Friday, December 21, 2018

Streaming Nonsense

I used to post a bunch of film and TV reviews to G+, but it's going away! Blogger is still here though, so, after the jump, here's my archive of Streaming Nonsense posts.

Bang Bang Baby - Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

While tailor-made to appeal to my interests (a historical setting? people singing their feelings in period-appropriate ways? a meta level pulling apart the pop star as performer and movie star? yes, please!) it has a fairly ugly core at the middle of it, and doesn't fully pull off the Lynchian contrasts necessary to make that work. The songs are really catchy, though, and the performances are dead on kitschy. Still, unless you're me, it's missable. Two stars.

Malevolent - Netflix Original

Seemingly trying to create a YA style story/property at first, it sort of works on that level. But about an hour in the gore starts and from there on out it doesn't work at all. Then the climactic showdown of the piece breaks its own horror rules to make it a completely limp piece of nothing. Not even the horror aficionado needs to watch this one. One star.

Maniac - Netflix Original

Critics hammered this one for being more symptomatic of prestige TV than deserving of the title, but I disagree. It's not some spectacular experience that will turn your life upside down, it's a science fiction (alternate history?) show about people who are struggling with emotional issues, and how they find a connection. It's humanistic science fiction - and in the end what it tells us is about relationships, not about technology (or even the weird world of the show.)

I'm watching it a second time, not necessarily to try to "notice" things in it, because really there's not much to "notice", but just instead to see how the characters slowly change, with their worlds, from the beginning to the end. Honestly I may be over-defending this one a little because what I read about it was just so harsh. It's really good! Four stars.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Netflix Original

Six short Coen Brothers films - like a little collection of novellas. Stripped of their langour, with the throttle all the way open, one really feels the Coens' hands in these, for good or for ill.

The first, a hyperviolent slice of absurdity (and music history) is an effective gag and I absolutely delighted in it even if it really didn't have any deeper meaning.

The second, a nihilistic short-short requires you to really love the Coens, but if you do, you'll really love this one too. I do and I did.

The third is simply a rough ride, starting out with some warmth and humanity, but slowly sinking in a freezing cold quagmire; if it weren't Liam Neeson I probably would have skipped it. As it is, it feels out of character for the series, lacking in humanity or understanding.

The fourth tries to carry itself on Tom Waits' charisma, which is considerable, but in the end, the values expressed don't cut against each other hard enough. The owl should have returned. Because it didn't, you come to the end feeling it had nothing to say.

The fifth goes to a place that few seem to recognize the Coens have an abiding interest in even outside their masterwork A Serious Man: faith and uncertainty. While I can't forgive the portrayal of natives in the second short, here, although they play nearly an identical role, I almost can, because nothing you're looking at or experiencing is exactly what it appears to be and people must go by feeling and guesswork, down a narrow path, with no guarantees. I've liked Zoe Kazan since "Bored to Death", it's time for her to be the lead in a massive blockbuster. It has a simple surface story - maybe a little too simple. You can miss what it's trying to get at very easily. President Pierce is trying to figure out what the prairie dogs are. Do you know what they are?

The last is a "bottle episode" masterpiece that will wheedle its way inside your mind and very carefully take up residence there. I'm going to be thinking about it a long time, especially thinking about who the camera is at which moments. By the end, they're talking to us; or about us. How should I know if they come to understand? I'm only watching. And the coachman never stops. It's policy.

There's a couple of pieces that are really for Coen Fanatics Only, and at least one doesn't land. Still, it's undeniably worth it. Four stars.

Inside Llewyn Davis, currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

I think of all the Coen Brothers movies, Inside Llewyn Davis portrays a world that is by far the most Christian, though perhaps it is not as explicitly a religious film as A Serious Man or True Grit (if watched with your eyes closed.) Llewyn tries as hard as he can to force people away and away and away; he is forgiven again and again and again, a nesting Russian doll of forgiveness, but inside the last is the sentence "I don't see a lot of money in it." - a knife cut as deep as any stab wound ever depicted. Grace smacks into Llewyn Davis' face like a snowball, then like a flurry of them. He tries to push away what God is giving him as many times as he can. But God isn't giving him success or happiness; God is giving him grace. Or maybe "the gods" are; Ulysses, after all, is in this film. Every performance in it is real - even the cartoonish caricatures are real, too real, almost too real to abide. Carey Mulligan alone could fill a dozen volumes of a French novelist's masterwork, Garrett Hedlund does more with a cigarette and a haircut than he has any right to. Oscar Isaac is the real thing. He will be a movie star my whole life, and deserve it all.

There's always a miscommunication in Coen films that are revelations and not mistakes. Here, it is simple. "Llewyn is the cat." I'm shipping out, Pop. Five stars.

Touch of Evil, Netflix streaming

Seeing Touch of Evil gives you the same jolt of cinematic recognition as seeing Citizen Kane, as seeing Birth of a Nation; these films are each summaries of film and storytelling technology that would propel the form for decades to come. Everything there is to know about Hitchcock's classics can be found in Touch of Evil; everything there is to know about the modern horror film can be found in Touch of Evil; everything about how to make a scene move, flow, build in fear and release can be found in Touch of Evil. Sometimes you are seeing other movies and not this one, but it's pure, pure storytelling genius from start to finish. Five stars.

Images, Amazon Prime Video

This 1972 Altman piece of experimental filmmaking (the actors and he decided on what they would shoot every morning, then went and did it, sometimes with no script) is full of high strung sexual violence and eerie, artificial acting on the part of everyone on screen. You have to be down for some "real Altman shit" to get through to the end of Images, though to some degree the ending is even more harrowing than the supposedly more intense middle act. In the hands of a master, psychological horror, with the emphasis on the psychological, never fades even in the last moments, where horror movies often stumble. I'm always down for some Real Altman Shit, so it's five stars for me. Maybe for you it's only four.

The Endless, currently on Netflix Streaming

The creation of the same creative team that made the low-budget horror thriller Resolution, we find them exploring the same conceptual space but with a broader twist. Beyond the tight personal confines of Resolution the ideas presented are a Lovecraftian nightmare without a single tentacle. It could be a dreadfully dull puzzle movie but it eschews that. You could figure out what's going on before the main characters do, but "what's going on" is not what the story's about. This is a great demonstration of what I always say: the plot of a piece of film or literature is not the series of events. It's the series of decisions. So even if you figure out "what's going on", that's not going to spoil the story for you. I did feel let down a little bit because it failed to rise above the subject matter of Resolution. C'mon, you've done that once already, and hooked me. Now you've got a real budget and a bigger concept, show me something new! Anyway, it still stands on its own. Three stars.

The Black Room - Netflix Streaming

Remember when we used to call the late night cable softporn "Skinemax"? Yeah, it's that. There's way better places to get boobs on the internet now, so there's no need for this. There's a couple of gags about how when an incubus possesses the male lead he's got a bigger dick, but they don't show the dick. Come on people. It's 2018. If you can't show the demon's dick why are you making Internet soft porn? Oh, right, for heterosexual male titillation. One star.

Seven In Heaven - Netflix Streaming

Entering this with absolutely no expectations, I was surprised to see the star of American Vandal's Season 2 as the male lead in a high school horror film that actually seems to get how uncertain and fluid teenage relationships and commitment is in high school. Yeah, maybe you make out with someone in a closet at a party you didn't really want to go to, it doesn't mean the two of you are dating forever. Two teenagers are put into a closet at a party they don't really want to be at, but when they come out, they're at a completely different party in the same house, and one of them is on the run from the authorities for murdering someone. This alternate world is clearly artificial and hostile - its inhabitants demanding and cold, though perhaps with an echo of the "real world" (where a series of mixups and stupid ideas lead to a standoff between the police outside and the rest of the partygoers inside - including those who realize our two leads are missing and are frantically trying to figure out how they could disappear inside a locked closet.) As the alternate world escalates in hostility, our heroes try to both figure out a way back and find a way to turn the alternate world against itself. I had no expectations at all; in fact, sort of expected it to be bad. And it's not! Three stars.

Family Blood - Netflix Streaming

Vampire movies have leaned on the addiction metaphor before, but rarely tried to reflect the addiction on a family. The novelty of the setting is fine - a single mom, newly sober, trying to reconnect with her two kids on an extended placement - but the vampire film tropes are too predictable and eventually overwhelm whatever interesting ideas it might bring. (Ya know, sometimes things go, at least temporarily, smoother around the house when the addict is using. But then their scumbag addict/pusher friends start coming around....) The mother and son play well off each other - you get the solid idea both of them are exhausted by their battles against each other but neither will give up. A solid horror experience. Three stars.

Delirium - Netflix Streaming

Another "person with questionable mental stability moves into possibly haunted house" flick. Cynical and ugly, there's nobody to like in this film. Even the manic pixie dream girl is a drag. The concept would have been just fine without the protagonist having mental issues, as he discovers his childhood home has all sorts of secrets literally in the walls, and his creep of a brother gets out of prison to try to get him involved in dreadful shit. In terms of what's "really going on", it's interesting enough, so I'll give it two stars. You can miss it.

Re:Mind - Netflix Streaming

Eleven high school girls are kidnapped on the eve of their graduation and locked - literally shackled to the floor - at a dining table in a baroque/hilariously over-scary library/trophy room. They determine over the course of 12 episodes that they are selected because they all have bullied a girl - a girl who may be dead, or who may have disappeared, or who may have engineered the whole thing. But that isn't a secret - and the reason they're there is a secret that no one of them knows, but which, put all together, they can deduce. I was surprised it took as long as we did to get to a significant flashback point, and was sort of disappointed in how the denouement played out. (Also, if you think about the denouement, and what's been established throughout, it doesn't make a lot of sense from a practical point of view.) The postscript episode, told entirely in a flashback, is actually my favorite. It shows in a clear, dramatic way how even very ordinary lives can be full through with secrets, all growing entanglements with each other like cobwebs. This isn't a show that says that these girls are special in some way. It very methodically shows how they are not. There's a 3-episode sequence in the middle where someone else comes into the room with them, and they can - sort of - walk around, while the girls can't, and it's...very solid thriller/horror filmmaking. Still, I can't give it a high mark because screaming and breathing heavily on the soundtrack is inserted when it absolutely, positively isn't needed. Three stars.
The VVitch - Netflix Streaming

A drab, filthy , dark, colonial America forms the setting for a very simple decision that is universal. When the society that determines virtue is itself wicked, there are no boundaries for those it deems so. Huckleberry Finn put it comedically, when he reflected that helping Jim, the slave, to freedom would condemn him to hell, he steeled himself and said "Well, then, I'll go to hell." Here the injustice is more personal, more closely felt, and so the slowly failing boundaries falling one by one feel like personal liberations into a deadly wider world. Black Phillip for President. Four stars.

The Shining - Netflix Streaming

A horror classic parodied so much that it's almost impossible to re-view the original, but when you do, you find the performances offputting in a very specific and engaging way. This isn't a movie that wants you to fully understand everything that's happening. It wants you to be swept up, drawn along irresistibly to an ending you need more than anything else but dread might be the worst thing ever. Five stars.

Creep - Netflix Streaming

Anchored by a tremendous razor's edge performance, this is the story of a videographer hired to film a guy who may or may not be a murderer. Every time you think he is, he is laughing and joking around - so the accusation is easy to deny. Then when you think he isn't, something very wrong is displayed, which makes you think maybe he is. Out of nowhere this became one of my favorite horror films. Four stars.

Creep 2 - Netflix Streaming

The creep is back! And this time there's a girl? Although it's fine it seems to gild the lily. See above. Three stars.

The Invitation - Netflix Streaming

Two people are invited over to their friends place - they haven't seen them in over a year. Halfway through they start talking about this weird organization. They even have a video to show. Is this a cult? Everyone laughs it off. Everyone's polite. They went through a hard time and maybe if this group is helping them then it's okay. But something isn't okay. The slow escalation in this one is incredible. It's one of my favorite horror films of all time. Five stars.

The Hateful Eight - Netflix Streaming

It is too easy to dismiss Quentin Tarantino as a guy obsessed with racial slurs, pulp movies and feet. With more or less unlimited Hollywood power, he decides to shoot a bottled-up Western that pulls no punches in a format phenomenally expensive film that goes over the top with gore, shock and elaborate backstories. The Western film is struggling with its identity and The Hateful Eight gives one option for its survival: depict the West as a hostile place full of the evil, greedy, broken and violent. But two and a half hours in the catharsis it starts to depict is wholly the wrong kind for what might have been a weird but unique take on the awful patchwork of American history. The performances are great, the film is gorgeous, and when the tension actually starts to mount you feel you are in the hands of the masters. But this didn't need to try to be what its creator clearly half wanted it to be. It's no Jackie Brown, that's for sure. Three stars.

Suburbicon - Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Useful primarily as a reason for showing why the Coen Brothers' mastery of both humor and noir is a nearly impossible tightrope to walk, this story of a 1958 neighborhood and family coming apart under the incredible heat of premeditated violence and the consequences fail to reach either the levels of hilarity, pathos or weight needed to be much of anything, let alone the wild spiral between them that our current masters can bring about. They wrote it but Clooney couldn't walk the tightrope they strung. I'd rather see Clooney reach for his own voice instead of trying to chase his friends. Even the music cues don't get what's great about the Coens' use of music. Still, without the comparison, it moves along and carefully contains a simple story on two tracks, of a type of drama one rarely sees. I didn't feel cheated, so perhaps my expectations were too high. Three stars.

American Vandal, Season 2 - Netflix Original

American Vandal's season one was an undersung sensation, anchored by genius comedic performances by the cast and a script that methodically took the absurdity of the premise - a po'faced "true crime" investigation into a cheap high school prank - and, by simply never, ever blinking, walked it into a realm where it had something very clear to say about our fascination with such deep dives and the potential cost. Season 2 finds our heroes going to a new school to deal with a more malevolent entity ("a serial vandal!", someone gasps), but it makes the turn from comedy to drama much more quickly and delves into it to a much deeper degree. The central figure isn't the stoner/loser type of the first season, but instead, "the weird kid". Picked out by the police because he was bullied by his classmates... but he doesn't see it that way. (And then, later, perhaps, we feel that he secretly might, but can't admit to himself that he does.)

Of course the adults in the show are craven and opportunistic, protecting their image at all costs, but then it is revealed that of course, of course the kids in the show are the same way. It's a little more gross, a little more crass, but perhaps it ends with a little more heart, a little more hope. Demarcus Tillman for president. Four stars.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets - Currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

I have always been a Luc Besson stan; although this one was overlooked in theaters, I feel it's a clearer picture of Besson as sentimentalist. This movie seems corny and hammy and everyone's hollering to the ceiling, but it feels right, it feels great, it feels fun, and most of all, in a movie landscape where snark and sarcasm are the norm, it feels honest. Agents Valerian and Laureline are super-agents for an intergalactic consortium of species. They are dispatched to retrieve a "converter", a cute little aardvark-like creature who is the last of his species. In a jaw-droppingly executed black ops heist that takes place simultaneously in two overlapping dimensions they achieve their goal, but when they return to Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets (and home to the consortium) discover both that the converter, the thief who stole it and the person who hired the thief to steal it may not be all that they seem.

Relentless visual inventiveness and an absolute commitment to sincerity make this movie different from the genre fare we're getting nowadays. It feels a lot like a 1950s sci-fi thriller with modern day action and CGI elements, in the best way. From the first six minutes of the film, in which (to the most dead-on obvious needle drop...the best kind of needle drop IMO) you see how Alpha began, you not only want the City to succeed, and thrive, you want it to hold on to the ideals it stands for. You want Valerian and Laureline to find a way to save it without compromising the sense of decency you want them to embody. (Of course the big question of the movie is whether they get married, it's a 1950s movie!) Rihanna turns in a much too short performance as a great artist - if they simply brought her back in the next movie without too much fuss I'd be thrilled. (There definitely won't be a next movie.)

After I first saw it, I thought it was maybe 3 stars....but it's stuck with me, the ideals and the visuals, perhaps not the characters or the plot. I started to give it 4, but then I remembered how Rihanna's character went out. Three stars.

It Comes At Night - Streaming on Amazon Prime.

A postapocalyptic thriller about a little family of three holed up in a farm as a disease has destroyed humanity. They burn the body of one that was infected, and the next night someone tries to break into their home. They capture him. He has a family, and some goats and chickens; they have fresh water. They decide to take that family in.

The perfect example of a movie that does not rely on "plot" in the sense that we normally nitpick about. It's strictly a character piece, with unresolved questions and disconnected answers leaving you both befuddled and transported to a very dark place. Four stars.

The Ritual - Netflix streaming

Another in the category of "horror enabled by streaming service" films. Four friends, mourning a fifth, take a long camping trip through the Swedish countryside that he had intended to take them on together. One, our point of view character, feels enormous guilt that he let the friend die in a robbery-gone-wrong. They decide to take a shortcut through a dense forest. Something lives in the forest which begins to prey on their minds and then on them. Eventually, they discover others who live in the forest who worship this being.

I've seen some negative reviews of this, because it falls into the category of "man pain" film, and if any of them showed any actual maturity, the movie wouldn't happen. I completely disagree. Yes, the characters make foolish decisions, but they are never portrayed as geniuses - the one with the most stable life and emotional center is also "the whiny one". We embrace stupid decisions made by horror movie teenagers, why not grown men? They're explicitly going on this "lad's vacation" to expunge some genuine feelings they have, and the thing they find is, often quite directly, responsible for bringing it to the fore. The ending might be a little 'on the nose' but it's not unearned. The unique design and behavior of the horror is also extremely effective. Four stars for the horror fan.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) - Netflix Streaming

Usually discussed as a film noir, this is best understood, in my opinion, as a Gothic. Joe Gillis is a screenwriter - he plays the part in the Gothic of the young, educated, willful, attractive woman who comes to the gigantic, crumbling house of the dark, formerly powerful, wealthy man, in this case, Norma Desmond. Although Gillis thinks he gets one up on Desmond, in the end they're getting their claws into each other. In the end, the house is too haunted, death in every room, in every frame. But ultimately it's passion, genuine, that tears the house down. See how many of the "waxworks" you can recognize - silent stars playing themselves as old folks. I got 2. Cecil B. DeMille is in this and honestly? He's incredible.

Unforgettable, electric and iconic. Five stars only because we haven't invented a sixth.

Blood Ransom (2014) - Streaming on Hulu.

Another entry in the "B-horror enabled by digital filmmaking" boom I'm chronicling. A singer in Los Angeles is turning into a vampire; her driver has been put in place specifically so she will kill him and complete her transformation. But he falls in love with her and she resists the transformation, at least at first. When two goons decide to kidnap her, noting her vampire boss' obsession and concluding he'll pay, both the driver and a vampire assassin go after her. Interview With A Vampire established the genre of the gloomy vampire saying things like "stay away from me!" and "what do you think I am?" and "you're the only person I can trust now" while extremely serious-faced, alternating with vomiting up blood and glowing red eyes. Twilight couldn't quite derail it.

It's kind of insane that the transforming vampire lady is supposed to be a singer when we don't get to actually see her sing, but she does get on her hands and knees in the middle of the highway to literally lick blood off the asphalt. The movie understands the film should never crack a smile as these things are happening - let the audience do that when someone yells "you're standing in the middle of the road!" or "I need 24 hours!" or "I need your blood - I'm not going to hurt you!" Horror B-movies should embrace the badness, not the boringness, and this one does, though don't come looking for camp, everyone keeps it very serious-faced. I was worried that there wouldn't be a scene in which a naked vampire lady sensuously washes blood off herself in a shower. But there is! Three stars.

Fargo Season 1 - Currently streaming on Hulu.

Most of the post-Fargo-film attempts to capture the Coen lightning missed one of the following elements:

* consistent recognition of the humanity of each and every character
* recognition and respect for heart, not just intelligence, savviness or quirkiness
* sincerity

The series has all of these things with one extremely important, crucial and effective deviation. Billy Bob Thornton turns in a breathtaking performance as Lorne Malvo, a hitman/"bounty hunter" who is most clearly understood, and very early on, as an inhuman force, a horrible storm of fate and (as the name suggests) malice that uproots everything around it. Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard seems to stand in for all the people who sickeningly discover that their misfortunes haven't built any character. We learn extremely early on that anyone can be killed at any second in this series, for any reason, for a mistake, or for no reason at all. We know Allison Holman and Colin Hanks (as two young police officers in two separate towns) are in much more danger than they do and we desperately want them to survive not because of the mystery, but because of their heart.

Ultimately I couldn't invest in Breaking Bad. The plot seemed okay. In Fargo, Season One, the whole world blossoms in freezing cold snow. The train is pulling out of the station. You have seconds to decide if you throw your glove out the window or if, like Lester, you can't really figure out why you would want to. Four stars.

Observance (2015) - Streaming on TubiTV; you need a free account but need not subscribe.

Another in the line of "extremely inexpensive genre film enabled by the existence of streaming services and digital filmmaking" movies that I've been pursuing over the last year, this one is a horror/thriller film. A private detective is assigned to a surveillance job of a young woman. It's his first job "back" after the death of his son; he needs the money to pay the lingering hospital bills. His dreams are nightmarish, his wife is incommunicado, the abandoned(?) apartment he's in seems more decrepit with every day that passes. The young woman he's surveilling doesn't leave her house, making it impossible for him to plant a listening device - and a confrontation with another man in which he forcibly tries to get her to leave also fails. By about 3/4 of the way through the movie you are increasingly convinced both of them are in some kind of supernatural or at least psychological trap in which she can't leave and he can't stop watching her not leave. The last act fails to deliver, though. Although there's some body horror that successfully ramps up the tension and a sudden unexpected shift in the point of view is intriguing, ultimately the film lacks either catharsis into his madness (or curse?) or her paranoia (or the conspiracy targeting her?)

Still, the small cast is well-used, and the concept fits the film, writing, direction and acting. It's a pleasant little needle of a horror flick and I don't feel I wasted my time on it. Three stars.

Freakish - Hulu Original.

With the second season recently dropping, I decided to give another look to the first season. As a "B-horror" series, it's perfectly adequate. It falls into a category we rarely see nowadays, but which was common in the 1980s-1990s: the specifically and consciously young adult horror flick, with gore somewhat downplayed but just enough blood, jumps and extremely broad acting for "horror" kids to have fun watching. The cast is former child stars, Disney actors, and even a few "digital celebs", and their acting is not what you'd call subtle. Their performances are broad and big both in drama and in comedy, for what's a pretty grounded location-horror scenario. After a chemical accident transforms the town into ravening killers, our Breakfast Club of heroes is trapped in their high school fortifying it both against the monsters and against a chemical gas cloud that could transform them at any time. Liza Koshy as Violet is one of the standouts - best known before this for being a "vine star" (RIP), she does a straight-man performance which is often unrewarding but helps anchor the show. Give it four stars if you're 11-14 years old and drew a grim reaper on your notebook. Three otherwise. I'll watch season two soon.

Long Shot - Netflix streaming

A short (40 minute) documentary whose trailer I posted earlier. A man is arrested for murder. He says he was at a Dodger game. Twenty nine thousand other people were there, too.

I like documentaries that show lawyers being painstaking, because that's us at our best. (And most accurate.) This one does it. Yeah, it's a little self-congratulatory, but the twists and turns of it are worth it. The twists and turns are too real to be perfect. Four stars.

"You can't go through life thinking of the "what ifs". The next two minutes are a what if."

American Vandal - A Netflix Original Series

So, this is exactly my type of satire. The over-serious true crime docudrama livened up by the absurdly small stakes and a long series of dick jokes. Yet as the series proceeds, it gets under your skin. The stakes go higher, and higher. And then some very real things start to happen. The ending makes extremely clear what the human cost of "deep dive" speculative documentaries like Serial and S-Town really are. It's a hilarious comedy but in the end it does have a message, and it's very meticulous and careful about building it. It's not just about ball hair. But it's at least about that, and much more stupidity to come.

Tank Top Todd did nothing wrong!!!!!

Four stars.

Abbatoir - Netflix Streaming

An example of a good horror experience degraded by post-production. The odd, offbeat costuming, acting, locations, sets and direction (a character is spotted in a brown fedora only seconds after someone made a joke about old timey reporters wearing brown fedoras) would make for a quirkily creepy experience if they had managed to refrain from putting in dark musical stings whenever someone hands an ominous package to someone else or when there's a closeup on someone seeing something terrible.

A reporter is frustrated with her job and her personal life; she finds solace in her sister's family. That family's killed in a home invasion; within days, someone has purchased their house and torn the murder room out. She questions the realtor, who nervously says that she's just done the equivalent of asking a Broadway actor about Macbeth.

As an aficionado of Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness, the plot is quite entertaining. The lead, Jessica Lowndes - who is also a pop singer I guess? - has a slightly stilted and awkward delivery that actually adds to the charm of the film. The character clearly sees herself as a spunky reporter in a screwball comedy, and being immersed in a horrific situation neither fully transforms her into a horror-film heroine nor lets her stay in that wisecracking reporter mode.

The trailer is everything that's wrong with the film boiled down into everything that's wrong with trailers, so I won't post it. I want to give it four stars because I like how weird and awkward it is but honestly it's probably only three.

The Stranger - Streaming nearly everywhere

Orson Welles stars opposite the incomparable Edward G. Robinson in this almost unbearably suspenseful thriller available nearly anywhere since a mistake let it fall into the public domain. A small time Nazi is released by the Allied War Crimes Commission in the hopes that he will lead their most implacable investigator (Robinson) to the most mysterious, horrible war criminal who ever escaped. He does exactly that in the first fifteen minutes of the film. The Nazi is living in bucolic postwar small town America, as a beloved teacher, marrying the most beautiful heiress to the most influential family of the little burg. He even gets the girl, as we watch! The sickness is in the most perfect place imaginable. Even the town clock refuses to work right.

But from the first frame of the film, we watch a brilliant, methodical mind tighten a noose slowly, inexorably, around his neck, and never, ever stops, not for any reason, ever. Reason and science tightens the noose. Emotion and connection tightens the noose. And happenstance and fate tightens the noose. Watching it work is like watching a clock tick closer and closer to midnight, or high noon.

Falls into the category of of a wildly spellbinding experience. Five stars. Available on Amazon Prime, TubiTV, Youtube and lots of other places, thanks to the public domain.

Buster's Mal Heart - Netflix Streaming

This is a sort of weirdness not often seen these days, but which I feel like digital filmmaking should enable - the conceptual film anchored by a singular performance.

A man is on the run from the police in the mountains. A man is alone in a boat in the middle of a placid ocean. A man struggles to hold his family together as sleep deprivation magnifies his paranoia and fears in the days before Y2K. At first you think you're seeing the same man at different points in his life, and begin to think that perhaps the man in the mountains is what happens to the sleep deprived man. Then you start to think it's the opposite. But what about the man in the boat? There's been a mistake.

Ultimately the film suggests that our search for our place in the universe and our search for our own identity is the same search; that we are our place, and when our place changes, even if we didn't make it change, we change. When we change, our place in the universe changes. And in the end it says that peace can be found. But perhaps not a peace made by seeking to be free of fear, or "free of the machine", as one character puts it, but peace nonetheless.

This is also a religious movie, and very Christian, concerned with themes of forgiveness, kindness and trust, though I suspect most would not see it as a "Christian film" in the normal sense.

The whale is a holy place. Four stars.