One-Word Titles

Annie: based on the comic strip created by Harold Gray and adapted from the play written by Thomas Meehan by Will Gluck and Aline Brosh McKenna; directed by Will Gluck; starring Quvenzhane Wallis (Annie), Jamie Foxx (Will Stacks), Rose Byrne (Grace), Bobby Cannavale (Guy), David Zayas (Lou), and Cameron Diaz (Hannigan) (2014): Pleasantly diverting remake/reimagining of the musical. Quvenzhane Wallis is terrific as Annie, while the rest of the supporting cast is also good. Well, with the exception of Cameron Diaz, who seems both miscast in a role played by Carol Burnett in the original movie and lacks anything resembling a workable singing voice. This is the sort of musical in which the director doesn’t film people’s feet when they’re dancing. Songs written especially for this version are forgettable, but the songs remaining from the original book — especially “Hard-knock Life” — are excellent. Lightly recommended.


Laura: adapted by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, Betty Reinhardt, and Ring Lardner Jr. from the novel by Vera Caspary; directed by Otto Preminger; starring Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Dana Andrews (Lt. McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell), and Dorothy Adams (Bessie) (1944): You can think of Laura as one of the major intertexts with Twin Peaks. You can think of it as a movie starring a man with what’s normally a woman’s first name and a woman with what’s normally a man’s name. In any case, it’s a fine mystery-thriller-romance film in which the police lieutenant investigating the murder of a bright young ad agency employee falls in love with the dead woman over the course of the investigation, all of this staged in the ornamentally baroque and fussy apartments of the cultural elite of 1940’s New York. 

Clifton Webb drips acid as arch society columnist Waldo Lydecker, while Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews are both solid as the murder victim and the lieutenant. Vincent Price, looming over everyone with his tremendous height, is a little shaky as a smooth Southern boy-toy/cad. One of Hollywood’s most psychologically perverse studies of romantic love and obsession. Recommended.


Ouija: based on the Hasbro board game; written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White; directde by Stiles White; starring Olivia Cooke (Laine Morris), Ana Coto (Sarah Morris), Douglas Smith (Pete), and Daren Kagasoff (Trevor) (2014): This wouldn’t be the worst horror movie in the world if it were the first horror movie someone ever saw. The scares are pretty tame and the ‘twist’ ending stereotypically lame, but the young actors are surprisingly good. The direction underplays everything, leading to a bit of dullness. 

That Ouija is actually a licensed Hasbro board game is probably unknown to most people. What’s surprising in a contemporary movie of this sort is that no one uses the Internet to research ghost-busting. What’s divertingly stupid about this movie is that no one researches anything useful. One interesting tic of the script is that the teens are on their own in a world in which parents and helpful adults are almost as rare as in a Peanuts cartoon. As those ubiquitous Blumhouse horror joints go, far from the worst. Very lightly recommended.

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