I have scratched together a living, in one way or another, as a writer for more than 50 years now. I was a free-lance writer during the early stages of the Vietnam War. I was the Southwest Division Overnight News Editor for United Press International back when UPI was a legitimate news gathering organization. Following that, I went to the Dallas Morning News where I became the first person to write about rock 'n' roll on a daily basis for a Texas metropolitan newspaper. I later became the News' entertainment editor. Following some stints with a couple of prominent PR firms, I had the extraordinary good fortune to team with two communications legends, Ken Fairchild and Lisa LeMaster, as part of one kick-ass media consulting/crisis communications team. That was followed by short stays with the City of Dallas, as its public information officer; the Dallas Northeast Chamber of Commerce where I had the good fortune to meet and work alongside some of this city's business and political titans; and editorial director for QuestCorp Media until that company went out of business. Now officially retired, concentrating on this blog.
Jack the Giant Slayer ** Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Ewan McGregor, Eddie Marsan. Directed by Bryan Singer. The ancient war between humans and a race of giants is reignited when Jack, a young farmhand fighting for a kingdom and the love of a princess, opens a gateway between the two worlds. A director as talented as Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) should be working to raise popcorn movies to a higher level. Instead, this uninspired effort feels like a colossal letdown. Too scary for very young children, yet too silly for most older fans of director Singer’s films.
Movie 43 * Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Jeremy Allen White, Anna Faris, Chris Pratt, Kieran Culkin, Emma Stone, Justin Long, Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, Bobby Cannavale, Halle Berry, Sean William Scott, Elizabeth Banks, Johnny Knoxville, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Gerard Butler, Terrence Howard, Chloë Grace Moretz. Directed by Bob Odenkirk and 11 others. A series of interconnected short films follows a washed-up producer as he pitches insane story lines featuring some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. How many directors does it take to screw in a star-studded piece of aggressive stupidity and call it a movie? An even dozen, and there is no punch line. As sick-making sketch comedies go, this stupefyingly bad one — somehow rife with A-list talent — must rank near the very bottom.
Stoker **½ Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode. Directed by Chan-wook Park. After a girl’s father dies, her uncle, who she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her unstable mother. She comes to suspect this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives and becomes increasingly infatuated with him. This latest thriller from the South Korean director is a bizarrely perverse, beautifully rendered mystery that you may or may not care to solve. The final act walks a fine line between the sensational and the silly. Park is less interested in narrative suspense than in carefully orchestrated shocks and camouflaged motives.
21 & Over (no stars) Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin, Chon, Sarah Wright. Directed by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore. The night before his big medical school interview, a promising student celebrates his 21st birthday with his two best friends. This is a movie that celebrates selfishness, stupidity and the mean-spirited insensitivity that goes along with it. We’re better than this, America.
Quartet **½ Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins, Michael Gambon. Directed by Dustin Hoffman. At a home for retired musicians, the annual concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday is disrupted by the arrival of an eternal diva and the former wife of one of the residents. A frothy and often charming directorial effort from Hoffman, his first in a Hollywood career that’s spanned five decades, that will keep Downton fans happy. Music lovers will appreciate both the score and the nostalgic end credits, which revisit the early years of the aged supporting cast (many of whom were actual musicians).
American Mary *** Katharine Isabell, Antonio Cupo, Tristan Risk. Directed by Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska. The story follows medical student, Mary Mason, as she becomes increasingly broke and disenchanted with the surgical world she once admired. The allure of easy money sends Mary into the world of underground surgeries which ends up leaving more marks on her than her so called "freakish" clientele. It’s a truly interesting slasher fest; in this one, the heroine gets to be both beauty and beast. Isabelle is phenomenal in one of the most original and politically engaged horrors of recent years, even if the second half isn’t a patch on the first.
The Last Exorcism Part II **½ Ashley Bell, Julia Garner, Spancer Treat Clark. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly. As Nell Sweetzer tries to build a new life after the events of the first movie, the evil force that once possessed her returns with an even more horrific plan. An effectively unnerving, slow-burn supernatural horror tale. The film is smartly different enough from the original to survive on its own, though it lacks some of the first film’s sense of surprise. At least this movie, like its predecessor, has Bell as Nell. An actress who suggests religious piety, carnal fire and satanic aggression with equal dexterity, Bell provides a pulse a viewer can connect with amid the standard-issue atmospheric accouterments.
The Brass Teapot * Juno Temple, Michael Angarano, Alexis Bledel. Directed by Ramaa Mosley. When a couple discovers that a brass teapot makes them money whenever they hurt themselves, they must come to terms with how far they are willing to go. Its comedic side never bites, and its moral side is painfully one-dimensional. A little to the left and The Brass Teapot might’ve been mean-spirited fun; a little to the right and it could play on The Hallmark Channel. For a movie with such an outlandish premise, it’s remarkably dull.
Come Out and Play **½ Daniel Giménez Cacho, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Vinessa Shaw. Directed by Makinov. A couple take a vacation to a remote island — their last holiday together before they become parents. Soon after their arrival, they notice that no adults seem to be present. A one-man band known as Makinov — he wrote, directed, produced, shot, edited and ran sound here — has done a pretty decent job in the chills department using a simple story, small cast and largely contained location.
Let My People Go **½ Nicolas Maury, Carmen Maura, Jean-François Stévenin, Amira Casar, Clément Sibony. Directed by Mikael Buch. At Passover, a French-Jewish man living in Finland with his Nordic boyfriend, finds himself back in Paris with his zany family after a lovers’ quarrel. The road to the inevitable slapsticky Seder is paved with more sweetness than bite, a good deal of frantic foolishness and progressively thinner laughs, all wrapped in a message of acceptance and inclusiveness.