The Rental

Horror movies, in particular slasher movies, are known for their efficiency.  Introduce the soon-to-be-victims with some threadbare character traits, each having some a combination of obliviousness, stupidity, narcissism and hornyness, provide a remote setting where the victims can be seen with their negative character traits on display, then introduce a weapon-wielding maniac to mete out justice on the victims for being generally bad people.  These movies put us in the position of rooting for the killer, because only he (sometimes she) can save us from spending one more minute with the victims, who are too annoying and oversexed for their own good.

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Last Christmas (2019)

Even though my reviews typically discuss practically everything about whatever I’m reviewing at the time, I try to avoid spoiler territory by not posting a review immediately after something comes out. If you follow movies, you probably already know the big [insert your adjective here] twist in the third act of Last Christmas.  If you don’t know about it, and don’t want me to spoil the surprise, stop reading now.

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do!

I admit that I know next to nothing about the blues.  I’ve listened to the blues performed live several times, in Chicago and New Orleans, but as a musical genre, I’m completely ignorant of its history and context.  Country music would be a close second.  (My mother decided country music was her thing in the seventies and eighties, so I have an unconscious awareness of its tropes and stylings.)

With this in mind, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a movie I can really appreciate for giving me some much needed schooling on the blues.  Not that the movie is a history lesson or documentary.  Ma Rainey is based on an August Wilson play of the same name.  Like the play, the movie is a work of fiction where the lead character is based on an actual person.  Born Gertrude Pridgett in 1886, she started out as a performer in black minstrel shows, then vaudeville.  In 1914, when she was roughly 28, she began performing as a blues singer, touring the south extensively.

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Control (2007)

As a longtime fan of New Order, I never really was into Joy Division.  Like most fans of post-punk and new wave, I was familiar with “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, with its melancholy, romantic fatalism.  I’ve always liked that song, but I never really appreciated Joy Division’s other material.  Prior to seeing Control, the only other Joy Division song I knew was “Transmission”.  (Both songs are always in heavy rotation on SiriusXM’s First Wave channel.)  Most of my resistance was due to the underproduced sound of Joy Division’s songs.  Compared to the music produced by New Order from 1985 onward, Joy Division’s songs for the most part sounded as if they were recorded in Dracula’s basement.

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Mank (Netflix)

While I’m no film school nerd, I have watched Citizen Kane several times over the past twenty-five years, and have read several articles on the making of the movie over that time as well.  I’ve also been watching David Fincher’s films since the early nineties.  And while some (Se7en, Zodiac, The Social Network) are better than others (Alien 3, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), his movies always warrant at least one viewing.  When I read about Mank, I thought the movie could be a great one.  Fincher is one of the best directors of his generation, and he’s making a movie about the making of one of my favorite movies.  The resulting movie is not among Fincher’s greatest, placing solidly at the top of the middle-tier films he’s made.

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Rebecca (Netflix)

Rebecca is a curious movie.  It has all of the ingredients that should make it far more enjoyable than it ends up being.  The leading roles are played by Armie Hammer (The Social Network) and Lily James (Cinderella), both young, attractive and capable actors.  Supporting actors include Ann Dowd (The Leftovers, Hereditary) and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient).  The production design and camera work are aces.  The movie is based on the same material that brought Hitchcock his only Best Picture Oscar (back in 1940).  For varying reasons, the ingredients don’t come together, resulting in a middling viewing experience.

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On the Rocks (Apple TV+)

On the Rocks is one of Sophia Coppola’s best films.  Released in a “normal” year, it certainly would have gotten positive notices from critics and several award nominations.  In 2020, however, the various critics circles may consider the movie as too lightweight to be taken seriously in these troubled times.  That would be a shame, because for me, the movie was perfect in almost every way.  I’m pretty sure I was smiling from beginning to end, and laughed many times at the hi-jinks of Bill Murray’s Felix and his exasperated daughter Laura, played by Rashida Jones.  I know that I’m giving this movie high praise, but honestly I don’t think I can praise it enough.

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Hubie Halloween (Netflix)

A friend of mine who reads my reviews said he couldn’t wait to read my review of Hubie Halloween.  Given that I am not a fan of Adam Sandler in any way, and have not watched any of his movies from beginning to end–or for more than a few minutes at a time, to be honest, reviewing his latest offering on Netflix would be an interesting challenge.  Even though I am not a film critic who gets paid for their work, and must see and critique films that they would gladly miss, I felt it was my duty to honor this request from my small, yet devoted audience.

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