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.
3 Geezers! (No stars) J.K. Simmons, Tim Allen, Basil Hoffman, Scott Caan, Breckin Meyer, Lou Beatty Jr., Randy Couture, Mike O’Malley, Kevin Pollak, Sam Raimi. Directed by Michelle Schumacher. Preparing to play a movie character decades older than himself, an actor immerses himself in the creaky culture of a senior convalescent home. This is painful — one terrible movie.
The Angels’ Share **½ Directed by Ken Loach. After avoiding jail, a man vows to turn his life around for his newborn son. He has a talent for discerning fine whiskeys, and he and his community service cohorts hatch a plan to lift a few expensive bottles to buy themselves a better future. There might be a pretty good film lurking in this latest dramedy from the veteran Scottish directing-writing team of Loach and Paul Laverty. I use the conditional because at least half the dialogue is delivered in a Glaswegian Scots dialect so thick, it might as well have been Urdu.
A Band Called Death **** Directed by Mark Christopher Covino, Jeff Howlett. A documentary on the 1970s punk trio Death, and their new-found popularity decades after they disbanded. This rock doc rewrites punk history while telling an emotional story about an artist’s spirit and his faithful family.
The Big Wedding (No stars) Robert DeNiro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams. Directed by Justin Zackham. A long-divorced couple fakes being married as their family unites for a wedding. To say that Zackham’s farce takes the low road doesn’t begin to do justice to the sheer awfulness of this star-stuffed, potty-mouthed fiasco.
The Company You Keep ** Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Jackie Evancho, Brendon Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Britt Marling, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, Susan Sarandon. Directed by Robert Redford. A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity. As a piece of suspense, it ain’t exactly North by Northwest, or even 3 Days of the Condor; the awkward attempts at chase scenes make it clear that Redford the actor, who has always given off a slightly lugubrious air, has lost a step or two physically.
Detour *** Neil Hopkins, Brea Grant. Directed by William Dickerson. Trapped inside his car by a mudslide, a smooth talking chap suddenly finds himself in a situation he can’t talk his way out of. This is a tautly efficient thriller that fully succeeds in making the viewer identify with its hapless protagonist’s desperate plight.
Emperor *½ Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones. Directed by Peter Webber. As the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, a U.S. Army general must decide if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Given its true-life basis, the story is already devoid of suspense regarding Hirohito’s ultimate fate, and the general’s inquiry is made more sluggish by dramatically inert conversations with Japanese officials.
The Guillotines *½ Directed by Wai-keung Lau. An elite crime-fighting unit in the court of the Chinese emperor relies on flying swords to defeat their enemies. The incrementally served up pieces never satisfactorily cohere. The blades fly as do the heads, but the movie remains disappointingly aground.
Hatchet III **½ Danielle Harris, Kene Hodder. Directed by BJ McDonnell. A search and recovery team heads into the haunted swamp to pick up the pieces and Marybeth learns the secret to ending the voodoo curse that has left Victor Crowley haunting and terrorizing Honey Island Swamp for decades. The execution of this film leaves something to be desired, as this effort seems more visually muddled and choppier than previous installments.
The Hot Flashes **½ Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, Camryn Manheim, Wanda Sykes. Directed by Susan Seidelman. A group of middle-aged women — all former basketball champs — challenge the current all-star high school team to raise money for breast cancer prevention. Early in the movie, Shields is seen reading Menopause For Dummies, and it doesn’t take long to realize that’s precisely what you’re watching.
Olympus Has Fallen ** A disgraced Secret Service agent must come to the rescue when Korean terrorists descend on the White House and take the president hostage. Feels from start to finish like a throwback to the action cinema and military thrillers of decades past. However, if you’re just going to rip off the action movies of yore, why not rip off more of the good stuff?
Reality ****½ Directed by Matteo Garrone. A jovial fishmonger and small-time con artist hopes to enrich his humble family by participating in an Italian reality television show, but his obsession with appearing to be an ideal contestant soon has his family doubting his sanity. The movie’s a funny, dark, increasingly razor-sharp inquiry into the metaphysics of modern fame — how the dream of "being seen" and thus validated on some primal level can completely unhinge the average schmo.
What Maisie Knew ***½ Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgård, Onata Aprile, Joanna Vanderham, Steve Coogan. Directed by Scott McGehee, David Siegel. A perceptive 6-year-old girl becomes a bargaining tool when she gets caught in the middle of a toxic custody fight between her self-seeking, childish parents. Anchored by five strong performances, including a piercing turn by Aprile in the 6-year-old title role, this beautifully observed drama essentially strikes the same sad note for 98 minutes, though with enough sensitivity and emotional variation to make the experience cumulatively heartrending rather than merely aggravating.