The African Queen (1951)

The most depressing thing, for me, about seeing John Huston’s classic film The African Queen was not coming out of the theater to see an add for Disney’s Jungle Cruise, but watching the movie and recalling a scene I’d just seen extracted from the new Marvel Black Widow movie. Allow me to elaborate: In 2015’s Age Of Ultron, there was one of those rare moments of a thing called “character development” where Black Widow tearfully confesses that part of her training involved a full hysterectomy—a little reminder that the besides being a plot-armored quasi-super-hero, she’s also a human being.

This little moment was controversialized by the perverse childless weirdos who dominate “journalism” and who cannot ever allow the possibility that a woman might find considerable meaning and value in fulfilling a woman’s biological role, i.e., having children. And so, in the new movie, one of the (now apparently dime-a-dozen) Black Widows recalls the same incident as a flippant joke.

The African Queen is a love story, first and foremost. It’s also an action-adventure-war picture, because Hollywood used to adore that sort of broad crowd-pleaser. The action-adventure stuff is what happens in the movie, but it’s about love. To wit, old maid missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn), upright and uptight but genuinely strong of character, finds herself fleeing German advances in Africa at the dawn of WWI with the low-class, crass and vulgar Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), and the two strengthen each other through a burgeoning affection and shared purpose—which is of course a sort of last ditch, long-shot heroic gesture against the Hun. Talk about “they couldn’t make that today”.

Look at that! Just look at it!

Chock full of fabulous blocking, of course.

Having grown up with late-era Katharine Hepburn, I was not a fan, and it wasn’t until years later when I saw things like Bringing Up Baby (where she’s basically a manic pixie dream girl) and The Philadelphia Story where I began to realize that she could genuinely act—in a role that didn’t have her as an uptight New England patrician. And I suspect it may have been this role that guided her career into that mold because she’s so, so good at it. Yet the beauty of this part is her transformation: She knows what’s right and she is steadfast, but she also has feelings which occasionally, fleetingly break through to the surface; when she “warms up”, as it were, she allows herself more emotion, but if anything is more determined and uncompromising.

On the flipside we have Hobo Bogart, who is also the sort of actor you could easily forget could actually act because he was so good at the hard-boiled detective thing. But here he’s not suave or cool or heroic, rather a kind of unprincipled drunk living a life of ease. (I actually had some concern about The Flower seeing him in this condition.) This movie is, essentially, a buddy comedy/road movie, and our principles are the oddest couple.

They’re both way too old for their roles, of course—Hepburn was mid-40s, Bogie was mid-50s—but it doesn’t much matter. Nor does the fact that they’re supposed be English. (Well, in the book Charlie is cockney, but for the movie they switched that to Canadian.) The effects, largely consisting of actually being in Africa and rolling the cameras, are quite good, with the exception of some of the rear projection shots where the two stars are not actually on the boat because, holy cow, can you imagine sending your middle-aged superstars to shoot the rapids?

Except for the part with the leeches. *shudder*

Most of the stills and outtakes from this movie are pix of Hepburn and Bogart sitting in a boat—because most of the movie is about Hepburn and Bogart sitting in a boat.

Two things, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t work too well for me. I’m a fan of technicolor but I don’t like the palette used here. It feels a little degraded, like—well, like Kodacolor always seemed to get after about six months. (Seriously, movies shot in the ’70s—the prints would get super grungy looking by the second run, beyond normal wear and tear.)

The other thing I didn’t care for, on the whole, was Allan Gray’s score. It has some very good moments, but I noticed it a lot and it seemed sort of jarring or misplaced. There’s a scene early on which felt positively riff-able: Bogie and Hepburn are getting on the boat and there’s a pretty grim strain playing. I could just hear Tom Servo saying “Thrill! To the getting-on-the-boat-scene!” I mean, I got that it was kind of a big deal because Hepburn’s leaving her home and the Germans are probably menacing some people somewhere, but there’s nothing at the moment that justifies it. I guess I felt, at a lot of points, like the music wasn’t well integrated. Sometimes it just be that way.

Minor nitpicks, however. This really is a movie for all ages: Their physical journey is entertaining, both fun and funny, with director John Huston never missing a chance to have something exciting happen; and each event along the way, reveals their emotional journey, which is dramatic and moving.

I dunno.

The palette’s not QUITE this washed out, but it felt that way sometimes. Jungle heat?

Unlike most of the great old directors, Huston didn’t have a short “golden” age where he produced masterpieces. Obviously The Maltese Falcon (his first film!), Key Largo and Treasure of the Sierra Madre were classic ’40s flicks, but in the ’50s he had this movie and both Moby Dick and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison; in the ’60s, Night of the Iguana; in the ’70s, The Man Who Would Be King, and even into the ’80s, The DeadPrizzi’s Honor and Under The Volcano (which I hated—but it’s not always about me).

African Queen would not even be nominated for best picture (which went to the over-rated An American In Paris), and John Huston would lose both directing and writing awards to A Place in the Sun (which won six of its nine nominations). For his only Oscar, Bogie would beat out Frederic March (Death of a Salesman), Marlon Brando (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Montgomery Clift (A Place in the Sun)—all heavyweight dramatic roles, making me suspect that the Academy was feeling sheepish about not having awarded him sooner. Hepburn would lose out to Vivien Leigh (Streetcar) and would have to console herself with her 1933 Oscar (Morning Glory) and her three subsequent wins (Guess Who’s Coming To DinnerThe Lion In WinterOn Golden Pond) and seven other nominations. This may be my favorite role of hers, however.

As I suspected, the Boy loved it. The Flower did have some issues with Hobo Bogart, but she also loved it.

Esophageal cancer. No one said "noir" didn't have it's price.

Bogart would end his career with three of his strongest performances: The Caine Mutiny, The Harder They Fall, and Sabrina.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

The worst thing is when I write a review of a movie which was bad or just okay or maybe just exactly what you’d expect, and then it somehow gets eaten. I’m absolutely positive I wrote about The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard but somehow my text has vanished and it’s really not worth much time to recreate it. As I recall, I started by saying, “You could probably just read my review of The Hitman’s Bodyguard from a couple of years—wow, FOUR years—back and it would serve,” and this is true. This is basically more of the same, dumb, loud, silly nonsense featured in that film—and that ain’t bad.

The Flower went with me on this one—The Boy was a bit too busy with his new job and is also, post-pandemic, much harder to interest in anything that looks like typical Hollywood crap, even if it’s on the better side of porridge. It’s still porridge, and we’re so accustomed to it that even the slightest deviations from the norm feel kind of daring. For exmaple, this movie treats us to quite a few minutes of (plot necessary!)  Salma Hayek wearing a halter-top. And somehow, in this “foil the male gaze” era, this seems incredibly edgy.

How YOU doin'?

Ms. Hayek will be 55 this September.

The last time I recall anything this rewarding to the male gaze in a mainstream Hollywood production, it was Megan Fox in the first Transformers movie, which came out before this blog started 15 years ago—and which Ms. Fox decided to denounce. (I know Ms. Johansson has decried the sexualization of the Black Widow character, but is there anything in any part of the Marvel universe that can match, e.g., the heat of fully clothed Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment?)

Anyway, there’s some very mild and goofy stuff involving Morgan Freeman—the least of which being the idea that he could somehow thrash Ryan Reynolds—that also feels “edgy”, but that’s because this is where we are now: We literally cannot take a joke.

You know?

Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are in this movie, but why would I waste blog space posting pictures of them?

Point being, really, that we liked this movie. We forgot about it almost instantly, but when it is recalled to memory, it has a kind of pleasant, gauzy feel. It’s not quite as good as the first one, I don’t think, but I don’t really remember the first one much, either.

The premise, if it matters, is that Reynolds is a kind of loser bodyguard who has been thwarted at various times by an assassin, played by Samuel L. Jackson. In the first movie, the contrivance was that he had to protect Jackson. In this movie, it’s that he (sorta) has to protect Hayek, a psychotic murderer who desperately wants to have a baby and start family. I mean, she’s 54 and he’s 72, but biology (in any form) doesn’t play much a role in the plot.

Hayek, at one point, has to pretend to be English, which feels like a kind of lampshading, because her comically bad accent is comparable to Antonio Banderas’ Greek accent—which sounds amazingly like his regular ol’ Spanish accent. Now, I’m actually up for whatever as far as accents go—I think it’s sort of silly, e.g., that everyone has to have a British accent in these big dramas like Rome or Game of Thrones—and I thought this was kind of cute.

Think of the opportunities.

Any man who wouldn’t “ride bitch” with Salma Hayek is no man at all, I say.

The Flower and (mostly) I were talking on the way to the theater about how even the lower budget older movies—talking now about the ’80s and ’90s—had a sense of weight, of reality, of gravity, that newer ones do not because you quickly realize that nothing you’re seeing is actually happening. Joe Bob Brigg’s “The Last Drive-In” featured, for example, Maniac Cop 2 last season and there’s a bit where a guy gets punched through, like, six cubicle walls—and we found ourselves marveling that some stunt guy had to actually be yanked through those (fake) walls. The Barbarienne is big into the ’80s Little Shop of Horrors and re-watching it myself, I’m blown away by the “realism” of the giant, talking plant.

As we had explosion after explosion in this flick, with flaming barrels dropping all around, I couldn’t help but think “back in the old days, the actors had to DUCK if they didn’t want to get hit by the explosions”. It’s okay here, because this is a silly movie and meant to be fun and funny and unreal, but we would do well not to lose the vast body of technology that the FX guys of past decades built up—before it all came down to computer nerds, making elaborate SFX on their computers before the movies are even scripted (as in the MCU).

Basically, if you liked the first one, you’ll probably like this. If not, well, it’s a bunch of swearing, killing and not nearly enough Salma Hayek to make up for that.

Happy? It's almost the whole cast.

(L to R): Some guy, some guy, Salma Hayek, some guy.

Cursed Official

The Boy has not really gotten back into the moviegoing swing of things, but it didn’t take too much to talk him into seeing this one-night-only Russian movie about an official who is cursed so that he can no longer take a bribe. I’m thinking Liar, Liar going in, and it was that, but because it’s Russian, it’s mixed with Drag Me To Hell. That is to say, it is a comedy, but there are elements of genuine horror—’cause it’s Russian. Seriously, 12, the Russian take on 12 Angry Men, and possibly my favorite take is social commentary—mixed with horror. Hell, that Russian family film we saw about The House Elf? It’s sorta E.T. or Mac and Me or something like that—mixed with horror.

I mean, would you even KNOW their Russian names?

From left-to-right: The Heavy, The Good Girl, The Director and The Hero.

Russia is a seriously dysfunctional society, is the common message throughout these things. And yet, even in this movie, which is literally about what a hellhole corrupt third-world country this so-called superpower is, they are proud to be Russians. Hell, coming out of this, I was proud to be a Russian—not as proud as I am to be Korean, but prouder than I am to be an American, coming out of a typical Hollywood film.

And it’s really, really easy to see the difference: The theme of every Korean film, underlying or overt, is that the people of Korea are great, it’s just the corrupt, incompetent state forgets that Korea is its people and twists things to its own ends. And the theme of this film? Pretty much the same: Russians are great, but The System is so thoroughly corrupt that the inability to give or receive bribes is potentially fatal. An American film, by contrast, is going to show Americans as the problem.

In “Cursed Official,” our “hero” is a corrupt official who’s about to make the big play to become mayor of the city, and all he has to do is engineer a Kelo-style takeover of a local neighborhood so it can be razed to put up—well, not luxury condos, ’cause…Russia, but overpriced, poorly built, highly lucrative dwelling units. In his haste to meet with his important gangster partners, he gives short-shrift to an old lady whose only wish is to be buried next to her husband, which she can’t arrange because arranging literally anything requires a bribe, and she is poor. She curses him, and from that point forward, he can no longer take bribes.

Look, just be nice to old folks, okay?

Before Keanu Reeves was “Baba Yaga,” it was this lady.

While comical in its effects—first because of Maksim Lagashkin’s physical talents, then because of the undeniability and untenability of the situation—the movie uses typical horror techniques (like severe musical riffs, violently shaking camera, etc.) to communicate that the curse is real and horrible even as we’re joking about laughably overt corruption and violence. And an odd thing is that we’re actually rooting for Maksim (I’m using the actor’s names for the characters because I don’t remember the characters’ names) from the start, even though we know he’s corrupt. This is a clever trick by director Sarik Andreasyan and his writers.

Maksim is corrupt, sure, but the whole dirty system is and he is, at least, competent in what he does, unlike the nepots that pass through his area on their way to bigger and better things. He’s devoted to his very vacuous wife (a wonderful performance by Lyubov Tolkalina) and only a little exploitative of his secretary, Elizaveta Arzamasova, a lovely girl-next-door-if-nextdoor-is-Kiev type that literally everyone assumes he’s banging. But he’s not, and he’s genuinely repulsed by the degeneracy around him, which gives us some element of decency to hope for.

The lights aren't even on.

Those eyes. They’re like a vacant lot.

In the end, he finds the only one he can count on is the extremely loyal Elizaveta—and wouldn’t you know it, it’s her neighborhood he’s paved the way to demolish. So, the two of them are running around trying to get him uncursed, to save his life and his career but ultimately at the cost of her community, which makes for a fine opening to a third act.

Meanwhile, the corruption is staggering. You can count on a ticket when you’re driving, for example, and you can count on a friendly, money-filled handshake to get you out of it. Need to stay overnight in the socialized-medicine hospital? Bribe your doctor. Need to get out of the socialized-medicine hospital? Bribe your doctor again.

But the movie never loses sight of the fact: the government, the cops, the doctors…these are not Russia. The Russian people are Russia, and they’re good people ground down by an awful system.

We should be so lucky as to have filmmakers with that kind of insight in the U.S.A.

It's a bear.

Elizaveta struggled with morning sickness on set, apparently.

La Piscine (1969)

The Moviegique trope re French Films is simple. You describe the film until you get to the perverted sex part, or since a lot of them start with perverted sex parts, you describe the film until the perverted sex reaches a peak (as it were) and say:

I know, right? French!

But there’s more to French movies than sexual perversion. There’s usually a lot of drinking and smoking, too. And ennui. A French film without ennui is like a Disney movie without a Uyghur slave camp. Theoretically, I mean. There may be some French movies without ennui.

In a black bikini!

Romy Schneider is in this.

But there’s French, and there’s French, and this may be the Frenchiest French film I’ve ever seen. It’s exactly what I was expecting (a pretentious, boring French film) and I liked it as much as I expected. (That is to say, I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t actually see any reason to dig it up after 50 years and show it, either.)

The pluses are: Romy Schneider and Jane Birkin are beautiful, and the French have a unique and delightful appreciation for women that isn’t as cookie-cutter as (e.g.) the ones American producers seem to favor. There’s a big party with a bunch of other good, and different, looking, women as well. I can’t judge the male pulchritude, but I can confident in saying they’re very French, and the lead is quite fit to boot and shirtless most of the time. So if the Gallic thing is your cup of meat, chow down. Also, despite being 1969 high fashion, the look of the film actually works. Part of it is that the men are more conservatively dressed, on the whole, and another part is the beauty of the women. But costume deignser André Courrèges exercised tremendous taste, I think.

The minuses: Ennui, ennui, ennui. Slow-moving. Erotic for 1969 which set the audience tittering, and they were old enough to have seen it first run. Finding anyone to relate to or admire beyond their attractiveness? Challenging. Nihilistic? Not terribly over the top for the time, but undergirding the whole thing nonetheless.


Jane Birkin is also in this film.

If you know where you stand on French films during this awful, awful period, you don’t need me to tell you that this is one of those, and you’ll probably like it (or hate it) as much as any other. And if you don’t, this film’s as good as any other to calibrate your taste. So the rest of this is going to be spoilers.

Here’s how it all goes down: Not Diana Rigg and Not Karl Urban are holed away in a rich friend’s mansion, hanging out by the pool and aardvarking like teenagers about to get the axe in a horror film when Not Joe Biden shows up with his 18-year-old barely legal daughter, Not Taylor Swift. (Not Joe Biden doesn’t actually look anything like the putative President, but he does a lot of creepy smelling and touching, including of his daughter, so The Boy leaned in and said, “Who does this guy think he is? Joe Biden?” And it stuck in my head.) It’s instantly obvious to Not Diana Rigg and all but the dumbest audience members that Not Karl Urban is going to end up deflowering Not Taylor Swift, but it’s not going to be a short journey: This flick is over two hours long.


Romy has multiple swimming outfits but this was the only bikini, so it’s used in all the publicity stills.

The points of interest here are that “our heroes” are libertine which, of course they are: It’s France and it’s 1969, but Not Karl Urban (who is at least a supreme jerk) has a hang up about an affair he believes Not Diana Rigg and Not Joe Biden had. He’s fine with all her other past lovers, but he and Not Joe Biden have some sort of rivalry which is never really explained, and comes to fruition unsurprisingly right about the time he deflowers Not Taylor Swift.

At that point, I suggested to The Boy the only thing that could make this Frencher is if Not Karl Urban killed himself.

He doesn’t, though. Instead, he murders Not Joe Biden.

After the funeral Not Stanley Tucci shows up—and I actually thought this would’ve been a delightful turn, making the movie about a French Columbo getting Not Karl Urban to confess—and plants the seed of suspicion in Not Diana Rigg’s head. This seed of suspicion is confirmed, and Not Diana Rigg gets Not Karl Urban to send Not Taylor Swift back to her mother, but lest we think she’s done this to secure Not Karl Urban romantically, she then decides to leave him.

But in the end, they stay together.


Almost makes the movie tolerable.

Some days she doesn’t wear the bathing suit. We call these “the salad days”.

That’s awful, and I apologize for writing it that way. The high point for me was probably listening to the old people behind me. “This is French?” And after the murder. “This is awful.” and “Now what?” in reference to the pickle Not Karl Urban got himself into.

But as I say, there’s no excuse for disappointment. It’s exactly what you’d expect if you knew anything about cinema. Or the French. Or 1969.

Romy Schneider (as Not Diana Rigg) is lovely and sympathetic, which she always manages to be even when she’s being kind of bitchy. Alain Delon (as Not Karl Urban) and Maurice Ronet (as Not Joe Biden) struck me as fairly typical French jerks, but they had a good chemistry (even in their bad chemistry, if that makes sense). All three were real life friends, which makes the film unwatchable by Delon, who is the only survivor. But the filmmaking itself doesn’t carry this: It’s all on the actors.


I guess this is how the film was advertised in Germany.

Jane Birkin (as not Taylor Swift) pulls off a convincing just-18-year-old (she was 23) but that’s virtually the extent of her character. Her interaction with the rest of the cast is almost perfunctory. Makes sense, since they are old friends.

Not long ago, I read something about “film noir” (a term that went mainstream in the ’50s) and discovered they used to refer to “film noir” as “melodrama”! But the definition of “melodrama” is very broad: It’s characterized by intense emotions and even action, over characterization. Strictly speaking, Die Hard is melodrama. Lots and lots of films are melodrama. For example, anything with William Shatner.

I’ve been watching silent dramas for part III of my silent movie series (Part I, Part II) and they’re all melodramas. Post-war moviemaking went further and further away from melodrama till it hit this kind of stuff, which is practically anti-melodrama. Nobody cares about anything and even things that should be big, emotionally, are flat. (This is sometimes referred to as “realistic” by pretentious film critics who aren’t me.)

But if that sort of thing is in your wheelhouse, this is your movie. For me, it never really got beyond the eye candy.

I guess it was kinda obvious.

Jane Birkin says “Duh.”

The Ladykillers (1955)

“Hey, you want to come see ‘The Ladykillers’ with me and The Boy?”
. . .
“It’s got Alec Guinness in it! He played Obi Wan Kenobi, you know.”
. . .
“He was also in your favorite movie.”
“Who was he in ‘Murder By Death?'”
“The blind butler.”
(laughs) “Hey, is he one of those guys like the guy in ‘Columbo’ who didn’t do it?”
“Ray Milland? You don’t understand: Ray Milland is ALWAYS guilty.”
“Robert Culp trumps Ray Milland.”
“True. But what about Milland?”
“Is Alec Guinness one of those guys who’s always old?”
“Oh, this should be Alec Guinness in his prime.”


To be fair, the average lifespan of a human in 1955 was 39.

Update: Alec Guinness was always old. He actually looks fairly old in Great Expectations, when he’s only 32. And by this time he’s 41, and is (for comic purposes) sort of hunchbacked, buck-toothed and stringy-haired—he’s basically doing Alistair Sim, whose Scrooge, some say, is the best—as he leads his gang of misfits on a mostly successful caper launched from the bedroom of a B&B run by a 75-year-old little old lady who reminisces about the queen dying on her 21st birthday. “Who’s she talkin’ about? Old queen who?” says One-Round, the muscle.

This is a clever black comedy, which takes English manners to an extreme, as our criminals manage to successfully pull of the heist using Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce as their bag man, but on the verge of getting away reveal themselves to her and thus decide they must eliminate her. The irony being that as tough and even murderous thugs as they are, they don’t quite have it in their hearts to kill a little old lady. The other irony being that the old lady has made herself such a nuisance to the police, they wouldn’t believe her anyway, though the thugs don’t know that.

Classical music.

“Do you play In ‘A Gadda Davida’?”

A wonderful breakout performance from the 77-year-old Katie Johnson who would win her first and only BAFTA. Speaking of English manners, the director requested that she be given top-billing on the film because it might be her last. He had been her first choice for the role, but the producers feared she might not be able to complete the production at her age, and so they cast a younger actress—who died before filming started.

The first thing I noticed, after Alec Guinness’ Sim imitation, was that both Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom were part of the squad. Sellers was a little heavy and Lom was quite thin—a situation that would be reversed when the two played in The Pink Panther eight years later. Sellers, in his first real acting role is quite restrained and very nervous, which may not have been acting but which was quite effective. Lom is genuinely menacing here, and quite good, as always. (I have a soft spot for the old Bohemian, who worked over 70 years in just about anything—including a bunch of low-budget horror in the ’70s—and was always good.)

Strike that. Reverse it.

“Look, I dunno, Lom, maybe you could be a bumbling detective and Peter here could be your straight-laced boss. Or…waitaminute…”

The crew is rounded out by Cecil Parker, who was a go-to for “If you need an English-looking colonel-type” and you couldn’t get Terry-Thomas, and Danny Green who looks amazingly familiar, though I can’t recall anything specific. He reminds me of Fargo’s John Carroll Lynch.

Director Alex Mackendrick, best known as the writer/director of Guinness’ breakout role in Man in the White Suit, lets the action build slowly. Movies used to do this sometimes: You’re introduced to a character who is amusing and empathetic (Mrs. Wilberforce) and show the menace literally shadowing her (in the form of Guinness’ “Professor Marcus”), and when the gang shows up at the boarding house, you wonder where they’re going with this plan and why Louisa is a part of it.

It’s not just a matter of where she lives, which is one advantage this film has on the 2004 Coen Brothers remake, where the landlady is just a bystander to the shenanigans. One is genuinely taken by the cleverness of the Professor Marcus’ plan, even if Louis (Lom) correctly identifies it as the sort of plan someone in a looney bin would make up. Another advantage it has it that it’s a distinctly English film at a time when that meant something. We can believe that, even if there is no honor among thieves, there is among even the lowest of Englishman a sense of propriety that does not allow for casually murdering an innocent old lady.

It’s a fun thing to spend 90 minutes with characters who are bank robbers and murderers that you still kind of like and feel sorta bad for when things don’t go their way.

Consistently rated as one of the greatest English films ever made.

No, really!

Blocking used to be one of those “core competencies” for a filmmaker.

A Quiet Place II: Even Quieter

There was nothing, apart from box office, that suggested the 2018 survival horror A Quiet Place needed a sequel. Indeed, in the classic sci-fi/horror tradition, “monster’s dead, movie’s over” as Roger Corman once said. More narrowly, in the Invaders sub-genre, “Once you find the aliens’ weakness, there’s a quick mop-up and the movie’s over.”

Mars Attacks parodies this, for example, with the Slim Whitman albums (which is remarkably relevant to this franchise). In Night of the Living Dead, once it’s discovered that zombies are slow, weak and stupid (forget the beginning of the film), there’s a quick redneck rampage to handle it. They didn’t do that in the first A Quiet Place, but it sort of goes without saying these days.

Why do you people even listen to me?

Director cameo. Yes, the deaf girl directed this.

Let’s look at that box office again: The original placed 15th for 2018, beating out horror franchises for Halloween, The Nun (Conjure-verse), The First Purge and Fifty Shades Freed. For non-horror franchises it beat out Ocean’s 8Fantastic Beasts, and desperate wannabe franchise Ready Player One—all on a $50M budget. That kind of success demands to be franchised. (Which is why Netflix made that Sandra-Bullock-is-blind movie.)

Writer/director John Krasinski returns with a script he has sole credit on, and the movie begins with some prequel action where he’s in front of the camera as well. The first movie began in media res, as they say, with us only knowing the world as it has become—infested with super-fast murder machines—and, frankly, that’s okay. Exposition is dumb. Seriously, leave it out. All we really get in the prequel action is “Well, they’re from outer space.” Doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. The movie wisely goes no further than that.

The Internet has let me down again.

This is not the aliens coming from outer space but I couldn’t find a picture of that.

Then we pick up right where the last movie ends, with the survivors moving on for reasons I did not understand. Something was on fire? Not, “Oh my God, we have to get this super-easy way to defeat monsters out to the general public so we can reclaim the planet!” The whole set-up is a little “the movie had to happen”. The find a pre-disaster friend who’s all “You gotta go.” But then the deaf girl gets it in her head to do the obvious (save the world) and the friend goes after her because Emily Blunt—whom he was just about to consign to death, infant and all—begs him to.

I would, too. Emily Blunt is very convincing. I never think I’m going to like her but I do, every time. And this is a good time to talk about why this movie works, just like the first one: Krasinski is an actor, and he makes his movies about acting. A good actor doesn’t need Shakespeare. A good actor just needs a character and a situation—horror’s as good as any. Blunt tears it up. She’s not the main character though, and this is another good thing about the film: It does not try to remake the original. It is a completely different story.

The main characters in this are Millicent Simmond’s deaf girl, Regan (the actress is genuinely deaf) and the sidekick, the reluctant friend, played by Cillian Murphy.

That’s right: Krasinski is the only American in this film. Everyone else is British or Irish or French/Beninan (Djimon Honsou).


Hollywood’s subtle reminder that diversity is possible, as long as no actual Americans are involved.

Oh, the cowardly son, played by Noah Blum also has his moment in the sun, which is nice.

I knew how the second act was going to play out by the end of the first act, and how the third act was going to play about by the end of the second act, but this does not detract from the quality of the execution. I did not know, for example, precisely who would live or die, and Krasinski apparently didn’t feel obliged to kill characters to give the movie any extra faux-gravitas.

The very thin movie premise, which was already strained by the end of the first film, is not helped here and the inevitable sequel is going to rip it to shreds. The monsters are literally just murder machines: They kill for no purpose whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine why. It’s not for food. We’re not a threat, somehow. It could be the noise we make, but All God’s Creatures make noise. Why us? Furthermore, they just kill and then go away, typically. Not always in this sequel, which is a situation so obvious it undermines the first film. But it’s fine.

As a movie-going experience, it was also fine. The trailers are back to full-on bludgeon-you-into-having-fun mode, which is really not fun. I was grateful for the parts of the movie that were from the deaf girl’s perspective, because my poor ears were battered by the first part of the film. I don’t know if they (my ears) have just had a year to recover or what, but they were throbbing by the time I left and I will be bringing ear plugs in the future.

As a fully vaccinated American, from all diseases and tyranny, now into the future, I didn’t have to wear a mask even in the lobby, which was nice. They’re rumbling about locking us down again of course, at which point this movie becomes simply a preview of the horrors to come.

Second universe, same as the first!

Me trying to escape the Quiet-verse.

The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It

In terms of percentage, the most profitable modern “universe” is probably not the MCU, but the, uh, Conjure-verse. Begun back in the halcyon days (ha!) of 2013 the eight or so films have a combined budget of approximately $200M with a gross of $2B, meaning they brought in about ten times what they cost to make. By comparison, for the Marvel Universe to accomplish that it would have to rake in about one trillion dollars!

He lapped himself.

Taking Limbo too far.

And, intriguingly, the stars that power this massive vehicle are the unassuming, pleasantly middle-aged Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga playing Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real-life ghost-hunters who permeated ’70s pop-culture, along with the Ancient Aliens, The Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster. OK, obviously the Warrens were never that big: You wouldn’t see them teaming up with the Six Million Dollar Man to fight the Ancient Aliens. They’re more in the category where you’d say, “The Warrens” today and people would squint their eyes and and say “Who?”, and you’d mention “Amityville”, and they’d say, “You mean, like in Jaws?” and you’d say, “No, no, as in Horror” and they’d say, “Ohhhh! Right.”

And some might even remember this particular case, where a young man stabbed another young man to death and claimed, as the newspapers had it, “The Devil made me do it!”. For those who are younger than nearly 29, the phrase “The Devil made me do it!” was made popular by Flip Wilson, who had a smash hit variety show in 1970, at a time when blacks were routinely stoned to death for appearing in public. Mr. Wilson himself was stoned every night after his show, if you believe the authorities, which you shouldn’t. Interesting to note that the phrase itself was a catch-phrase before the smash-hit horror The Exorcist. It’s possible that Mr. Blatty got the idea for his book from Mr. Wilson, and owes royalties to the man’s estates. We are not lawyers here.

But let us focus.


“The most original film I have ever seen.” — William Peter Blatty

I am somewhat “flip” about based-on-a-true-story stuff because I’m a student of the before-times, and I remember The Blair Witch Project, the many Exorcist and Amityville spin-offs, the antics of one William Castle, and of course Horace Walpole’s 1764 Castle of Otranto, which launched the gothic horror novel and was made of whole cloth despite Mr. Walpole’s assertion that the book was assembled with the 18th century version of found footage: A crazy old coot’s diary. But if it helps people get into the spirit of things, I’m not against some “enthusiastic” marketing.

The secret sauce of the three main Conjuring films, absent from the five largely inferior spin-off movies (three Annabelles, a Nun with a second Nun due out shortly, and The Curse of La Llorona), is that you care about what happens to Ed and Lorraine. The other movies at least keep the stakes as intimate, but ultimately these movies are love stories (and, like the Fast and Furious franchise, they’re all about family) and Lorraine, as the more sensitive of the two, deals directly with the forces of evil while Ed has an old-school chivalry drive to try to protect her.

In this installment, where they search for the source of the demonic possession that results in the murder of a really annoying, alcoholic but basically innocent, rocker, Ed has suffered a massive heart attack and is constantly forgetting to pack his life-saving serum. Another twist is that they have a corporeal enemy—recalling the latest (and last?) Insidious film—and, hell, let’s be honest, this one’s at least a 4th Level Magic-User. We got some serious witchery going on here. Spell’s-a-poppin’!

Or possibly an anti-Paladin.

“She may be multi-classing as a druid.”

Anyway, you take your name actors (Wilson and Farmiga) and throw in some cheap character actors and then mix-in some young people to get the kids out to the show—actually, I think the most experienced of the young actors was ten-year-old Julian Hillard, who was in “Wandavision”, “Penny Dreadful” and the “Haunting of Hill House”, to say nothing of Color out of Space—and you can bring the picture in for under $40 million while raking in over $200M box-office world-wide, even as the world reels from its experiment with global fascism.

I, and everyone else in the theater, which is to say, again, I liked it well enough. There’s a certain transgressive quality to it which comes less from the horror (fairly traditional witches and boogens) and more from the Holy Warrior aspect which is inextricably Christian. I sometimes think I get the same perverse thrill out of hearing an “Our Father” in a movie-theater in the suburbs that raincoaters used to get from going to naughty films on 42nd street. Shock the squares, indeed.

I think, if you liked the other two, you’ll like this one. Is it as good as the others? I can’t really say. Honestly, three movies over eight years doesn’t leave me with too much of an impression beyond, “Oh, yeah, I liked that” and the little dribs-and-drabs that stuck with me. Director Michael Chaves, is certainly no James Wan (who’s too busy directing Aquaman 2 at this point, I’m sure), but this is better than his last Conjureverse flick, The Curse of La Llorona.

Wilson and Farmiga are better than ever, and that makes up for a lot. It’s kind of nice that they’re both about the same age and the same age as the Warrens were at the time of the story. (In a universe full of backstories, this one gives us the story of the Warrens’ first date, and it actually relates to the plot.) Not a bad movie to re-enter the theaters on, or just catch on HBO Max, I guess.

I kid. They're tiny acting people. Ed Warren could've eaten both of them.

They may be wearing the Warrens’ actual clothes at this point.