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.
Ida **** Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski. Anna , a young novitiate nun in 1960s Poland, is on the verge of taking her vows when she discovers a dark family secret dating back to the years of the Nazi occupation. Unfolds partly as chamber play and partly as road movie, following two women on a search for their dead beloveds’ anonymous graves.
Fed Up ***½ Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. An examination of America’s obesity epidemic and the food industry’s role in aggravating it. A formulaic and functional documentary that nevertheless proves effective at getting the message out about America’s addiction to unhealthy food.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier ***½ Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles to embrace his role in the modern world and battles the Soviet agent known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). For sheer plotting and audience involvement, this is a notch above any of the other Avengers-feeding Marvel entries, the one that feels most like a real movie rather than a production line of ooh-and-ahh moments for fanboys.
Palo Alto *** Directed by Gia Coppola. Emma Roberts, James Franco, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff. Follows a group of disaffected teens in a wealthy California town who have money to burn but little parental supervision and even less direction. The story has something of a flow, but the film feels more like someone dropping in on the characters’ lives. It’s more about observation than connecting dots. This isn’t a detriment, particularly with strong performances to carry things along.
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden *** Directed by Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine. Reading from letters, journals and memoirs, Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger and others help narrate this little-known tale of a handful of European dreamers whose relocation to the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s took a tragic turn. Unfortunately, while there’s enough fascinating material here for an hour-long documentary, this one runs two hours, with most of the present-day talking-head footage (interspersed throughout, to momentum-halting effect) feeling irrelevant.
Korengal *** Directed by Sebastian Junger. Picks up where the Academy Award nominated documentary Restrepo left off. Korengal goes a step further and explains how war works, what it feels like and what it does to the young men who fight it. This new film adds slices to our understanding of life in this war but not so much so that it feels essential.
Last Passenger *** Directed by Omid Nooshin. Weary single dad Lewis Shaler (Dougray Scott) boards a train from London with his son and begins an unexpected flirtation with a stranger, but his interesting evening turns tragic when a madman seizes control of the train, forcing Lewis to take dramatic action. A sturdy runaway-train thriller that flaunts its influences but chugs up a decent amount of suspense.
Borgman *** Directed by Alex van Warmerdam. A vagrant enters the lives of an arrogant upper-class family, turning their lives into a psychological nightmare in the process. Van Warmerdam keeps things engrossingly ominous throughout, and Jan Bijvoet has a lot of fun with his passive-aggressive creepazoid, but Borgman is both too self-consciously odd and too bluntly punitive to draw real blood.
Willow Creek *** Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Determined to track down and film the Bigfoot creature that he’s convinced lurks in Northern California’s wilderness, Jim Kessel (Bryce Johnson) heads into the forest with his girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore). They soon discover, however, that they’re the ones being hunted. Goldthwait is just having too much fun with his bantering couple and the eccentric, guitar-playing Bigfoot fanatics they encounter; the climax feels like an afterthought, the obligatory mayhem he had to provide as justification for making a shaggy romantic comedy about the cult of Sasquatch.
The Hornet’s Nest *** Directed by David Salzberg, Christian Tureaud. Armed only with their cameras, Peabody and Emmy Award-winning conflict journalist Mike Boettcher, and his son, Carlos, provide unprecedented access into the longest war in U.S. history. An important film despite some baffling presentational choices.
God’s Pocket **½ Directed by John Slattery. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro. Blue collar worker (Hoffman) tries to cover things up when his stepson is killed in a suspicious construction accident, but a local reporter senses that something’s amiss. As he’s backed into a corner by the truth, Mickey struggles to find a way out. The film only intermittently displays the snap, precision and stylistic smarts a mixed-tone project like this requires; a half-good effort is not enough where buoyancy and a sly-to-mean spiritedness are required at all times.
Words and Pictures ** Directed by Fred Schepsi. Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche. An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important. Owen and Binoche both are quite good, rising above the material for the most part. But even they can’t save the film from itself, or from an ending that’s downright bizarre.
Brick Mansions ** Directed by Camille Delamarre. Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA. A Detroit undercover cop (Walker) fights a constant battle to stem a tide of crime and corruption. As a ruthless drug lord makes apocalyptic plans for the city, he teams with an ex-con to foil the plot. It’s essentially a collection of shoddily edited action sequences, underpinned by a monotonous narrative that has no purpose, let alone moral heart to reward viewers’ waning attention.
A Long Way Down *½ Directed by Pascal Chaumeil. Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots. When a faded TV personality (Brosnan) decides to end his life on New Year’s Eve by jumping off a London skyscraper, he meets three strangers who had the exact same plan. There are moments of tenderness and honest human emotion buried in this frustrating movie, but the viewer one has to work far too hard and give far too much credit to the over-qualified cast to grab at them.
Louder Than Words * Directed by Anthony Fabian. David Duchovny, Hope Davis, Timothy Hutton. After the unexpected death of their daughter, a couple works to build a state of the art children’s hospital where families are welcomed into the healing process. At every turn, the movie is less moving than the real-life events that inspired it.