Friday, July 31, 2015

Black Mass

"Mystic River" meets "The Departed" with a cast as good as these two aforementioned films. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'll drink to that

I don't know if my readers are familiar with Jeffrey Wells, but he's a Hollywood columnist who often ventures into topics apart from the entertainment industry. Here is what he wrote about Walter James Palmer, the demented dentist who paid $55,000 for the opportunity to kill Cecil the Lion: Palmer, Wells wrote, should "be stripped naked, forced to drop a tab of ecstasy, set out on the plains of Kenya and be hunted down by animal conservationists? Not with bullets, mind, but with paintballs. Just so he could savor the experience. And then they could tie him to a tree and paint his dick blue. Something like that."

Anyone who has a problem with that doesn't speak the same language that I do.


As a former newspaperman and a lover of thrillers, this looks right up my alley:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cell phone just the excuse, race is the reason Brady’s suspension upheld

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today upheld the four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady, claiming some claptrap about Brady destroying his cell phone proved beyond all doubt the quarterback was involved in deflating footballs before this year’s AFC championship game. This is bogus. The cell phone was nothing more than the hook Goodell needed to hang his hat on. This is a racially based decision.

Look at the list of all the NFL players suspended at least two games for issues other than using recreational drugs since the hammer came down on Dallas nose tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for 10 games in September, 2014, for being convicted of manslaughter. Think about that for a moment. Brent suspended for a manslaughter conviction, Brady for possibly letting the air out of footballs. Give me a break. But, I digress. Here’s the list of NFL players suspended at least two games since Brent: Baltimore running back Ray Rice, Miami defensive end Derrick Shelby, Detroit defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, New Orleans wide receiver Joe Morgan, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, Indianapolis running back Trent Richardson, Dallas defensive end Greg Hardy. What do they all have in common? They are all African-Americans.

Goodell was under a lot of pressure to inflict severe punishment on a prominent white player and Tom Brady fit the bill.

So Brady gets the same punishment as abuser Hardy. Absurd.

Here’s my problem with this whole deflating the football mess. The footballs allegedly deflated were used during the first half of the New England-Indianapolis title game. On offense, the Patriots played with the footballs it provided and the Colts with the ones it provided. The on-field officials handled those balls after every play and not one of them came forward during the game claiming there was a noticeable difference in the feel between the balls the Patriots used and the ones from the Colts.

But even if they were at different inflation levels, the evidence proves it offered no advantage to the Patriots. New England won the first half — the one allegedly played with deflated footballs — 17-7, but then came back and won the second half — the one played by both sides with regulation footballs — 28-0. This entire issue is bogus. If Brady is guilty of anything, he deserves to be hit with a hefty fine. But a suspension? And suspended the same amount of time as someone guilty of domestic abuse?

But Goodell needs to make an example of a white guy, to appease the growing uproar among black football players in the NFL who were claiming, with justification, that only black players were being punished by the league office, and Brady became the poster boy.

That, however, doesn’t make what Goodell did today right. It wasn’t.

Monday, July 27, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the movie’s trailer

White God ***½ Directed by Kornél Mundruczó. When a cruel father dumps his daughter’s beloved dog, Hagen, out on the highway to fend for himself, Hagen not only survives the horrors of abandonment, dog fights and starvation, but rouses an angry army of mongrels out to exact vengeance. Superbly acted allegorical drama with a climax that is not only breathtakingly exciting but flawlessly handled.

Revenge of the Mekons *** Directed by Joe Angio. Formed during the punk-rock era of the late 1970s, the Mekons established themselves as one of the most creative and adventurous bands of the day. This documentary chronicles the still-going group’s more-than-30-year run. A contagious enthusiasm runs through the heart of this documentary that celebrates and explores the evolving ethos of a seminal British punk band while also proving that some of rock’s most interesting stories come not from success but survival.

52 Tuesdays *** Directed by Sophie Hyde. Sixteen-year-old Billie’s (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) reluctant path to independence is accelerated when her mother reveals plans to gender transition and their time together becomes limited to Tuesday afternoons. Full of touching moments even if its emotional rewards remain somewhat muted, 52 Tuesdays feels highly personal and is never less than absorbing or sincere in its depiction of a non-traditional family navigating difficult changes.

Runoff *** Directed by Kimberly Levin. With her husband’s health and business failing, Betty Freeman (Joanne Kelly) is forced to take on a host of burdens — including preventing foreclosure of the family’s rural Kentucky home. This is the kind of film that finds power and pleasure in silence; many of its best scenes come in careful, long, quiet scenes of revelation or desperation.

Glass Chin **½ Directed by Noah Buschel. A down-on-his-luck former boxing champ (Corey Stoll) is forced to make a choice between friendship and ambition when he is framed for murder. It’s a good thing the film has a good cast in general and Stoll in particular. He’s the main reason to watch Glass Chin. And not coincidentally, he’s often quiet.

3 Hearts **½ Directed by Benoit Jacquot. A tax inspector (Benoît Poelvoorde), his new bride and her sister become entwined in a love triangle. While the controlling deities might have found some amusement in this narrative, in Jacquot’s hands the tale is more bland than tragic.

Home ** Directed by Tim Johnson. On the run from cosmic enemies, a band of aliens arrives on Earth looking for a safe haven, but one of them inadvertently gives away his location. Though it opens with the studio’s seemingly mandatory voice-over setup, the story itself, adapted from the children’s book The True Meaning Of Smekday, shows immediate conceptual audacity.

Comet ** Directed by Sam Esmail. Set in a parallel universe, the story bounces back and forth over the course of an unlikely but perfectly paired couple’s (Justin Long, Emmy Rossum) six-year relationship. Give credit to Esmail for coming up with an inventive way to tell the story, even if the execution doesn’t live up to the idea. He shows great confidence as a director, and the film has a unique look, with heightened reality providing clues that this really is a different world, or worlds, even.

The Water Diviner ** Directed by Russell Crowe. An Australian man (Crowe) travels to Turkey after the Battle of Gallipoli to try and locate his three missing sons. Crowe’s movie is a male weepie, slickly lit, but clearly the work of an amateur. Its emotional thrust — the search — is made limp by indiscriminate direction and the kind of quantity-over-quality mindset that invites tacked-on romances and dream sequences that play like dream-sequence parodies.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The anti-BBC: My 100 favorite American movies

Perhaps you saw the BBC's poll that was made public earlier this week of the 100 Greatest American Films. First, there's the audacity of the British ranking American films and, second, to prove they had no idea what they were talking about, the poll had Marnie, arguably Alfred Hitchcock's worst film of the sound period, ranked No. 47 on the list and his Rear Window was nowhere to be found, Neither was such classic westerns as High Noon and Shane.

So, I went ahead and tried to correct the BBC's mistakes, but, try as I might I could not come up with a list of the "best" films because I could not help but put Citizen Kane at the top and, I going to come out of the closet on this one, I really don't like Kane as much today as I used to. Orson Welles's masterpiece was hailed for all its innovations, but all those breakthroughs now seem everyday, routine. Yes, the woman on the pier speech is still one of the greatest in film history, but does it really surpass the taxicab scene in On the Waterfront or the "Let's Go" moment in The Wild Bunch?

So I abandoned the idea of trying to do a best films list and settled instead of a list of my 100 favorite films. But even with this list, perhaps only the first dozen are set in stone and the others I could juggle a couple of spots either way depending on the day of the week or the mood I'm in at any given moment. As a matter of fact, after those first 12, I could just as easily list the movies in alphabetical order and say "Here are my all-time favorite American films." But, be that as it may, I will put this list up against the BBC's.

My top choice was easy, automatic. Obviously, the first 100 or so times I saw Casablanca was on the television screen, but the old Glen Lakes theater in Dallas brought it back to the big screen for one night in the mid-1990s and seeing the film as movie goers had the opportunity to do so in the early 1940s was an emotionally fulfulling experience for me.

I can still watch Casablanca today and get the same laughs, the same thrills, the same longings that I did the first time I saw it. In fact, as the late, great film critic Roger Ebert so correctly pointed out, Casablanca is a movie you'll get more out of the second, third and fourth times you see it than the first time, because that first time you have no idea what prompted Humphrey Bogart's outburst at Sam in this scene.

To quote Ebert directly: "This scene is not as strong on a first viewing as on subsequent viewings, because the first time you see the movie you don't yet know the story of Rick and Ilsa in Paris; indeed, the more you see it the more the whole film gains resonance." Amen.

But that may give you a hint why my No. 1 choice was so easy. Here's the complete list: My 100 favorite American movies

1. Casablanca
2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
3. The Wild Bunch
4. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
5. Double Indemnity
6. The Godfather
7. The Graduate
8. Pulp Fiction
9. Some Like It Hot
10. The Big Sleep
11. Goodfellas
12. The Maltese Falcon
13. Out Of The Past
14. North By Northwest
15 Notorious
16. On The Waterfront,
17. Paths of Glory
18. Psycho
19. Fargo
20. The Last Picture Show
21. Raging Bull
22. 2001: A Space Odyssey
23 Annie Hall
24. Strangers on a Train
25. Rebel Without a Cause
26. Bringing Up Baby
27. The African Queen
28. All About Eve
29. The Wizard of Oz
30. Zero Dark Thirty
31. Only Angels Have Wings
32. Red River
33. Shane.
34. Rear Window
35. Bonnie And Clyde
36. The Bridge On The River Kwai
37. Chinatown
38. Citizen Kane
39. Duck Soup,
40. King Kong (1933)
41. 12 Angry Men
42. East of Eden
43. Gunga Din
44. The Social Network
45. Schindler’s List
46. Being John Malkovich
47. The Grapes of Wrath
48. The Public Enemy
49. The Train
50. High Noon
51. The Lady Eve
52. Silver Linings Playbook
53. United 93
54. A Letter to Three Wives
55. Lawrence of Arabia
56. Jaws
57. Traffic
58. The Empire Strikes Back
59. E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial
60. Easy Rider
61. Singin’ In The Rain
62. A Streetcar Named Desire
63. Sunset Boulevard
64. Taxi Driver
65. Touch Of Evil
66. Vertigo
67. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
68. Network
69. Rosemary’s Baby
70. The Apartment
71. White Heat
72. Days of Heaven
73. The Silence of the Lambs
74. Unforgiven
75. The Manchurian Candidate
76. Manhattan,
77. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
78. The Bad and the Beautiful
79. The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
80. Mean Streets
81. The Ox-Bow Incident
82. A Place in the Sun
83. Hannah and Her Sisters
84. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
85. The Conversation
86. Five Easy Pieces
87. No Country For Old Men
88. The Hurt Locker
89. Frankenstein
90. The French Connection
91. From Here to Eternity
92. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
93. The Killers (1946 )
94. Brokeback Mountain
95. Shadow of a Doubt
96. Apocalypse Now
97. Ben-Hur
98. The Best Years of Our Lives
99. It’s A Wonderful Life
100.Sullivan’s Travels

Friday, July 24, 2015


This could have been pure sap, but I'm betting it isn't going to be because (1) the screenplay is Ron Nyswaner, who also wrote Philadelphia; (2) it's cast is top of the line: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, and Michael Shannon; and (3) it's based on a film that won the 2008 Best Documentary Short Oscar.

Monday, July 20, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Jauja *** Directed by Lisandro Alonso. In the late 1800s, Danish military engineer Gunnar Dinesen (Viggo Mortensen) travels to the South American desert with his daughter, Ingeborg (Villbørk Malling Agger), after being dispatched to map the region for European settlers. When Ingeborg steals away, Dinesen sets out after her. There are more enigmas than answers in Jauja, an artsy South American Western from Alonso, an Argentine filmmaker who delights in undermining movie conventions.

What We Do in the Shadows *** Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi. Viago (Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Clement) are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane like paying rent, keeping up with the chore wheel, trying to get into nightclubs, and overcoming flatmate conflicts. A bracing reminder of how the right burst of energy and style breathes fresh ideas into a genre threatened with creative exhaustion.

Tangerines *** Directed by Zaza Urushadze. During the vicious Georgian-Abkhazian conflict of the 1990s, two Estonian tangerine farmers refuse to leave their homes as the fighting grows ever closer. After each one rescues a wounded soldier from the opposite side, a very personal battle ensues. A simple tale, sharply drawn and smartly told, a portrait of a people, a place and a centuries-old conflict that one wise yet myopic citrus farmer cannot get his mind around any more than I can.

Kung Fu Killer *** Directed by Teddy Chan. A vicious killer stalks the streets of Hong Kong, methodically executing top martial arts competitors. Xia (Donnie Yen), a convicted killer and kung fu expert, offers to help police find the killer and put him behind bars in return for his own freedom. Like a greatest-hits album, it’s not as deeply satisfying as an artist’s best work (try Yen’s Ip Man). But it will keep you entertained.

5 Flights Up ** Directed by Richard Loncraine. A long-time married couple (Diane Keaton, Morgan Freeman) who’ve spent their lives together in the same New York apartment become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away. What starts as a somewhat charming — if prosaic — story of love in the time of gentrification inexplicably spends most of its third act mired in the finer points of apartment hunting, like a tastefully lit HGTV show.

Set Fire to the Stars ** Directed by Andy Goddard. When he invites Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones) to America for a series of poetry readings, hidebound academic John M. Brinnin (Elijah Wood) is well aware of the Welshman’s reputation as a hell-raiser. But Brinnin is unprepared for the lengths he’ll have to go to keep Thomas sober. It’s a nice enough, pleasant enough film with a couple solid performances. But when you’re making a movie about a man as unique, profound, and complex as Dylan Thomas, and you have nothing to say about him, you don’t have much of a movie.

Wild Horses Directed by Robert Duvall. A detective opens up a fifteen-year-old missing persons case and begins to suspect that the boy it belongs to was murdered — and that a local rancher was involved. What a shambles. Duvall, eminent character actor of the Hackman-Caan generation of difficult big-screen guys, returns to the director’s chair with this dawdling and sometimes damn near unintelligible ensemble piece set in a Texas border town.

The Pact 2 Directed by. Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath. A woman (Camilla Luddington) who is plagued by nightmares involving a serial killer learns her dreams have a horrifying connection to the real world. Writer-directors Hallam and Horvath, picking up the baton from first film creator Nicholas McCarthy, do a serviceable job aping the original’s clean, mostly lo-fi atmospherics and nervy framing. The story’s a wash, though.

Survivor * Directed by James McTeigue. After surviving a terrorist bombing in London, a U.S. embassy employee (Milla Jovovich) ends up on the run when she’s framed for crimes. Learning a New Year’s Eve attack is planned for Times Square, she must foil the plot while eluding authorities and an assassin. Fans of Jovovich’s Resident Evil series know the pleasures inherent in watching her sprint hither and yon. That’s about the only thrill provided by Survivor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

I have a hunch this movie is going to be a whopping success

American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook were among my favorite films of the last five years and this reunites many of the principle talents responsible for the success, both critically and financially, of those two films. I was doubly pleased to see Virginia Madsen, one of my favorite under-utilized actresses, listed among the credits. She was magnificent in Sideways, a role that I was hoping would resurrect her career. But that was more than a decade ago and since then she has disappeared yet again. Here's hoping Joy gives her the boost she really deserves.

By the way, if you're wondering who this Joy person is that Jennifer Lawrence plays, she's Joy Mangano, the inventor of the self-wringing Miracle Mop, Huggable Hangers and a number of other gadgets. If you ever watch the Home Shopping Network, you've probably seen her.

Monday, July 13, 2015

This week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

It Follows ***½ Directed by David Robert Mitchell. A young woman (Maika Monroe) is followed by an unknown supernatural force after getting involved in a sexual encounter. The film has an impressively sustained sense of dread, less explicit gore than measured tension. Mitchell slyly inverts the conventions of dead-meat teenager flicks, although not with wink-wink comedy like the Scream series. This movie is serious about creeping out viewers, and Mitchell is just artistic enough about it to create a minor masterpiece.

The Salt of the Earth ***½ Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders. A documentary about Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who has created a spectacular body of work during his long career, capturing both the planet’s stunning beauty and humankind’s heartbreaking atrocities. A celebration of the power of art to change the world, as well as an exploration of the considerable toll gifted artists sometimes pay for their talents, and their courage to push forward regardless.

Ex Machina ***½ Directed by Alex Garland. A young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking female A.I. (Alicia Vikander). Stylish, elegant, tense, cerebral, satirical and creepy. Garland’s directorial debut is his best work yet, while Vikander’s bold performance will short your circuits.

Clouds of Sils Maria ***½ Directed by Olivier Assayas. Twenty years after her breakthrough role as a young woman who beguiles and ultimately destroys her mentor, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is invited to play the part of the older woman in a stage production of the same drama. A complex, bewitching and melancholy drama, another fearlessly intelligent film from Assayas.

Goodbye to All That **½ Directed by Angus MacLachlan. Blindsided by his wife’s (Melanie Lynskey) desire for a divorce, Otto Wall (Paul Schneider) must try to refashion his life in a confusing new world of dating that includes social media. But while the sex comes easily for Otto, meaningful relationships don’t. A heartfelt, bittersweet and often amusing portrait of early middle-age.

Red Knot **½ Directed by Scott Cohen. Opting to take their honeymoon cruise to Antarctica aboard a research ship, Chloe (Olivia Thirlby) and Peter (Vincent KarlHeiser) find the going rough in more ways than one. Cohen’s insights into relationships are sharp and this film is an auspicious start for the budding filmmaker, one rife with good instincts, smart direction, and crisp writing. Kartheiser and Thirlby are the main attraction, however, and when these two ships pass on their own icy seas, the result is more than worth the plunge.

24 Days **½ Directed by Alexandre Arcady. The shocking abduction and torture in 2006 of young Jewish man (Syrus Shahidi) in Paris set emotions aflame on the issue of anti-Semitism and the alleged inability of police investigators to comprehend the true motivations behind the abduction. As a suspenseful true crime story, 24 Days succeeds. As a warning against the ever present dangers of anti-Semitism, it is eloquent and disturbing. It’s in combining the two that Arcady mishandles the case.

Maggie ** Directed by Henry Hobson. When a zombie infestation ravages her Midwest town, young Maggie (Abigail Breslin) soon begins turning into one of the flesh-eating creatures. But her father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to give up her on and insists on caring for Maggie at home. The plot is lean, the dialogue is spare and there are some intriguing stabs at intellectual and emotional terrain. But the pacing is deadly, so slow there might be time for a catnap or two without missing anything important.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ** Directed by John Madden. Hotel owner Sonny (Dev Patel) is overwhelmed with the task of finding a second property to accommodate the influx of new residents, while his upcoming wedding plans may be too much for the hotel’s staff to handle. The film has only the sheer charm of its cast to get it by, and it says a lot about the actors that they nearly pull it off.

The Longest Ride * Directed by George Tillman Jr. After an automobile crash, the lives of a young couple intertwine with a much older man, as he reflects back on a past love. The two-plus hours is mostly marked by an emptiness born of scene after scene designed to blatantly manipulate emotions rather than trigger them.

Freedom * Directed by Peter Coursens. Pursued by a relentless tracker, Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his family escape servitude on a Virginia plantation through a network of safe houses. We get too little character development to be invested in the story and barely a glimpse at the horrific plight of enslaved people.

Dawn Patrol * Directed by Daniel Petrie Jr. After his brother is murdered in their sleepy California coastal town, John (Scott Eastwood) suspects that members of a rival surfing group are responsible. When his hunger for revenge leads him to kill the wrong man, John joins the Marines to avoid apprehension. The film has a lot on its plate and manages to drop it all. The movie deals with themes of xenophobia, murder, revenge and forgiveness, and not one aspect is handled with anything approaching competence. What a dud.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 ½* Directed by Andy Fickman. Ffumbling rent-a-cop Paul Blart (Kevin James) travels to Las Vegas for a grand security guard expo, where he faces broad contempt from his peers before stumbling across a gang of professional thieves planning a major art heist. Think of the worst movie you’ve ever seen — a movie that didn’t make you laugh, didn’t make you cry, didn’t move you or change you in any way besides giving you the desperate urge to smash your DVD player. Think of a movie that was a massive waste of your time and money. Hold that title in your mind. Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is worse than that.

Monday, July 6, 2015

These week's DVD releases

Click on title to see the film’s trailer

‘71 ***½ Directed by Yann Demange. The setting may be Belfast ‘71, but Demange’s sensibility — first-rate suspense coupled with black-and-white politics — is much more James Cameron ‘86.

Slow West *** Directed by John Maclean. Maclean and his cast create a sound, tone and feel that makes even a moldy tale like this lean, mean and fresh, even if it never quite transcends the gun smoke of its genre.

Merchants of Doubt *** Directed by Robert Kenner. There isn’t a tremendous amount of new information in this generally well-crafted documentary. But it makes a potent, urgent case against the merchants of doubt who play games with the planet’s future.

Uncertain Terms *** Directed by Nathan Silver. Silver offers up a generally assured and compelling film here.

Human Capital **½ Directed by Paolo Virzi. Melding a morality play with a glossy soap, Italy’s Human Capital is a fairly successful balance of entertainment and ideas.

Deli Man **½ Directed by Erik Anjou. Much to its credit, this documentary wisely chooses not to bemoan the decline but to celebrate the robust survivors that remain as well as the culture they preserve.

Danny Collins **½ Directed by Dan Fogelmqn. Starring  Beneath the sitcom cutesiness and boldfaced sentimentality, the film manages to keep just enough reality coursing through to stay grounded.

Alex of Venice **½ Directed by Chris Messina. As she flails through a few dubious choices, the character may be on the kind of self-discovery path we’ve seen in countless other films; but Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes the outcome seem far from preordained.

Woman in Gold ** Directed by Simon Curtis. The production design is swank, the score impassioned. We should be riveted. Instead, you may feel you’ve seen this movie before, and, in a sense, you have: Woman in Gold plays remarkably like 2013's Philomena with a change of cast and a different historical outrage.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown ** Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. An initially promising genre reboot ends up feeling like a major failure of nerve.

Echoes of War Directed by Kane Senes. I could not see this as anything more than a giant bore that presents viewers with the most familiar plot devices imaginable but fails to present them in a way that makes them worth sitting through.

Dark Summer * Directed by Paul Solet. While competently made, Dark Summer makes no effort to lend its characters any psychological complexity, or even much distinguishing personality. Nor are the proceedings very scary.

The Road Within * Directed by Gren Wells. This is a movie about affliction, and it ultimately succumbs to the bland, sentimental uplift we’ve come to expect from such outings.

Kill Me Three Times * Directed by Kriv Stenders. This neo-noir crime comedy works overtime to seem unique and clever. The result, however, is a derivative, gimmicky, at times dizzying puzzle that fails to engage.

Alien Outpost * Directed by Jabbar Raisani. A sci-fi action film with the production values of your average porno, Alien Outpost spews clichés like a machine gun set on maximum triteness.

The Lovers ½* Directed by Roland Joffé.  A shamelessly derivative and preposterous would-be blockbuster that goofily fashions itself as a sweeping romance, time-travel sci-fi tale, and gallant period piece all at once.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy July 4th Everyone

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."