Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2018
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France
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Moebius 3 out of 4 stars

From the first frame of this movie, you know that you are in the hands of a master. The mood and music and fluidity of the photography sweep you up and keep you spellbound until the last credit has rolled by. The structure of the movie is that of a suspense mystery or even possibly a horror movie. A Buenos Aires subway train and its passengers have vanished into thin air, just like those schoolgirls in Picnic at Hanging Rock. A young topographer from the company that built the subway system is called in to help solve the mystery. By the time he passes a (fictional) subway station called Borges (as in José Luis), we know just whose labyrinth this underground really is. (The movie isn’t actually based on a Borges story, however, but on one by A.J. Deutsch.) In other words, this mystery is metaphysical rather than conventional. What is truly amazing about this movie is that, contrary to all appearances, it is not the product of an experienced auteur but a class project of Argentina’s Universidad del Cine. One can only wish that they could keep all the students together to make more films! (Seen 21 May 1997)

La Moitié gauche du frigo (The Left Side of the Fridge) 2 out of 4 stars

The title refers to the division that platonic roommates often make of their respective refrigerated grocery items, since this is essentially a story about friends and roommates. In fact, this French language Canadian film by Philippe Falardeau more or less does for job hunting what This Is Spinal Tap did for rock bands. That’s right, this is another mockumentary, one of those low-budget films that pretend to be a documentary in order to 1) save money and 2) juice up an otherwise unremarkable story with an innovative narrative structure. One of the roommates is documenting the other’s job hunt. Christophe is fairly amusing to watch as he somewhat haplessly seeks unemployment benefits (he voluntarily quit his mechanical engineering position), goes on job interviews, and courts a supermarket cashier. He looks a bit like a young Roman Polanski and wanders through the movie with a clueless amiability that develops into resentment at the interference of Stéphane, who along the way keeps acquiring more grant money to professionalize his filmmaking project. Stéphane means to be another Michael Moore (one of his targets actually says so) and he does a lot of attacking of the companies where Christophe seeks work. Its hard to know if the real filmmaker feels this way as well or if this is merely a gambit for humorous effect. In the end, the film turns serious (as did Spinal Tap), which tends to weaken its overall impact. (Seen 31 May 2001)

Moll Flanders 2 out of 4 stars

As I learned, the best way to approach this new adaptation of Daniel Dafoe’s novel is with no thoughts whatsoever of the 1965 version starring Kim Novak. While that one was a bawdy, swashbuckling comedy, this version is a period tear-jerker about an independent woman and devoted mother. It is lent considerable class by the presence of Morgan Freeman, as Moll’s friend and sometime co-worker, and John Lynch (Angel Baby), as Moll’s one true love. Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, The Princess Bride) is fine in the title role which requires her to go from cockiness to desperation. Stockard Channing gets to do some mild hamming as the main villain, and the late Jeremy Brett makes his last appearance in small but powerful role. Moll Flanders is an okay movie, although you can see its “surprise” ending coming already in the very first reel. (Seen 6 June 1996)

Monsieur Lazhar 3 out of 4 stars

Plot-wise, not all that much happens in this French language Academy Award nominee. A class of ten-year-olds in a Montreal school loses its teacher under traumatic circumstances, and the titular Mr. Lazhar appears out of nowhere (nearly Mary Poppins-like) to apply for the vacant position. A transplant from Algeria to Canada, it turns out that he is dealing with his own traumatic circumstances. Philippe Falardeau has developed into a very good filmmaker since I first saw his film The Left Side of the Fridge a decade ago. Here he extends themes he explored in 2008’s It’s Not Me, I Swear! into a classroom drama, a genre that has all kinds of pitfalls. But the child actors are amazingly natural and equally convincing as the actors who play teachers and parents. By the time we get to the end, the cumulative effect is quite moving without being manipulative or too pat. It’s not clear to me if Falardeau has a political or social agenda, but there seems to be subtle criticism of the litigious-phobic political correctness that has become a feature of North American education. (Seen 18 February 2012)

Monster House 2 out of 4 stars

Concerned readers will have noticed that I am doing a much better job of keeping up with the summer releases aimed at the pre-teen market than I am with what passes for the “grown up” market, which in reality usually turns out to be just on the other side of puberty. And speaking of puberty, that word figures in a couple of this movie’s best lines. Those bits and numerous others are liable to go right over the heads of younger viewers, but they will definitely be able to appreciate the scares and thrills (or not, depending on their age and temperament), as well as numerous other gags—a notable one involving a bottle of urine. The suburban setting will be familiar to viewers of movies by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, who figure among the film’s executive producers. (Gil Kenan directed.) But there is also a bit of a feel of Stand By Me, enhanced by the fact that the main hero, D.J., as rendered by CGI, bears something of a resemblance to the young Wil Wheaton. But that is by no means the only element that makes this something of a junior Stephen King-esque exercise. The movie’s unabashed childhood fascination with the macabre also suggests a toned-down Tim Burton animation. Older viewers will best appreciate the sundry supporting characters, particularly a no-nonsense babysitter (voiced by Maggie Gyllenhaal), who dates beneath herself, and a video game/comic book/fantasy guru (voiced by Jon Heder), who is mostly a legend in his own mind. (Seen 12 August 2006)

Monster Pies 1 out of 4 stars

Perpetually late for his high school English class, Mike finds himself sitting next to a cute new boy and is instantly smitten. The bad news is that the class is studying (uh oh) Romeo and Juliet. This kind of telegraphing is symptomatic of the film’s weakness. It has the kind of earnestness that, in the past, I have compared to afterschool TV specials, but I’m going to stop doing that because 1) I have no idea if they even make afterschool specials anymore and 2) it’s not fair because some of those afterschool specials were actually pretty good. Anyway, this Melbourne-set movie certainly has its heart in the right place and genuinely cares for its characters, but it has no idea how to make what is by now fairly well trod ground feel new and compelling. As Will, the troubled new kid in town, Lucas Linehan makes a good impression in a role that consciously evokes James Dean. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast (including Tristan Barr as Mike) and writer/director Lee Galea approach the story like one more of the class projects depicted in the film. It is Galea’s sophomore feature, following 2009’s Less Adolescent. Although I know nothing about him, I get the feeling that he has stories worth telling and I hope he keeps at it. (Seen 12 July 2013)

Monster-in-Law 2 out of 4 stars

You may have heard that Jennifer Lopez is in this movie. You may even have heard that Jane Fonda is in it too. But here’s the really exciting thing. Did you know that Elaine Stritch is in it? Of course, she doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, but it’s good to see her in a high-profile movie, since we don’t get to see her on the big screen that often or in parts that match her potential. Her appearance in the final act is more than welcome, although we can’t help but wish that she had even better lines. In fact, that’s how we feel about this whole movie. It’s meant to be a delicious, over-the-top bitchfest, but maybe it’s a sign of my age that, as much as I kept trying to get into it, I consistently longed for the piercing wit of a Dorothy Parker or a Noel Coward or whoever used to write Joan Collins’s dialog on Dynasty. Don’t know if this bodes well for the new movie version of Dallas, since the director of this movie, Australian Robert Luketic (who previously gave us Legally Blonde and Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!), is set to helm it. Kudos to Fonda for giving her all to a potentially great role that can have done nothing for her own ego. As the flamboyant mother trying to keep her son from marrying a girl she sees as beneath him, she is Auntie Mame gone totally wrong. J-Lo, playing the saintly young woman who learns that nice girls finish last, also deserves respect for good-naturedly working with a script that makes regular references to certain of her well-publicized, healthy-proportioned body parts. My newest challenge: figuring out how to tell the difference between Michael Vartan and Josh Lucas. (Seen 25 May 2005)

Monsters vs. Aliens 2 out of 4 stars

You might think it is unusual for the star of a movie to be waiting for you at the cinema entrance and to accompany you to your seat. But it is becoming more and more common. The star of this movie is clearly the wrap-around visor (those cardboard glasses with the tinted bits of film are thankfully history) that complete the 3-D process or, more accurately, the integration of 3-D into the creative process. Clearly, 3-D is no longer a novelty or a gimmick but part of the film package. As Mark Kermode says, it is now all about immersion rather than protrusion. While we get the inevitable paddle ball shot in our face and the like, the third dimension mostly doesn’t call attention to itself any more than any other computerized special effect. It merely enhances the experience. It is put to particularly good effect during an extended sequence involving a mass evacuation across a crumbling Golden Gate Bridge. As a story, Monsters vs. Aliens is interesting enough, another one of those riffs on cherished older movies—in this case, 1950s popcorn sci-fi epics. It seems that the government has been holding various radioactive mutations for years in a facility that is more or less The X-Files meets Guantánamo Bay. When a deranged alien comes to conquer the earth, a general (clearly based on George C. Scott’s character in Dr. Strangelove and voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) gets the idea of releasing these mutations to fight the invasion. As is the case with these things, the movie references are plentiful and usually amusing. We get most of the ones we expect and a few (like Bullitt) that we didn’t. The best lines go to Stephen Colbert, as a shallow and clueless U.S. president, and Seth Rogen as a gelatinous blob perfectly happy not to have a brain. (Seen 29 March 2009)

Monte Carlo 2 out of 4 stars

This isn’t a Disney movie, but it nearly might as well be. Not just because it stars Selena Gomez of The Wizards of Waverly Place but because there is a youthful, innocent quality about it that is associated with Disney fare—although to be fair most of Disney’s stuff packs more of an emotional wallop than this does. The filmmakers’ (Thomas Bezucha of The Family Stone directed and co-wrote) ambition or, depending on your point of view, shamelessness is signaled by the fact that Gomez’s character is called Grace. (In case, we don’t get it, there is a snippet of To Catch a Thief later on.) The tone evolves from that of a somber teen drama in the first reel to a Blake Edwards farce—complete with clownish Frenchmen—by the final one. There is very little surprise, but it doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t exist to surprise you. On the positive side, the film is completely innocuous in the way of movies where every young man a girl meets is good-looking and basically kind-hearted. There is at least one really nice scene, in which Katie Cassidy finds herself bored with the prince, who has picked her up, and his aristocratic friends and begins picking up plates—just like she did in the café back in Texas. [Related commentary] (Seen 23 October 2011)

Monterey Pop 3 out of 4 stars

When baby-boomers think of the best way to re-immerse themselves in the music, culture and spirit of the late 1960s, a likely inclination is to reach for Michael Wadleigh’s five-and-a-half documentary Woodstock. You can get an arguably more efficient dose, though, by opting for D.A. Pennebaker’s 78-minute capture of the Monterey International Pop Festival, which took place two summers before Woodstock. Pennebaker has made scores of documentaries over the years about music and other topics, including The War Room, about the 1992 Clinton campaign. This is a simple enough does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of flick. If you’re not familiar with the performers, then you better memorize their names when they all flash by at the very beginning. There is no voice-over narration or titles to identify who you are seeing for the duration of the running time. If you are not too young, it will not matter because you will never have forgotten them. Simon and Garfunkel look like babies. Ditto John and Michelle Phillips and everybody else for that matter. It breaks the heart to see the ones who died young: Cass Elliot, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. Otis Redding steals the show in my own opinion, though with a lineup like this that has to be arguable. Candid audience shots (Hey! Isn’t that Micky Dolenz?) and milling and camping attendees capture the unique dress and style of the psychedelic hippie era. Canned Heat, Hugh Masekela, Jefferson Airplane, Eric Burdon and the Animals… they just keep coming. Audience and security reactions remind us that, when The Who destroy their instruments, it was then something shocking and not yet just a cliché. Hendrix does them one better by quasi-simulating sex with his guitar before breaking it and burning it. Things end on a mellow note, however, with an endlessly extended and hypnotic sitar performance by Ravi Shankar. Even if you think you can remember the Sixties, you need this doc to remind you. (Seen 15 July 2017)

The Monuments Men 2 out of 4 stars

The most recent directing effort from George Clooney has a bit of a split personality. On one hand, it is a tribute to the men who volunteered to go into war-torn Europe with Allied forces in order to rescue as much looted or threatened art as possible and has the feel of a true story. (Clooney has said it was about 80 percent accurate.) On the other hand, it is a breezy comrades-in-arms story populated by familiar movie faces that often plays like a comedy. The confusion in the tone may help explain why the flick didn’t do better commercially. Still, it is hard not to like the movie, which feels like a welcome throwback to films of yore about WWII. Think a less action-packed Kelly’s Heroes maybe. As much as the story should make Europeans grateful to the Americans, the film is unabashed about making the Yanks look good and it has a jaunty quasi-military soundtrack that makes jaded European critics roll their eyes. The way-too-famous Clooney and Matt Damon could be walking through another Ocean’s Eleven movie, but John Goodman, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and the rest are truly good company—even if we don’t really buy that they are art experts. And it comes as no surprise that Cate Blanchett (playing a character based on French war heroine Rose Valland) seems to be in her very own movie. Still, the story is a validly important one and, as I said, it’s hard flick not to like. (Seen 1 June 2014)

Moon 3 out of 4 stars

Among the many pleasures of this good old-fashioned (and I mean that in the best way) sci-fi flick is the reminder that really well-done models can be much more convincing than throwing millions of dollars of CGI at a place, like the lunar surface, where it is not practical to do a location shoot. Indeed, the realistic portrayal of what working on the moon might really be like in the not-that-distant future makes this more compelling, from a dramatic point of view, than all the gee-whiz of warp drives and hyper jumps. Not that the flick doesn’t have its fantastic touches, notably an artificially intelligent computer (with the optimal voice of Kevin Spacey) that still seems out of the reach of our best software engineers. But aside from the lunar rovers and lunar bases, this movie does what all good, intelligent sci fi does. It comments on the human condition and on the idea of reality itself. And it is a credit to director Duncan Jones (and, no, his name was never officially Zowie Bowie), who wrote the story and his scenarist Nathan Parker, that the film delves deep into these issues without any long, archly introspective, soliloquizing Captain-Kirk-like speeches. The themes and issues all come out gradually and naturally as we solve, along with the film’s characters, the mystery at the heart of the story. Jones has said that he has ideas for a couple of other films in this same universe, and that is good news. The ending of Moon is one of those rare ones that is, at once, satisfying and uplifting but which leaves us really wanting to know what happens next. (Seen 29 July 2009)

Moon Over Broadway 3 out of 4 stars

You couldn’t set out to script or cast a funnier comedy/melodrama than this documentary by the husband-wife team of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus (The War Room). Either the filmmakers found some miraculous way to turn themselves invisible during filming or else the producers, writer, director and cast of the Broadway play Moon Over Buffalo somehow managed to totally forget that they had allowed the crew an incredible degree of access to the behind-the-scenes labor in rehearsing and polishing the play. In a way, the film is a whodunit: who is responsible for making this play a moderate disaster that should have been much better than it turned out to be? Is it the star (Carol Burnett), who is more accustomed to TV than the stage? Is it the director (Tom Moore, who directed Grease for the stage), who seems to be enduring a perpetual anxiety attack? Or is it the writer (Ken Ludwig), who is clearly much more obsessed with his own self-image rather than with actually making the play funny. The backstage antics are quite entertaining to watch, but Moon Over Broadway definitely proves that old axiom: there is nothing funny about (making) comedy. (Seen 24 August 1998)

Moondance 2 out of 4 stars

Officially, this film is an Irish-German co-production, and its director is German Dagmar Hirtz, who has edited several of Margarethe von Trotta’s films. But the movie itself is pure Irish. Which is to say: there is a family, there is conflict, there is some gorgeous scenery, and there is more than a little bit of alcohol consumption. Based on The White Hare by Francis Stuart, Moondance tells the story of two young brothers and how they lose their innocence. Patrick and Dominic have lived on their own since their father died and their mother (Marianne Faithfull, whose singing graces the closing credits) went off to Africa to be a missionary. The lads have a grand time, doing crazy things like acting out the final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and generally behaving, as their disapproving aunt observes, “like savages.” Then things begin to change. The free-spirited German student Anya comes into their lives. Then Mom comes home, and soon the lads leave behind the picturesque west coast of Ireland for the urban world of Dublin and more trials and changes. As a family drama, it falls somewhere between Cathal Black’s dark, brooding Korea and Mike Newell’s fanciful Into the West (with which this film shares producers). Van Morrison provides several songs for the soundtrack but not his own vocals. Moondance was part of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Women in Cinema series. (Seen 28 January 1996)

Moonlight 3 out of 4 stars

This could have been a very bleak film indeed. In the course of 111 minutes we visit the childhood, adolescence and adulthood of a man born into a world of few prospects and precious little joy. Raised by a single mom with a drug problem, Chiron (not pronounced like the centaur but more like “shy rone”) has a sensitive nature that makes him a target for bullying. Thank goodness there are two saving graces for him (and for the viewer) in Juan, a drug dealer who (along with his girlfriend Teresa, played nicely by Janelle Monáe) takes a kindly fatherly interest in him, and in Chiron’s friend Kevin with whom he has an emotional connection. Given the boy’s relentlessly tough circumstances and the fact that Chiron is not particularly articulate, this is challenging material. Our way in, though, lies in the characters around Chiron as well as director Barry Jenkins’s artistic touches—sometimes a little too artsy for my taste but still a pleasure to watch. The three actors who play Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes) are well chosen and give the impression of a single continuous performance. Naomie Harris (the only British woman up for an acting Oscar this year) is impressive and unrecognizable as Moneypenny from the recent James Bond movies. The world of the ’hood with its gangstas and dealers is well trod territory in the movie world, so it is nice to see it portrayed un-sensationally (yet not sanitized) for a change. It is a little jarring, though, to see Mahershala Ali’s drug dispensing Juan portrayed as more or less an upstanding pillar of the local community, but that may be just the sort of cognitive dissonance that is probably more reflective of messy reality than many of us realize. If Chiron’s world is foreign to many of the film’s viewers, what is universal and can be emphathized with by most of us is the final act. It cannot help but touch the heart of anyone who has lost contact with an important friend from one’s youth and has wanted to re-connect. It is also the lovely moment that Chiron’s years of repressed feelings and emotions are finally allowed an understated yet glorious release. (Seen 25 February 2017)

Moonlight Mile 2 out of 4 stars

I had been wanting to see this movie ever since it came out two years ago. The idea of pairing Jake Gyllenhaal, who is arguably this generation’s Dustin Hoffman, with the real Dustin Hoffman seemed inspired. And there are definitely nods to Hoffman’s seminal debut film, The Graduate. Like the way the characters watch The Newlywed Game on TV, or the fact that Hoffman’s character has the same first name in both movies. Early on, I even thought perhaps that Hoffman was playing the same character, Ben Braddock, as an older man, but that was before I realized that Moonlight Mile is actually set in roughly the same era as The Graduate. In this film, as in Mike Nichols’s 1967 film, we have a somewhat passive young man, teetering at that frightening point where his entire future is looming before him and he doesn’t know which way to go. But Gyllenhaal’s character, Joe Nast, has way more to contend with than did Ben Braddock. Hoffman and his wife Susan Sarandon have more or less adopted him and planned his future for him, trying to fill a gap left by the murder of their daughter, who was Joe’s fiancée. The subject matter is not theoretical for writer/director Brad Silberling (Casper, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). He was the boyfriend of TV sitcom star Rebecca Schaeffer, who was murdered in 1989. The story is so unusual (for a feature film) and so compelling that we are immediately drawn in. So, it is a bit of a letdown when the latter part of the film turns out to be somewhat predictable and things sort themselves out so neatly. Also, its New England small-town setting and its coping-with-the-murder-of-a-child theme echo the previous year’s In the Bedroom. That film makes an even more interesting contrast with this one than does The Graduate. In the Bedroom was about justice and retribution. Moonlight Mile is about acceptance and moving on. (Seen 4 December 2004)

Moonraker 2 out of 4 stars

While just about tolerable, this movie is one of the weakest entries of the 007 series. Coming between two better movies (The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only), this one fairly sticks out like a sore thumb. It ticks all the Bond boxes, but so overtly that we can nearly read the small print on the formula bottle. On the positive side, it features some of the best double entendres of the series, particularly in the beginning setup and in the final wind-down. It also features one of the more engaging Bond girls with one of the more memorable joke names (Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead). As I’ve said before, you can tell what else was happening in the movie universe by the contemporary Bond film. It is no coincidence that, after the standard cloak-and-dagger and action stuff, the final reel or two veer into outer space. This movie came out two years after Star Wars. The film becomes additionally ridiculous by bringing back Richard Kiel’s Jaws—apparently because the filmmakers don’t think we got enough of him in the previous movie—to essentially play Wile E. Coyote. Bernard Lee looks none too well as M and, indeed, this was his final feature film before his death in 1981. (Seen 16 June 2012)

Moonstruck 3 out of 4 stars

Back in the 1980s, somewhere between A Soldier’s Story and Other People’s Money, Norman Jewison made this unexpectedly pleasing comedy. And, somewhere in between Mask and Mermaids, Cher confirmed that she was really a pretty good actor. And somewhere between Peggy Sue Got Married and Vampire’s Kiss, Nicolas Cage demonstrated that he could put his trademark weirdness to good comedic use in a conventional romantic comedy. It’s hard to remember now exactly what was going on in the cinemas in 1987 that made this movie such a breath of fresh air. It comes dangerously close to being an ethnic cartoon, but somehow its Brooklyn denizens (the borough seems to be home exclusively to Italian-Americans) transcend their exaggerations to become figures that have sprung, Fellini-like, out of someone’s hazy memory. Cher goes miraculously from mousy (that’s the miraculous part) to drop-dead gorgeous, and Olympia Dukakis stares sidelong at life through her martini with enough wisdom to make us wish that we could sit across from her. (They both got Oscars for their roles.) Most of all, the film is infused with a giddy sense of romance. The kind of romance that finds you when you are doing everything you can to keep it at bay. And that somehow keeps going years after the initial passion has cooled. (Seen 29 December 2006)

The More Things Change… 2 out of 4 stars

No blood or violence or on-screen sex or car chases or anything like that. Just a warm-hearted Australian drama about a yuppie couple trying to cope with marriage, parenthood, and personal dreams in the you-can-have-it-all eighties. Connie and Lex buy their dream farm out in the beautiful countryside, but it is a two-hour commute to Connie’s publishing job in the city. They hire a babysitter to look after their little boy while Connie’s at work and Lex is tending the farm. And no, Lex doesn’t have an affair with the babysitter. Get your mind out of the gutter! (Seen 23 May 1987)

Morning Glory 2 out of 4 stars

Rachel McAdams has spunk. And Jeff Goldblum hates spunk. Yes, this workplace comedy (sort of masquerading as a romcom but not really) is essentially another update to the old Mary Tyler Moore Show. There was a time when the resolution to McAdams’s struggle to save her problem-plagued morning news program would be showing the viewers that they really want hard news and journalistic integrity. That sort of happens, but mostly the show is saved because grumpy veteran newsman Harrison Ford breaks down and cooks a frittata on air. So it’s official. Our popular culture isn’t even pretending anymore that information is more important than entertainment. But let’s not be depressed. It’s actually refreshing that the movie deals with the world the way it really is. The real delight in the movie—which doesn’t actually get enough screen time—is the feuding between morning show veteran Diane Keaton and resentful former anchor Ford. We cannot help but wish that the movie was more about them (including an eventual romance?) than about McAdams’s ambitious worker bee, although McAdams as usual is plenty likable and engaging. Ford is a wonderfully grumbling misanthrope in a role that might well have been played by Walter Matthau in an earlier age. And, while we are fantasizing, let’s cast Shirley MacLaine in the cynically cheerful Keaton role. Anyway, the movie is diverting enough and at least isn’t at all a waste of our time. (Seen 30 June 2012)

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones 2 out of 4 stars

What have J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer wrought? Well, there are now a lot of YA fantasy/supernatural books out there—and not just books but whole series of books—and more than a few of them get made into movies. Here is another one. I actually once read a few pages of the source novel for this one, but I got distracted. My kid read about 100 pages. But we both agreed that this felt like a movie that probably was actually better than the book. A fair amount of the entertainment is ticking off the various influences: a bit of Harry Potter here, a big dose of Twilight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer there, a distinct Dan Brown vibe here and, hey, isn’t that a plot twist straight out of The Empire Strikes Back? Also fun to watch is the casting. Phil Collins’s daughter Lily makes a fine Clary, and she looks so much like Lena Headey, who plays her mother, that she’s more of a clone than a daughter. Twilight and Sweeney Todd veteran Jamie Campbell Bower is striking as the dashing shadowhunter Jace. He’s like a younger Jonathan Rhys Meyers who, as it happens, is also on board, as the dodgy shadowhunter Valentine. Other Irish cast members include Aidan Turner and Robert Sheehan (well known in Eire for his role on Love/Hate), who continues to evolve into the next James Franco. The Dumbledore character—to the extent that there is one—is played by the son of a real Dumbledore, the ever reliable Jared Harris, who has played the wildcard character in everything from Fringe to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. So, in the end, how is the movie anyway? It’s entertaining enough, but it really doesn’t matter. They haven’t waited for the box office results. Production on the sequel begins within weeks. (Seen 26 August 2013)

Mortel transfert (Mortal Transfer) 2 out of 4 stars

This isn’t so much like a Hitchcock film as like a Brian De Palma homage to a Hitchcock film, perhaps to the psychological suspense/thriller Spellbound. But the narrative isn’t quite like something either of those directors would do. The story doesn’t so much build up to a big final climax as wind itself up and then wind itself down again. The director is Jean-Jacques Beineix, who burst on the scene with the ultra-cool thriller Diva in 1981 and followed up with The Moon in the Gutter and Betty Blue. The central plot here is a psychiatrist’s worst nightmare: falling asleep during a session with a client only to wake up and find her strangled and not being sure you aren’t the one who killed her. But the film is interested in a whole lot more than just whodunnit. There is a lot of psyche exploration going on, as well as more than a bit of ribbing of psychiatrists who, in this movie, are even more screwed up than Frasier and Niles. The star is Jean-Hugues Anglade (Betty Blue, La Femme Nikita), who seems to have aged into some sort of cross-cloning of Roy Scheider and Martin Short. Extra bonus: we find out what really goes on at Paris’s Père La Chaise cemetery late at night. (Seen 7 June 2001)

Morvern Callar 1 out of 4 stars

Samantha Morton gets a few more words of dialog here than she did in Sweet and Lowdown and Minority Report, but not many. As the title character, she does her best to get on with her life after her boyfriend commits suicide. But you would think that she would call the police or somebody first. Oh well, I guess we all have our different ways of handling these things. There is sort of a plot here. The boyfriend has written a novel and his posthumous request is for Morvern to send it to a publisher. She does, but first she puts her own name on it. (His other request is for a funeral, but she disregards that as well.) This Scottish movie isn’t exactly what you would call watchable. Maybe it helps to have read the novel that director Lynne Ramsay based this on. Or maybe it helps to be a young woman who is into clubbing. Anyway, it seems much longer than its 97-minute running time. (Seen 12 October 2002)

The Most Fertile Man in Ireland 2 out of 4 stars

It’s official. The Troubles in Northern Ireland are over, and we can now laugh about them. And laugh we do in this satire on sex and politics by Belfast filmmaker Dudi Appleton. This is a different Belfast than we have ever seen in a feature film before. Its outrageous colors and comical characters are like nothing so much as a John Waters movie. And, as Appleton attests, the soundtrack was dredged up from the cheesiest LPs he could find in anybody’s old record collection. It’s hard to know what to make of the film’s snickering humor in the first reel, but by the time we encounter the hilarious Pauline McLynn (the housekeeper of Father Ted) as a woman desperate to be impregnated and James Nesbitt (Susan Lynch’s pig farmer suitor in Waking Ned Devine) as a wacko Loyalist, we know we are in for quite a, uh, ride. The central gag is so obvious that we don’t know why we didn’t see it coming: What would happen if one man were so fecund that he could single-handedly shift the increasingly close population parity between Ulster’s Unionist/Protestant and Nationalist/Catholic communities? Answer: Things would get very amusing. Memorable line: “Women are like microwaves. You need them to heat your noodles, but you don’t know how they work.” (Seen 10 March 2001)

Mother 2 out of 4 stars

We think we might have an idea of what Debbie Reynolds is like as a mother because her daughter wrote a novel called Postcards from the Edge and we saw Shirley MacLaine do a tour de force in the film version. But Mother is not about what kind of mother Debbie Reynolds is. It’s about what kind of mother Albert Brooks’s mother is. Got that? In this flick, Brooks plays a guy (apparently based on himself) who clearly never listens to Dr. Laura Schlesinger on the radio because he thinks that he can solve all his current problems by dwelling on his past relationship with his mother. This movie isn’t so much as a guffaw kind of comedy as a chuckle and snicker kind of comedy. After a winking nod to The Graduate, Brooks knowingly points out many of the cultural differences between the Depression and baby boom generations in ways that are familiar to many of us. One of the biggest laughs is the too-good-to-be-true feel-good ending. Presumably, here as in most of the movie, Brooks has his tongue firmly in his cheek. (Seen 18 February 1997)

Mouhim Wong (Dr. Wai in “The Scripture with No Words”) 3 out of 4 stars

This movie is just pure good old escapist entertainment. Part Indiana Jones movie, part Walter Mitty fantasy, and part romantic comedy, the film alternately amuses with its goofy humor and thrills with its special effects. The director is Ching Siu-tung, who helmed the Chinese Ghost Story movies, so you know you are in for a wild roller-coaster ride with breathtaking stunts and how’d-they-do-that? special effects. (I particularly liked a giant mechanical ox that crushes gobs of people under its studded rollers.) I am convinced that the English subtitles in Hong Kong movies are deliberately botched for the entertainment value. (At one point a woman enthuses, “Oh, good, he is jealousing!”) Whether by accident or design, some elements in the film seem ripped from recent headlines: Japanese villains use poison gas on victims, and an elegant party at a Japanese embassy is the scene of sabotage. (Seen 26 May 1997)

Moulin Rouge! 2 out of 4 stars

What to make of Baz Luhrmann’s last movie? If I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to ask myself that question, I’d have, well, I’d have 15 cents. But the point is that all three of Luhrmann’s movies leave us shaking our heads. The first one, Strictly Ballroom, left us shaking our heads in delight and amazement at a silly story that somehow turned exhilarating. The second one, Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio, left us shaking our heads over outlandish imagery and a familiar story made totally new and relevant. This one (the last of what Luhrmann calls his “red curtain trilogy”) leaves us shaking our heads over what was the precise point of this exercise. Luhrmann’s normal gig is doing operas in Australia, and in some ways this is a rock opera in the Andrew Lloyd Weber vein. It is also a fond homage to old movies, particularly all-singing, all-dancing Hollywood musicals, as well as a tribute to a slew of popular songs. Indeed, much of the fun of watching the movie comes from trying to identify all the song quotes. (“Smells Like Teen Spirit” has lyrics? Who knew?) Nicole Kidman’s starring role seems almost tailor-made for Madonna, an impression heightened by prominent use of two of her songs, “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” (hilariously rendered by a clearly delighted Jim Broadbent). More fun is derived from watching the mugging of John Leguizamo (as Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, invariably called by his friends simply “Toulouse”) and the villain played by Richard Roxburgh, looking eerily like David Spade. (Seen 15 October 2001)

Move Over, Darling 2 out of 4 stars

“It’s not too late!” exclaims Thelma Ritter early on in this madcap comedy. She doesn’t mean that it’s not too late to stop her son from getting re-married the very same day that his first wife has turned up alive, five years after going missing in the aftermath of a plane crash. No, that ship has sailed since this very day he has had her declared legally dead and has re-married, all within a scant few minutes. No, what Ritter means is, it’s not too late to stop the consummation. You see, this being a Doris Day picture, it is a given that presumed widower James Garner and divorcee Polly Bergen have been saving themselves for their wedding night. That’s pretty funny on its own, but it gets even better at the end, when we find out that Day’s character has spent five years in her own Doris-Day-movie hell holding on to her virginity, I mean fidelity, on that desert island. As is usual with these things, a situation that would be cleared up in ten minutes in the real world is dragged out for a couple of days in movie time because seemingly intelligent people inexplicably come up with every possible way to avoid simply telling somebody else what is going on. Sure, it’s silly, even for 1963. But you know, it’s a lot of fun anyway. A reliable parade of comic turns are provided by the likes of Don Knotts, Elliott Reid, Max Showalter, Alvy Moore, John Astin and Edgar Buchanan as a cranky judge and Fred Clark as the hotel clerk who does not like hanky-panky in his establishment. (Seen 22 August 2009)

Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2 out of 4 stars

Those dealmakers in Hollywood are getting cleverer and cleverer. Every once in a while they try to put together one of those sophisticated romantic comedies with lots of verbal sparring between powerful screen presences like Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth or Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But those movies soared on the sharp writing and the actors’ precision-aimed delivery. Contemporary Hollywood is either unable or (more likely, thanks to the lucrative youth market it targets) unwilling to let writing and acting alone carry such a film. So, they come up with ways to give the experience of a sophisticated rom com but with plenty of distraction to placate viewers’ presumably short attention spans. For instance, this movie marries its sparring-spouses plot to a special-effects-laded action thriller. Director Doug Liman—whose eclectic c.v. includes Swingers, Go and The Bourne Identity—working from screenwriter Simon Kinberg’s master thesis, has actually crafted a frequently amusing metaphor for modern marriage in this tale of two yuppies cohabitating in a tastefully antiseptic suburban home, neither one ever leaving his or her own space long enough to really know the other. The main characters never become human enough to care about, but at least we do occasionally get some really good lines when the sparring switches from weaponry to dialog. Not as many good lines as we got from Cary Grant, of course, but hey, we will take whatever we can get. Apparent moral of the story: there’s a lot less stress on a marriage if you can just blow up your house. Or if you are not a major star married to a major star. (Seen 23 July 2005)

Mr. Bean’s Holiday 2 out of 4 stars

I’ll confess to not having been overly excited about the prospect of another movie about Mr. Bean. I have always found that a little bit of this classic character, incarnated by the very talented Rowan Atkinson, goes a long way. The prospect of 90 minutes watching this near-mute epitome of the quintessential English twit seemed daunting. But there is actually something interesting going on here. The title is an obvious reference to Jacques Tati’s 1953 classic Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, and it is true that Mr. Bean legitimately lays claim to a long tradition of slapstick clowns that includes such geniuses as Chaplin, Keaton and Sellers. And, while Atkinson and his collaborators may not be doing themselves any favors by inviting comparisons to these gentlemen or to Tati, the movie eventually does win over the film buff through its loving homages to this cinematic tradition as well as to cinema itself. It turns out that Mr. Bean is headed to Cannes at the very time that the celebrated film festival is going on. And, happily, his path crosses those of characters played by extremely engaging actors: young Max Baldry, as a Russian film director’s son, and Emma de Caunes, who enchanted, well, at least me anyway in the quirky Irish musical Short Order. Various vignettes along the way evoke any number of movies, particularly those about journeys on the road. At one point, when we get fleeting glimpses of strangers at the end of a series of random phone calls, it even seems like a nod to Chantal Akerman. And the ending could be seen as a tribute to Jacques Demy. But the best bits by far are the performance by Willem Dafoe, as an American director, and his hilarious film within a film that raises pretentiousness and self-absorption to whole new levels. (Seen 20 April 2007)

Mr. Deeds 2 out of 4 stars

Just as well Frank Capra didn’t live to see this. This isn’t really a remake of the 1936 Gary Cooper/Jean Arthur classic. It’s a Saturday Night Live-style parody of it. That means that there are quite a few laughs, but it is essentially empty of any heart or soul. Oh sure, it pays lip service to Capra’s original view of social inequality, a theme that is ripe for these post-Enron cynical-about-the-capitalist-system times. But when it comes time to make the big speech at the end, summing up the right and the wrong of it all, it is played strictly for awkward laughs. And that’s fine, because the movie is at least smart enough to know that it isn’t clever enough to fake sincerity. Sandler’s Longfellow Deeds is a strange character. He’s touchy-feely enough to hug men when he first meets them, but he doesn’t mind knocking a few heads when he feels slighted. Convicted klepto Winona Ryder is strangely appropriate for the woman who means to take advantage of him, and she’s genuinely funny in a fight scene with Conchata Ferrell. In the film’s funniest bit, she stumbles her way through a situation in which her improbably named and supposedly fictitious Iowa hometown actually turns out to exist. But the movie reveals where its heart really is at the end, when this 21st century Mr. Deeds gladly takes a cool billion in cash as a gift from a friend. As a public, we revile people who get rich too quick, but mainly because it’s not us. (Seen 27 November 2002)

Mr. Holland’s Opus 1 out of 4 stars

I saw this on an airplane, so I’m probably not giving it a fair shake. The makers of this film have spared no expense to make you shed tears. Not satisfied with having Goodbye, Mr. Chips, they also have to play the Mickey-and-Judy-let’s-put-on-a-show card, the Forrest Gump nostalgic soundtrack and Vietnam card, and the It’s a Wonderful Life card. You may well cry upon watching this movie, but it’s likely to be a Pavlovian response conditioned by many previous movies. (Seen 7 May 1996)

Mrs. Brown 2 out of 4 stars

Billy Connolly is an outrageous Scottish comic who sometimes gets into trouble for going over the line on British TV. But he does a fine and sincere acting turn in this movie, essentially playing a restrained version of himself in the 19th century. The title Mrs. Brown refers to a sarcastic nickname applied to Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench, James Bond’s new M in Goldeneye) for her reliance on a Scottish commoner aide/friend/confidant, John Brown. The movie follows their relationship over many years and recounts how Brown helped the queen deal with her grief over the death of her husband, mainly because he was the only person in her circle who didn’t fear or patronize her. As he evolved into a cross between Sir Walter Raleigh and Rasputin, he became a political target. The direction of this Masterpiece Theatre production by John Madden (Ethan Frome) is handsome but low-key—sort of like Remains of the Day but without the cumulative impact. With Connolly’s toned-down performance, the real scenery chewing is left to Anthony Sher (the duped psychiatrist in The Young Poisoner’s Handbook) as a delightfully smarmy and ironic Prime Minister Disraeli. (Seen 8 June 1997)

Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie 2 out of 4 stars

Where to begin explaining this to someone not immersed in Irish or UK television? More to the point, will this appeal to anyone not already familiar with this Christmas panto masquerading as a TV show? Let’s start with this. Dublin-born and bred funnyman Brendan O’Carroll has been trading on his popular character Agnes Brown for quite a few years now. Inspired by his own mother, he wrote a book called The Mammy which was adapted for a 1999 movie directed by Anjelica Huston in which the filmmaker herself played the titular Agnes Browne. Not content with that and in a plot twist worthy of a Hitckcock shocker, O’Carroll himself took to dressing in drag to play the Northside matriarch on the stage and on the telly. The real shock is that it turned out to be strangely compelling, not least because O’Carroll’s turn actually compares well to Robin Williams’s Mrs. Doubtfire in terms of being utterly convincing. His foul-mouthed Dublin mother was not only believable but very funny in a guilty pleasure sort of way. The appeal (if you can call it that) of the TV show rests largely on the title character’s profane outbursts and the star’s penchant for breaking the fourth wall (though never his character) and cracking up his co-stars, who largely consist of members of his own family. (Among the weird twists: his wife plays his daughter.) Predictably enough, the movie is more of the same but supplemented with meta-jokes about the fact that much of the action takes place on location rather than in a studio. In the interest of greater meaning and depth, though, the film consciously devotes itself to being a paean to the “real” Dublin, i.e. the working class territories north of the River Liffey. And it nods to topicality with its working-people-against-the-bad-guys story involving Russian gangsters, ruthless developers and corrupt politicians. While generally amusing, for my money there is just one laugh-out-loud moment in the whole thing. It involves an elderly IRA bomber with Parkinson’s. (Seen 30 December 2014)

Mrs. Dalloway 3 out of 4 stars

A British production directed by a Dutch Oscar winner (Marleen Gorris, who got her trophy for the popular Antonia’s Line), Mrs. Dalloway is the quintessential “art house movie.” That is, it consists mainly of a lot of stuffy English people at the height of empire doing a lot of talking. Things start slowly. Vanessa Redgrave, radiant in the title role, goes about preparing for a party. We see lots of flashbacks to her youth. And there is a seemingly unrelated side plot involving Rupert Graves as a shell-shocked war veteran. By the time we get to the end of the film, however, we have a culminating and wonderful sense of the passage of time, the trivialities of middle and upper class existence, and the weight of choices we make in our lives. This is clearly Redgrave’s movie. In addition to a lovely performance, her friend Eileen Atkins wrote the script from Virginia Woolf’s novel. Unlike the previous Woolf adaptation Orlando, this one makes its points powerfully by using a beguiling subtlety. (Seen 23 January 1998)

Mrs. Doubtfire 3 out of 4 stars

What we tend to remember about this flick, arguably the best of Robin Williams’s comedy film performances, are the hilarious bits—the man-dressed-as-a-woman gags, the farcical mix-ups and quick costume changes, the over-the-top restaurant sequence where things spin out of control and finally collapse. On re-viewing it, however, and particularly in light of Williams’s recent and tragic demise, what stands out are the sad bits, the agonizing bits, the darkness underlying the comical antics. Sort of a Mary Poppins-meets-Some Like It Hot, the movie begins, quite traumatically, with the un-sugarcoated breakup of a marriage. At the point in time when the movie came out, we were primed to expect in a family comedy that the warring spouses would be happily reconciled at the end. But director Chris Columbus was of a new generation of filmmakers that reflected modern reality in their family movies. In the end, we are told simply that sometimes parents and kids live together and sometimes they don’t. Two years before taking up the James Bond mantle, Pierce Brosnan gamely takes on the Ralph Bellamy role, although he can barely contain his amusement at Williams’s antics. Sally Field delicately balances on the line between shrew and superwoman roadkill. But they and the rest of the cast are always working in the shadow of the comedy genius that was Robin Williams. From voice work to physical shtick to force-of-nature funniness, he had it all. But from now on, his movies—this one in particular—will never look the same. From now on, when watching his performance, we cannot help but focus on the mania, the desperation, the inability to control his own impulses, and the curse of being his own worst enemy. (Seen 12 August 2014)

Mrs. Munck 0 out of 4 stars

Mrs. Munck is essentially a vanity film by Diane Ladd. Ladd has had roles in such films as Chinatown, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and Rambling Rose, but this is her first directing effort. She also wrote the screenplay (adapted from a novel by Ella Leffland) and has the starring role. Before the screening, she gave an impassioned talk about how difficult it is for female actors to break into directing, and she said that Mrs. Munck was the biggest miracle in her life since the birth of her daughter, Laura Dern. (She then went on to describe the birth in intricate medical detail. I’ll never be able to think of Laura the same way again.) Her point about it being difficult for women in general, and female actors in particular, to get opportunities to direct is valid. But this film isn’t necessarily the best way to make her case. Mrs. Munck tells the story of a recently widowed woman who takes in her dead husband’s step-father, who is in poor mental and physical health and uses a wheelchair. She then sets about devising all sorts of mental tortures for him, and in flashbacks we learn why she hates him so much. None of this is as entertaining or involving as it is meant to be. (You can tell this isn’t a French movie, however, because no one gets tied to a radiator.) In fact, the most interesting thing about the movie is the fact that Ladd cast her ex-husband Bruce Dern (looking totally frazzled and bug-eyed) as the step-father. We are left to wonder how much of their real-life relationship found itself into this movie. This was the first public screening of the movie. Ladd is actively seeking a North American distributor. (Seen 8 June 1995)

La mujer del anarquista (The Anarchist’s Wife) 2 out of 4 stars

In the American remake, I’m afraid this movie will star Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Bullock. The first question is whether a love story is being used as a device to recount the Spanish Civil War or whether the Spanish Civil War is being used as a backdrop for a love story. As a history this movie, written by Marie Noelle who co-directed with Peter Sehr, definitely sympathizes with the Loyalists (as if a movie were going to side with Franco) but has the grace to convey the messiness of civil war and confusing and sometimes changing loyalties. In a nutshell, Juan Diego Botto plays a radio propagandist for the Republicans in Madrid. As rebel forces close in on the capital, he leaves his young family to join forces in Barcelona, thus beginning a long separation of the family, without his wife and daughter knowing for years if he is dead or alive, as they have to adjust to life under Franco. One gets the feeling that this wants to be the Spanish Doctor Zhivago, but it’s a bit more like a soap opera than an epic. A big part of the problem is that the character of Manuela, the wife, becomes more and more tiresome as things wear on. And she’s just one of several characters whose motives don’t always make sense. This is frustrating because the idea behind the movie is a really good one. There have been movies about the civil war before, but not many (that I have seen anyway) that follow characters into the years and decades after. When we finally reach the end, however, and our point-of-view character suggests that the movie is honoring the struggles of an earlier generation, we’re just not clear exactly why. (Seen 9 July 2009)

Una Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman) 2 out of 4 stars

What better way to celebrate (Irish) Mother’s Day than to return to Galway’s fabulous Pálás to see another recent Oscar winner—and one so aptly titled for the occasion? And how great to hear again the version of Spanish (Chilean) that rests most happily on my ears and to see the city of Santiago on screen. But enough about me. What about the movie? Director Sebastián Lelio has carved a respected reputation with films centering on familial alienation (La Sagrada Familia, Navidad) and on strong women characters (Gloria). This flick fits easily into both categories. We meet Marina on the evening that she celebrates her birthday with her older and besotted lover Orlando. Sadly, their happiness is cut short abruptly by a medical emergency, and the film follows Marina’s difficult path through the following few days. Required to deal with medical staff, the police, Orlando’s estranged wife and various family members, Marina is put through a series of situations ranging from awkward to insensitive to downright humiliating to shockingly abusive. (Her situation is not helped by the fact that Orlando arrived at the hospital with serious injuries, having fallen down a flight of stairs in the initial confusion. Or that she had only recently moved in with Orlando.) The movie’s success or failure will be personal to the viewer, as it rests entirely on the shoulders of Daniela Vega in the title role. The camera focuses directly on her—often in close-up—for most of the film’s running time. We are meant to get everything from her face, from her eyes, and from peering into her very soul. Occasionally, Vega’s task is aided by a fanciful touch, such as when she struggles against a literal headwind or when she magically levitates on a dance floor. Mostly though, our hunger for a story relies on what we can draw from the determined look on Vega’s face. This woman-centered focus and the at-times-melodramatic storyline are more than a bit reminiscent of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, although Lelio eschews some of the Spaniard’s more extreme touches. A Fantastic Woman is clearly intended as an “issues” movie in that Marina’s story illustrates the challenges faced by the transgendered, but inevitably viewers will connect (or not) based on whether they can make that crucial emotional connection with the central character. (Seen 11 March 2018)

Mulholland Drive 2 out of 4 stars

The touches are all there. The enthusiastic, innocent outsider landing in town. The odd, quirky locals. The red curtains. The strange revealing/confusing dreams. The buzzing/crackling light fixtures. The characters obsessed with coffee. The criminal mystery that turns out to really be a metaphysical mystery. That’s right, David Lynch is back, and this ain’t no Straight Story. This is essentially Los Angeles getting the Twin Peaks treatment. There is even a shadowy, malevolent figure in the style of TP’s Bob, as well as a brief appearance by a Log Lady-like character. Apparently, Mulholland Drive was originally conceived as another TV series, but that didn’t happen. Consequently, we get a complete story in two and a half hours with all the plot’s loose ends tied up nicely. Yeah, right! After an interesting enough setup that lasts about the length of a TV pilot, the narrative suddenly turns itself inside out and backwards similar to Lynch’s confounding Lost Highway. On the other hand, we also get some hot lesbian sex and some plot turns that make us think that in some strange way this movie is really about Anne Heche. (Seen 10 October 2001)

Multiplicity 2 out of 4 stars

In 1993 SCTV alum Harold Ramis made a cute little fable starring Bill Murray called Groundhog Day, and it was basically about how to get Andie MacDowell to fall in love with you. Now he’s back with a cute little fable starring Michael Keaton called Multiplicity, and it is basically about how to make your marriage with Andie MacDowell work. Who among us has not at one time or another said, “What I need is a clone!"? Well, Keaton’s character gets to do this literally. But, in the end, he learns some Important Lessons, including: if you’re not in control of your life, it doesn’t matter how many clones you have. And: if you’re not personally involved in your life, you will miss your life. The growth in Keaton’s character is nowhere near that of Murray’s character in the earlier film, so the overall effect is less impressive. On the other hand, Keaton so masterfully creates and interacts with his clone characters that Eddie Murphy should feel just plain embarrassed about his work in The Nutty Professor. (Seen 2 August 1996)

Mumford 2 out of 4 stars

This movie provides an excellent case study of how American towns portrayed in contemporary Hollywood movies differ from the real thing (and are really about Hollywood anyway). For example, the generally idyllic town of Mumford is easily able to support a psychiatrist, two psychologists and at least one criminal attorney. One of the town’s residents (nicely played by Jason Lee) is coping with finding himself a multi-billionaire and thinks it’s okay to pay someone to be his friend. And, a woman with a compulsion to buy mail-order products she doesn’t need is seen to have made a great breakthrough when she enters into an extra-marital affair. But, hey, it’s a movie, so just go with it. (Actually, it’s not clear just how small Mumford is, but it’s small enough for a disdainful Ted Danson—in a funny turn as jerk executive type—to dismiss it as “Mayberry RFD.”) Anyway, the film starts slowly, but there are enough intriguing things going on to keep you watching to see what happens next, and it’s a credit to writer/director Lawrence Kasdan (who has given us such quality stuff as Body Heat, The Big Chill and Silverado) that the path of his narrative is never completely obvious but in the end is worth following. Loren Dean is okay but a bit bland as the man everyone in town feels comfortable talking to, but that may be the point. As his love interest, Hope Davis looks unnervingly like Hillary Rodham Clinton. And, as Davis’s mother, Dana Ivey gives Helen Mirren’s Mrs. Tingle character a run for her money as the most frightening woman in a recent movie. (Seen 18 September 1999)

The Mummy 2 out of 4 stars

Just one question: if you wanted to punish someone who had just violated your society’s most serious laws, why on earth would you put a curse on him that would result in him coming back as an all-powerful being that could destroy the entire earth? Okay, I lied; here’s another question: why, if you were fighting such an all-powerful being and you found out that the only thing he feared was cats, would you not from that moment on go nowhere without at least four or five felines strapped to your body? Okay, I know that I’m not supposed to ask questions like these. I’m just supposed to sit back and enjoy the special effects and the humor and not worry too much about the verisimilitude of the plot. And that’s the best way to deal with this popcorn-chomping Saturday afternoon entertainment. It’s really a cartoon of a movie, but not one where the characters spring back from every misfortune that befalls them—at least not most of the supporting characters. But even when much of the cast is dispatched, there is still something cheerful about the whole business. As a horror/action movie, the tone falls somewhere between Indiana Jones and Abbott & Costello. And since all of the American characters seem to have stepped out of the Wild West, the tone is actually somewhat reminiscent of one of my most lamented TV series, the wholly under-appreciated Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Brendan Fraser is okay, but he’s no Bruce Campbell. John Hannah, who showed he could be extremely amusing in Sliding Doors, is moderately amusing here. (Seen 14 June 1999)

The Muppet Christmas Carol 2 out of 4 stars

What’s surprising about this 1992 Muppet outing is how faithful it stays to the original story. The most notable liberty—aside from making most of the characters non-human—is to give Jacob Marley a brother, so that those two hecklers from the balcony can play the duo. Sure, there is ample amount of the usual Muppet gags, but these are relegated to the periphery, mostly in the form of the Great Gonzo and Rizzo Rat, acting as some sort of Greek chorus in the form of Charles Dickens and, well, Rizzo the Rat. The human cast (consisting almost entirely of Michael Caine as Scrooge and Steven Mackintosh as his nephew), as well as many of the Muppets, play it completely straight. Caine actually gives an extremely respectable portrayal of old Ebenezer that stands up to comparison with any number of “serious” adaptations. The result is an unexpectedly useful annotated edition of the classic story that makes it very accessible to young viewers, without diluting the story or the message. (Seen 25 December 2006)

The Muppets Take Manhattan 2 out of 4 stars

One of the best reasons to have a four-year-old in your house is to have a pretext to watch movies like this, especially if you didn’t have a four-year-old handy twenty years ago, when the movie first came out. Of course, for years now lots of adults haven’t bothered with the cover of a child to enjoy the antics of Jim Henson’s creations on the small or big screen. Henson’s stable has always managed to pull off the neat trick of tickling children and adults simultaneously, so that parents don’t mind at all watching Sesame Street, while the wretched Barney should be covered by the Geneva conventions. (The worst part is that really young children really do love that purple dinosaur, perhaps because it is aimed at them exclusively.) Seeing this movie two decades on, one is struck by how leisurely the pace seems when compared with children’s fare these days. Attentions spans have definitely gotten shorter or, to put a more positive spin on it, toddlers these days seem to be able to process information a lot faster than they used to. Perhaps the most fun this flick provides for adults is the numerous celebrity cameos. How strange it is that Kermit and Miss Piggy haven’t aged at all, but look at how much younger the likes of Elliott Gould and Liza Minelli look. And, of course, there are bittersweet appearances by those who have gone on to the great beyond, i.e. Art Carney, Gregory Hines, Joan Rivers’s face. Watch for Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Gates McFadden (credited as Cheryl) as Dabney Coleman’s secretary. (Seen 12 September 2004)

Music and Lyrics 2 out of 4 stars

There’s something oddly old-fashioned about this show business yarn of the wisecracking composer and the quirky lyricist falling in love over cranking out a tune. It’s a set-up that goes back to Tin Pan Alley and beyond. But it’s first and foremost A Hugh Grant Movie, which means it is comfortably unsurprising. Grant and writer/director Marc Lawrence did this previously in Two Weeks Notice and subsequently in Did You Hear About the Morgans? and The Rewrite. You don’t watch because you enjoy the suspense. You watch—or don’t—because you enjoy Grant’s endless string of leading man quips, not unlike the films of his near-namesake Cary Grant. The best thing about this flick is its send-up of 1980s pop stars—not to mention 21st century tween/teen female pop idols, as personified by the very nubile Haley Bennett in her screen debut. Grant is actually very funny in flashback scenes as half of a shimmying-and-shaking pop duo. He is basically the guy in Wham! who was not George Michael. As the flaky woman with a gift for putting words together, Drew Barrymore is nearly too good at playing someone with severe emotional and self-confidence issues. Let’s just say she’s no Sandra Bullock. And the story never quite musters the emotional urgency of, say, About a Boy. In the end, it is all harmless enough and occasionally a bit of fun, but it doesn’t really come up to the standard of the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. It’s more like high-quality junk food. (Seen 1 July 2015)

The Music Man 3 out of 4 stars

Although Meredith Wilson had a long and productive career, including writing three Broadway musicals, he will be forever remembered for and identified with this one. (The others were The Unsinkable Molly Brown and a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street.) This is certainly because the music is infectiously catchy and durable (I defy anybody to hear “76 Trombones” and not want to get up immediately and start marching around) but also because the portrait of early 20th century small town Midwestern America is so well observed because Wilson drew on his own Iowa roots. I keep trying classic musicals on my kid because her generation seems to have an appreciation for this form (thanks to MTV, Disney and other studios) that mine didn’t because we were into rejecting any artificiality we found in our parents’ tastes. I have to report that The Music Man could not keep up her interest. It is, after all, two and half hours long and has a fairly slight story. But I came away with renewed appreciation for the hours of pure entertainment that it provides, thanks in large part to Robert Preston in the singing/dancing/fast talking performance of his career. There is also some nice nostalgia in seeing a pint-sized future TV star and A-list director in the form of Ron Howard, as well as such great character actors as Buddy Hackett, Paul Ford, Hermione Gingold, Charles Lane and Mary Wicke. But the real star is the music and the energetic dance numbers and a distinct rhythmic vocal patter in the dialog and the lyrics that David Mamet might admire. How can anyone watch this movie and not just feel great? (Seen 28 May 2011)

Music of the Heart 2 out of 4 stars

What in the name of Freddy Krueger is going on here?! First, kinky and violent moviemaker David Lynch helms the gentle and touching The Straight Story. Now, slasher/horror master Wes Craven films this inspiring true-life story of a dedicated music teacher. What’s next? The George Romero remake of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm? Anyway, whereas every frame of Lynch’s G-rated effort still has the unmistakable Lynch style, there’s not much in Music of the Heart that is uniquely Craven. And, though it is based on actual events, it has a predictability about it that Craven’s horror films (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream)—not to mention reality in general—usually do not. This movie is told completely from the self-mythologizing point of view of the undeniably admirable Roberta Guaspari. (And, since she is played by Meryl Streep, we know we are getting every nuance and tic of the real person.) Most of the other characters, particularly the apathetic senior music teacher and a couple of obnoxious parents, come off as completely two-dimensional so as to throw her into even bolder relief. Having said all this, however, I deny anyone not to get a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye by the film’s rousing finale, demonstrating its clear superiority over Stephen Herek’s similarly themed Mr. Holland’s Opus. (Seen 5 November 1999)

Mute Witness 3 out of 4 stars

The best rollercoaster ride of the 1995 Seattle film festival has to be Mute Witness which is a suspense thriller that doesn’t give you more than a moment or two to catch your breath—or loosen your grip on your seat’s edge—during its entire 90-minute running time. It is inevitably referred to as “Hitchcockian,” and it definitely follow’s Hitch’s formula of taking an ordinary person and thrusting them into extraordinary circumstances where their life is in extreme danger and no one believes them. But the pacing and relentless suspense and action make you feel as though you’ve been through an Indiana Jones movie. Fortunately, there are regular bits of humor along the way to keep it all from becoming too unrelenting. (And it’s just as well that you don’t have much time to think while it’s all going on or else you’d realize that some parts don’t quite make sense.) This impressive film debut by Anthony Waller is a British production filmed in Moscow. The cast, which does a uniformly fine job, was unknown to me with the exception of Alec Guinness who has an uncredited cameo. (Seen 6 June 1995)

My Best Friend’s Wedding 3 out of 4 stars

Ironically, many if not most of the Hollywood movies that we get nostalgic for because they are so quintessentially American… were actually the creative products of immigrants! The tradition continues even today. While so much of our native-born movie talent is preoccupied with spending big bucks on virtual reality thrill rides, the foreigners are still coming to Hollywood with fresh takes on our own mythology. If you want a good action movie, look for a director from Hong Kong (e.g. John Woo with Face/Off). If you want a wacky romantic comedy, get an Australian. In 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding, P.J. Hogan demonstrated that Aussie knack for mixing comedy with sentiment, unpredictable plot turns, and reprising old pop songs for camp effect. He does it all again for My Best Friend’s Wedding which, like the earlier film, is about getting married or, more to the point, not getting married. Rather than resort (exclusively) to romantic comedy clichés, Hogan actually has a story to tell and a point to make. Indeed, we actually learn something meaningful in the course of this romp, as we recognize ourselves in Julia Roberts’s frantic quest not to let her youth and her dreams slip away. (Seen 22 July 1997)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 out of 4 stars

By now, everyone in America has seen this movie. But not content to be the last American to see it, I waited to see it in Ireland after half of Ireland had seen it as well. Interestingly, the Irish seem to have taken to this simple but heartfelt story as much as the Yanks. To me, this is a quintessentially American story of the fabled melting pot and how it works. But its story line of how two products of extremely different families fall in love and have a wedding, with all its attendant nerve-wracking pressures, is universal. You don’t have to marry a Greek-American (or even a Greek) to identify with the hair-raising rituals of meeting the prospective in-laws and working out a whole bunch of new relationships with virtual strangers. The film, which is fairly cartoon-ish in its depiction of the Greek-American family as well as the bridegroom’s incredibly white-bread parents, is blessed with some deft casting. Especially good to see are Michael Constantine and Lanie Kazan as writer/star Nia Vardalos’s parents. Even more wonderful is watching Andrea Martin getting a chance to strut her stuff as the perpetually nagging Aunt Voula. But, as happy as the ending of this romantic romp is, I (myself a participant in my own cross-cultural marriage) found all its coziness more than a bit chilling. (Seen 28 September 2002)

My Fair Lady 4 out of 4 stars

My earliest impression of this movie was a bit negative. As a child, I mainly thought of it as the movie that should have starred Julie Andrews but didn’t (she had starred in the stage version), but Julie showed them and won the Best Actress Oscar that year for Mary Poppins. Years later, when I saw this movie properly for the first time (in Paris of all places), I couldn’t imagine it more perfect—even without Ms. Andrews. In a way, Audrey Hepburn was born to play Eliza Doolittle. She was something of an Eliza herself in real life, which is why she works so well as women who transform themselves into sophisticates (cf. Breakfast at Tiffany’s), as opposed to women who are born sophisticates. The perfect casting, of course, extends to Rex Harrison, who really seems to be Henry Higgins, and Stanley Holloway, who is nearly impossible to imagine in any other role. Less showy but equally good are supporting players like Wilfrid Hyde-White as the genial Colonel Pickering and Mona Washbourne as the perpetually bewildered head housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. But for all the acting talent, the real star is undeniably the lyrics and melodies of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. As is often the contrary with musicals, their immortal songs do not stop the action. They are the action. (Seen 27 February 2011)

My Favorite Year 4 out of 4 stars

Did I mention that I love this movie? It has been on my top ten list of English language films since this web site was born. I jumped at the opportunity to see it on the big screen again and, wonder of wonders, just before I actually got to see its star, Peter O’Toole, in the flesh. It would be easy to dismiss this flick as just another zany comedy, but O’Toole’s performance, playing a character based on Errol Flynn but with clear echoes of himself, elevates it above mere slapstick and one-liners. Moreover, there are two scenes that are so well done that I start to cry every time I see them. One is where O’Toole’s character dances with a woman who is at New York’s Stork Club to celebrate her 40th wedding anniversary. The other is when O’Toole and his young minder Benjy, played by Mark Linn-Baker, leave Benjy’s mother’s apartment in Brooklyn after a dinner. Word has spread through the building that the famous star Alan Swann is there, and a crowd has formed. One by one, the neighbors introduce themselves by name and apartment number and tell the star how much they have enjoyed his work. In those two scenes, there is something so wonderfully American and human and eloquent about the bonds we form with the people who entertain us. O’Toole’s graciousness in both cases speaks volumes about how considerate and good even the most elevated of us can be. Few scenes in movies make me feel so good about the world. The movie, directed by Richard Benjamin and produced by an un-credited Mel Brooks, also effectively re-creates a very specific time and place, drawing on Brooks’s experiences as a writer for Sid Caesar’s TV show in the 1950s. Even through the exaggerations, we feel as though we are really there. Probably the most memorable line (of many) in the movie comes when O’Toole’s character suddenly realizes that his TV appearance will be going out live to the entire nation. When reminded of his thespian talents by Benjy, the panicky star shouts, “Damn you! I’m not an actor, I’m a movie star!” It’s a great line but, of course, once again Peter O’Toole was showing that he was both. (Seen 13 July 2008)

My Family (Mi Familia) 2 out of 4 stars

Twelve years ago Gregory Nava made a film called El Norte which did (on a smaller scale) for Hispanic Americans what Roots did for African Americans. Now he has a made a multi-generational saga about a Mexican American family in East Los Angeles. The cast reads like a Who’s Who of Hispanic actors: Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, and many others. This is basically a sentimental soap opera, but it is also clearly a labor of love for all involved. And it provides a much different view of East LA than we usually get through movies and other media. Like most movies of this type, the main drawback is that we hardly have time to know a character before he or she vanishes or is subjected to aging makeup. But I think it is worth seeing just to be reminded that many Mexican Americans have deeper roots in this country than many of us European Americans. (One early member of the family was born in California while it was still part of Mexico.) (Seen 21 May 1995)

My First Mister 2 out of 4 stars

This movie, directed by the actor Christine Lahti, gives the impression early on that it is going to be a gender-reversed Harold and Maude for the new millenium. But, times being what they are, instead of the older person teaching the younger one how to enjoy life, it’s the other way around. The movie starts out fairly well, with Leelee Sobieski (who had a brief but memorable—and blonde—role in Eyes Wide Shut) doing a nice job as a totally alienated, death-obsessed, goth-appearing teenager. And who can blame her for her adolescent angst, since her parents are a cloying Carol Kane and an airhead Michael McKean in a bad rug? The unlikely object of her affection is a totally square Albert Brooks. (Think Mayberry’s Floyd the barber without the glasses.) The ending is a real tearjerker, but it is weakened by the liberal Hollywood tendency to make Death an occasion for a group hug and therapeutic benefits. (Seen 14 May 2001)

My Friend Joe 2 out of 4 stars

Chris Bould’s My Friend Joe could almost be a Disney film except that, since it takes place in Ireland, the language would probably merit an R rating. The story deals with 13-year-old Chris who lives in a beautiful spot on Ireland’s east coast. He is more or less ostracized by the other lads because he doesn’t have the nerve to jump from a cliff into the sea, which is their club’s initiation rite. Things change, however, when Chris meets an American kid named Joe who can seemingly do anything. But Joe has a few unhappy secrets. My Friend Joe is engaging and exciting, thanks largely to the daredevil stunts that Joe is called on to perform and to the fact that Schuyler Fisk is uniquely suited to this tricky role. Joel Grey has a supporting role as the father figure in whom Joe confides. (Seen 1 June 1996)

My Kingdom 2 out of 4 stars

Here is another movie that is interesting only because we happen to know that it is based on a play by Shakespeare. If somehow we didn’t know that, we would have to consider this a very bad film indeed. The source for this film is King Lear and director/co-writer Don Boyd has updated the story to modern-day Liverpool—an idea which does nothing for that city’s public image. Richard Harris plays a criminal godfather with three daughters, and the excesses of the story make it inevitable that this will become a black comedy. Boyd would have been better off making the film even funnier, since the main enjoyment we get from it is the cat fighting between the two bad daughters. As a Dynasty/Dallas-style bitchfest, the movie almost works. The highlight, which comes way too early, is a funeral scene that is intercut in classic Godfather style with a violent torture scene. The two daughters try to outdo each other in eulogizing their murdered mother, and one finally begins belting out, badly, a Barry Manilow song. (The mother’s name was Mandy.) In these twin tableaus, it’s too close to call as to where the greater torture is taking place. (Seen 7 October 2002)

My Little Girl 1 out of 4 stars

This one was a particularly keen disappointment. It comes from the Merchant-Ivory stable, which has turned out a whole string of tasteful, high-class films, like A Room with a View. And the cast looked so good. It stars Mary Stuart Masterson, who was the best thing (many would say the only good thing) in Some Kind of Wonderful. Also featured are James Earl Jones, the classy actor whose heavy breathing was immortalized in three Star Wars movies, and the excellent Geraldine Page (Oscar winner for The Trip to Bountiful). So, what could go wrong? Answer: the script and the supporting actors. Franny (Masterson) is a 16-year-old rich girl who, in place of parents, has a couple of caricatures of rich people. Mother plays tennis and has a brain the size of a photon. Father is an attorney who gives lip service to liberal ideas but is basically an elitist snob. Franny gets a summer job at The Children’s Center, a facility for female juveniles who are placed there because they are black or because they are white teen-age whores. In the best Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland tradition, Franny thinks she can make these kids’ lives better if they can just put on a show. Her boss is James Earl Jones, who is kind of at a loss. (Instead of asking the director, “What is my motivation here?” he probably kept asking, “How much am I getting paid again?”) Franny gets into serious trouble when a girl she is trying to help is sent to another institution that is so bad that Klaus Barbie would have moral qualms about being associated with it. In an incredible series of events, Franny springs and then gets abducted by a pimp who is the kind of dastardly fellow who drives teenage girls out to the airport and makes them find their own way home. Unfortunately, Geraldine Page, who plays Franny’s blue-haired grandmother, doesn’t get to do anything except look sympathetic and impart some pearls of wisdom now and then. Probably the best thing in the movie is when Franny’s father hands her that old line about him being the one who puts a roof over her head and the clothes on her back. Franny then takes off her clothes and stomps out. (Seen 27 May 1987)

My One and Only 2 out of 4 stars

Not an official adaptation of George Hamilton’s autobiography, Don’t Mind If I Do, this movie is clearly inspired by it. (Hamilton is the executive producer.) While the relevant portions of the book read more like a zany screwball comedy, director Richard Loncraine (Wimbledon, Firewall) and writer Charlie Peters (Blame It on Rio, Her Alibi) have made the movie a heartfelt family dramedy. Renée Zellweger makes the most of one of her better roles, as the eccentric southern belle mother of two boys who, after leaving her unfaithful bandleader husband (Kevin Bacon), embarks on a cross-country car journey with the implicit goal of finding a new husband. As a stand-in for the young Hamilton, Logan Lerman (best known for title roles in TV’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and Jack & Bobby) essays a confidence reminiscent of the young Christian Slater. But the best lines and deliveries go to Mark Rendall (for three years the voice of the titular aardvark in PBS’s Arthur) as Lerman’s flamboyant older half-brother. Perhaps the nicest surprise is Nick Stahl (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Sin City) as an apartment neighbor whose intentions are a bit ambiguous. Evoking, in a white tee-shirt, a mixture of James Dean and Marlon Brando (the film milks all the nostalgia it can from its 1953 setting), Stahl provides a bit of grace to a narrative that has its full share of disappointing characters. (Seen 11 September 2010)

My Son the Fanatic 2 out of 4 stars

The title suggests that this will be a comedy about a generational clash, and it is, sort of. There are definitely funny bits in this tale of a Pakistani immigrant in Britain, who has bought the values of his adopted country wholesale. But since this film is written by Hanif Kureishi, who also penned My Beautiful Launderette, we know that this mix of cultures will inevitably lead to conflict and self-questioning. Om Puri plays the middle-aged cab driver who has slaved for years to give his son a good life, indulging himself mainly with drinking whiskey and listening to jazz records in the basement. And having late night conversations with his friend and confidante, Rachel Griffiths (Hilary and Jackie), one of the prostitutes who frequent his cab. Puri’s world unravels when his son dumps his white, upper-class girlfriend and begins exploring his Islamic roots, leading to an inevitable and apparently irreconcilable split with his father. It’s a dilemma with no easy resolution, and director Udayan Prasad offers none. We are left to conclude that the bridge between two very different cultures passes through its own very special hell. (Seen 18 May 1999)

My Week with Marilyn 2 out of 4 stars

This is a movie that is fairly irresistible to movie fans. For one thing, you have Kenneth Branagh, who some would argue is his generation’s Olivier, playing Laurence Olivier. And we get the behind-the-scenes dirt on the only collaboration of two entertainment icons—Olivier and Marilyn Monroe—based on the diaries of documentary filmmaker Colin Clark, who died in 2002 and was the son of historian Kenneth Clark. The young star-struck Clark managed to wangle a gofer job on a rare movie production directed by Olivier. (This film makes clear why the great actor would be loath to direct another.) Simon Curtis’s movie does a nice job illuminating not only the culture clash between the Brits and the Yanks but also the clash of different approaches to acting. As the film has it, Olivier is an actor who wants to be a movie star and Monroe is a movie star who wants to be an actor. The main hurdle, which the movie never really gets over, is the fact that Monroe’s image is so entrenched in our popular culture that it’s hard to buy Michelle Williams in the role—although her performance can’t be faulted. There are moments—as when she spontaneously charms the staff at Windsor Castle—that she succeeds wildly with the illusion. Eddie Redmayne has an easier job and thoroughly gets us to see it all through his wide eyes. There are many nice smaller performances, including Judi Dench as the extremely gracious Dame Sybil Thorndike, Emma Watson as the wardrobe girl who fancies Redmayne and Julia Ormond who, as Vivien Leigh, makes us feel the pangs of seeing a younger magnetic actor take over the role that she played on the stage but is now too old for. (Seen 18 January 2013)

Mýrin (Jar City) 2 out of 4 stars

Films from Iceland inevitably have a sort of ambiance about them that is both intriguing and haunting. Maybe it’s the country’s small size and isolated location. Or perhaps the fact that it is so far north and the light there does strange things. Anyway, one of the attractive features of any Icelandic film is the photography and the landscapes, and this is no exception. Based on a popular detective novel and directed by Baltasar Kormákur, whose previous films include the somewhat provocative 101 Reykjavik, this is in the end a fairly standard crime procedural, not completely unlike one of those CSI shows, since genetics and medical pathology are heavily involved in the solving of the crime. Ingvar E. Sigurðsson plays the veteran detective coping with a wayward daughter, a yuppie younger partner and old secrets about corruption among the police. And naturally he is dogged and determined, even when the case, a fairly straightforward murder of an old lowlife, leads him to exhuming the body of a child who died decades earlier and visiting a genetic research company. It’s the kind of old school policier that looks down on people who are bothered by cigarette smoke and by people who chow down on sheep’s brains. (Seen 9 February 2009)

Mysterious Skin 3 out of 4 stars

I had begun to despair for Gregg Araki. After his promising early films, movies like The Doom Generation and Nowhere had their moments but they were awfully jokey and had nothing like the humanity and power of, say, his Totally F***ed Up. Well, the good news is that Mysterious Skin does have humanity and power in spades and it has a title that you can mention to your grandmother (or to your grandchild). That doesn’t mean, however, that you would actually want to bring your grandmother (or your grandchild) to see it. Artistically, it is simply Araki’s best film to date. Even though its X-Files-meets-Midnight Cowboy plot hangs on a mystery that we pretty much figure out from the first few frames, the journey it takes us on is compelling and packs a strong punch at the end. The cast is great. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who knows a thing or two about extraterrestrial subject matter from his TV sitcom gig) has definitely left childhood roles behind, and Brady Corbett obliterates any memories of the Thunderbirds debacle. Araki also gets points for including the iconic face of veteran western actor Billy Drago. The movie is not, however, without moral baggage. Like Todd Solondz’s Happiness and Michael Cuesta’s L.I.E., this film takes an uncomfortably close and not completely judgmental look at child molestation. Presumably, Araki has reconciled himself in his own mind to the fact that his film will titillate the wrong sorts of people. The artist’s legitimate defense is that such people, especially in this day and age, will find greater titillation from many other sources and even from much more wholesome fare. For the rest (and vast majority) of us, much of the movie will make us feel creepy and uncomfortable. And it should. (Seen 7 July 2005)

Mystery Men 2 out of 4 stars

It’s a tricky business transferring comic book superheroes from the printed page (where the artist is limited only by his or her imagination) to the big screen (where bothersome reality becomes more of a factor). The result is usually an elaborate exercise in art design and/or pure camp. First-time feature director Kinka Usher’s adaptation of Bob Burden’s Dark Horse comic goes both ways and meets itself somewhere in the middle. The set design aspires to something like Tim Burton’s Batman but comes off closer in spirit to Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. Since its source material is essentially a parody, naturally enough so is the movie, and it tends feel like an extended skit on Saturday Night Live—or maybe even Ben Stiller’s short-lived comedy sketch series, which is natural enough since Stiller has more or less the most prominent role as the erratic Mr Furious. This flick’s main rewards are a few good laughs (best appreciated by anyone who has read as many comic books as I have), several funny acting turns (notably by Stiller and Janeane Garofalo), and a has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed performance by Geoffrey Rush as the Alice Cooper-like villain, Casanova Frankenstein. (Seen 8 November 1999)

Mystics 2 out of 4 stars

There’s an easy litmus test for deciding if you will like this amiable comedy. If you liked Waking Ned Devine, then you will probably enjoy this. It’s the same sort of shaggy dog story, although with a more urban, Damon Runyonesque feel. It’s even got David Kelly, who starred in Ned, but this time his partner in shenanigans is Milo O’Shea (instead of the late Ian Bannen). Kelly and O’Shea’s main job in this film is to wring their hands and worry about all the trouble they are in, but they do it very well. There are a lot of other familiar Irish faces in this tale of two con men running a séance scam, who may have bit off more than they bargained for, when a Dublin gangster’s widow demands to talk to her late hubby so she can find his hidden loot. Part of the unintended humor (for me anyway) was in seeing a couple of the same faces that were also in Headrush, which is a similar kind of movie but aimed at a much younger audience. Notable among the supporting players are Maria Doyle Kennedy as Foxy, the gangster widow, and Liam Cunningham, as the detective who would like to investigate her further. (Seen 19 October 2003)

The Myth of Fingerprints 2 out of 4 stars

It’s Thanksgiving, and four children (plus two of their lovers) are coming home to New England to all be with their parents for the first time in three years. Since this is a movie, we can pretty much figure that things won’t go perfectly smoothly (cf. The War at Home, Home for the Holidays, etc.). As can be expected, there are frictions, resentments, arguments, and a couple of guilty revelations. In the end, this isn’t so much a story as a portrait. Happily writer/director Bart Freundlich keeps things fairly light with regular comic relief and mostly natural dialog. James Legros is a bright spot as a family acquaintance. Other cast members include Roy Scheider and Blythe Danner as Mom and Dad and Julianne Moore and Noah Wyle as two of the children. And, no, I haven’t a clue what the title means. (Seen 30 May 1997)

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