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.
As I Lay Dying **½ James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson, Danny McBride. Directed by James Franco. Chronicles the story of a poor Southern clan carrying out the family matriarch’s dying wish to be buried in a distant town. A worthwhile movie, approached in an intelligent and creative spirit. The ensemble work from the actors is generally very strong, with a star turn from Nelson as the prematurely aged patriarch, and the story is presented lucidly and confidently.
Broken **½ Tim Roth, Cilian Murphy. Directed by Rufus Norris. Skunk, a precocious and diabetic 11-year-old, lives happily with her brother and widower father in a suburban English neighborhood until an act of violence initiates her into the often-baffling world of adulthood. Unfortunately, Broken lives up to its mawkish title, and the slice-of-life tragedies of the film’s first half devolve into manipulative melodrama in the latter part. When society breaks, the spell does, too.
Computer Chess ****½ Patrick Reister, Myles Paige, James Curry, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary, Wiley Wiggins, Gordon Kindlmann. Directed by Andrew Bujalski. A comedic period piece set before PCs became commonplace centers on a 1980s chess tournament in which human competitors get their first crack at testing their skills against a machine. So far the funniest, headiest, most playfully eccentric American indie of the year, Bujalski’s perceptive avant-garde comedy teases out unanswered existential and behavioral questions about mankind’s curious obsession with artificial intelligence and automation.
The Fitzgerald Family Christmas *** Kerry Bishe, Edward Burns, Marsha Dietlein Bennett, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Anita Gillette, Tom Guiry, Ed Lauter, Michael McGlone, Nick Sandow, Noah Emmerich, Connie Britton. Directed by Edward Burns. The adult siblings of the Fitzgerald family prepare for their estranged father to return home for Christmas for the first time since he walked out on his family 20 years ago. Burns shuffles this dense material with the dexterity of a card shark. The pace, although swift, is never rushed. The writing and acting give you vivid enough tastes of the characters - there are seven children, two parents, and assorted spouses, lovers and friends - so that each registers as a singular flavor.
Girl Most Likely * Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Darren Criss, Directed by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini. After staging an unsuccessful suicide to get her boyfriend’s attention, a struggling playwright moves back home to live with her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and a handsome lodger who sings with a Backstreet Boys cover band. Wiig’s new comedy sulks limply along with her unable to bring the kind of energy that might complement her tendency to underplay every scene.
Grown Ups 2 ½* Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade. Directed by Dennis Dugan. After moving his family back to his hometown, a Hollywood talent agent and his grown-up childhood friends learn lessons from their kids — and some of the locals — on the last day of school. It’s hard to imagine another comedy coming along this year that is this abrasive and free of laughs. It’s like everyone involved intentionally tried to create a horrible movie.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey **½ Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood. Directed by Peter Jackson. Bilbo Baggins sets out on a journey to the Lonely Mountain to reclaim the Hobbits’ stolen mountain home from a dragon named Smaug. There is little that is unexpected here. Rather than an epic continuation of Jackson’s Middle-earth obsession, the film seems more like the work of a man driving around a multilevel parking garage without being able to find the exit.
Lovelace **½ Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody, Bobby Cannavale, James Franco, Debi Mazar, Chris Noth, Chloe Sevigny, Sharon Stone, Juno Temple. Directed by Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman. The story of adult film icon Linda Lovelace, a woman coerced into and abused by the porn industry before taking charge of her life. A timid gloss over on a hardcore subject — a movie that takes a wild true story and shoehorns it into a formulaic mold. Seyfried’s performance is almost worth the price of a rental. But Linda Lovelace deserved something more.
Parkland **½ Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Paul Giamatti. Directed by Peter Landesman. A recounting of the chaotic events that occurred at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Because the film offers no new insights, theories or important information, you’re left wondering why it was made.
Passion *** Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace. Karoline Herfurth, Paul Anderson. Directed by Brian DePalma. Christine, an ad exec whose veins run with ice water, has no qualms about taking the credit for a plum idea dreamed up by her mousy assistant, Isabel. But the incident sparks shy, passive Isabel to undertake a campaign of revenge against her boss. The movie is one long game of misdirection, playing tricks on viewers from scene to scene, and showing how easy it is to steer a crowd into missing something important. That’s the real De Palma touch, even more than the operatic overtones and excess. It is often sleek and enjoyable, dispensing titillation, suspense and a few laughs without taking itself too seriously.
Renoir ***½ Michel Bouquet, Christa Théret, Vincent Rottiers. Directed by Gilles Bourdos. In 1915, elderly painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir is crippled by both loss and arthritis, but when vibrant teenager Andrée brightens his life, he finds new purpose — as does his son Jean, a wounded soldier who is inspired by Andrée’s love of cinema. There’s something in this nostalgic, lovingly photographed film about the transition from the classical art of painting to the new art of the cinema, as embodied by one of the greatest practitioners of each. The independent-minded Andrée, who would go on to marry Jean Renoir and star in several of his early films, is presented as something more than a mere muse, if something less than a full-fledged character. One would expect a film about the great French artist to look beautiful, to be shot in warm, sumptuous colors. And one would not be disappointed with this.
White House Down **½ Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx. Directed by Roland Emmerich. While on a tour of the White House with his young daughter, a Capitol policeman springs into action to save his child and protect the President from a heavily armed group of paramilitary invaders. This is a solidly a genre picture, and one that follows all the necessary conventions — but it’s also one that does it all very well. That means lots of big, dumb and loud action — but it also means good, microwave popcorny, stay-at-home-on-the-couch fun. As demented and entertaining as promised, and a little less idiotic than feared.