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.
After Earth * Jaden Smith, Will Smith. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. A thousand years in the future, Gen. Cypher Raige and his young son, Kitai, crash-land their crippled ship on the long-abandoned, desolate Earth. With his father near death, Kitai sets out to find a beacon that will save them from certain doom. Running, or stumbling, only 90 minutes, After Earth may lack the neck-swiveling awfulness of Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, but it quickly sinks in its logorrheic solemnity. The movie makes Oblivion seem as jolly a romp as Spaceballs, and gives neither Shyamalan nor Smith much to smile about.
Europa Report **½ Directed by Sebastián Cordero. An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon. As directed by Ecuadorian filmmaker Cordero (Chronicles, Rage), Europa Report manages a few striking and intense sequences — most notably, a fatal drift into the endless vacuum of nothingness, filmed from the perspective of the disappearing spaceman.
A Girl and a Gun *½ Directed by Catheryne Czubek. A symbol of power and danger, the gun has served as an American cultural icon since the nation’s founding — but nearly always in the hands of men. This documentary moves the focus to women and their changing attitudes about guns in society. Had Czubek focused on just one or two of the several interesting or lesser-explored topics under the umbrella of her debut film’s subject matter, A Girl and a Gun might have amounted to a sharper, more interesting documentary.
The Hangover Part III * Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, Heather Graham, Jeffrey Tambor, Justin Bartha, John Goodman. Directed by Todd Phillips. The gang has to figure out how to rescue Alan from a mental hospital. If the first Hangover movie were this awful, there never would have been a Part Two. This is a joyless, unfunny mix of comedy and drama, a complete waste of time, with exactly one good joke in the entire movie. It comes in the first minute. After that, you can replace this with another DVD.
Laurence Anyways **** Directed by Xavier Dolan. A drama that charts 10 years in the relationship of a male-to-female transsexual’s relationship with her lover. Laurence Anyways flows naturally, both thematically and stylistically, from Dolan’s previous movies; here, though, he succeeds more than ever at incorporating his visual idiosyncrasies into the narrative.
The Lifeguard * Kristen Bell. Directed by Liz W. Garcia. A former valedictorian quits her reporter job in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Surprisingly for a writer turned director, the most evident shortcomings with Garcia’s feature originate with the script. With barely any backstory to support them, the characters consistently appear to lack the motivations necessary for their actions.
The Look of Love **½ Steve Googan, Anna Friel, Tamsin Egerton, Imogen Poots. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. The life of Paul Raymond, the controversial entrepreneur who became Britain’s richest man. Had this film focused more acutely on the father-daughter relationship or explored Raymond’s relationships with his two sons, only one of whom appears briefly, it might have amounted to something more substantial than a keenly observed period piece that keeps a celebrity journalist’s distance from its subject.
Much Ado About Nothing ****½ Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Jillian Morgese, Nathan Fillion. Directed by Joss Whedon. A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words. Whedon’s adaptation is just about the sloppiest Shakespeare ever put on the screen. It may also be the most exhilarating — a profound trifle that reminds you how close Shakespeare’s comedies verge on darkness before pirouetting back into the light.
Nothing Left to Fear (no stars) Anne Heche, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Stone. Directed by Anthony Leonardi III. A family’s journey toward a better life is interrupted by an unstable man of the cloth. Any sensible person should not even consider watching this video.
The Purge **½ Ehan Hawke, Lena Headey. Directed by James DeMonaco. In the future, a wealthy family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized. After a wickedly promising start, this pointed political satire quickly deteriorates into a fairly routine, if sporadically quite effective, home-invasion thriller.
Stuck in Love **½ Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins, Logan Lehrman, Nat Wolff, Kristen Bell. Directed by Josh Boone. An acclaimed writer, his ex-wife, and their teenaged children come to terms with the complexities of love in all its forms over the course of one tumultuous year. The ending may be a little too tidy and obvious, but this is a sweet little study of the right royal mess people can make of relationships when they let their own neuroses take over, and a warm tribute to overcoming them.