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 Act of Killing ***** Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer. A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. One of the most extraordinary films you’ll ever encounter, not to mention one of the craziest filmmaking concepts anywhere. It’s a mind-bending film, devastating and disorienting, that disturbs us in ways we’re not used to being disturbed, raising questions about the nature of documentary, the persistence of evil, and the intertwined ways movies function in our culture and in our minds.
Inequality for All *** Directed by Jacob Kornbluth. A documentary that follows former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich as he looks to raise awareness of the country’s widening economic gap. Reich ties together his talking points with a reasonable-sounding analysis and an unassuming warmth sometimes absent from documentaries charting America’s economic woes.
Thanks for Sharing *** Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad, Joely Richardson, Alecia Moore. Directed by Stuart Blumberg. While making his way through a support group for sex addicts, Adam (Ruffalo) dips his toe in the dating pool to embrace a meaningful relationship. But the woman he’s attracted to has sworn off addicts altogether. The film is never quite crazy or funny enough to transcend its "disease-of-month" template. The title turns out to not be ironic — a mixed blessing.
We Are What We Are **½ Directed by Jim Mickle. The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers) and Rose (Julia Garner) to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family. While ultimately gory — and a little dopey — this is no rowdy, exploitation-y, gross-out picture. This is a film where ambience, glossy imagery and performance are more effective than the splatter.
Closed Circuit **½ Eric Bana, Rebecca Hall, Ciaran Hinds, Jim Broadbent. Directed by John Crowley. Two top-flight lawyers who happen to be former lovers become targets when they’re teamed to defend a notorious terrorist. As the trial unfolds, the danger causes the pair to reevaluate their allegiance to justice. Old-school intrigue, informants and assassins, life-or-death pursuits in crowded places, characters who are adults and do not wear capes or pilot robots: This is pretty much what any home viewer over the age of 13 pines for, so this courtroom melodrama/surveillance thriller should be manna.
Tiger Eyes **½ Willa Holland, Amy Jo Johnson, Cynthia Stevenson, Tatanka Means, Russell Means. Directed by Lawrence Blume. Following her dad’s murder, 17-year-old Davey (Holland) goes to stay with relatives in New Mexico, while her mother tries to come to terms with her grief. While hiking a local canyon, Davey meets a young man who’s destined to change her view of life. Davey’s tortuous emotional distress, while generically relatable, seems more appropriate to a younger teen rather than a young woman who’s practically a college freshman. This curious disjunction impacts the performances as well, which are adequate but rarely persuasive.
I’m So Excited **½ Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. When a flight bound for Mexico City runs into trouble, the frightened passengers aboard start sharing their deepest secrets to distract themselves from impending doom with hilarious results. A trip recommended strictly for Almodóvar’s hard-core fans. Throughout the movie, I wished not so much for the plane to land, as for the movie to finally take off. While the plot strives to be a raunchy-clever sex farce, it feels more like a leaden repurposing of Airplane with drunken pilots, mile-high dalliances and dancing flight attendants.
Runner Runner * Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton, Ben Affleck. Directed by Brad Furman. When a poor college student who cracks an online poker game goes bust, he arranges a face-to-face with the man he thinks cheated him, a sly offshore entrepreneur. What’s actually up onscreen in this vaguely ambitious but tawdry melodrama falls into an in-between no-man’s-land that endows it with no distinction whatsoever, a work lacking both style and insight into the netherworld it seeks to reveal.