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.
The Attack **** Directed by Ziad Doueri. An Arab surgeon living in Tel Aviv discovers a dark secret about his wife in the aftermath of a suicide bombing. The best kind of anti-war propaganda film, calm in feeling and mood, yet truly terrifying in showing the scourge of our age: terrorism, which can strike anybody, anywhere, at any time. It's also a love story, and a film about having it all. And then in an instant, losing everything.
Barbara ****½ Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock. Directed by Christian Petzold. A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital. Petzold handles personal, formal, and political concerns in such perfect balance, it's difficult, and not especially desirable, to separate one from the next. The movie is dense but never feels it, assembled with easy mastery and engrossing throughout. It's one terrific film, as smart, thoughtful and emotionally involving as just about anything that's out there.
Blackfish ****½ Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. A documentary that examines the life of performing killer whale Tilikum — who has caused the deaths of several people while in captivity — and questions the safety and humaneness of confining these creatures. Cowperthwaite builds a portrait of an intelligent but profoundly traumatized animal who was taken from his family in the North Atlantic as an infant, and has been driven to anger, resentment and perhaps psychosis after spending his life in a series of concrete swimming pools.
Frances Ha ****½ Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner. Directed by Noah Baumbach. Determined to make it as a modern dancer in New York, Frances pursues her unlikely goal with more enthusiasm than natural talent. The rest of the time, she and her sardonic best friend, Sophie, put off growing up for as long as they can. The writing is so musical, so attuned to human frailty and aspiration, that I defy anyone to watch the movie without smiling — with amusement one minute, rueful recognition the next, but probably always with some measure of simple, undiluted delight.
Ip Man: The Final Fight **½ Anthony Wong. Directed by Herman Yau. This entry in the saga of the man who trained Bruce Lee finds the middle-aged master teaching the Wing Chun style in Hong Kong. The nostalgic tale unfolds during a cultural crossroads amid the tension of British rule during the 1950s. The filmmakers fall over themselves trying to respect the subject’s outlook on life, and this makes him seem more like a hyper-disciplined saint than a world-reknowned, ass-kicking hermit.
Man of Steel **½ Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Russell Crowe. Directed by Zack Snyder. A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race. The whole film ends up feeling weighed down: though Man of Steel bounds from one epic setpiece to another, you're left with the nagging feeling that you just can't work out what the central twosome see in each other. And for Superman and Lois Lane, that's hardly ideal.
Paradise ** Julianne Hough, Russell Brand, Octavia Spencer, Nick Offerman, Holly Hunter. Directed by Diablo Cody. After surviving a plane crash a young conservative woman suffers a crisis of faith. Cody shows promise as a director, paving over the bumpy patches with clever song choices, but needs to mix things up if she hopes to continue.
Prince Avalanche **** Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch. Directed by David Gordon Green. While repainting traffic lines along a burnt-out stretch of rural highway, a mismatched pair — straightlaced Alvin and his girlfriend's harebrained brother, Lance — form an unlikely bond that builds upon their differences. Prince Avalanche speaks insightfully to the joys and costs of being alone, and of the risk that comes with letting another person in. Bittersweet and deeply felt, it also shows with confidence the estimable and still surprising talents of its cast and director.
Turbo **½ Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodriguez, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by David Soren. A speed-obsessed snail who dreams of being the world's greatest race car driver gets his chance when a freak accident imbues him with high-octane speed. Content to be merely cheerfully clichéd, it's an assembly-line kids' film that, unlike its daring protagonist, risks little, and thus reaps only modest rewards. All it does is give Reynolds, Giamatti, Jackson and Snoop Dogg the easiest paychecks they’ll ever make, and its corporate overlords the chance to sell a few toys.