Quickie Review: Murder Mystery

The Netflix original movie Murder Mystery is lame, riddled with clichés, superficial and mildly amusing. And it knows it. Now you know it too and can plan accordingly. Watch with a grain of salt – sprinkled on popcorn – on a hot and humid summer evening that commands mindless indoor entertainment at home, with the A/C on full blast. The title is your first clue to just how seriously this movie takes itself. Murder Mystery is about… da-da-dum… a murder mystery.

Review: Late Night

Late Night is a solid workplace comedy that fluctuates between really smart and funny, and just okay. That unevenness may limit its success at a crowded box office, though it does have all the key ingredients for a second chance at life in the streaming and rental market. Emma Thompson plays Katherine Newbury, a legendary late night talk show host in danger of losing her show after 30 years. She’s brilliant and witty, but also harsh, demanding and stuck in her ways. As a boss, she’s like a hybrid of intimidating editor Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada and the prickly genius diagnostician from House. In a last-ditch effort to shake things up and become more relevant, Katherine decides to finally add a woman to her all-male writing staff, and that opens the door for Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), an efficiency expert at a chemical plant who has a flair for comedy. Molly happens to be in the right place at the right time to get the kind of big break we all dream about. But she’s going to have to overcome a lot of obstacles and resentment to prove she’s more than just some “diversity hire”… all while staying true to her enthusiastic and idealistic self.

Review: Men In Black: International

Does Men In Black: International break new ground? No, not really. Does it need to? Would have been nice; but no, not really. It’s good enough to serve as an amusing diversion at the start of the summer movie season, and sustain the sci-fi adventure comedy franchise that kicked off with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones back in 1997. It’s a popcorn movie. Over-think it, and you may be disappointed. Embrace it for what it is, and you’ll have a good time watching a new crop of super-secret agents tasked with protecting Earth from the scum of the universe. The plot is a tad superficial and the globe-trotting a bit excessive and unnecessary (except for lending credence to the subtitle), but a solid cast helps keep it afloat.

Review: Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation

Woodstock, New York will always be associated with the concert that took place 50 years ago 43 miles from there in Bethel. Half a million young people came together for 3 days to enjoy an amazing slate of the era’s best musicians: The Who, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendricks and so many more. I was too young to go, but I wish I could have been there. The war in Viet Nam was still sending bodies home. Kennedy and King had been assassinated. The young people of America needed a place to chill and come together. And this was the perfect venue. They came from all over the country to be a part of it. And there will never be another moment like it. There was an Academy Award winning documentary made about it in 1970 called simply Woodstock. And it would make a great companion piece to this new film. It had a lot more of the performances. This one is from the perspective of the people who put the whole thing together and more a play by play as it happened. I missed the music, but Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation tells a great story and made me long for that 60s peace and love vibe.

Quickie Review: The Fall of the American Empire (aka La chute de l’empire américain)

I stumbled into watching The Fall of the American Empire because I thought my podcast partner would surely want to talk about it, since he’s usually the one to champion any movie in French (it’s partially sub-titled). Alas, I was on my own. He didn’t see it! And that’s a shame because he probably would have liked it. Arty Chick may like it too. The Fall of the American Empire is a French-Canadian film that blends elements of a comical heist movie, serious social satire, and crime drama. It’s about a shy and insecure guy with a PhD in philosophy who works as a package courier to make ends meet. One day, while making a delivery, he encounters the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong – and two big bags of cash. What to do? Leave the scene empty handed? Turn the money over to the cops? Return it to its ‘rightful’ owners (who happen to be violent gangsters)? Or… take the money and run?

Review: Souvenir

When 20-something Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) meets somewhat older Anthony (Tom Burke) at a film school party early on in Souvenir, you know exactly what their relationship will be all about. He’s pretentious and she’s attracted to that. She’s a young woman from a privileged background and an aspiring director, and he has some sort of important government job that they never really talk about. And their relationship develops with the understanding that he has the power. She’s fine with him telling her who she is and what she should want. She’s young and naive and he’s a user in every sense of the word. It’s the early 80s in London, too early to talk about toxic masculinity and mansplaining, but Anthony is the man for whom both concepts were invented. You find yourself wishing Julie would dump the guy from nearly the first moment they get together. But of course it’s not that simple. It’s a disturbing film, a series of moments in a dysfunctional and obsessive relationship that somehow you can’t look away from.

Quickie Review: Dark Phoenix

Dark Phoenix is like a low-calorie, less-filling Endgame. It’s designed to bring closure to the X-Men franchise as we’ve come to know it, before a possible reboot under new (Disney) management. I think I’ve seen nine of the 12 films that Fox has released under the X-Men umbrella since 2000. I won’t attempt to rank them, but I can say with some confidence that Dark Phoenix isn’t the best or the worst of the bunch. It’s a must-see for devoted X-Men fans, a doesn’t-hurt-to-see for MCU fans, and a no-need-to-see for most everyone else.

Quickie Review: Pasolini

Italian poet, philosopher and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini loved nothing more than to push the envelope, to scandalize, to shock the senses. So it’s only fitting that Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) should direct a film about his last days since they are gritty birds of a feather. Pasolini stars Willem Dafoe (Spiderman, At Eternity’s Gate) who bears more than a passing resemblance to the man who died in 1975, murdered and left to rot on a beach in Ostia. The film is a kaleidoscope of Pasolini’s final film and his final quotidian existence, eating with his mother, giving an interview to a journalist, writing away on his typewriter, and trolling for young men to have sex with. And throughout there are scenes from an imagined version of his final script. It’s in Italian and English, sometimes subtitled, and sometimes not. And the audience is left to make the connections. The film assumes a knowledge of the filmmaker and his films, frequently making it a frustrating experience. But mostly it’s just too coarse and pretentious for my taste.

Quickie Review: Pavarotti (documentary)

Don’t get me wrong. My appreciation for Pavarotti does not mean I appreciate having been subjected as a kid to live radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera every Saturday afternoon. That was strictly my parents’ thing. Sure, I survived the likes of Madame Butterfly, Carmen and La bohème. But I didn’t have a clue what anyone was singing, and didn’t much care. So how do I know of Luciano Pavarotti? He was all over the place in my youth, opera’s ambassador to the world at large. He was on morning shows and late night television, the Muppets and Sesame Street, and featured in commercials for Shower to Shower and American Express. He had a larger than life personality, an infectious smile, and yes – a really big voice.

Review: Echo in the Canyon

When I lived in Los Angeles, I frequently drove through Laurel Canyon on the way to and from work and I knew that over the years it had been famous for its arty inhabitants. I even looked at a rental house or two there, since I loved the counterculture vibe of the place. Echo in the Canyon is a documentary celebrating the musicians of the mid-60’s who lived there and invented folk-rock together and separately. The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas and so many of the biggest groups of the day were there, creating and collaborating. The film is hosted by Jakob Dylan, lead singer-songwriter of the band The Wallflowers. He sits down for chats with an array of famous 20th century musicians – including Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, Michelle Phillips, Eric Clapton, Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, and Tom Petty in his very last film interview. And those interviews are intercut with the making of an album and a 2015 Los Angeles tribute concert with contemporary artists (Beck, Fiona Apple, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Norah Jones) performing some of the songs made famous by those musicians of the canyon. It’s a lot of fun.