The Beguiled (B-). Director Sofia Coppola is back with another quiet, moody little flick (see, e.g., Lost in Translation, Somewhere). The divine Nicole Kidman (Dead Calm) stars as Miss Martha, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in 1864 Virginia. (For all my Millennial readers out there, 1864 was during the Civil War.) Most of her students are gone, but a few are still stranded there, along with one lonely teacher, Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst, Wimbledon). The ladies are getting by, but everything changes when one of the younger students goes out to gather mushrooms and returns with Corporal McBurney, a handsome Union soldier (Colin Farrell, The Lobster) with a nasty leg wound. The ladies’ fascination with the Irishman easily overrides their initial impulse to alert the Confederate authorities, and soon they are all vying for his attention—especially the oldest student, Alicia (Elle Fanning, Super 8). And McBurney quickly figures out the school could be a nice refuge from the rest of the war if he plays his cards right. But can he manage the ladies’ rivalries and his own building passion?
The movie held my interest, thanks mainly to nice performances from all involved—even the younger actresses get a few scenes in which to shine. But the plot is rather slight, there are maybe a few too many languid shots of the stately plantation house and the surrounding forest, and I wasn’t convinced by one of the character’s behavior at the end. Still, it was nice to see the luminous Ms. Kidman in a movie that wasn’t terrible. And at 93 minutes, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. Finally, I learned in some long ago trivia game that Elvis Presley’s hit song “Love Me Tender” is written to the melody of a Civil War era song called “Aura Lee.” I had never heard “Aura Lee” before, but I’ll be danged if one of the characters in this movie doesn’t sing a bit of it. Nice.
A new movie review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
The Hero (B-). That voice. That mustache. The unmistakable Sam Elliott (Tombstone) has an unusual starring role in this little indie flick. He plays a washed-up actor who spends his days smoking marijuana with a buddy (Nick Offerman, We’re the Millers) and doing voiceover work for commercials. And, we quickly learn, he’s facing a serious cancer problem. So he wants to reach out to his estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter, Big Eyes). He also, somewhat less credibly, starts dating a woman about half his age (Laura Prepon, TV’s Orange Is the New Black). Katharine Ross (The Graduate), who is actually married to Elliott, has a very small part as his ex-wife. All in all, the movie is a little pedestrian, a little predictable, a little off at times, but Elliott managed to keep me invested. And at 93 minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
P.S. I forgot to give a shout-out to Max Gail, who has a small part in this movie. I don’t know that I’ve seen him since his glory days at Detective Wojciehowicz on TV’s Barney Miller, but I recognized him as soon as he popped up in The Hero. Judging from IMDB, he has been working pretty steadily since his Miller days.
Logan (A-). Yes, this is an awfully high grade to give a rated-R comic-book movie with all sorts of severed heads and spurting arteries and such. But what can I say? I thought this movie was excellent. Hugh Jackman (Scoop) returns for his millionth turn as Wolverine, the irascible, indestructible mutant with the retractable claws. Only now he’s not feeling so indestructible. The year is 2029, and he is old and sick and not regenerating like he used to. He’s lying low somewhere near the U.S.-Mexico border taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, Excalibur), who is not only old and sick but also having seizures that cause all sorts of mayhem for everyone around him because of his uncontrolled psychic powers. All the other mutants we’ve come to know and love in the other X-Men movies are apparently dead, and no new mutants have been born in many years. Wolverine is just trying to scrape together enough money in his job as a limo driver so he can buy a boat and sail out to sea with Professor Xavier (thereby saving mankind from the effects of Xavier’s seizures, I think). Then everything goes sideways when a desperate woman finds Wolverine and begs him to transport a young girl to Canada—a girl with mutantly powers awfully reminiscent of Wolverine’s. Of course, there are bad guys hot on her trail, and the movie quickly turns into a quasi-remake of Children of Men (which is not a bad movie to borrow from, if you’re going to borrow). Despite all the crazy, bloody fight scenes, the movie really worked for me as a meditation on mortality and the meaning of family. And newcomer Dafne Keen does a nice job as the mysterious little girl with anger-management issues.
P.S. I forgot to mention this when I initially posted this review–I think this is the first time I have ever seen a movie in the United States that features Spanish subtitles. Some of the movie was in Spanish, and those parts had no subtitles. I wonder if those parts were subtitled in English in other showings?
The Movie Snob checks in with a new review of an old movie.
Gaslight (B+). This 1942 classic stars the beauteous Ingrid Bergman (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) as Paula Alquist. In the opening scene, we see a very young Paula being escorted away from the London townhome where she has just discovered the body of her murdered aunt (her guardian since birth). Flash forward a few years, and Paula is living in Italy. She has followed in her aunt’s footsteps by studying music and singing, but we learn she has just been swept off her feet by a debonair foreigner named Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer, Fanny). Anton is strangely eager to move to London, and into the townhouse Paula inherited from her aunt. And once they are ensconced there, Paula seems to start to lose her grip on her sanity, and Gregory becomes ever more controlling. What is happening? Straight-arrow Scotland Yard detective Brian Cameron (Joseph Cotten, The Third Man) senses something is amiss, but can he figure it out in time to help Paula? I quite enjoyed this classic old noir. Watch for a young Angela Lansbury (TV’s Murder, She Wrote) as a saucy housemaid.
Their Finest (B+). It doesn’t have the grabbiest title, but this picture by Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) is my favorite of the year so far. The year is 1940, and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) has moved from Wales to London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But his dour art isn’t selling, so Catrin gets a job as a screenwriter on a propaganda film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. She clashes with the obnoxious head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), learns to massage the bruised ego of past-his-prime movie star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, I Capture the Castle), and generally gets a crash course in the trials and tribulations of moviemaking. Jeremy Irons (Appaloosa) pops up unexpectedly as a pompous war minister. The sexism of the era is conveyed effectively without being overdone. On the whole, I quite enjoyed the movie.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (B-). Somehow I missed this 2014 black & white foreign-language vampire flick during its original release, but happily a friend invited me to a special showing last night at the Alamo Drafthouse. (Actually I tried to talk her into seeing Logan instead, but she wasn’t having it. She’s been a big vampire fan ever since New Moon.) It’s a weird movie, but interesting. Our hero is some ordinary guy living in a bleak industrial town called Bad City. His father is a junkie, and a drug dealer takes our hero’s beloved car because dad can’t pay his debts. Then the drug dealer abuses a prostitute who works for him. This draws the ire of our vampire (Sheila Vand, Argo), an ordinary-seeming woman who ghosts around town at night and can sprout fangs in a jiffy. Later she menaces a little boy and takes his skateboard. After that she meets our hero after he has gone to a costume party (as Dracula!), and instead of making a meal out of him she actually seems to start liking him. But you’re never really sure if she’s eventually going to chomp on him or not; her affect is pretty flat. More stuff happens after that, in a slow, moody, artsy kind of way. It held my interest.
(I’m categorizing it as a foreign film because it’s in Farsi, but I have read that it was actually shot in California. The director, Ana Lily Amirpour, is Iranian-American.)
This was my first trip to an Alamo Drafthouse, and it was a pretty interesting experience. We got to our theater pretty early, and before getting to the real previews they showed a bunch of film clips and trailers from cheesy old horror movies back-to-back. It was fine to set the mood, I guess, but it made conversation difficult. I got food, which I seldom do at movie theaters, and got a mediocre Royale Burger with Cheese and some cold fries out of the deal. The seats were comfy, though.