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.
2 Guns **½ Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. Two special agents — one Naval intelligence, one DEA — partner for an undercover sting against a drug cartel that takes a serious wrong turn. Disavowed by their agencies, the pair goes on the run while trying to find out who set them up. Washington and Wahlberg are an effective double act in an intermittently exciting thriller with more twists than it needs. I’d love to see them partnered again, though perhaps as characters.
All Is Bright **½ Paul Giamatti, Paul Rudd, Sally Hawkins, Amy Landecker. Directed by Phil Morrison. While out on parole, a man reluctantly takes a job selling Christmas trees with his old buddy in order to make enough money to buy his estranged daughter the piano she’s always wanted. Directed by Morrison (Junebug) from a lackluster script by Melissa James Gibson, All Is Bright coasts entirely on the formidable talent of its cast, though Giamatti merely offers another variation on the irascible persona he’s been cultivating since Sideways, while Rudd is ultimately defeated by his character’s shapelessness.
And While We Were Here **½ Kate Bosworth. Directed by Kat Coiro. While working on a writing project on the island of Ischia, a married woman enters into an affair with a younger man. Just good enough to pique your curiosity, but never quite good enough to captivate.
Breaking the Girls **½ Agnes Brucker, Madeline Zima, Shawn Ashmore, John Stockwell. Directed by Jamie Babbit. Sara, a college student who was slandered by a classmate, finds herself framed for murder by Alex, who initially proposed the perfect, untraceable crime. Literalizing Strangers On A Train’s gay subtext might theoretically have been interesting, but Breaking The Girls’ LGBT angle, like everything else about it, seems pandering rather than heartfelt — a "contemporary rethinking" of material that was once sturdy enough not to require a pseudo-sleazy hard sell.
C.O.G. ** Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Casey Wilson, Dean Stockwell, Troian Bellisario, Corey Stoll. Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvarez. A cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. What was very funny in print becomes serious and occasionally dour onscreen, with fewer laughs than you would expect from a David Sedaris project.
Crystal Fairy *** Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffman, Agustin Silva, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva. Directed by Sebastián Silva. A self-absorbed young American traveling in Chile plans a journey with his pals to find a legendary hallucinogenic cactus. But when he invites the free-spirited Crystal Fairy along, they find themselves locked in a battle of wills. One of the most satisfying things about this film is that even though the lead character prefers to keep an ironic distance from things, the film itself is completely sincere. It’s about being good to people even when they’re kind of ridiculous.
Drew: The Man Behind the Poster **½ George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Frank Darabont, Thomas Jane, Michael J. Fox, Harrison Ford. Directed by Erik Sharkey. A documentary on movie-poster artist Drew Struzan. Although it offers some insight into his distinctive technique, it could have gone much further. But viewers will appreciate spending time with this cheerful, unassuming man, and will enjoy seeing the artist acknowledged by celebrities who owe him so much.
Hannah Arendt ***½ Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. A look at the life of the philosopher and political theorist who reported for The New Yorker on the war crimes trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Von Trotta seems to borrow some of her subject’s haughty disdain for compromise in a serviceable script that does the job of telling us who Hannah Arendt was; like a good pair of solid, gray walking shoes there’s nothing fancy or modern to distract from the portrait of one of the most important thinkers of the century.
Paranoia ½* Liam Hensworth, Gary Oldman, Amber Heard, Harrison Ford. Directed by Robert Luketic. Blackmailed by his company’s CEO, a low-level employee finds himself forced to spy on the boss’s rival and former mentor. The fact that Hemsworth is severely lacking in leading-man charisma doesn’t help the pervasive overall incompetence of the film, which fixates on the perils and panic of our modern surveillance culture while itself proving to be borderline unwatchable.
Planes * Directed by Klay Hall. A cropdusting plane with a fear of heights lives his dream of competing in a famous around-the-world aerial race. The film feels second-rate in every sense, from the quality of its animation to its C-list voice cast.
The To-Do List *** Directed by Maggie Carey. A sexually inexperienced high school graduate comes up with a list of erotic activities she’d like to work her way through before heading off to college in the fall. In its exuberantly smutty way, this is a revolutionary development: a teen sex comedy where the girls get to play nasty and the boys stand around looking vaguely terrified.
Violet & Daisy **½ Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bedel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Danny Trejo, James Gandolfini. Directed by Geoffrey Fletcher. Two teenage assassins accept what they think will be a quick-and-easy job, until an unexpected target throws them off their plan. Fletcher and his players never quite hit on a tone that works. Fantastical dream sequences and side trips to the store to get "more bullets" never quite rise to the level of wry commentary. This just isn’t as cute and funny as Fletcher seems to think it is. Gandolfini’s quietly magnificent performance is the only reason to rent this DVD.
We’re the Millers ** Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. A veteran pot dealer creates a fake family as part of his plan to move a huge shipment of weed into the U.S. from Mexico. The movie’s script — it took four writers to cobble together something that seems so slight — hits too many obvious notes between the moments when Aniston can strut her stuff.
The World’s End ***½ Simon Pegg, Nick Frost. Directed by Edgar Wright. Twenty years after attempting a marathon pub crawl, a group of friends reunites to give it another shot. Their ultimate destination is the World’s End pub, whose name turns out to be rather literal. A mix of comedy, science fiction, nostalgia, adolescent wish-fulfillment and beer, beer, beer, its parts shouldn’t fit together as neatly as they do. But somehow Wright and Pegg have again managed to make a movie that is knowing, touching and hilarious.