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.
A Most Wanted Man *** Directed by Anton Corbijn. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright. A half-Russian, half-Chechen man, brutalized by torture, arrives in Hamburg, where he seeks a British banker’s help in recovering his father’s estate. While the tension is sometimes muted, this is more than a procedural round of spy games. The deliberately paced but riveting film is made all the better because of Hoffman’s breathtakingly nuanced portrayal.
Land Ho! *** Directed by Aaron Katz, Martha Stephens. In a bid to gain life perspective, retired Mitch (Early Lynn Nelson) persuades his ex-brother-in-law (Paul Eenhoorn) to join him on a journey through the frigid landscapes of Iceland. A series of picaresque adventures in a notably picturesque land. Is it enough to sustain anything resembling dramatic momentum? For a while it isn’t, but then, unexpectedly, it is.
The One I Love *** Directed by Charlie McDowell. Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. Confronted with the potential end of their marriage, Ethan and Sophie take off for a weekend together, hoping to negotiate their future. When they reach their idyllic destination, however, the couple strolls into a bizarre new brand of trouble. Unfortunately, someone (screenwriter Justin Lader, perhaps?) needed to improvise some kind of satisfying denouement because the film’s third act just collapses in on itself. The One I Love is imaginative and provocative until it isn’t.
Maleficent **½ Directed by Robert Stromberg. Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharito Copley, Sam Riley, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville. A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land. It’s a dazzling showcase of fantasy-based filmmaking in the 21st century that also manages a feeble attempt at injecting feminist politics into an antiquated narrative. Yet its eventual climax strains from the obviousness of these efforts.
A Five-Star Life **½ Directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi. Forty-something Irene (Margherita Buy) has a dream job that makes her life easy: she is a luxury hotel inspector and her work gets carried out in a wonderful ever-renewed setting, from Paris to Gstaad to Berlin to Morocco to China. Tognazzi’s ultra-sedate romantic comedy is full of aesthetic sophistication and luxurious ambiance, but its pleasures are all secondhand, and the whole endeavor is too starved of incident to really stick in the memory.
Planes: Fire & Rescue ** Directed by Roberts Gannaway. Dane Cook, Julie Bowen. When Dusty learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he joins a forest fire and rescue unit to be trained as a firefighter. Beautiful to look at, this is nothing more than a Little Engine That Could story refitted to accommodate aerial action and therefore unlikely to engage the active interest of anyone above the age of about 8, or 10 at the most.
Hercules ** Directed by Brett Ratner. Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Tobias Santelmann, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, John Hurt. Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord. Strap on your swordbelt, buckle your sandals and oil up your rippling six-pack, because here comes yet another interminable, CGI-drenched mythic mish-mash with far more money than brain cells.
Step Up: All In ** Directed by Trish Sie. Competitors gather in Las Vegas for the ultimate dance-off, including champions from the previous films. Even if the big numbers in Step Up All In don’t always hit the heights of its immediate predecessors, there are enough exultant moments – during the crew battles or Sean and Andie’s pas de deux on a carnival ride — to tide you over until the inevitable Part Six.
The Christmas Candle *½ Directed by John Stephenson. Hans Matheson, Samantha Barks, Lesley Manville, Sylvester McCoy, Susan Boyle, John Hannah. In the village of Gladbury, it’s believed that every 25 years an angel comes on Christmas Eve bearing a miracle for one of the residents. But the arrival of a new minister with fresh ideas threatens to extinguish the age-old tradition. The whole thing is sentimental corn, which isn’t bad if it’s handled with conviction and sincerity. But the direction by Stephenson (better known for special effects than directing) is resolutely stiff and hollow. That’s murder for a movie dealing with miracles.