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.
Gloria **** Directed by Sebastián Lelio. A middle-aged divorcée looking to fill the void in her life sees an opportunity for a permanent relationship when she meets a charming former naval officer. But baggage from the past may derail their romance. Though it’s most successful as a character study, the movie also works as an unusually honest variation on the traditional cinematic love story (it rings especially true on the difficulties of starting over after years of settled family life).
The Selfish Giant ***½ Directed by Clio Barnard. Two teenage boys band together to steal copper wire from power stations and railway lines to sell to a local scrap dealer. Their friendship sours when the scrap dealer begins to favor one of the boys over the other. Though slow-going for much of its running time, Arbor’s delicate tale culminates with a frighteningly choreographed tragedy, but tacks on a beautifully evocative and mostly wordless epilogue that carries the semblance of progress.
The Rocket *** Directed by Kim Mordaunt. Determined to disprove the common belief that he brings bad luck to everyone around him, outcast Laotian boy Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamie) builds a giant rocket with the intention of participating in the lucrative but dangerous competition at a rocket festival. Mordaunt’s when-life-gives-you-land-mines tale is light on well-drawn characters, but its performances, especially from the nonprofessional junior members, more than light the fuse for the finale.
Escape From Tomorrow **½ Directed by Randy Moore. On the last day of a family vacation at Disney World, a man (Roy Abramsohn) learns that he’s lost his job. Soon thereafter, he begins to lose his mind, wandering through the artificial phantasmagoria and becoming obsessed with two perky French girls. The film, shot in black-and-white at canted angles, suggests an R-rated Twilight Zone episode with a twist of Fellini-lite, in a trite film school kind of way. Mickey Mouse is unlikely to be shaking in his big yellow shoes.
The Best Offer ** Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. A master auctioneer becomes obsessed with an extremely reclusive heiress who collects fine art. Aiming for a Hitchcockian take on an eccentric auctioneer (well-handled by Geoffrey Rush) who becomes enamored of an heiress with severe agoraphobia, the picture ends up more in Dan Brown territory, with over-obvious setups and phony insight into the art establishment. With Sylvia Hoeks, Jim Sturgess, Donald Sutherland.
Labor Day ** Directed by Jason Reitman. What begins as a short ride turns into a life-changing event for divorced single mother Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), when they give a lift to a bloodied man (Josh Brolin) during a Labor Day weekend. Reitman has placed a not-unreasonable bet that sensual creatures like Winslet and Brolin can convey the passion necessary for their relationship to make sense, but the film carries itself too stiffly, like it’s so afraid of making the wrong choices that it doesn’t make any good ones.
Gimme Shelter ** Directed by Ron Krauss. After running away from her abusive mother, streetwise teen locates her father, who’s never been part of her life, but he rejects her when he learns that she’s pregnant. Desperate and alone, she seeks help from a compassionate priest. For all of Krauss’ clearly good intentions, the film still falls staggeringly flat, even with the inclusion of a bold and unexpected performance from Vanessa Hudgens, doing her damndest to break out of the Disney mold and turn in actual work here. With James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser.
Devil’s Due * Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett. After a mysterious, lost night on their honeymoon, a newlywed couple finds themselves dealing with an earlier-than-planned pregnancy. The script tips its hand so early on that Devil’s Due lumbers toward a woefully flat, predictable ending, and the unwelcome promise of something truly demonic — sequels.
The Legend of Hercules * Directed by Tenny Harlin. Hercules is born half-human and half-god and chosen by destiny to overthrow the cruel king of Greece. While The Legend Of Hercules offers plenty for viewers who’ve acquired a taste for the fake and incompetent (not the least of which is the dialogue, which finds characters saying each other’s names at the end of every other sentence), it’s unlikely to please anyone who wants entertainment in the conventional sense.