classicsoncall

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Reviews

The Front Runner
(2018)

"I like his positions."
Gary Hart was a handsome man and an attractive candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1988, so casting Hugh Jackman in the role of Hart was a good choice. It's intriguing to think about what might have happened to John F. Kennedy if the media had been as voyeuristic and vicious back in the Sixties, while moving forward in time, Bill Clinton's escapades with other women turned out to be a resumé enhancement rather than cause for shame, even if he did suffer the embarrassment of impeachment. It doesn't seem to follow him around today. Apparently Gary Hart got caught right in the middle of changing social attitudes and the way the media covers such indiscretions. Then again, it depends upon what political affiliation a politician has.

Though the story has it's compelling moments, the overall effect of the picture is like a made for TV movie. You get some background during the opening scene, and the story then sets up the viewer for the 1988 Democratic nomination for President with the focus on Hart. The other candidates never even come into play, except with brief mentions by the staff of the Washington Post, and even then, the name of Michael Dukakis never came up, he being the eventual nominee. Hart's challenge to the press corps to 'follow him around' after being compromised with the information about Donna Rice (Sara Paxton) was the response of an arrogant candidate who never thought anyone would have the temerity to do it. I guess he found out.

The one thing I expected to see in the movie that actually got the whole controversy over Hart's candidacy going was the infamous picture of Donna Rice sitting on his lap aboard the 'Monkey Business'. Unless my attention was diverted and I missed it, that was the easiest bit of recall most people around at the time would have of the the whole mess. The picture really didn't delve much into the affair aspect of Hart cheating on his wife, and Donna Rice herself was positioned almost as a bit player in the story. Hart must have learned his lesson once and for all, as his marriage with wife Lee, portrayed by Vera Farmiga in the picture, survives to the present day, while the #Me Too Movement makes it's case almost daily on all forms of social media.

Apollo 11
(2019)

"Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed."
The whole idea of putting a man on the moon is mind-blowingly fascinating, and should have presented a more dynamic effort than what is related by this picture. The film is loaded with technical details and virtually every comment offered by the scientists and technicians at the command center in Houston is a veritable smorgasbord of letters and numbers that the average viewer is unable to relate to. Example: "GNC, this is CAPCOM on MOCR 1". If you were around in 1969 and witnessed the event as it was occurring on live TV, you will certainly have retained the highlights of the voyage and astronaut Neil Armstrong's declaration of a 'giant leap for mankind'. I think the movie's primary appeal would be for technical and scientific geeks (not meant as a putdown) who revel in the data presented. Personally, I was impressed by some of the numbers, like the command module's speed approximately six and a half hours into the mission being 11,471 feet per second! - unimaginable to comprehend by us Earth bound mortals. And with an average distance of the Earth to the Moon of about 238,900 miles, the destination of the Columbia was arrived at four minutes early! So if you're attentive, you'll pick up fascinating bits like that, but otherwise the documentary approach is somewhat bland and not as inspiring as one might expect. Still, I give the picture a relatively high rating based on the accomplishment rather than the presentation. Even with my reservations, I'd recommend seeing it for the event's historical significance..

The Bookshop
(2017)

"Understanding makes the mind lazy."
I would have expected a slew of bad reviews for this film here on IMDb and it does have it's share. That's primarily due to the slow pace of the film and you might even say the one-dimensionality of the principal players. However I admired the courage of bookshop owner Florence Green in standing up for herself in a community that seemed almost hell bent on her downfall. That they succeeded is not really the story here. I didn't take to actress Emily Mortimer portraying the widow Green at first; when initially introduced, she seemed to be a timid sort who would have quaked at the first sign of opposition. But her persistence carried through as she removed all the obstacles in her way to achieve the long held dream she had of opening a book shop. She dealt with people in a mannerly way even while they were giving her the cold shoulder, but her fiery temper did manage to come through when she was taken advantage of by the narcissistic Milo North (James Lance) and the self important socialite Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson). The prevailing thought I had throughout when considering the Gamart insistence on acquiring an arts center was why the socialite couple hadn't taken the initiative over the past seven years to solicit an enterprising entrepreneur to meet that objective. Seems like they only had themselves to blame.

What I thought might have happened with the presence of Mr. Brundish (Bill Nighy) though never materialized. By insinuating himself into Mrs. Green's problem I expected some fortuitous outcome that would have put the Gamart's and the opposing town people in their place. Instead, it fell to young Christine Gepping (Honor Kneafsey) to settle the score with a village that refused to acknowledge the benefit that Florence Green's little enterprise brought along with it. It's eventually revealed that the film's unmentioned narrator turned out to be Christine as an adult, paying an homage to her former benefactor and friend by opening a book shop of her own. It's probably not relevant to question how she got away with burning down the Old House Bookshop, that she did so was a deserving slap in the face of those who's self importance and condescending attitude made the fictional town of Hardborough earn it's name.

Holmes & Watson
(2018)

"May I present to you, the greatest detective of all time..."
The few professional reviews I read of this movie basically said it was terrible. They were wrong. It's worse than that. What could have been a well conceived parody of the Sherlock Holmes franchise actually resulted in a sophomoric treatment that aimed for the lowest common denominator. Quite honestly, the film could have been titled "Dumb and Dumber" and no one would have known the difference. The only bright spot I could pick out was the cleverly written musical rendition of Holmes (Will Ferrell) bemoaning his ill treatment of Watson (John C. Reilly) by sending him to the gallows. I'm in full agreement with IMDb voters on this one, a 3.8 rating as I write this is about what the movie deserves. At least John C. Reilly had the good fortune to redeem his good name by portraying Oliver Hardy in "Stan and Ollie" around the same time this aberration came out. Small comfort though, in the grand scheme of things.

The Forbidden Kingdom
(2008)

"Learn the Way, then find your own way."
Somehow I expected more from this picture with Jet Li and Jackie Chan in their very first movie team-up. The story is rather formulaic, and casting Michael Angarano as the central character was almost distracting throughout, and it never occurred to me that he might have been proficient in martial arts during his fight scenes. Even the wire work seemed lazy and tired, as evidenced by the opening scene of the Jade Emperor's warriors fighting the Monkey King (Jet Li) atop the Five Elements Mountain. The two characters who intrigued me the most were Golden Sparrow (Yifei Liu) and the snow-white haired Ni Chang (Bingbing Li, gotta love tha name!), and I wouldn't have minded at all if the story was reworked with them as the principal players. I check out one of these martial arts flick every now and then just to keep up with the genre, but unfortunately, there's nothing one would miss here. Use you own discretion.

Sunday Bloody Sunday
(1971)

"There are times when nothing HAS to be better than anything."
This movie came out about the time I first witnessed for myself two men kissing each other for real. It was at a gay mixer in the Student Union where I attended college at a liberal Northeastern university. For a straight guy, it was a little unnerving, and though my tolerances have broadened over the years, it still strikes as rather uncomfortable. Be that as it may, the story here doesn't engage in sensationalism or provocation, but is more a character study of three individuals, two men and one woman, in search of some validation and closure in their lives. That won't be of course because of the three, the younger gent is sexually engaged with the other two, and the alternate partners know about each other. Seems it would make for a tempestuous situation, but all concerned get along well enough, or at least as well as they can until the directionless and oversexed partner (Murray Head) decides to shove off for America to seek his fortune. The film plays out in various vignettes that include momentary flashbacks in the lives of Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) and Dr. Daniel Hirsh (Peter Finch), which have a tendency of reminding them how they each arrived at their sorry state of affairs. For all three it appears, as Daniel explained to Aunt Astrid (Marie Burke) at his nephew's bar mitzvah, "I haven't found the right person yet". Could be he was speaking for the majority of humankind.

The Fisher King
(1991)

"Did you lose your mind all of a sudden, or was it a slow, gradual process?"
There's no doubt the role of Parry was made for Robin Williams' boundless energy and manic personality. It's only when you learn the tragic circumstances of Henry Sagan's transformation into a seeker of the Holy Grail that you begin to understand that his trauma was caused by the indiscreet remarks of a radio shock jock who took things one step too far. I'm becoming fascinated by Jeff Bridges' range as an actor, having seen more recent films like "Crazy Heart" and "True Grit", but he goes full circle here through a range of emotions that will leave you stunned. In the story, Parry's mental illness hinges on a severely traumatic event, and Jack Lucas (Bridges) takes it upon himself to seek some measure of personal redemption by bringing Parry back to reality. While dealing with his own personal demons, Jack glides through his hellish existence with the comfort and understanding of a determined woman who's better instincts would have thrown the bum out long ago. Recognizing that the linchpin to Parry's salvation might be introducing him to an unattainable dream girl, Jack and girlfriend Anne (Mercedes Ruehl) concoct a scheme that brings all the parties together in a last ditch effort to achieve Parry's salvation. Though the plan is interrupted by a tragedy that puts Parry in a coma, it compels Jack to seek out Parry's mystical Holy Grail, and a satisfying conclusion to a tale of two couples who might have otherwise ended in oblivion. As much as I was intrigued by the story, what really put it over the top for me was when Robin Williams' character broke out with that rendition of 'Lydia, Oh Lydia', a song I thought I would never come across in a movie again, after first encountering it in the 1939 Marx Brothers picture, "At The Circus". With Groucho's zany rendition, I couldn't get that melody out of my head for about a week after hearing it.

Easy Street
(1917)

The Little Tramp in a policeman's uniform
The title page for this movie stated Chapter 4, Charlie in "Easy Street". I don't know what that's all about and didn't read anyone else's review that commented on it. What's interesting here is that Chaplin's Little Tramp character is in fine form, but he's wearing a policeman's uniform!, twirling a baton and utilizing his familiar ambling, side to side shuffle as he strolls down the street. Intent on helping out his neighborhood fellow travelers, 'The Derelict' (Chaplin) engages in various acts of charity, though one might consider it questionable when he robs a sleeping grocery vendor to supply food to a penniless woman. Upon subduing a neighborhood bully (Eric Campbell), the story devolves into a familiar pattern of fighting and brawling, though there's a scene that required a double take and rewind when Chaplin's character encounters a drug user handling a hypodermic needle while laying in wait for Charlie to come in contact. It was one of the more 'sit up and take notice' scenes I've ever come across in a Chaplin short.

Behind the Screen
(1916)

"Do you need a stage hand. Sir?"
The sub-title for this film short was "The Bewildered Stage Hand". Appropriate enough, as Charlie's character, named David, is busily hustling about while his boss Goliath (Eric Campbell) is an expert at loafing around. I don't know when it might have started, but this one utilizes title cards with a silhouette of the Little Tramp, even though Chaplin's not actually channeling that character. There were a couple of really clever situations on display here, one when David picked up eleven chairs in succession, hoisted each over his shoulder, and wound up resembling a human porcupine. While so doing, he used his free arm to pick up a piano prop, looking like a veritable circus strongman. The other involved a co-worker with an extended sub sandwich from which David availed himself of the occasional bite. And again, without knowing when the tradition began, a chaotic scene ensues when pie throwers from one movie set haul off and smack their victims involved on a nearby set. Following a stage hand strike and a few more comedy bits, Chaplin's character manages to smooch his way out of the story in a clinch with frequent collaborator, the pretty Edna Purviance.

Australia
(2008)

"Yes, well, it's all,... all very 'outback adventure', isn't it?"
The scope of the film is rather grand, borrowing from the tradition of classic American Westerns and placing the location in the Outback Territory of Australia. There's also an emphasis on finding one's self 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', in an overt tribute to 1939's "The Wizard of Oz". I didn't like Nicole Kidman's character starting out very much, but she established Lady Sarah Ashley as a well intentioned and resolute heroine, immune, as was The Drover (Hugh Jackman), from the racist taunts and hysteria of the average Australian depicted in the story. Set in the early Nineteen Forties on the brink of America's entry into World War II, a Japanese attack on the city of Darwin shortly after Pearl Harbor finds the principal characters desperately searching for each other and the young Aborigine boy Nullah (Brandon Walters), while at the same time deflecting attempts by the largest, single cattle operator in the country to take over the Faraway Downs operation of Lady Ashley. The film predictably brings Jackman and Kidman together romantically, though in service to the story, it doesn't get overly sentimental or sappy. A very cool touch is provided by the mystical King George character (David Gulpilil), on whom I would have lost some serious money betting on the idea that he couldn't have been under eighty years of age. Turns out he's just a shade over sixty with a respectable list of film credits that I would never have suspected. The one thing I kept waiting for in the story never actually materialized. At some point I thought we'd find out the real name of The Drover, but turns out no one ever called him anything but Drover. I mean, even Wolverine had another identity.

The Butterfly Circus
(2009)

"What this world needs, is a little wonder."
You couldn't come up with a better short film that elevates the human spirit and demonstrates that all things are possible. I was surprised with how many of the circus performers in the story paralleled similar characters in Tod Browning's 1932 film "Freaks". You had a trapeze artist, a strongman, Siamese Twins, a fat lady and a principal character, aside from the Ringmaster, who in the earlier picture was called The Living Torso. But the emphasis here is not on 'freaks', but on the way each of the circus entertainers overcame difficulties in their own life, only to find a way to use their handicaps to bring fulfillment and joy to patrons. The Limbless Man (Nick Vujicic) in particular was forced to find the inner stamina to persevere, encouraged by Ringmaster Mendez (Eduardo Verástegui), and applauded by his fellow performers. Apparently, there was a feature movie planned for development around the concept explored here, but with a decade gone by now since this short was released, it appears that roadblocks may have stood in the way. Which is a shame, as a full length feature would serve well to remind modern day audiences that the value of an individual doesn't reside in how much a person is worth financially, or how important they might be in terms of celebrity. There's almost no excuse in not investing the mere twenty minutes or so this film takes to tell it's story. It will rekindle one's faith in the human spirit.

Black Rain
(1989)

"But sometimes you have to go for it."
If I take myself back three decades in time, this film was probably hot stuff for 1989. Today, not so much. There's not much originality here other than the American/Japanese cop team-up, and a lot of it comes off as not very credible. Like Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) running amok as the Japanese Prefectural Police attempt to reign him in as he goes off on a personal salvage mission at first, and then a revenge quest following the murder of his partner (Andy Garcia). On the Japanese side, top shelf Oyabun, Sugai Kunio (Tomisaburô Wakayama) is at odds with an underling who used to be an ally, but now former henchman Sato (Yûsaku Matsuda) demands a piece of the action and a territory to call his own. It doesn't work this way for the Mafia, and predictably won't work like this for the Yakuza. You have to admit, Yakuza sounds a whole lot cooler than Mafia, but in mobster land, they rhyme pretty well.

Where it got really dumb at one point was when Nick was hot on the trail of Sato with Assistant Inspector Matsumoto Masahiro (Ken Takakura) backing him up, and when the bad guys are about to make a break for it, Nick yells "Hold it"! Really!!?? Like that was going to do the trick? I kind of let my expectations for the story dwindle from there, and with a few minor high spots yet to come, it all ended quite predictably. I'll give Sato some credit for cutting off his pinky to make amends with the Oyabuns, but it turned out he really didn't have to because he was laying in wait for the big double cross. In hindsight, he could have just whipped out his artillery right then and there instead of wasting a finger. Yet another dumb move, making it America, -1, and Japan, -1.

I probably should mention there was a full bore counterfeiting scam going on as a backdrop to the Yakuza festivities, which sets up a good cop/bad cop scenario that Nick Conklin uses to his advantage when he shows up Superintendent Ohashi (Shigeru Kôyama) with some phony bills he palms. Witnessed by Masahiro, the Japanese inspector bemoans the fact that Nick disgraced himself and his profession by stealing, along with Nick's admission that he took advantage back home when no one was looking. The finale suggests that Masahiro will turn into a dirty cop himself with Nick's going away present, which was kind of a disappointment for this viewer. I'd like to think that maybe Mas would treat the counterfeiting plates as souvenirs.

Free State of Jones
(2016)

"You cannot own a child of God."
Here's a story that doesn't show up in the history books. It's a fascinating look at a man named Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), who led an insurrectionist movement within the heart of the Confederacy, the reverberations of which still resonate today among both followers and detractors. McConaughey, once proclaimed as The Sexiest Man Alive by 'People' Magazine, is anything but here, portraying a back woods farmer turned soldier and human rights activist long before the term was ever invented. Putting racism aside, he takes up with a common law black wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) after his first wife abandons him, and leads former slaves and sympathetic Mississippi Southerners against the corruption of military rule that leaves his friends and neighbors destitute.

Director Gary Ross did an exemplary job in researching this project, undergoing a two year history lesson to get to the heart of Newton Knight's mission. He encountered both supporters and those who felt Knight was a traitor to the Confederate cause, not unusual given Knight's preference for the American flag and treating former slaves as equals. There's a point in the picture that's somewhat confusing when it transitions from the early 1860's to a 1948 courtroom scene, but it quickly clears up when one realizes it's about a Knight descendant who's on trial for violating Mississippi's anti-miscegenation laws that surfaced following Reconstruction days. It wouldn't be until a Supreme Court decision in 1967 that declared such laws unconstitutional, paving the way for legal interracial marriages. An excellent treatment of that story can be found in the 2016 film "Loving".

At a little over two hours, I found the picture compelling enough not to get bored as a number of reviewers on this board seem to indicate. Lately because of time constraints, I wind up watching pictures in segments, so that probably contributes to a movie not seeming as long as it actually is. What's probably even more interesting about Newton Knight is some of the things about him that are left out in the story. For example, with first wife Serena (Keri Russell), he actually had nine children, while common law wife Rachel gave him five more. Both families lived separately in different houses on Knight's one hundred sixty acre farm following the War. Knight's legacy is still a matter of question for residents of Jones County, Mississippi, some of whom find it easier to forgive him for fighting Confederates than for mixing blood.

The 40 Year Old Virgin
(2005)

"I'm the dude with the hot granny!"
There was a time when this movie was ubiquitous on a bunch of cable channels, and even then I never got around to watching it. I finally broke down the other day and took a look at it, and in a lot of ways my suspicions were confirmed. There's a lot of pandering to the lowest common denominator, but at the same time, Steve Carell makes his character likeable enough whenever he's agonizing over his love life or lack thereof, which is basically all the time. His buddies carry most of the hedonistic baggage in the story, but surprisingly, aren't as demeaning as I would have thought given the premise of the movie's title. They're actually quite supportive in Andy's (Carell) attempt to cure the problem that compounds his daily existence, while trying to deal with their own issues in affairs of the heart. I thought Catherine Keener was a well cast love interest for Carell's character; they had a nice chemistry once all the interruptions plaguing their love life fell away. It's too bad Jonah Hill didn't have a larger part than his quirky role as Trish's (Keener) persistent Ebay store customer, but this was one of his very first movie roles, so it's not surprising. With a little more experience under his belt, he would have qualified for one of Andy's poker playing pals. Over all, the movie has it's share of laughs at the expense of all those comic book and sci-fi collector nerd types, and anyone who hasn't been able to get the deed done within a reasonable time frame, forget about forty. It also adds a new word to the wide ranging alternative solution to regular sex. The writer who came up with the expression 'outer-course' deserves a bonus.

11.22.63
(2016)

"You mess with the past, it messes back."
It's been a while since I read the Stephen King novel upon which this television series is based, but it felt fairly true to the original source material. For some reason it seemed like the character of Billy Turcotte (George MacKay) had a larger role to play in the film adaptation than he did in the book but that might be my mind playing tricks on me. With King's own involvement in this project by way of Executive Producer and writer, I'd have to say that he got his own material right. As with any story dealing with time travel and an attempt to change the past to affect the future, there are bound to be unintended consequences, and this story is chock full of them. So I liked the idea that the past didn't want to be changed, and took measures to insure it's integrity by putting obstacles in the way of Jake Epping/Amberson (James Franco) as he went about his mission in the early 1960's. It's kind of wistful to try and think about how history might have played out if John F. Kennedy wasn't assassinated, and as the picture theorizes, it might not have been the version of Camelot painted by scholars and historians.

If you've read a fair number of stories by Stephen King, he does like to delve into past events with cultural references that younger readers might not connect with, so when Jake mentions to Sadie (Sarah Gadon) a line from a Beatles song ("I saw her standing there'), or relates his Witness Protection Program cover story to Miss Mimi (Tonya Pinkins), complete with characters from "The Godfather", us older viewers can relate in a way that makes his stories somehow more accessible. That's one of the reasons I keep going back to his novels, but for the life of me, I can't imagine how the guy can be as prolific as he is. He's got something new out all the time it seems, which means I guess, we'll be seeing more of his work adapted for film for a long time to come.

Fiddler on the Roof
(1971)

"To life!"
No doubt a must see movie by all accounts, but oddly, I didn't care for it all that much. Virtually all aspects of the film are commendable, and while the story occurs in a different time and place, I found it hard to relate to such concepts as love being a radical idea, arranged marriages, and oh my! - a woman dancing with a man! With his rigid ideology and faith based lifestyle, Tevye (Topol) was the kind of person who would have been out of place in the Twentieth First Century, perhaps even in the fictional Russian village of Anatevka. The only character I could really relate to here was Paul Michael Glaser's Perchik, who wouldn't accept the world the way it was, and spent his time either teaching patiently, or railing against the status quo. Fortunately, many of the film's songs are quite well known in the popular culture, and provide entertaining interludes between the trials and tribulations of Tevye's household and the village's threat from the Czarist regime intent on relocating it. I don't want my tepid review here to dissuade anyone from watching the movie because it is quite well done with excellent cinematography and a talented cast of players. I even evaluate it as I would a picture I really liked, with my only reservations based on personal preference. Contrarian as I am, I'd say go ahead and see it.

Finding Forrester
(2000)

"The first key to writing is to write. Not to think."
Sometimes my movie reviews go like that too. No need to think about what to write because the words just seem to flow as I sit in front of a keyboard. I didn't know that director Gus Van Sant also did "Good Will Hunting" until I saw some other reviewers commenting on it, but while watching I felt that connection. There's even Matt Damon showing up, having graduated from his role as a prodigy in that movie to announce the contents of William Forrester's (Sean Connery) will to Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown). There's a formulaic plot to this story but a freshness as well, and one isn't inundated with overtones of racial awareness or political correctness. One minor concession perhaps to stretching things a bit is the relationship formed between Jamal and Claire Spence (Anna Paquin), but it didn't involve a romantic entanglement, and probably wouldn't have worked if it had. What I will take issue with is Jamal's decision to blow the two foul shots near the end of the story, a move that I thought was rather selfish in as much as it hurt the rest of the team and the entire Mailor-Callow School. For someone intent on being the best possible person he could be, Jamal's instincts let him down for that brief but pressure filled moment. For his part, William Forrester's selfishness appeared any number of times in the way he conducted his life, only to be redeemed by demonstrating the integrity necessary to clear Jamal of a baseless charge of plagiarism. And my oh my, (there, I started a sentence with 'and'), why would a fastidious person like William Forrester take a sip from a handy glass of water right before reading the letter that Jamal wrote to him in front of the entire school?

Every Which Way but Loose
(1978)

"Well it appears to me that there can't be too many guys driving around this valley with an ape."
Clint Eastwood didn't start making movies till well after the heyday of 'B' Westerns, but this picture qualifies as a 'B' flick today even if it was a top box office draw back in the day. Continuity throughout is a mess with a host of undeveloped characters, but if you transport yourself back in time to 1980, you might be gripped with a fragrant whiff of nostalgia for this otherwise abomination of a picture. And I say that with all the reverence I can afford Mr. Eastwood, as he has been and remains one of my favorite actors to this very day. Today's viewing was the first and only time I've ever seen it, and unlike many films I missed out on when they were originally released, this is one I don't have to regret for waiting so long to watch. There are a few minor positives though, like catching Country Western singers like Mel Tillis and Charlie Rich in their prime, and a spirited orangutan hitting his marks and making a fine show of being best buddies with the star of the movie. I couldn't really relate to the way the story ended with Philo (Eastwood) allowing street boxer Tank Murdock (Walter Barnes) to beat him in a pick up fight. Another reviewer makes the case that Philo didn't want to get the reputation as top man to avoid challengers seeking him out and making his life miserable, and I think that might have some merit. Sort of like so many old time Westerns where challengers are always vying for the rep as fastest gun. But everything that went before sort of made that a moot point, with Philo never asking for trouble but always dishing it out when push came to shove. Well, I guess if you're an Eastwood fan, you ought to see this just to say you did, but you don't need to make it your top priority. As for Clyde the Orangutan, he sure could have used a good dentist.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
(2011)

"You never know what a key's gonna fit."
If one were to judge a movie by the amount of times it brings one to tears, this would unquestionably be a '10'. However there's a definite attempt at manipulation here, and I felt the story's central premise of Oskar Schell's (Thomas Horn) trying to locate the former owner of a key from over six hundred possibilities, and using only his foot power to interview them, stretched all the bounds of credibility the picture might have had. Now you can't fault any of the players for that, as the young actor here performed admirably; getting through that complicated monologue at one point was astonishing. I liked Tom Hanks' limited role as well, effectively conveying the attributes of a dedicated father to help his son reach his full potential as a human being with a limiting Asperger's condition. Set against the backdrop of the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster, the story prompted me to consider just how many families with young kids had to endure the torment of losing loved ones and carry that memory forward for the rest of their lives. The primary message coming out of this story for me was best conveyed by one of the hand written messages left by the elder Thomas Schell/The Renter (Max Von Sydow) for his young ward. Afraid and paranoid of virtually every new obstacle to achieving his goal, Thomas eventually found comfort in the advice that "Sometimes we have to face our fears". It's a valuable lesson for everyone, though I would have liked the picture to allow some closure for the elderly man himself. Unlike the hulking Chief Bromden in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", who chose not to speak except for those two words to R.P. McMurphy ("...ahh, Juicyfruit."), the mysterious renter could have provided an added measure of consolation to his grandson if he had only followed his own advice.

The Old Man & the Gun
(2018)

"It's been my experience that looking sharp will take you a long, long way."
I guess this is what could have happened to Butch Cassidy if he had survived the Bolivian ambush. Living to a ripe old age and robbing American banks with a smile on his face would probably have appealed to him after a lifetime of running from the law. That's what I kept thinking as I watched Robert Redford in the lead role as multiple escaped convict Forrest Tucker pulling off bank jobs with wit and charm. As a senior (some would say seasoned) citizen myself though, I would take exception to the way these good time bandits are portrayed in the story. In 1981 when most of the events took place, the real life Forrest Tucker would have been sixty years old, while Redford's eighty plus years obviously make him look considerably older. When Danny Glover's character remarked that he was feeling his oats at sixty seven and doubting success in pulling a major job, it felt like the film makers were giving short shrift to some of us more active seniors. I'd like to think I'm growing older more gracefully.

The budding romance between Tucker and Jewel (Sissy Spacek) adds an element of charm to the story, and it seemed well within Tucker's character to play the good guy by attempting to pay off her mortgage on the ranch. That part of the story never did get closure, but it was a nice touch. The 'Gun' part of the movie's title never does actually come into play for real, as Tucker merely uses it as a prop to affect his charismatic robberies. This could almost have been a caper film, like the 1979 flick "Going in Style" or it's 2017 remake, but the bank robbing trio never did set their sights on anything so complicated. Just walk in and ask for the money, what could be easier than that?

For Robert Redford, this was a nice, last hurrah, if in fact it winds up being his last movie. He makes it look so easy you'd never think he was acting at all. What I'd really like to see is a team-up between Redford and Clint Eastwood together, in something like a picture titled "Two Old Men With Guns". Just think of the possibilities.

Diablo
(2015)

"You are all alone in a world that don't celebrate bein' alone."
There are any number of scenes in which Scott Eastwood affects the look, mannerisms and posture of his more famous Dad, but he simply doesn't have the same gravitas that Clint Eastwood brought to his films, particularly the Sergio Leone spaghetti classics. Lord knows that he probably tries, but you can't help feeling that he's not really up to the task.

No doubt the characters of Jackson (Eastwood) and the enigmatic Ezra (Walton Goggins) are opposite sides of the same coin in this intriguing Western. But it's only intriguing up to a point, and for anyone not paying attention, it will become confusing when Jackson shoots his friend Benjamin Carver (Danny Glover). That's because the connection the story tried to make between Jackson and his alter-ego is clumsily written; note that it was Ezra who killed the Indians who befriended Jackson and nursed him back to health after his gunshot wound. Things begin to finally sort out when Jackson catches up to the Mexicans who kidnapped his 'wife', and by then you should have a pretty good idea what the story is all about.

A beef I have with movies like this - you only find out the names of the characters by catching the film's credits list, or reading them here on IMDb's title page for the picture. Like Ezra - when was he ever called that in the movie? Same with the Indians Nakoma (Adam Beach) and Ishani (Samuel Marty). However this fault does have it's advantages, as I would never have known there was a character in the story named Pitikwa, portrayed by Native American actor Morris Birdyellowhead. How cool a name is that?

You know, there's something about Walton Goggins that makes me like the actor even though I've only ever seen him as a villain beginning with his stint as Boyd Crowder in the cable series "Justified". He's like one of those heel pro wrestlers you like to cheer like Randy Savage or Ric Flair. That's a unique characteristic, which means we'll probably be seeing a lot more of him in the future. As long as he stays a bad guy; I'd hate to see him turn into a hero.

The Duel
(2016)

"Do you not fear the eternal hell that awaits you?"
I fully expected this film to have a relatively low IMDb rating (5.8 as I write this), but I thought it was a pretty good Western. One thing I need to clear up from the movie's title page here on IMDb and also touched on by a number of reviewers, was the location of the main story. It opened with a scene taking place in 1846 in Helena, Texas, which is where some viewers believe the rest of the tale took place. But twenty two years later, the focus shifts to the town of Mount Hermon where Abraham Brant (Woody Harrelson) holds sway as the town boss and it's loquacious preacher. I guess it doesn't make a difference in the grand scheme of things, but I like to be accurate about these things.

Part of the plot here appears to be based on the 1932 film "The Most Dangerous Game", itself based on a short story of the same name by Richard Connell in 1924. That has to do with the fact that Preacher Abraham is running a hunting camp for foreign adventurers who want to know what it's like to kill people. The prey consists of captured Mexicans who are held in a cage, separated from their families, and left starving until the hunt is about to begin. Sounds a bit like a political statement being made here but who am I to judge, it didn't appear like any of them were requesting asylum. Assigned the task of discovering what's happened to missing Mexicans along the border, Texas Ranger David Kingston goes undercover with an assumed name, going by Locke. Taking his wife along under duress, David initially gains Abraham's favor and is made town sheriff, though it's later revealed that Abraham knew David's real identity as the son of a man that the Preacher killed in an arm strapped duel back in 1846 Helena.

There are some interesting elements that pop up in the story, like Abraham's branding of a town prostitute (Felicity Price) with the letter 'A' on her thigh indicating that he 'owns' her, and Abraham's fascination with snake handling during his call to Jesus sermons. Playing it safe, Abraham doesn't use serpents of a poisonous variety like some modern day Pentecostals, he's content to handle what looks like a collection of corn snakes and milk snakes, quite colorful I might add, and actually beneficial to keep a rodent population down. There's also a rather clever twist in the story that blows by quickly and isn't highlighted, and that's the idea that David knew Spanish the entire time Abraham was warning him with a threat to his life. Not very savvy of Abraham there, knowing that Davis was married to a Mexican wife (Alice Braga).

That last point was probably the most underdeveloped part of the story. It seemed that part of Marisol's (Braga) discontent with her husband was based on the fact that her own father 'gave' her to David right before dying. She fell under Abraham's evil eye while disadvantaged with some mysterious ailment, and it leaves a big question mark at the end of the story as to the resolution of her marital relationship. Not so for the fate of The Preacher. Again, with a little bit of a twist, Abraham has his own come to Jesus moment in a final showdown with David. You might say that the evil town boss found himself caught between a rock and a hard place.

Midnight Express
(1978)

"There ain't nobody here who's innocent."
I recall how horrified I was at the treatment of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) in prison when I first saw this picture during it's original release. Part of that had to do with the fact that I was about his age in the movie at the time, and couldn't imagine going through an ordeal like his myself. Not that it would ever happen because I wouldn't be smuggling drugs out of a foreign country, but you get the point. The issue was made in the film that Billy's punishment far outweighed the crime, and I don't know if that would have been the case if his arrest and imprisonment occurred in America. But he certainly wouldn't have been subject to the harsh prison conditions and abject brutality that he was forced to undergo in a foreign country like Turkey. He did himself no favors of course when he went on his courtroom tirade against the judge and prosecuting attorney during the retrial. Combined with the original infraction, it should be a worthy lesson to all about committing a crime in a foreign country where the rule of law can be anything but. I don't know anything about the real incident that was the basis for this movie. If Billy's Hayes experience was even half as bad as depicted in the story, it would be a sad commentary on man's inhumanity to man, and an object lesson in demonstrating how one ought not to stray from the straight and narrow in a culture that doesn't value human life the way we do.

Heaven Can Wait
(1978)

"If he weren't going to be dead soon, he'd need years of psychiatric help."
The 1941 film, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" rates a 7.6 on IMDb as I write this, while this remake comes in at a 6.9. I find that a bit odd because this version is every bit as effective as the prior film, while cleverly updating the characters and situations to make them slightly different from the Robert Montgomery/Claude Rains classic. For example, Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty) is a pro football quarterback here, while Montgomery's Pendleton was a boxer. And he 'died' in a car accident instead of a plane crash, that point being a moot one because it was an angel's mistake that brought Joe to a way station to begin his heavenly journey. Yet just as in the prior movie, Buck Henry's escort character didn't get much of a comeuppance for his blunder. At least Edward Everett Horton got a meaningful slap on the wrist for his.

What makes this a more humorous story is the presence of Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon as the philandering duo that intend to take Julia Farnsworth's (Cannon) husband out of the picture by any means possible. Grodin has the perfect disposition for roles like this, being a real smarmy character while exhibiting poise and grace while masking a devious heart. Meanwhile, Pendleton intentionally dismisses the behavior of his personal secretary Abbott (Grodin) and his wife, much to their befuddled consternation. That's Abbott's comment about Joe Pendleton to Julia in my summary line above.

As much as I enjoyed the earlier picture, I think I liked this one even more. A lot of it has to do with the ancillary characters, like those in Farnsworth's household staff who go about their daily chores while trying to make sense of their boss's newly acquired erratic behavior. The prospective romance between Farnsworth and Betty Logan (Julie Christie) is also handled deftly, in as much as Pendleton's memories will eventually be erased by heavenly gate keeper Mr. Jordan (James Mason). I have to say, the players were perfectly cast here all around, and if the newly recycled Tom Jarrett had to begin from square one all over again, I'd say he was off to a pretty good start.

The Trip to Bountiful
(2014)

"Goodbye Bountiful, goodbye."
Mrs. Carrie Watts, portrayed by Cicely Tyson, is the kind of person you'd like to spend the day with and listen to all those wonderful, nostalgic stories about the past. Sometimes the memories aren't so wonderful, but achieve a rosy sort of afterglow with the passing of many years. A determined Carrie Watts makes a last ditch, concerted effort to return to the place of her youth for one final, melancholic look, not so much at a place, but at a time in her life when future possibilities were yet to be determined. As her son Ludie (Blair Underwood) suggests, time and distance has a way of making the places of our youth somewhat smaller than we remember them, as our perceptions become altered by the inevitable consequence of decades passing by. The central story of Carrie's wistful memories and her obsession to return to Bountiful, Texas is what drives the picture, book-ended by the unhappy marriage of her son to a bitter and discontented wife (Vanessa Williams) who seems immune to personal happiness. The story suggests the idea that choices made during one's life may not always result in happiness, and that it's one's attitude that allows us to rise above those circumstances.

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