Mike at the Movies


Adrift (PG-13)

Shailene Woodley (Tami Oldham) has been a personal favorite of mine since I saw her in “The Descendant” as a teenager. In this film, which she also produced, she is riveting as the rootless adventurer Tami. She meets up with Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) in the Far East, just bumming around. The two have lots of chemistry and then they meet friends of Richard’s, Peter (Jeffrey Thomas) and Christine (Elizabeth Hawthorne) who offer the two a chance to sail their gorgeous sailboat, Hazana, to San Diego. Both accept.

Tami is a bit reluctant because she’s not ready to go home to San Diego yet, but she has fallen for Richard and it’s a “go.” Trying to outrun a hurricane, one of the largest in history, they meet disaster and Tami wakes up down below in what is left of the boat with Richard missing, his lifeline empty.

Tami eventually locates Richard, clinging to a rowboat that was on board, but he’s not in good shape. He has broken ribs, compound fractures of at least one leg and near-total immobility. It is left to Tami to navigate to Hawaii, though she has severe doubts. “We’re going to die out here,” she admits, 1500 miles from Hawaii with only a sextant and her rudimentary skills to guide them.

At one point, Richard gives up as well. “I wish you’d never met me,” he confesses. Tami reassures him that she wouldn’t have missed this for anything.

Richard eventually succumbs to his injuries and his desperation, leaving Tami alone for at least 600 miles. There are many emotional kicks in this movie, and it might disturb some younger viewers who are afraid of the water. I would not be surprised if Woodley garners an Oscar nomination for her beyond-gritty performance. She is that effective in this terrific adventure film.

American Animals (R)

You won’t know any of the cast, and it is unlikely that you know or have heard of any of the crew, but this movie is dynamite! It is also unusual in form: “This Is Based on a True Story” is the first thing you see only to watch as some words disappear leaving only: “This Is a True Story.” Based on an actual attempted book theft from Transylvania University in Kentucky in 2004, the story is told by actors and the real characters who add notes now and then.

The robbery concept is from Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) who is an art student fascinated by a copy of Audubon’s “Birds of America.” It occurred to him that it might be valuable, and it is—$12 million worth of valuable. Throw in a first edition of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” and you would have quite a haul. So Spencer, relatively rootless, easily convinces Warren Lipka (Evan Peters), a scholarship athlete who has given up going to practice. They go about assembling two more for the gang to make the heist: Jared Abrahamson is Eric Borsuk and handsome Blake Jenner is athlete Charles Allen. The four more or less plan the robbery.

In late December 2004 they strike and, predictably, everything goes wrong. So wrong that they have a second go at it with changed roles. Warren is still stuck with “neutralizing” librarian Betty Jean Gooch (Ann Dowd). This act is to haunt all four boys as the story turns from an ordinary heist story into one about the relentless pressure of conscience. Each of the four suffers in one way or another as the situation turns sour, but Miss Gooch haunts them all. It gets so bad that Spencer wants to quit but Warren reminds him: “You’ve come all this way. You don’t want to find out what happens?”

The strange part of the movie, which soon loses its strangeness, is the interjections by the real characters, telling the story as they remember it. It also adds a lot of power to the ending of the saga. An independent film out of Sundance, this one is worth a long and enjoyable look. Leave the kids at home if they don’t like rough language.

Ocean’s 8 (PG-13)

What a parade of glamour, talent and soft-spoken comedy! Sandra Bullock is totally believable as the late Danny Ocean’s sister Debbie and the rest of the cast, headed by a gloriously attractive Cate Blanchett as Lou, is splendid as well. I mentioned that this is a soft-spoken comedy/heist film. That’s part of its effectiveness. Even Rihanna is softly winning as Nine-Ball, the street-wise IT specialist who makes so many parts fit together. The only “loud” one, in a hysterical turn as fashion guru Rose Weil, is Helena Bonham-Carter.

The plot, at first seeming simple, is anything but as even the target of the heist is unexpected: a $10.5-million necklace from Cartier, worn by Anne Hathaway as Daphne Luger, the super-model. The object seems to be the necklace but as the plot develops, it turns out that there are many motives at work. And develop the plot does as we see how each part of the heist is planned and executed.

Throughout, Bullock is calm, confident and dedicated. She inspires wonderful acquiescence from her gang. Bullock served more than five years in prison for getting innocently caught in a scam, so she has had more than five years to plan this deal, and every detail is down pat.

The other glamorous members of the cast include Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, the mom-turned-party organizer, and Awkwafina as Constance, the do-everything star. When they all get dolled up for the Met Gala, they are something to behold, but they have to compete with other models and actresses such as Olivia Munn, Katie Holmes, Kim Kardashian West, the Jenner sisters, and, eventually, such names from the past as Marlo Thomas, Elizabeth Ashley, and even Anna Wintour! James Corden has a long, funny turn as an insurance investigator, and other famous names and faces pop up to keep you alert.

The show was panned before it was made because it was a knock-off of “Ocean’s Eleven,” the classic male heist movie. This one may be even cleverer. Stay to the end because the twists keep coming, along with the laughs. And try to find out who designed Rose Weil’s (Carter’s) Gala outfit. It is totally over the top and worth laughs in its own right. This is, to my mind, already a classic heist film.

Hereditary (R)

This was, for me, an odd film. I did not like the plot, but I was fascinated by Director Ari Aster’s technique. Instead of the standard horror film gimmicks of loud banging, orchestral crescendo and all the rest of the tricks that have become so predictable to audiences, Aster used a slow tempo with mounting effect.

Toni Collette stars as Annie, who has the unusual profession of making miniatures for dollhouses—people as well as furniture and furnishings. Her daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), is a frustrated artist haunted by her grandmother’s wish that she had been a boy. “She wanted me to be a boy,” Charlie said of her grandmother who has just died when the film opens. There are reasons that Granny wanted Charlie to be a boy, but that is clarified late in the film.

Instead, there is Peter (Alex Wolff). Taking Charlie home from a high school drinking and pot party, Peter crashes the car in such a way as to decapitate Charlie. This piles grief upon grief upon the family, and we begin to suspect that the title refers to a heritage of anguish and mourning. But no! There are other twists and turns, introduced by the neighborly Joan (Ann Dowd). She meets Annie in a grieving recovery group. She lost her son and grandson, both by drowning. She finds a medium to contact her grandson, and she introduces Annie to the occult.

Annie, of course, tries out the techniques and they are a smashing success, except that not everybody in her family wants to commune with the dead. There is an epic confrontation between Annie and Peter over dinner that highlights Colette’s formidable acting skills, and the family begins to deteriorate. There are headless people who populate the film and the hereditary factors get a bit mixed as it sweeps to a “meh” conclusion.

Again, the route here is technically more interesting than the actual plot. Interestingly enough, Colette and her co-star, Gabriel Byrne, acted as co-producers for the film, which may help explain its textual consistency. Not for kids and not for those who want and need crashing sounds, massive orchestral chords and lots of screaming to make it a good horror film. In fact, silence is a very important tool in the director’s toolbox and, as usual, handled properly as in this case, it is far scarier than adolescent shouts and screams.

Hotel Artemis (R)

This is a very dark, bloody mash-up of characters and dystopian weirdness that never got off the ground for me. If you’d like to see what Jodie Foster (Nurse) will look like at 75, this is your chance. Sterling K. Brown (Waikiki) gets caught with a bad script and still works it for all he’s worth, Sofia Boutella (Nice) has admirable martial arts skills, and Jeff Goldblum has a chance to play a bloody villain, but not for long. Others wander around this confusing, often irrelevant film, trying to figure it out, like some of the audience will summon up enough patience to do.

Upgrade (R)

Blumhouse was involved with this film, which may tell you all you want to know. Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) becomes a slave to STEM, a computer chip placed in his neck when he and his wife are kidnapped, and she is killed. Grey’s only desire is to kill the four men who killed his wife, Asha (Melanie Vallejo).

STEM, best described as an implant with AI, gives Grey superpowers and helps him on his quest for revenge. As with other Blumhouse films, people are lined up en masse in order to be beaten or killed in supposedly original ways. Of course, there are other “upgrades” to complicate matters but they are merely fodder, as are you if you go to this mish-mash sci-fi exploitation film.

Action Point (R)

Do you watch the “Fail” postings on YouTube? Do you drink at least 16 cans of Schlitz a day? If so, this is the movie for you.
DC (Johnny Knoxville) sums it up in his own words: “Thinking is not my super power.” DC owns a decrepit “amusement park” staffed by idiots. Everything that can hurt someone is emphasized and eventually marketed. They still cannot save the park from the snobs in town. So DC invites everybody in for a free-for-all destruction party. They do so while chanting “U-S-A!”