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The Dead Don't Die (2019)
"I'm saying, full-on zombie apocalypse, baby!"
I don't go in for the straight zombie flicks so much, but I do enjoy the parodies. This one held promise at face value but fails to live up to the standards of "Zombieland" and "Shaun of the Dead"; 'Shaun' was especially hilarious. What I liked here was the dead-pan sensibility of Bill Murray's character, the police chief of a fictitious town called Centerville (unless this took place in Virginia, because there IS a Centerville there). But it seemed like the running gag of Deputy Sheriff Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) and his repetitious 'going to end badly' mantra did get a little tiresome after a while. Easter eggs abound for those intent on finding them, the characters of Posie Juarez and Zelda Winston were portrayed by actresses who's real names were slightly modified, i.e., Rosie Perez and Tilda Swinton. And if you have to, go back and take a second look at Hermit Bob (Tom Waits), a dead ringer look-a-like for the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz" but without the lion suit. Overall though, the film tends to lose energy as it goes on, and the transition near the end of the story with Samurai mortician Ms. Winston going Zombie X-Files didn't have any kind of connection to the main plot at all. I expected just a bit more from the undead concept than what the picture offered, but at least it was a kick seeing Bill Murray graduate from a ghost buster to a zombie killer.
"Well, everything's right in THIS world, kiddo!"
I'm a Neil Gaiman fan when it comes to his novels and comic book work, though I admit I've come across a miss or two among his hits. I never read 'Coraline', so I don't know how to compare it to the movie as others have done on this board. Be that as it may, I thought it was a pretty clever story utilizing the alternate reality the main character discovered by crawling through the tunnel behind the brick wall. It reminded me a little of 'Alice in Wonderland' where she met up with all the weird inhabitants of that fairy tale land. This film is a bit on the dark and scary side I would think for real young kids, with Gothic elements exhibited by the characters both 'human' and 'animal'. There was a point in the story when I thought it was all over, but the final denouement was still to come with the defeat of Other Mother. As animated films go, this one was original and creative with a compelling message of not accepting things at face value until you've taken the time to understand what's behind the facade. For that, Coraline had a pretty good head on her shoulders.
The Adventures of Jim Bowie (1956)
"He was a fighter, a fearless and mighty adventurin' man!" - From the Jim Bowie theme song
I didn't watch this show during it's initial run during the late 1950's, quite possibly because one of it's seasons ran opposite to "Trackdown" with Robert Culp which I never tried to miss. The show aired on the ABC television network on Friday evenings from 8:00 to 8:30, spanning the time frame September 1956 to August 1958. It might surprise folks to know that back then, it wasn't unusual for a series to run as many as thirty nine episodes per season; this one had thirty eight for a total of seventy six half hour programs.
Now even though I don't recall ever watching the show, somehow I do remember it's opening with that famous Bowie knife striking a wooden door. That caught my attention with such fascination that I began trying to emulate the practice with jackknives and sheath knives of my own. I got pretty good after a while but it took a lot of practice. One thing I learned is that you had to compensate for distance so that the blade would strike the tree I was aiming for just right. Oh man, cool memories.
Anyway, this series capitalized on a famous name of the old American West and South, even if it's stories were highly fictionalized. Actor Scott Forbes portrayed the legendary hero, attired equally comfortable in frontier buckskins or the refined look of a New Orleans gentleman. One thing prominent in a number of shows I just recently watched is that the stories went in for breaking a lot of furniture whenever Bowie was confronted with an altercation of some sort. Forbes was a pretty big guy, at times taking a page out of the Lone Ranger playbook by disguising himself as another character the way Clayton Moore used to in his show. One such example was when he appeared as a pirate along with Mike Mazurki in Episode #1.14 - 'Outlaw Kingdom'.
A number of actors had a recurring role in the series, like Robert Cornthwaite who appeared as naturalist John James Audobon, and Minerva Urecal, who showed up a few times as Bowie's mother. Other guests in the series included Michael Landon, Chuck Connors, and Mike Connors before they went on to bigger and better things, along with character actors like Denver Pyle, Claude Akins, William Schallert, and even June Carter Cash! Watching them today, the stories are pretty minimalist, and Forbes himself wasn't the greatest actor compared to some of the other TV Western stars of the era like Chuck Connors, Clint Walker or Hugh O'Brian. An annoying aspect of the shows I recently viewed was the A capella accompaniment during the low spots of the stories. They were performed by Ken Darby and the King's Men, who did similar work on 'The Adventures of Wyatt Earp' during that show's early run. Somehow the sound of that harmonizing humming just irritates the heck out of me.
Still, if you're an old time TV and movie Western fan, this show can be entertaining in it's own way, especially with it's revolving cast of guest stars. If you were intrigued by the New Orleans locations that many of the stories took place in, you'd be able to follow up this series when it finally went off the air by tuning into 'Yancy Derringer', which came on the scene in October 1958 on the CBS television network.
"...there's the war you read about in the newspaper, and there's the war that really is."
To my recollection, this is the only Civil War movie I've seen to deal with the friction between Northern Union citizens with opposite views of the conflict. 'Copperheads' were Northerners who didn't support Abraham Lincoln's view of going to war to free the slaves. Technically, they WERE opposed to slavery, but were against war for any reason, while upholding a state's right to determine it's status for themselves. Additionally, the Copperheads felt that using force to prevent Southern states from seceding was unconstitutional. It seems kind of conflicted to me, since the idea of states seceding itself sounds unconstitutional, so I had to bring my focus back to those ideas whenever Abner Beech (Billy Campbell) found himself in opposition to his neighbors. Considering this is nominally a Civil War era movie, there's really no battle action at all, the story revolves primarily around the tension between neighbors with a sub-plot involving a romance between Abner Beech's son, Thomas Jefferson (Casey Thomas Brown), and Esther Hagadorn (Lucy Boynton), daughter of the town's firebrand abolitionist leader and supporter of Lincoln's policies. For a brief period, Tom goes missing following the battle of Antietam, having joined the Northern cause in opposition to his father. As the citizens anxiously await word on the fate of other boys who joined the War, Esther agonizes over her fiance's fate, while attempting to reconcile her position with the Beech family as well as her own father. The tenor of the story gives it a Hallmark, made for TV film, with the attendant focus on family values and trying to do the right thing. The film's resolution offers the feel good sensation that comes with Esther's brother Ni (Augustus Prew) admonishing the town folk from the pulpit for their bitterness toward each other. It all ties together rather neatly, except for the fact that at that point in time, the War still had two more years to go, with the same tensions that would have to be dealt with once this story was over.
Cardboard Boxer (2016)
"I don't want to have a big sad part of my life anymore."
Fans of Thomas Haden Church will discover a different side to his acting ability in this film in which he portrays a homeless person straddling the fence between rationality and mental illness. It's an effective portrayal that tugs at the emotions throughout the story, as well as arouse your anger with a couple of upper crust elitist kids who get their kicks out of setting up and recording fights between derelicts on the street. The down and out street vibe appears to be handled fairly realistically, as Willie patrols local alleys and garbage dumpsters for food, while hookers ply their trade without interference. Beyond his meager existence, Willie's primary goal is to have and be a friend to someone, perhaps even have someone to love. While Willie does take up the preppy challenge to fight other unfortunates, his heart isn't really in it, at one point contemplating suicidal thoughts when he visits his father's gravesite and sadly remarks "Goodbye Daddy, I'll see you soon". However the movie does require the viewer to make a giant leap of faith at the finale because I don't think the execution of the story quite successfully tied the title character to the little girl burn victim. Presumably she was the writer of the diary, who finds herself in Willie's circle by time and circumstance, and brought by a mentor to see him back on the street. That seemed to run contrary to her upbringing by an abusive uncle, requiring a stretch of the imagination to come full circle. A little bit of a rewrite could have made the connection more effectively.
Black Dahlia (2006)
"Look man, I want my bangers and mash!"
I don't usually make a mistake like this, but when I do, it can sometimes be a doozy. This film, if it can be called that, utilizes the name of a famous 1947 unsolved murder case in Los Angeles, but beyond that it's very much a low brow, slasher/gore flick that's heavy on the gore and not much else. One really has to question how absolutely dumb the aspiring actress victims were who consented to a movie audition having already encountered a desolate parking lot, a run down warehouse building, rows of jail cells, and a couple of brutes with bloody aprons and a museum quality collection of meat cleaving weapons. Seriously, what were these women thinking? Certainly there's a clue in there somewhere that things weren't exactly kosher regarding a legitimate movie audition. Not to mention, those thuggish butchers never took a shower because they always turned up already covered in blood BEFORE killing their next victim. At least there was a semblance of a story here as a severely compromised alcoholic cop and his rookie green partner were part of an investigative team attempting to solve the case of these murdered women with disassembled body parts. It gets solved alright, but only after one witnesses the same ritual murder no less than four times, with a potential fifth interrupted by the good guys closing in. Even that's not cause for celebration, as the rookie cop Kevin doesn't make it to the end of the story. Talk about having a bad day.
Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)
""Princess, each of us has his own private hell to go to."
There's something about movies based on the plays of Tennessee Williams that really get under your skin. Paul Newman also appeared in the 1958 release of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", in a screen pairing with Elizabeth Taylor that suggests they might have been the most physically attractive screen couple of all time. That's not the case here so much with Newman opposite Geraldine Page, but that's exactly the point. Page portrays an almost washed up former screen star, Alexandra Del Lago, seeking refuge from her misery while traveling incognito as Princess Kosmonopolis. I think the film stretches that point just a bit, because in that flashback scene where a movie audience begins to jeer her looks in a recently released film, you have to wonder how an entire theater would come to the same conclusion all at once. So that didn't pass the smell test for me, even if by her own admission, Del Lago makes the point that "The camera doesn't know how to lie".
However the lament over lost youth doesn't extend only to Page's character. Chance Wayne (Newman) is also wrestling with the passage of time and opportunities lost due to circumstances placed in his way on an upward career path. Which brings me to the second instance I question in the story. Just because Boss Finley (Ed Begley) set Chance up with that improbable call to service at the onset of the Korean War, there's nothing to my mind that suggests he had to follow through. It's not like he enlisted or volunteered for the military, he could have simply bowed out. Perhaps to the consternation of family and friends, but it would have made more sense than joining the service only to wash out as a mental case.
Be that as it may, if you overlook those issues, this is a searing portrait of people desperately trying to come to terms with aging and finding some way to achieve their dreams for the future. In a very real way, Paul Newman's dialog with the girl he left behind (Shirley Knight) about grabbing the brass ring with a lucky break might actually describe his own success as a celebrity actor, with this role just another step up on the way to success. As a harbinger of future projects, keep on eye on that scene in which Chance Wayne is spread-eagled on a car hood as Tom Finley (Rip Torn) prepares to ruin his looks. A similar crucifixion pose would find it's way into one of my favorite Newman vehicles, where he portrayed the irascible scoundrel, "Cool Hand Luke".
"It's over, isn't it?"
Well somebody, somewhere, thought this was a good idea for a movie treatment. Having only seen Ryan Reynolds in super-hero flicks (Green Lantern, Deadpool), I wasn't sure how he'd do in this story about a guy stuck in and buried in a coffin in the middle of the Iraqi desert. For about ninety five minutes you have to live and experience Paul Conroy's (Reynolds) desperate attempt to find a way out while the terrorist who's holding him hostage underground demands payment in exchange for his life and that of his fiancee in the outside world. If you have claustrophobia, you might have a little problem with this picture; besides the confined space it's mostly dark except for what light is provided by a cigarette lighter. With a cell phone left behind by the man who imprisoned him, Conroy does his best with limited means to think outside the box and call anyone who might be able to offer help. The twist ending suggests this story might have better been served in a slightly shortened format appearing in a venue like the 'Twilight Zone', or on second thought, make that 'Tales From the Crypt'.
The Guns of Will Sonnett (1967)
"No brag, just fact!"
"The Guns of Will Sonnett" was a two season Western series on the ABC television network from September, 1967 to September, 1969. Oddly, it aired on Fridays from 9:30 - 10:00 PM until May of 1969 before moving to Monday evenings from 8:30 to 9:00 to wrap up the second season. In hindsight, that was probably a way to phase out the show by placing it in a less favorable time slot.
The premise was kind of familiar, sort of like the ones used by shows like "Branded" and "The Texan". The protagonists, Will Sonnett (Walter Brennan) and his grandson Jeff (Dack Rambo) generally opened each story by riding into some old Western town on the search for their respective son and father, Jim Sonnett (Jason Evers). It struck me as somewhat amazing that in virtually every story, just about everyone they encountered somehow knew and feared the name of Jim Sonnett as a notorious and dangerous gunslinger, with a reputation that ranged the far West. From the perspective of present day, Jim had to have matched the notoriety and reputation of someone like Jesse James or Billy the Kid, although that probably presses the point. To a lesser degree, the name of Will Sonnett often resonated with the locals that the two men came across.
That the Sonnett's were lightning fast with their guns was established in the very first episode - 'Ride the Long Trail'. In that one, guest star Claude Akins made the mistake of challenging the Sonnett's attempting to cross some range land they were patrolling. It always appeared that Brennan's quick draw was faster than anyone else's around, and he himself claimed that he was faster than son Jim or grandson Jeff. That doesn't seem likely for a seventy year old geriatric, but if you watched the show you would have to agree with Will's 'No brag, just fact' declaration each time out.
The show had a long list of well known character actors and guest stars, folks like Myron Healey, Strother Martin, Jack Elam, Royal Dano, James Best, Dean Stanton and Richard Devon to name a few. Many, like Healey and Dano appeared as different characters in multiple episodes. Of those who went on to greater celebrity, you'll catch actors like Jack Nicholson, Cloris Leachman, Dennis Hopper, and Joan Blondell in special guest appearances. One of the more outlandish characters was portrayed by Charles Grodin in the second episode of the series titled 'Hot Shot Gunslinger'. Yup, the hot shot was Grodin, who didn't fare well in a shootout with Jeff Sonnett while grandpa was laid up with his arm in a sling.
My review of the series here takes in the first full season, with the controversial Jim Sonnett making occasional appearances while just missing his family members. In one notable episode titled 'Alone', Will Sonnett carries on an imaginary conversation with son Jim while hallucinating from a gunshot wound. He effectively makes amends with Jim for not being around all that much while Jim was growing up, which led to Jim's disillusionment and going off on his own. It's an effective story to further the premise of the series.
Now as I've mentioned in other reviews, I've never really come across a Western I didn't like, and I liked this one well enough, but it was not one of your top tier Westerns like "Gunsmoke" or "Rawhide". The stories were generally run of the mill and were kind of forgettable after the fact. Watching today, the fun for me is seeing who shows up in the guest spots, which applies to any of these old time series. Still, it's not a bad little show providing hours of enjoyment if you pick up both of the seasons offered by Timeless Video. "No brag, just fact".
Blue Ruin (2013)
"The one with the gun gets to tell the truth."
The DVD sleeve calls it a slow burn thriller and that's pretty much what you get here. I prefer it when movies like this feature unknown actors, as a major celebrity would draw attention away from the story and become distracting. It takes a while to get oriented with what's going on, particularly with the relationship between Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) and sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves), but things quickly come into focus with the revelation made by Teddy Cleland (Kevin Kolack) right before Ben Gaffney (Devin Ratray) makes the save for Dwight. Just before that, I thought it was pretty clever the way Teddy called home and left both his and Dwight's voices on the answering machine to alert his siblings. This could have been an out and out, go for broke shoot 'em up at the final confrontation, but it all played out rather realistically, even if the story's protagonist didn't make it to the end credits. The only question remains at the very end when that postcard gets dropped through the mail slot with 'Greetings from Virginia". Have to assume it came from young William (David Thompson) on the run, but I'm open to other interpretations. Anyone?
"I was there, strictly because this was the most happenin' thing going on." - John Sebastian
This past year I immersed myself in the history of Woodstock, reading the individual books written by Michael Lang, Artie Kornfeld, and the collaboration between financial backers John Roberts and Joel Rosenman. Each offered different perspectives on how the 1969 Music and Arts Fair came together, and all were interesting reads. Similarly it seems, a number of film documentaries about Woodstock have come out just this year, presumably in honor of the three day concert's fiftieth anniversary. There's "Creating Woodstock" along with the PBS documentary simply titled "Woodstock", with the sub-title - "Three Days That Defined a Generation". For those who grew up during the Sixties and were part of the Woodstock generation, there's probably not a lot to learn from these film docs, but it is fun to revisit old times and bask in the glow of the era's vibe of peace and love. For anyone not part of the era who was born well after the event took place, this film as well as the others will provide a helpful overview of how the concert came to be with all the difficulties involved in putting it together. What you won't find here is an emphasis on the music; there are no meaningful clips of the bands and artists performing. For that, you're better off with the 1970 film, again simply titled "Woodstock". What you do have are commentaries from some of the original organizers, like Lang and Kornfeld, along with performers Richie Haven, John Sebastian, Arlo Guthrie and Country Joe McDonald. Those commentaries were all filmed during a 2005-2007 time frame, making me wonder why it took more than a decade to get the film released, as it could have been made available much sooner if not for the magic number '50'. For my two cents, the recommendation I'd make among those pictures I've mentioned here, would be the PBS documentary, as it contains archival material and footage not seen anywhere else, though that one too is light on music. And of course the 1970 film that came out about a year after the watershed event happened. It truly was, as this title states - "Three Days That Changed Everything".
"Just put on a great f..... show, and just don't kill yourself with drugs."
For whatever reason, I didn't catch this in theaters during it's opening run the way I did for "Bohemian Rhapsody". I think I liked this one slightly better, even though I'm not that much a fan of movie musicals. The way this story was presented was cleverly and artistically well put together, though if put into perspective, many of Elton John's mega-hits seemed to have been written well before he made his American debut at The Troubador at the age of twenty five. I never followed Elton's personal life that closely, but that all seemed to be poetic license for the sake of a narrative flow. Taron Egerton did a bang up job here, not only looking like Elton John on the way to super-star status, but sounded quite a bit like him as well. Given that Elton John himself gave Egerton and the film his blessing is all anyone needs to know about the underlying substance to the story. It's a shame that Reginald Dwight's parents never really cared for him, but then you have to consider how much that sadness translated into the singer's overall success. What the film put to rest for me was Elton's relationship with song writer Bernie Taupin, as I never really knew if Taupin was anything more than a collaborator rather than a musician himself. Additionally, as I watch all my films now with captioning enabled, I was surprised to learn how much of John's popular lyrics I never really knew. So overall, this was an entertaining experience, and one I'd welcome viewing again. The surprising this is, it's actually shorter than one of Elton John's actual concerts. The man can do three hours without a break, always giving fans more than their money's worth.
"I was a difficult cat, and growing leaps and bounds." - David Crosby
What comes across most emphatically in this film biopic is the honesty David Crosby reveals in citing his faults while taking responsibility for the failed relationships throughout his life. He admits he was a difficult and sometimes violent person who drove away virtually every contemporary he ever collaborated with, in particular Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, and the musicians who lent their names to what some would arguably consider rock's first super group - Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. Although Crosby considers CSN and CSNY as two separate bands, the first time I've heard it expressed in such manner, and in a way I guess he's right. The documentary traces Crosby's musical career from the first time he heard a Miles Davis jazz tune and pretty much comes full circle to present day minus a couple of years, as at one point he states he's seventy six years old. He marvels quite candidly that he made it this long, what with his history of drug and alcohol abuse contributing to some serious health problems, including several heart operations and diabetes. Throughout the film, it becomes increasingly evident that he placed his music ahead of anything else in his life, including family and friends, with a brief time out when his heroin addiction took over. At times reflective and melancholy, Crosby seems to be only half atoning for the life he's led, realizing that his past experiences have brought him to be the person he is today. Baseball great Mickey Mantle has been quoted as saying "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." You get the impression while watching and hearing David Crosby in his own words that he might not entirely agree with that statement.
"You don't throw guns out an open window! Kids live up here!"
I prepared for this film by watching the 1971 original with Richard Roundtree in the title role. A couple generations later, Roundtree is back as the father of Samuel L. Jackson's character, and grandfather of JJ Shaft (Jessie T. Usher), who's been effectively estranged from dear old Dad for about twenty five years. I found it somewhat ironic that JJ became a data analyst for the FBI, what with his father wreaking havoc on city streets as a one man hit squad going after drug dealers and other assorted bad guys. I defy anyone to walk brazenly through city traffic or try to get away with some of the aggravated assaults that John Shaft routinely dishes out, but hey, it's a movie and any connection to real life is strictly unintentional. Still, there's plenty enough action and humor to keep most fans entertained, with that familiar Shaft theme song originally written and recorded by Isaac Hayes popping up every now and then. Jackson and Roundtree were obvious choices for their roles in the flick. As the new kid on the block, Jessie T. Usher seemed a bit out of his league with the street wise hustlers who bore his family name, so his capoeira skills and gunfighting prowess seemed to come out of left field. One would think he'd be a bit more fazed by all the violence that followed his Dad. The story's finale suggests a sequel, with Junior turning in his FBI badge and making nice with his new girlfriend (Alexandra Shipp). No telling what trouble all three Shafts could get into next time.
"The hard thing to die for is the miserable and corrupt."
In many respects, this movie plays like a horror film with regard to the incredible tortures the old Samurai Inoue (Issei Ogata) concocted to turn adherents of Christianity into apostates. Not enough to physically beat on people, the horrors involved setting on fire and crucifixion during high tide to drown one's victims. It became totally credible why Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) renounced his faith by virtue of of the many lives he saved who would have faced retribution as part of Ferreira's own punishment. Which is why the dialog between Ferreira and Father Rodrigues Sebastiao (Andrew Garfield) is so conflicted on both sides, the latter unable to grasp the centuries of virulent opposition to Christianity by Japanese daimyos. Just as casual viewers might not fully understand the history of Catholic martyrs who suffered and died for their faith during totally different eras and under different circumstances. The film brought to attention something I've always wondered about, that being what the mind holds firmly in belief versus actions taken to avoid pain and suffering. All three principals in the story, portrayed by Garfield, Adam Driver and Neeeson, give exceptional performances, though Neeson's Ferreira is absent for a good part of the story. Many parts of the movie are difficult to watch, much less attempt to comprehend, as man's inhumanity to man for no other reason than opposing religious viewpoints is often on display.
The Rum Diary (2011)
"It seems to me there's a bad vibe developing."
An alcoholic with ethics - who would have thought? That would be Johnny Depp in his portrayal of journalist Kemp, landing a gig at the San Juan Star in Puerto Rico. He doesn't know it yet, but he's being recruited to write flattering stories for conniving developers who want to change the pristine landscape of an unnamed nearby island into a tourist trap with a magnificent hotel. Teaming with an equally sobriety-free photographer (Michael Rispoli), the pair form an unusual alliance with yet another outcast from society named Moburg. I don't think I've seen Giovanni Ribisi in a role I haven't liked, and he plays up the degenerate aspect of his character to the hilt. What it all leads to is a take down of Hal Sanderson's (Aaron Eckhart) latest scheme for scoring millions, while losing his fiancee Chenault (Amber Heard) to the often bewildered Kemp. I got a kick out of the scene with the hallucinatory eye drops, though I thought more could have been done with it. The island cock-fights looked real enough, but the FAQ page for the film here on IMDb explains how it was done to avoid the PETA folks' wrath. As for the sequin studded tortoise at Sanderson's - it could have been diamonds or zirconium, depending on how much rum you've consumed.
Running with Scissors (2006)
"I'd like some slices of bologna with a side of horseradish."
The time frame of the picture might be the mid and late Seventies, but the sentiment is clearly present day when the story's chief protagonist, Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) emphatically states, "I wanna be special and I wanna be famous." I recall that attitude occurring somewhat later than the era under question, but I could be wrong about that. Anyway, it was the advent of not keeping score in ball games to avoid having winners and losers that became problematic for me. Life as it turns out has both, no matter how much society may want to shield it's members from consequences.
So we have a helicopter Mom, Deirdre Burroughs, hovering over son Augusten, who can't accept the fact that she's a mediocre poet and writer, resorting to intense therapy to break out from her inner consciousness. Much of this is spoof, but presented in a very real and excruciating manner. I have to say, Annette Bening is painfully brilliant in the role of Dierdre Burroughs, with the ability to change moods at the drop of a hat. Her facial expressions say it all about her, even when extended to near comatose conditions. Her therapist Finch (Brian Cox) is the epitome of psychobabble shrink and veritable con man. His hold on the Burroughs mother and son is tenuous at best, but not without it's financial rewards, having successfully duped Deirdre into signing over a power of attorney and adoption papers for Augusten.
This would have been hilarious if the story didn't hit so close to home for any number of dysfunctional families out there. The picture tries to get a bit too quirky for it's own good at times, actually going over the top with Finch daughter Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow) sampling up a stew made from pet cat Freud. Sure, she said she was only kidding, but who knows. Best line of the picture goes to her sister Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) who plays along with the charade until push comes to shove, and then admits to fellow traveler Augusten - "Our only skills are restraining psychotics".
Born to Be Blue (2015)
"I did f... everything up, didn't I?"
I've never been much of a jazz fan, though I'm getting into the music lately. Chet Baker would not have been on my radar during the time frame in which this story took place, coinciding as it did with the British Invasion of the mid-Sixties which is where my head was at as a young teenager. In some respects, the life of Chet Baker appeared to parallel that of another jazz great, John Coltrane, as related in the 2016 biopic "Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary". Both men were snubbed by Miles Davis when drugs, particularly heroin invaded their lives. In Baker's case, the drugs also got him in big time trouble with his dealers, who took out their revenge by busting up his mouth and teeth. Ethan Hawke portrays a humbled and pensive Chet Baker, attempting a comeback with the help of girlfriend Jane Azuka (Carmen Ejogo), who sticks by her man through the ordeal that marked his resurgence as a musician. Baker's insecurity is front and center when Jane gets the opportunity to break into film, and they must part ways for a brief period. The story lines breaks kind of abruptly right after Baker's New York City one-night stand performance before luminaries Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and some of his personal backers in the industry. Not ever having experienced the real Chet Baker's music, the film inspires me to check out some of his work in the genre, though based on Hawke's performance, I'm inclined to believe that he was a better trumpet player than singer.
Bleed for This (2016)
"I did it with dogged determination and persistent perseverance!"
If it wasn't based on a true story, the saga of boxer Vinny Pacienza would be hard to believe. Suffering a broken neck in a near fatal car accident, the World Lightweight Boxing Champion spends three months recovering with a primitive looking 'Halo' device screwed into his head to impede mobility. Yeah, you read that right, it was literally screwed into his head in four locations so he couldn't accidentally twist his head the wrong way. The alternative was fusion surgery recommended by his doctor, but the stubborn 'Paz' would have none of that.
The story here is one of resolute hope and a visionary desire to make a comeback, as Pacienza (Miles Teller) defies the odds of ever even walking again by beginning physical training while still wearing the Halo. He gradually wins over trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) and family members who want only the best for him, but don't see a way for him to ever be functional again. It's more than a classic underdog story, as you'll come to understand that Pacienza was literally one in a million to overcome his horrific handicap.
What fight scenes there are, are done well with excellent choreography. The Super Middleweight title fight against Roberto Duran (Edwin Rodriguez) caps Pacienza's comeback, as he wins the championship against a formidable opponent, and probably a better household name in the world of boxing. But you can't deny Paz's achievement, testifying to the maxim that you can't keep a good man down.
Brighton Rock (2010)
"It's a good old world out there if you don't weaken."
This is the second movie in a month I've watched with the words 'Brighton Rock' in the title, but the other one wasn't the 1948 original with Richard Attenborough. It was called "Body at Brighton Rock" and took place in an American mountain wilderness. It wasn't very good, so no need to look it up.
But man! - what a lowlife that guy Pinkie (Sam Riley) was. Extremely rude to his girlfriend, didn't buy a ring for the wedding, recorded a hate message for her, and tried to get her to commit suicide! Now love may be blind, but even marriage wasn't much of an eye opener for poor Rose Wilson (Andrea Riseborough). The girl had self esteem issues for sure, and it didn't help that her own father basically sold her to gangster Pinkie for a hundred fifty quid. At about a buck and a half American, that's a little over two hundred dollars, a bargain by most standards, but Pinkie was looking to throw his money away to keep a secret.
For a British gangster flick, this isn't in the same league as the Guy Ritchie films like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" or "Snatch", so keep your expectations low. I had a couple problems with the picture, like the newspaper photo of Pinkie's victim Fred Hale (Sean Harris) looking nothing like the guy in the story. And the name of the opposing mobster, going by Colleoni (Andy Serkis); that sounded too much like Don Corleone. This was not in the same league as "The Godfather" either.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible story but you won't come away with any redeeming characters to speak of. Helen Mirren and John Hurt provide some class to a somewhat passable picture, and you have to stick around for the Twilight Zone style ending when the widow Rose gets around to playing her record. The needle sticks on 'I love you', which will work for her just as long as she doesn't get another player that isn't defective.
"Sometimes it's nice to be somewhere else."
The anguish on Robin Williams' face throughout the movie in the role of gay man Nolan Mack may have offered a clue as to what his tortured mind must have been going through by the time he ended his life. It's something I couldn't help thinking about while watching a man who at one time would have been considered America's funniest comedian and comic actor. His death still resonates as a tragedy and an event that I find hard to reconcile with the facade he presented to his many fans. Nevertheless, Williams is effective in his role here, as he confronts the outcome of a U-turn made on a deserted city street which translates into a U-turn in his personal life. Without resorting to a virtually obligatory sex scene in a modern movie, director Dito Montiel handles his subject matter tastefully and with conviction, portraying mortgage banker Nolan Mack as a conflicted, closeted homosexual who hadn't found the fortitude to admit his orientation for almost fifty years. Now on the brink of a promotion, even with retirement on the horizon, Nolan is faced with a choice that his heart and mind must deal with in order to relieve his inner turmoil. Nolan's wife Joy (Kathy Baker) is just as conflicted as her husband, perhaps even more so, as she struggles to understand and accept his orientation, while firmly struggling to remain in a marriage that is ultimately unfulfilling. There are no easy answers here, and the movie's resolution will not resonate with all viewers, as it involves a depressing final confrontation between Nolan and his surrogate partner Leo (Roberto Aguire). This is the stuff of life, and as occurs in anyone's life, there are those disappointments one can do nothing about.
"Always carry a little salt with you. It could come in handy."
The thief steals material possessions and women's hearts. Throughout the story, I couldn't help thinking that the young boy Sanya had a better insight into human nature than his own mother. The former soldier Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov) is not only a thief, but a grifter and a con man, not above treating fellow boarders with circus tickets or movie passes while returning to their rooming house to rip off their meager possessions for whatever value they might fetch. It takes a long time for Sanya to accept Tolyan as a 'daddy', and when he does, the ghostly image of the real father he never knew escapes his imagination. Such is Sanya's displeasure with his 'adopted' father that he wets himself from guilt whenever forced to participate in one of Tolyan's schemes. One will find it hard to understand the attachment and devotion shown Tolyan by Sanya's mother Katja (Yekaterina Rednikova). Meeting quite by chance, their life together on the run as it were, is full of disappointment and distress, with young Sanya shunted aside whenever the expectation of carnal desire arises between the two. Told through the eyes of the adult Sanya as narrator, the story is one of grim survival in post-war Russia with no expectation of a happy resolution. As such, it represents the stern reality of the Stalinist legacy.
"My life is nothing but a comedy."
Right out of the gate you can forget about considering this a comic book movie. It may be based on a comic book character, but the character development and story line can be taken right from the pages of modern day horrors brought about by poverty, abusive parents, disrespect for authority, the distance between the haves and the have-nots, and an uncaring society at large. With a plot often times structured on ambiguity, the film explores the troubled mind of one Arthur Fleck, brilliantly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in what may eventually go down as the crowning achievement of his acting career. No offense intended to Jokers who have gone before, but Phoenix's take on the character now becomes the standard for others to follow, but virtually impossible to match. I must say, the hype engendered by the film prior to it's release relative to the amount of violence portrayed appears to be seriously overstated. Yes, there is violence on Arthur Fleck's part, all of it gruesome, but it virtually pales in comparison to what one might experience in any chapter of the 'Saw' series for example, or any number of slasher/gore flicks that rely on buckets of blood to 'entertain' fans of that persuasion. Together, director Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix have created a complex character and a complex film dealing with the horrific and sordid side of mental illness that finds it's release in savage, sociopathic behavior. Though he may be called the Joker, as Arthur Fleck himself would surely attest, "...no one's laughing now".
"I let myself believe that there were happy endings for people like us."
I'm always leery of movie biopics because of what they add and what they leave out. I don't know much about J.R.R. Tolkien's real life, so if this one accurately recounts his early, formative years, then it was quite well done. Particularly effective are the film's references to familiar aspects of Tolkien's work as exemplified by 'The Hobbit' and 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy. Many of those are recreated as Tolkien's fever dreams suffered in the trenches of The Somme during World War I. Even before seeing this picture, I have always been amazed by Tolkien's vast grasp of 'invented' languages, i.e., the lyric poetry and dialog that he created for the elven characters in his novels. His mind worked on so many different levels that it seems almost incomprehensible. The story here identifies in some ways the manner in which he developed that style, supported to a large degree by his mentor, Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) at Oxford, along with his future wife Edith Bratt (Lily Collins). Much of his writing was also influenced by the fellowship of his school chums, forming their own secret society going by the T.C.B.S. - the Tea Club and Borrovian Society. Lest anyone miss the significance of the soldier Sam who successfully nursed Tolkien through his ordeal in the wartime trenches, it appears he was honored in The Trilogy by the presence of Frodo Baggins' loyal sidekick Sam Gamgee. Just one of the many references one will pick up by watching this effective treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien's early years.
Veronica Mars (2014)
"Original enough for you?"
This had all the look and feel of a made for TV movie, and it wasn't until I came to these pages that I learned that the concept started out as a television series with many of the same players returning to reprise their original roles. Well into retirement, it's difficult for me to identify with these characters and their present day concerns, never mind that they're all living high class lives in sunny California. I couldn't understand why the title character, portrayed by Kristen Bell, continually ignored the attempted contacts by a potential future employer to play detective in her former hometown, even if she was helping out an old friend. The one player who took it way over the top was Gaby Hoffmann, who's performance as Ruby Jetson/Della Pugh, at times looked ridiculously exaggerated and phony. But the bigger head scratcher would have been the Susan Knight 'murder' case that never produced a corpse!!?? How does that work? At least the present day murder of Bonnie DeVille (Andrea Estella) WAS solved with Veronica's insightful investigation after a number of twists and turns. However if I'd known this was a quite literal ten year reunion of a decade old TV show, I would have bowed out in advance.