new. 'Coherence' is psychological science-fiction for a thinking person and it holds up much better than most big budget, pretentious science-fiction franchises. The movie is especially recommended for those who enjoy independent, minimalistic films.
The Cheap Detective 1978 crime comedy mystery
The lovely ladies of The Cheap Detective posing with Peter Falk: Clockwise beginning with Ann-Margaret (in fur coat), Marsha Mason, Stockard Channing, Louise Fletcher, Madeline Kahn, and Eileen Brennan. Gotta love those cool hats.
Not since the 1963 It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World had so many funny people gathered together for one film. Even mostly serious actors like Fernando Lamas, Louise Fletcher and Ann-Margaret seem to be having a ball just hamming it up. Peter Falk has a field day as Lou Peckinpaugh spoofing three of Humphrey Bogart’s most famous and beloved characters: Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon (1941); Rick Blaine from Casablanca (1942) and Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep (1946). My favorite character, aside from Falk, is Eileen Brennan as Betty DeBoop doing an outstanding spoof of Lauren Bacall’s lounge singer, Marie “Slim” Browning from To Have and Have Not (1944). Set in 1940 San Francisco, with a delightful jumble of detectives, dames, Nazis, documents and a treasure hunt, you can't describe any kind of plot. The whole thing is so much wonderful nonsense. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. The other spoofs of the old school detective-mystery genre (Murder by Death and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid) are not near as funny as The Cheap Detective, making it easily the best of the three satires.
I suggest you watch the original Bogart movies, mentioned above, to better understand the in-jokes. I lost count how many times I have watched The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, and it is great fun introducing these classic films to film-noir rookies. If you are a fan of the Bogie movies which it satirizes, this is definitely a must-see. It is you, for whom this movie was written in the first place.
Magic in the Moonlight 2014 romance drama
The concept actually isn't bad. Stanley, the magician, is brought in to prove that Sophie is faking that she has psychic powers. She's so good at what she does, she ends up convincing him, and he falls in love with her. Sophie too ends up falling for him. It should have been a good and funny movie, but it was ruined by the lack of chemistry between the two stars – Emma Stone (Sophie) and Colin Firth (Stanley). The nearly thirty year age difference did not help. What could have been a charming romantic period piece/comedy turned bland, and totally devoid of humor. The story would make better sense had Stanley (Firth) wooed Sophie’s mother Mrs. Baker (played by Marcia Gay Harden). At least they are the same age, and Harden could have reprised Verna, her sexy femme fatale character from Miller’s Crossing. But leave it to Woodie to rob the cradle instead.
I enjoyed parts of the film. As we would expect from a Woody Allen period film, the Roaring 1920’s atmosphere is fun and well detailed. The picture is beautiful to look at. Skillfully shot on the French Riviera, the outdoor scenes arise as if from a dream; lush in beauty, serenity and luxury. Make no mistake, the upper class people know how to party and ENJOY their money. But the epic miscast of the two main stars brings the whole film crashing into the ground. Emma Stone, who I enjoyed watching in her two Zombieland movies, looks and acts like a little girl in this movie. Sophie travels around with her protective mother, wears an unflattering sack dress or childish sailor suit, and is made up to appear about 13 years old, far younger than her actual age (26). Stone never connects to her character. How could she?
No modern actor can play a cocky and arrogant English snob better than Colin Firth. And his act is best enjoyed when paired with comical situations, as in the excellent 2012 film Gambit, in which he was fantastically funny. This time, though, as Stanley, he went so deeply into the serious character that when he had to switch to the lighthearted “falling-in-love mode”, the transition was sharp, too sudden and not convincing. As if to announce the transition, he delivers a strange, brief soliloquy to the camera, violating the cardinal rule of “Show, don’t tell”. The whole anti-religion speech, direct from the pen of the Hebrew agnostic himself, was hilariously off and old fashioned. I did soldier on to the happy ending, but hesitate to recommend this movie to anyone but hardcore Allen fanboys.
The Good Liar 2019 drama crime
The Geezer movie is becoming a recognized genre. The Good Liar is the latest example in 2019. Despite the famous lead actors, Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan, this film is a weak melodrama with zero comic relief. Watchable if you admire the leads, but not one for the DVD shelf or even pay-for-view streaming. I recommend getting a free library rental, and save your cash for a better movie.
The driver of the plot is Roy (Ian McKellan) as an elderly con man who, among his other scams, romances lonely widows of means and fleeces them out of their life savings. His newest target is Betty (Helen Mirren), a recently widowed Oxford professor who he meets on an internet dating site for seniors. The first two-thirds of the movie is Roy turning on the charm with Betty, and working the con in his unhurried, crafty style. It works, almost too easily, as Roy is invited to Betty’s home to be her roommate, and soon becomes her friendly financial advisor. But Betty seems far from clueless, so we keep waiting to see how Betty turns the tables on Roy, while he thinks he's playing her.
Now if the writer / director had stopped here, and not flashbacked to unnecessary plot-point on top of plot-point, revelation on top of bizarre revelation, we'd have had a fine time. But pile on they did in relentless fashion, and it was jaw-dropping, head-shaking as a result. These seem to come out of nowhere. So far out of nowhere (think 1940’s era Nazis) that even after the film attempts to explain these strange, backstory complexities, I did NOT buy the rickety plot.
The twist ending has zero tension, partly because we've seen it coming and partly because Betty sandbags Roy so completely that there's no real contest. After Roy gets his comeuppance, we get pounded again with heavy-handed, moralizing scenes that could better have been left out, leaving Roy's aftermath to our imagination. Recommended only for fans of cold-hearted characters and revenge tales. Do not be fooled; this movie is NOT a “thriller” as flogged by the media.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2021. All rights reserved.