Movie theaters are re-opening, including some on the Cape.
As sadistic Nazi dentist Laurence Olivier asked his torture victim Dustin Hoffman in “Marathon Man”: Is it safe?
I have no idea. I’m not sure anyone does. Theaters are taking precautions, but are those precautions good enough?
And, as for movie critics, is it morally OK to review films available only at indoor theaters, and by doing so encouraging people to go to movies, perhaps too soon?
I’m struggling with this.
I imagine it’s OK to review such films, and leave it to the readers to decide for themselves what to do. But, for now at least, I’ll stick to movies, new and older, that are available for home viewing either for a fee or for free, depending on which services you have. (I’ll include which service I watched them on; check for other options.)
Here are some — including a few great ones — I caught in the past week:
“The Trip to Greece” (2020, not rated, 103 minutes, Hulu). Stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon and director Michael Winterbottom, all Brits, have collaborated on four “Trip” movies — “The Trip,” “The Trip to Italy,” “The Trip to Spain” and, now, “The Trip to Greece,” which reportedly is going to be the final entry. If it’s the end, that’s too bad; they all have been hilarious.
Coogan and Brydon play variations of themselves — longtime actor friends assigned to visit one fine-dining establishment after another while traveling together through various countries for a magazine article. Whether driving, dining or visiting some shrine, they tease each other like comic competitors (and typical pals), often trying to one-up each other with, say, impersonations of Marlon Brando playing Alexander the Great as Don Corleone from “The Godfather” or Ray Winstone playing Henry VIII as a cockney gangster. They even replay the “Marathon Man” scene with which I started this column: imitating Olivier, Hoffman and the dentist’s drill used to torture Hoffman.
Beyond the impersonations, there’s one funny line or bit after another. Disappointed in a shrine to Aristotle, Brydon says, “Legoland costs a fortune, but you get a lot for your money.” Later, in the car, Brydon starts singing the theme to the musical “Grease.” (Think about it.)
It’s not all laughs, though. “The Trip to Greece” also shows how no trip can necessarily stop “real life” from interfering with one’s fun. The film, and, perhaps, the series, ends on a bittersweet note, and, somehow, that makes the whole “Trip” enterprise all the more meaningful. ***½ (out of four)
“First Cow” (2020, PG-13, 122 minutes, Amazon Prime Video). Cookie (John Magaro), a quiet cook for a group of fur trappers, befriends King-Liu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant on the run from vengeance-seeking Russians, in 1820s Oregon. This drama from director Kelly Reichardt (“Certain Women,” “Wendy and Lucy”) is slow-moving at first, but builds in suspense as the two men discover a seemingly harmless, yet dangerous, way to seek their fortune, leading to a poetic, powerful ending. Patient moviegoers should find this meditation on friendship, ownership and shared wealth thoughtful, compelling and, in its subtle way, devastatingly poignant. ****
“Da 5 Bloods” (2020, R, 154 minutes, Netflix). Imagine “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” directed by Spike Lee, focusing on four American war veterans and set in modern-day Vietnam. The vets — Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) and Eddie (Norm Lewis) — are in search of a cache of gold bricks, and the remains of a comrade killed in battle (and played in flashback by the late, great Chadwick Boseman). They are accompanied by Paul’s adult son, David (Jonathan Majors). (Fun fact: Paul, Otis, Melvin, Eddie and David happen to be the first names of the “classic” members of the Motown group the Temptations.) The film is overlong and dramatically clunky at times — this isn’t one of Lee’s better films — but admirable for the way it deals with PTSD, camaraderie and the Vietnam War as it relates to black Americans. Minor Spike Lee is still worth seeing. **½
“The Heiress” (1949, not rated, 115 minutes, TCM). Somehow, I’d never seen this classic drama, which earned Olivia de Havilland a best-actress Oscar, all the way through until now. Directed by William Wyler (“Wuthering Heights,” “The Best Years of Our Lives”) and based on the Henry James novel “Washington Square,” it features de Havilland as Catherine Sloper, the plain, shy daughter of a wealthy doctor (Ralph Richardson). Along comes charming, handsome, unemployed Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who professes his love for Catherine. But is he merely a fortune hunter? Dad thinks so.
“The Heiress” has aged well, with de Havilland (who died recently at age 104) outstanding as an innocent who must contend with life’s cruelties. Wyler creates literature on film, in the best sense possible. ****
“From Beyond the Grave” (1974, PG, 97 minutes, TCM). This British horror anthology is more odd than scary, but still fun as a time-killer. Peter Cushing plays the proprietor of an antique shop, Temptation Ltd., and customers who come in and rip him off get more than they bargained for. Among the cast: Lesley-Anne Down, Ian Bannen, David Warner, Donald Pleasance, Diana Dors and Margaret Leighton, amusing as an eccentric psychic. **½
Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He has no idea where his life is headed. Then again, do any of us, really? You can contact him at [email protected].