Queued Up

The Snowman (2017)
  The set-up: Once a star detective in Oslo, Norway, alcoholic police officer Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) finds his life falling apart. His girlfriend has dumped him, his sympathetic boss keeps covering for his prolonged absences, and he often wakes up hungover. But a taunting letter from a serial killer using a snowman to mark his crimes piques his interest, and he teams up with a younger detective (Rebecca Ferguson) to link new murders with a cold case, all of which may be traceable to a prominent business magnate (J.K. Simmons).

  The breakdown: Adapted from the best-selling thriller by Jo Nesbø, The Snowman is both a dark whodunit and character drama in which the allied detectives try to stop the murders while Hole also attempts to redeem himself as a father figure to his ex-girlfriend’s teenage son. The film has its strong points: solid performances, dazzling photography, and some fun if distracting support roles (Chloë Sevigny and a dubbed Val Kilmer). While the narrative often feels like a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces, there is an emotional core to the finale that makes it satisfying.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
  The set-up: Thirty years after the original Blade Runner took place, LAPD officer and replicant hunter named K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant himself, hunts down the earlier models of his own kind to keep the world safe for humans. At the same time, he unwittingly becomes a pawn of the Wallace Corporation, the new manufacturer of replicants through which certain ones secretly seek to create an insurgency against the human race. When K tracks down Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the seeds for a revolution may be sown.

  The breakdown: There is no denying the fact that Denis Villenueve’s sequel is visually stunning thanks to Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Dennis Gassner’s production design, fluidly marrying practical sets and digital environments in order to maintain visual continuity with the original film. One certainly cannot fault many of the lead performances, but at two and a half hours the film’s slowly unfolding narrative will make you impatient for its climactic sequence. Blade Runner 2049 has lofty intentions but somehow lacks the strong visceral and emotional impact of its predecessor because it essentially asks the same existential questions without stretching farther.

Steve McQueen: American Icon (2017)
  The set-up: Pastor and author Greg Laurie hits the road to delve into the off-screen life of his deceased idol, action movie legend Steve McQueen who died from lung cancer at age 50. The 76-minute documentary probes his unhappy upbringing, willful climb up the Hollywood hierarchy, struggles with stardom, and ultimate withdrawal from Tinseltown as he became a born again Christian.

  The breakdown: While Laurie’s look into the “King Of Cool” offers interesting insights into McQueen outside of the movie world (the most prominent interviewee being Mel Gibson), the last third of the film focuses solely on the troubled last three years of his life, his final marriage to Barbara Minty McQueen, and his reportedly self-propelled religious conversion. Both the constant background soundtrack and Laurie’s abrasive presence are distracting, and the film sets up the idea that the iconic actor’s later days are meant as a lesson that there is something “greater” out there for us to seek. The documentary ultimately turns into a shameless vehicle for Christian recruitment, a point hammered home by the invocation of Billy Graham. You’ll likely feel cheated by this deceptive twist.

Pulp (1972)
  The set-up: Mickey King (Michael Caine) is a pulp crime author who dictates his books rather than writes them. He soon finds himself in a real-life thriller scenario when a mysterious celebrity client with mafia ties (Mickey Rooney) wants him to ghost write his autobiography. But someone wants to kill King to keep him from finishing the job.

  The breakdown: Made by the same producer (Michael Klinger) and director (Mike Hodges) as Get Carter, this charming black comedy did not find an audience back in the day. It is a shame because this quirky little film showcases Caine and Rooney’s respective talents, and cleverly utilizes King’s author-like voiceover in which he often exaggerates the onscreen action — life is not as exciting as pulp fiction. The film’s big revelation was likely shocking for the time period and, as revealed in the bonus features, was based on a real-life Italian scandal that made headlines for a decade. While Pulp won’t make the list of Caine’s best films, it’s still a worthy entry in his top-notch canon.

The Witches (1967)
  The set-up: This five-part, oddball Italian anthology was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and stars Silvana Mangano, who plays a different “witch” in each segment. The directors include Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, and Vittorio De Sica. Each story deals with a different theme — a famous actress becomes an object of scorn and lust at a party; a woman picks up an injured stranger to get through traffic faster; a widowed man and his son pick out a new matriarch to recreate their nuclear family, which later involves scamming the public; a Sicilian girl’s revelation of an unwanted pass sparks patriarchal violence; and a bored housewife seeks to rekindle an amorous spark in her husband.

  The breakdown: Mangano’s “witches” in this movie are women who have a seductive power over men and are often treated with disdain, although they often elicit sympathy (perhaps moreso now than back then). But they are not of supernatural origin. The longer opening and closing sequences are the best, the latter featuring a young Clint Eastwood in a romantic comedy role that his American studio suppressed from domestic release lest it foul up his tough guy image. That alone assures the film’s newfound collectability; however, the middle, Chaplin-esque entry from Pasolini is insufferable. The Witches is a mixed bag for sure but interesting nonetheless.

Le samouraï (1967)
  The set-up: After executing a bold hit on a jazz club owner, hired assassin Jef Costello (Alain Delon) is targeted by the police despite planning out an airtight alibi. Nervous about his brush with the authorities, he finds himself a target of the law and his mysterious clients, who now want to silence him.

  The breakdown: Le samouraï is a briskly paced crime thriller with a simple but effective plot — a hitman pursued by both police and the underworld — enhanced by Delon’s steely-eyed performance as the titular killer. The famed French actor crafts a compelling performance full of grit and determination, even as we learn little of Jef’s life story or background, and his character’s dispassionate stance towards his profession still will not deflect viewer sympathy for him. Watching this, one might be reminded of the fun, modern video game movie Hitman starring Timothy Olyphant, which took a similar approach. Le samouraï is superior.

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The Ritual (2018)
  Two men find themselves caught in a liquor store robbery. Rob dies while his cowardly friend Luke (Rafe Spall) hides in the back. Months later, when he goes hiking and camping in Sweden with their three main friends, Luke faces a scary new scenario: being hunted by a mysterious forest entity of seemingly supernatural origin. This is a chance to prove himself, but as the body count rises and nerves fray, the group’s bond gets torn apart. The surreal sequences in which Luke relives the robbery in the middle of the woods adds depth to the tale, but the film does not go far enough in exploring the men’s conflicting emotions about his past actions and how it has scarred them all. The third act is also disappointing despite the ominous appearance of the creepy creature hunting them. The final outcome does raise questions of survival in an unsafe world, but it simply seems to say: Every man for himself.