Movies, movies, movies!

Nurse Bob's film reviews

When rating a film I ask myself these three questions: What is the director’s goal or purpose? How does the director try to achieve it? Is the director successful? Hence a big box office hit may get a “5” while a Eurosleaze sexploitation flick gets a “7”. My rating system in a nutshell:

10 = Brilliant!
9 = Exceptional
8 = Very Good
7 = Good
6 = Average
5 = Forgettable
4 = Bad
3 = Dismal
2 = Dog Barf
1 = Beyond Awful

~ ~ ~ ~

From a Whisper to a Scream [aka The Offspring ] (USA 1987) (7): Voodoo, necrophilia, cannibalism, and zombies—as well as all manner of inventive bloodletting and dismemberment—are presented for your puerile entertainment in Jeff Burr’s horror anthology which takes the comic book pizzazz of Creepshow and bumps it up to an “R” rating. Interested in covering the backstory of a murderess recently executed in the small hamlet of Oldfield Tennessee, a persistent reporter calls upon the deceased’s elderly uncle (Vincent Price!) and winds up getting more of a scoop than she intended. The old man is convinced that it’s Oldfield itself which is to blame for the killings because the the surrounding countryside has been a repository of evil and madness dating back a hundred years—and to prove his point he regales her with four macabre tales gleaned from the town archives. Muahahaha! Despite its low-budget schlock and overplayed hysterics, Burr and his team of talented writers have nevertheless slapped together a good old-fashioned yarn reminiscent of those Saturday afternoon treats from Amicus studios with a dollop of Eerie Tales magazine thrown in for colour. In the first vignette “Til Death Do Us Part” holds little meaning for a meek office worker determined to win the heart of his lovely supervisor (if you liked Trilogy of Terror’s rampaging Tiki doll you’ll love what comes crawling out from under HIS sofa). “Be Careful What You Wish For” could be the motto of the second tale when a conman on the run stumbles upon the secret for eternal life. And “Ain’t Love a Bitch” resounds throughout story number three after a lovestruck woman runs away with a handsome carnival freak only to discover his contract is more binding than she thought. But it’s the final chapter which proved the most chilling as Burr puts the “gory” in “allegory” to tell the tale of three Civil War soldiers who stumble upon a town populated by orphaned children and ruled by a mysterious Magistrate—a grotesque anti-war parable if ever there was one. If you’re willing to forgive its occasional misstep (the opening execution is worth a rewind) and the tacky 80s touches, this is prime movie night popcorn fare all the way even if Vincent Price ultimately hated it. Welcome to Oldfield!

Amityville: The Awakening
(USA 2017) (4): The fact that it took five years to complete and then suffered through three disastrous release dates before settling for a limited run should give you a clue as to the quality of Frank Khalfoun’s contribution to the Amityville Horror franchise. Unfortunately some of us don’t heed the warnings. Forty years after the iconic New York farmhouse’s demonic presence caused a man to off his entire family—good use of fake news footage—angry single mother Joan (Jennifer Jason Leigh finding a new career low) and her three kids move in just as the demons are getting restless again. But even though sullen goth teen Belle (a sullen Bella Thorne and her panties) suspects something is amiss and cutesy Juliet (Mckenna Grace) finds a bogeyman in her closet, the house seems most interested in their brother James (Cameron Monaghan stretching the special effects budget), a twisted comatose paraplegic hooked up to home life support and the apple of Joan’s obsessive eye. The usual shocks and mayhem ensue as an increasingly agile James leads the family down a rabbit hole so lined with clichés and illogical plot points that even the devil gives up eventually. However effective some of those shocks are—a zombie dog was gross and a mirrored reflection almost made me drop my digestive cookie—they’re all for naught as Khalfoun piles on the silliness with an obscure biblical reference, too many doors and windows slamming open and closed, and a family-unfriendly “climax” which might have been more watchable had the studio not trimmed it down for that coveted PG-13 rating. Setting itself up as a new “true story” of sorts, it also mocks the previous Amityville movies with Belle and her creepy pals watching the James Brolin original on DVD just as the lights go out prompting a trek to the basement fuse box. Glass houses Mr. Khalfoun, glass houses. At least upstate New York looked splendid with the odd palm tree (it was filmed in Long Beach…oops). Maybe they could name the next turkey pile Amityville: Go Back to Sleep Already and be done with it?

Europa Europa
(Germany 1990) (6): Using the astonishing real life memoirs of Salomon Perel as a guide, Agnieszka Holland’s episodic tale of wartime survival became one of the year’s most popular foreign films despite Germany’s decision not to submit it for an Oscar nomination. After Hitler’s rhetoric results in his father’s shoe shop being vandalized, teenaged Salomon (Marco Hofschneider) and his family join thousands of other Jews seeking a better life in nearby Poland. But when the Nazis and Stalinists begin crossing the border into that country as well, Solly ends up having to fend for himself—first teaming up with one side, then the other, eventually bluffing his way into the Hitler Youth movement where he manages to convince the authorities of his shining Aryan lineage. But one can’t live a lie forever and Salomon’s complicity with evil, borne out of a desperate will to survive, will exact a price… Filmed in and around Lódz, Holland’s eye for time and place is impeccable as she uses the crumbling masonry and winding streets to elicit a sense of siege while a confrontation between Salomon (now hiding behind the name Josef Peters) and his Third Reich girlfriend (Julie Delpy) in a nearby Hebrew cemetery provides one of the film’s many sober ironies—Solly’s nightmare tram ride through a Jewish ghetto while decked out in Nazi drag providing another. Hofschneider’s striking features and ability to go from playful to terrified in the space of a heartbeat certainly renders Salomon a sympathetic character, but in concentrating on her main protagonist Holland fails to colour in everyone else causing secondary roles to seem mere backdrop or, in the case of a fantasy ballet between Stalin and Hitler, foppish cartoons. And having the sun stand in for Yahweh during a few scenes of implied Divine Intervention was a conceit both baffling and wholly unnecessary. How many personal values would you squash in order to stay alive? And how much moral weight does the statement “I didn’t know!” carry when you are faced with the consequences of those squashed values? Intriguing questions which Europa Europa approaches but doesn’t really answer, at least to my satisfaction.

The Lunchbox
(India 2013) (9): Apparently Mumbai has a thriving lunchbox delivery service which allows housewives to send hot meals to their office-bound husbands using a mass courier service and writer/director Ritesh Batra uses this uniquely Indian arrangement to fashion a uniquely Indian love story. Firmly in a rut and fed up with a crowded bustling Mumbai where vertical cemetery plots ensure that even graveyards are standing room only, middle-aged widower Saajan (Irrfan Khan, delightfully sour) is facing his upcoming retirement with a sense of downcast fatalism. Meanwhile, across town, unhappily hitched Ila (a melancholy Nimrat Kaur) is facing her crumbling marriage with a mixture of apathy and sad resignation. And then, thanks to a glitch in the system, Ila’s meticulously prepared lunches—meant for her husband—begin arriving at Saajan’s desk by mistake and the two begin a relationship based solely on notes passed back and forth in the lunchbox’s stainless steel tiffin containers… Batra opens his gently bittersweet film with a wide angle shot of two trains passing one another, a theme which echoes throughout as Saajan and Ila’s increasingly personal yet chaste correspondence causes their lives to veer in unplanned directions—he learns to let down his walls; she learns to fly over hers (with a little help from her unseen neighbour who shouts encouragement from the apartment above). Mumbai is filmed in all its gritty chaotic glory, subtle Bollywood tunes provide the lightest of dramatic touches, and lovingly prepared meals become as intimate as a caress, but it is the notes themselves which anchor the film—hastily scribbled ruminations on life, happiness, and mortality exchanged between two sad souls which wind up being as disarming as they are charming. And just to add a bit of contrast Batra throws in a few secondary characters, namely Ila’s grieving mother full of regrets and Saajan’s pathologically upbeat apprentice whose not-entirely-honest approach to life embodies hope and resilience. The question of whether or not the two will ever meet in person is one which Batra dangles playfully in front of his audience, but in the end it doesn’t really matter for in the words of one character, “Sometimes the wrong train will take you to the right station”. In the case of The Lunchbox the journey is the only thing that matters and its first class all the way.

Right Now, Wrong Then
(Korea 2015) (6): Sang-so Hong’s 122-minute endurance test is actually composed of two one-hour shorts which doesn’t make it seem any less long. While on location for his next film, director Ham Cheon-soo makes the acquaintance of local artist Yoon Hee-jeong and the two spend the day chatting about art, life, and the intricacies of the human heart while slowly becoming smitten with one another. But as evening falls Hee-jeong invites him to a dinner party where a combination of too much alcohol and a few dirty secrets threaten to ruin the evening. In the second half of the film time loops upon itself and the two meet for the very first time once again, only this time around things proceed with a bit more candour and emotional honesty (and the alcohol elicits slightly different results). In his 17th film Hong’s penchant for putting fraught relationships under the microscope is in full force and the added novelty of twin trajectories gives him an opportunity to explore the question of “what might have been if only…” A pair of handsome leads give finely nuanced performances (twice) even to the point of getting themselves drunk in real life in order to present the partially improvised script with as much authenticity as possible. And Hong utilizes a few clever tricks to accent the symmetry between stories: the film opens in a temple and closes in a theatre; colours shift in minute ways, and background movie posters remind us that we’re watching one ourselves. Fans of the director will revel in this one even though Hong has nothing new to say—but despite the impeccable cinematography and a playful script that comes across as wholly natural I still felt like a captive third wheel on two really boring dates.

The Haunted Castle
(Germany 1921) (5): Even the greatest directors have their down days and with the master of German Expressionism, F. W. Murnau, that day comes in the form of this tepid penny dreadful. A group of noblemen gather on a country estate for a weekend of hunting and camaraderie, but when uninvited guest Count Peter Oetsch shows up it sends shockwaves throughout the company. Dour and mysterious, the Count was once accused of murdering the husband of Baroness Safferstät (who is also in attendance) and although acquitted he’s never been able to completely clear his name. Enter Fr. Faramund, an austere holy man whose arrival will lead to unexpected revelations and tragedy… Heavy on the make-up (the Baroness’ black eyes look like she just got tossed out of the ring) but showing little of Murnau’s directorial genius aside from one nicely composed static shot and an effective nightmare sequence in which the clawed hand of Nosferatu’s Count Orlok makes a terrifying cameo, this disjointed potboiler definitely shows its roots as a serialized whodunnit from a Berlin magazine. However, it was a very poor quality transfer missing several minutes and the stilted English intertitles read as if they were translated word for word from the original German—but I doubt the missing footage would have made much difference, polished or not.

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil
(Korea 2019) (8): A serial killer is on the prowl in Seoul and only one victim has managed to escape his knife-wielding clutches, musclebound crime boss Jang. Vowing to avenge the attack which almost killed him Jang draws upon his underworld connections in order to track down the murderer—a course of action which puts him in direct conflict with underdog police detective Yeol (whose own boss is on Jang’s payroll). Realizing that the only way they’re ever going to find the madman is to pool their resources Jang and Yeol reluctantly share clues and manpower, but can a gangster and a cop trust each other long enough to catch a devil? With cameras firing on all cylinders, Won-Tae Lee’s violent joyride of a film careens down alleyways and races across rooftops with flying fists and spurting blood ensuring the action never slows for very long. As Jang, hunky tattooed Don Lee out-punches and out-growls everything in his path without so much as a raised eyebrow yet is not so tough that he can’t give an umbrella to a young college girl in need. Providing a somewhat geeky counterpart as Yeol, Mu-Yeol Kim is all hard talk and police procedural even after he gets his ass handed to him by a startled female jogger (and Jang, repeatedly). Nobody does cop dramas like the Koreans and this gritty odd couple policier is no exception. Vroom, vroom!

Manhattan Murder Mystery
(USA 1993) (7): Definitely not his best work, but Woody Allen’s lightweight homage to the 1930s Thin Man series of urban mysteries is still a pleasure to watch. When her next door neighbour suddenly drops dead, bored Manhattan housewife Carol Lipton (Diane Keaton reprising her Annie Hall persona) suspects foul play. Goaded into becoming an amateur sleuth by her playwright friend (Alan Alda), Carol concocts one elaborate scheme after another to try and solve the case—schemes which bring unexpected side effects to her own life. Allen essentially plays himself as Carol’s increasingly neurotic husband, his non-stop non-sequiturs providing a welcome vein of humour in what is otherwise a ridiculously convoluted plot and of course his beloved New York City is laid out in all its gritty charm from crumbling courtyards to the Lincoln Center’s fluorescent glitz. Comic timing and a sparkling script filled with overlapping banter more than make up for the facile storyline while the talents of Jerry Adler as the suspicious widower and Anjelica Huston as a whip smart author who smells a rat keep things from becoming a complete farce. But it’s that ending which left me smiling—a salute to Orson Welles which is so corny it actually works.

(Argentina 2018) (8): A well-to-do lawyer gets involved in a ridiculous class struggle when an agitated vagrant demands he give up his restaurant table…words lead to actions and three months later he finds himself a person of interest after the vagrant is reported missing. Set in Argentina circa 1975 at the beginning of the American-backed “Dirty War”, the ensuing police investigation provides little more than a backdrop for Benjamin Naishtat’s deadly comic skewering of his country’s sociopolitical skeletons. It seems no one is entirely innocent, aside from the few who mysteriously “disappear” during the film, and Naishtat takes great delight in tossing out politically charged non-sequiturs throughout whether it be a troupe of visiting American cowboys greeted as saints (the local governor gives them a silver chalice, they give him a leather whip), a crack aimed at Catholic hypocrisy, or the eccentric detective investigating the disappearance—a Chilean TV cop with a “God & Country” fetish. Even old television commercials weigh in with a bourgeois fop who’d rather commit murder than share his candy. The acting is impeccably downbeat with a musical score that waffles between Spanish ballads and upbeat classical arrangements, and the director’s camera always seems eager to corral his actors regardless of location—the interiors are crowded, the exteriors are either hemmed by austere desert or heaving ocean (where an impromptu solar eclipse momentarily colours everyone blood red). Apparently no one is worthy of salvation and since Naishtat opens his movie with eager proles looting the house of a dead man and closes it with a musical salute to colonialism, no prisoners are taken either. Ouch.

Ray & Liz
(UK 2018) (10): With this infinitely sad stream of consciousness photographer Richard Billingham tries to make some kind of peace with a childhood marked by abuse and neglect. Opening in a dingy one-room apartment littered with wasps and beer bottles, a lonely old man whiles away the hours drinking, smoking, and looking at the rusted urban landscape outside his flyspecked window. But as he drifts in and out of fitful bouts of sleep his mind travels back to an earlier time when he and his slovenly wife were living in a rundown council flat with their two young children, the days filled with petty arguments and random cruelties and the nights offering little reprieve from the crushing sense of hopelessness. The boys, meanwhile, were mostly left to grow up on their own with Richard finding some solace in academics and younger Jason seeking comfort in animal familiars from goldfish and a rabbit to a Tupperware container of snails under his bed. Episodic and drifting languorously across timelines from Thatcher’s England to the present—seemingly at random—Billingham does not provide his audience with a linear story they can cling to but instead paints the screen with memories and impressions much like Terence Davies’ much lauded Distant Voice, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes. A cheap lithograph of Christ healing the blind hangs unnoticed in a squalid living room, a compassionate stranger’s touch carries more warmth than one’s own parents, a child’s solitary trek home along a moonlit street comes to resemble a horror film, and everywhere images of eyes bear silent witness to the devastating effects of poverty whether they stare from a tattered painting or an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. Mesmerizing and ethereal, but no less heartbreaking for all its artistry, Billingham’s film seeks neither redemption nor closure for it’s not about a fall from grace (where do you fall to when you’re already at the bottom?) but rather a sideways roll into darkness.

Short Term 12
(USA 2013) (8): Writer/director Destin Cretton stretches his successful 2008 short into a feature length film and the effort pays off big time. Twenty-something Grace works on the supervisory staff at a California group home for troubled teens. The epitome of compassion when dealing with her often difficult charges, Grace’s calm, controlled exterior nevertheless takes a beating when new resident—self-destructive Jayden—begins dredging up memories of her own horrible childhood, memories which now endanger Grace’s personal well-being and threaten to undermine her relationship with fellow supervisor and offsite boyfriend Mason. Filmed with a verité candour reminiscent of Von Trier’s Dogma 95 and featuring an unpretentious script which always seems spontaneous, Cretton avoids the emotional bombast and touchy-feely moments one usually associates with “Kids at Risk” movies and instead aims for a low-keyed realism which proves far more effective. Leads Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. both give quiet, unaffected performances—his open-faced honesty and her taciturn moods setting off sparks—while a supporting cast of emotionally fragile residents, including real-life rapper LaKeith Stanfield as an abused youth terrified of adulthood, provide the backdrop against which Grace’s personal drama unfolds. Refreshing in its lack of histrionics (the kids are troubled, not possessed) and almost completely believable if you allow for just a wee bit of dramatic license, Cretton’s little indie proves yet again that you don’t need big names and big budgets in order to achieve maximum effect.

How to Marry a Millionaire
(USA 1953) (6): Despite its Cinemascope panoramas of skylines and mountaintops, Technicolor haute couture, and the combined star power of its three lead actresses, Jean Negulesco’s lightweight comedy (based on three different plays) is ultimately all froth and no substance. Determined to land rich husbands no matter what, three desperate models combine their resources in order to rent a swank New York penthouse they can ill afford (they sell the furniture) and go on the prowl. Embittered divorcée Schatze (Lauren Bacall) won’t settle for anyone making less than six figures; nearsighted airhead Pola (Marilyn Monroe) would rather walk into walls than be seen in glasses; and conniving opportunist Loco (Betty Grable) can twist a man around her little finger using only her legs. But, as they say, “Love is Blind” and when opportunities eventually do come knocking each woman winds up opening a different door than what she imagined. Aside from a few clever innuendos and outdated comebacks, Nunnally Johnson’s script glints rather than sparkles and Joe MacDonald’s widescreen cinematography never tires of showing us Manhattan landmarks or snowy Maine ski runs (even when it’s apparently summer in New York). Since this was Fox Studio’s first Cinemascope production even the film’s prologue cashes in on the newfangled big screen technology with a full orchestra ensemble while costume designer Travilla gets to strut his stuff with an overly long fashion show sequence (“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…” croons the hostess as a bikini-clad Monroe turns and vogues). And one particular image—Marilyn decked out in a gorgeous lavender evening gown admiring multiple reflections of herself—has become iconic. A nice bit of nostalgia for movie buffs which is easy to watch and just as easily dismissed.

(Denmark 2009) (7): After leaving the army amid rumours of sexual impropriety, a despondent blond-haired Lars somehow falls in with a local chapter of White Supremacists where he meets hardcore skinhead Jimmy, a sullen young man bedecked in swastika tattoos and attitude. Rooming together while Lars prepares for his initiation into the Brotherhood, the two men go from sharing a house to sharing a bed—a situation which proves dangerously awkward when they’re discovered and a violent chapter in Jimmy’s past resurfaces once more. If it were helmed by an American production company—or even worse, Canadian—we could pretty well expect this “Gay Nazis in Love” story to be little more than a string of Antifa clichés manipulating us to a final righteous ending. But Danish director Nicolo Donato has a deeper vision to share, plunging us headfirst into the internalized homophobia and unfocused rage which sees his Alt-Right Romeo & Juliet trying to ascend the pit they’ve dug for themselves while implacable forces (in this case Neo-Nazi leader “Fatty” plus an unexpected Judas) cling tenaciously to their pant legs. Some handheld camerawork gives everything an unpolished edge while an accompanying score provides all the right musical cues and stars Thure Lindhardt and David Dencik offer up a fine pair of performances—Lindhardt’s aryan good looks contrasting with Dencik’s brooding features. Starting off with a horrific bashing, Donato barely gives his audience time to recover before he starts amping up the sexual tension between his two protagonists leading to some dark homoeroticism—the vigorous sex scenes rendered ambivalent whenever one of Jimmy’s tattoos come into view. But for all its sincerity Donato’s film suffers from a couple of narrative potholes: Lars’ transformation from pampered Liberal to morally indecisive immigrant-basher is never fleshed out satisfactorily and the movie’s ironic climax hinges on a pair of coincidences which challenge credibility. But Donato still had the balls to jar our complacency, and with this film he asks some tough questions for those willing to listen.

Kubo and the Two Strings
(USA 2016) (9): In a magical medieval Japan little one-eyed Kubo ekes out a living telling stories in the town square, punctuating his heroic epics with notes from a three-stringed shamisen and a host of origami figures which take on an animated life of their own. At night he cares for his widowed mother, a once powerful sorceress now given to bouts of amnesia and melancholy. But evil is afoot, and a malevolent spirit from his family’s past is hellbent on destroying Kubo’s future prompting the preteen to go on an epic quest of his own—accompanied by a pair of charmed companions—in order to find the one thing that can save him. The longest stop-motion animated feature film thus far (and with hundreds of thousands of frames and an 18-foot animatronic Skeleton Demon to boot certainly the most ambitious), Travis Knight’s dark and cerebral fairytale is a sure win for both adults and those children able to brave the scarier bits. A beautifully rendered saga which takes viewers from bare mountaintops to a pale ghost realm to a storm-ravaged sea aboard an enchanted galleon, all presented with meticulous staging (apparently the sea voyage alone took nineteen months to shoot) and a palette of picture book colours that add depth to those burning sunsets and haunted moons. It’s the storyline however which impressed me the most, a heady mix of mythological mayhem and family ties centred on one endearingly plucky antagonist and his brave allies. But a word of warning for those with toddlers, the monsters are surprisingly effective and some supernatural fight sequences don’t shy away from deadly swords and flailing meat hooks. Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, and Matthew McConaughey lend their voices, and listen for George Takei delivering his signature “Oh My!”

Too Late to Die Young
(Chile 2019) (5): Sandwiched between two poignant moments of loss—one sad, the other oddly altruistic—Domingo Sotomayor Castillo’s overly long teen telenovela takes it’s time building to a conclusion which isn’t really worth the wait. It’s New Year’s Eve, 1990, and in a backwater Chilean co-op sixteen-year old Sofia is undergoing the rigours of budding adolescence pining for an older man, arguing with her well-meaning father, and dreaming of running away to the city to live with her divorced mother. Meanwhile Lucas, also sixteen, has a crush on her which is making his own trek through puberty no easier. Only the children and adults seem immune to the monumental changes taking place not only in Sofia’s life but in Chile itself as Pinochet’s regime unravels in the background and modernization begins to creep into the hinterland in the form of running water, Western pop music, and a new electrical generator—modernizations which nevertheless come with a price attached. In the role of Sofia, newcomer Demian Hernández has star quality written all over that soulful and unblemished face. Able to convey everything from lust to heartbreak with nothing but a tremble and a stare she makes Sofia painfully real. Alas, this is a tale steeped in political allegory that only a Chilean audience will pick up on while the rest of us slog through a moody melodrama punctuated now and again by a striking frieze whether it be a momentous forest fire or a galloping black dog.

A Report on the Party and Guests
(Czech 1966) (7): Disguised as an absurdist farce, Jan Nemec’s fiercely anti-Stalinist satire earned it the distinction of being “banned forever” by the Soviet state two years before the Prague Spring ushered in a new era of liberalization. A group of bourgeois picnickers are waylaid by a gang of thugs led by an officious dandy who subjects them to a series of humiliating mind games. But the thugs are themselves cowed by a higher power in the form of the “Host”, a jovial emperor-like character who emerges from the brush to invite everyone to a lavish outdoor banquet. But the Host’s magnanimity barely conceals an autocratic zeal when it becomes apparent that partaking in his generosity is mandatory and detractors will not be tolerated. Awash in clever innuendos (why do the picnickers submit so willingly to authority even to the point of turning on each other?) and visual tropes (the chaotic banquet is a study in complacency while a trek through the forest carries political overtones), Nemec mocks a world where everyone is literally put in their place and even the dogs are part of the social order. It’s no wonder that this subversive little gem stood on the back shelf for so long.

The Three Faces of Eve
(USA 1957) (7): Joanne Woodward took home a well-deserved Oscar for her portrayal of a Georgia woman suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder, but despite an opening monologue by journalist Alistair Cooke assuring audiences that this is a “True Story”, it still suffers from a bit of Hollywood glam. When her bizarre behaviour garners the attention of psychiatrist Curtis Luther (Lee J. Cobb), mousy housewife Eve White further astounds the doctor when she begins manifesting three distinct personalities, all of whom go by different names. There’s the doormat Mrs. White married to an abusive husband, the vivacious boozehound Eve Black who insists she’s single, and a demure though slightly confused “Jane”. Nunnally Johnson’s film—based on the memoirs of doctor Thigpen who cared for the real patient, Christine Costner Sizemore—follows Luther’s sessions with the three different personalities over the course of two years as he tries to uncover the root cause of Eve’s fractured psyche. Cobb and Woodward give depth to what might otherwise have been a mental health soap—his gravelly voice and level stare complimenting her standout performance playing three different women with seeming ease. Of course the actual facts don’t quite support the scripted drama (Sizemore went on to write two books about her ordeal) and the film’s climax was completely fabricated, but rumour still has it the studio had each one of Sizemore’s personalities sign a waiver so they couldn’t be sued by any one of them. Aside from the occasional voiceover which makes you feel as if you’re watching an episode of Dragnet and some 1-2-3 presto you’re hypnotized! movie psychiatry Johnson avoids sensationalizing Eve’s affliction and instead relies on Woodward’s superb ability to transition between her three different personas using little more than voice inflection, posture, and a face that goes from animated to downcast in a heartbeat. It’s like watching a kinder, gentler version of The Exorcist in a party dress.

Penguin Highway
(Japan 2018) (7): What does the Theory of Relativity, perky boobs, and penguins have in common? A whole lot unless I read too much into Hiroyasu Ishida’s debut anime feature, a charming mash-up of wacky sci-fi and prepubescent metaphors. Bookish pre-teen Aoyama is fascinated with life’s everyday mysteries and makes a point of writing all his observations down in the little black notebook which never leaves his side. Determined to be a true Renaissance Man when he grows up—and equally determined to marry the one true love of his life, dental hygienist Onê-san whose breasts have piqued his interest—Aoyama takes it all in stride when a slew of otherworldly phenomena suddenly appear in his little town. Penguins have begun popping out of vending machines and mailboxes, monsters are slithering through the forest, and a giant watery sphere is sloshing mere inches above a hidden meadow. Joining forces with fellow brainiac Hamamoto (his female counterpart) and timid dormouse Uchida, Aoyama’s investigations will cause him to suspect that all roads somehow lead to Onê-san—but first there are bullies to overcome and clueless adults to outwit… The fact that Aoyama’s village is beset with supernatural wonders at the same time his latent hormones begin to stir is certainly a clue of sorts, but this is not a simple adolescent daydream. Brightly lit and irresistibly cute, Ishida’s sunny fantasy remembers what a first crush feels like as well as those awkward tween moments when youth was still tinged with magic even as adulthood loomed on the horizon (Aoyama keeps careful track of how many thousands of days remain before he becomes a grown-up). At almost two hours in length and packed with cryptic passages it may be a bit of an endurance test for the kiddies—I’m still scratching my own head—but Penguin Highway’s ebullience and wistful sense of optimism should be enough to carry most viewers to The End.

Die Hard
(USA 1988) (8): When he crashes his estranged wife’s office Christmas party high atop one of Los Angeles’ swankiest skyscrapers, hard-nosed New York cop John McLane (Bruce Willis at his sexiest) is in for more than holiday cheer for her CEO has been targeted by a gang of murderous German thieves intent on stealing a fortune in bonds from the company vault and they won’t stop until they get it. Barely avoiding becoming a hostage himself, McLane embarks upon a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the ringleader (Alan Rickman giving us one of cinema’s vilest slimeballs) as he singlehandedly tries to save the day… In order to thoroughly enjoy John McTiernan’s explosive thriller—an instant classic upon its release—you’ll have to cease rolling your eyes at the constant barrage of impossible escapes and lucky coincidences and simply strap yourself in for what proves to be one deliriously bumpy ride. Adding just the right amount of dark humour to offset the copious bloodletting, and never letting his cameras sit idle for more than a few moments, McTiernan’s testosterone-fuelled bullet-fest starts off slow enough but once the bad guys get down to business his high-rise becomes a vertical remake of High Noon with shattering glass and stuff going up in great balls of fire. Willis scampers between floors like a heavily armed kid in a jungle gym while the background score keeps pace with orchestral jolts and snatches of Beethoven (a deliberate nod to Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange) punctuated by staccato bursts of machine gun fire. A magnificently silly and wholly unrealistic vigilante fantasy given some credence by Willis’ self-deprecating smirk and Rickman’s seriocomic Eurotrash fop. About the only letdown is the portrayal of the LAPD as bungling Keystone Kops led by a blustering inept (Paul Gleason reprising his Breakfast Club persona) and a pair of FBI agents who are more psycho than the terrorists themselves. The perfect non-Christmas, non-family film aimed squarely at the Rambo in all of us. Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker!

Deadpool 2
(USA 2018) (8): The novelty of the first film may have worn off, but the in-jokes, double entendres, and celebration of gore are just as fresh as they ever were in this worthy sequel to the 2016 anti-superhero blockbuster—and this time around Brad Pitt, Hugh Jackman, Matt Damon, and Barbara Streisand (sort of) lend a few cameos. Still reeling from a personal tragedy, Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds as hilariously snarky as ever), finds he must use his superpowers to save a mutant child marked for death by a heavily armed soldier from the future (hunky Josh Brolin providing cyborg fantasy fodder). To this end he assembles a team of inept X-Men wannabes (one vomits acid, one simply saw the ad in a newspaper) and sets about tearing up the streets of Vancouver—I remember them filming this!—as the body count inexorably rises in various imaginatively disgusting ways. That’s pretty well all you need to know because if you loved the first instalment you’ll at least like this one with its barrage of colourful language and Reynolds’ endearing habit of breaking character to address the audience directly. The CGI department certainly stepped up their game as well—the mutant fight scenes provide brilliant examples of comic book choreography while the music director dusted off some old CDs to offset the annoying cacophony of dubstep shrieks. Don’t worry, things will blow up and blood will paint the walls. A supernatural side story involving Heaven threatens to derail the fun with an overdose of schmaltz but it’s quickly dispelled once the final credits begin to scroll. Of course if you didn’t appreciate part one you can always stay home and watch old reruns of Spiderman cartoons.