The Last of the Old Guard

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  M Star 2017

Theaters:  December 2017

Streaming:  March 2018

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  152 minutes

Genre:  Action – Fantasy – Science Fiction

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  7.4/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  85/100

Metacritic User Score:  4.5/10

Awards:  NA

Directed by:  Rian Johnson

Written by:  Rian Johnson (screenplay), George Lucas (characters)

Music by:  John Williams

Cast:  Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Andy Serkis, Benicio del Toro

Film Locations:  Bolivia, Croatia, England, Ireland

Budget:  $200,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $1,322,000,00

Resistance forces are fleeing their home base while the First Order fleet prepares to destroy them.  Attempting to buy some time for the evacuation, the Resistance attacks and destroys a First Order dreadnought, aka battleship, allowing the rest of the evacuation forces to escape into hyperspace. The Resistance, after their jump, believing they had bought themselves some time, soon learn that their enemy can track them through hyperspace, leaving them with but a few hours to bring about a miracle or perish.

Meanwhile Rey (Ridley) travels to Luke’s (Hamill) planet for some badly needed lessons in light sabre use, force projection, and dark side avoidance. Luke has other ideas.

Rian Johnson, writer and director of the original, exciting, thought-provoking, and well received Looper movie, takes his turn in the revolving Star Wars franchise door, by writing and directing The Last Jedi.  He succeeds in producing warm milk.  Not horrible, but he definitely is not going down in the annuals of great Star Wars directors and writers.  Then again George Lucas couldn’t direct a golf cart to the first tee either. Johnson brings together some of the elements of a great space opera; breath-taking special and visual effects, great acting, and a wonderful score but the story is just a tedious collection snippets strung together to produce a very long movie. Ok, some of the snippets are quite good such as DJ’s (del Toro) bit pieces of breaking in and out of places that he shouldn’t be able to break in and out of.

This movie is the last that will contain elements of the old guard.  Harrison Ford killed himself off in VII, Carrie Fisher passed away, and Hamill, he can act–who knew, will not be returning for IX, so Johnson spends an inordinate amount of time on character development of all the new faces. It’s all so unnecessary, mostly immaterial and boring.  The development of the players can be spread out over the life of the franchise, no need to force-feed the audience the entire buffet in one sitting.

In the end this is a fair movie; there just wasn’t enough story to hold you for 2 hours and 32 minutes.

Visions of the End

Apocalypse M Apocalypse 2015

Theaters:  NA (TV Movie – 2000)

Streaming:  April, 2004

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  96 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Faith – Religion

els:  3.0/10

IMDB:  6.4/10

Amazon:  4.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  2.9/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Raffaele Mertes

Written by:  Francesco Contaldo, Raffaele Mertes, Gianmario Pagano

Music by:  Marco Frisina

Cast:  Richard Harris, Vittoria Belvedere, Benjamin Sadler, Bruce Payne

Film Locations:  NA

Budget:  $ NA Low-Budget, Made for TV

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

St. John, John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, John the Elder (Harris) is held in the Aegean island prison of Patmos as a scribe for his Roman jailers.   God speaks to John and commands him to disseminate, as letters, the visions he sends him. The letters are be sent to the 7 churches of Asia Minor.  The visions include truths and admonishment to the churches and how the beginning of the end of times will transpire.

This is a made for TV movie that exhibits its low-budget pedigree in almost every scene.  But the movie wasn’t made to garner any awards, rather it was made to educate the public about the Book of Revelations, the last book of the Bible. It does accomplish this but the story is out of sequence and the method is clunky and amateurish.

The supporting actors are all bad with the atrocious acting trophy going to the Bruce Payne playing the Roman Emperor Domitian. Moving from bad to worse, the special effects were categorically dreadful.  If there is an award for worst special effects this movie would win. The movie’s effects were on par with what passed as realistic in the 1958 movie: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor. Spending a few dollars more on marginally better special effects very likely would have taken this movie from ugh awful to mildly entertaining.

The only true shining light in this movie is Richard Harris, he can’t save the movie, but he is a joy to watch.  The kindly Dumbledore persona comes through in every scene. A natural teacher with a gentle soul.  Interestingly, his full name is Richard St John Harris.

 

Bad Luck Explained

Accident Man  M Accident 2018

Theaters:  NA

Streaming:  February 2018

Rated:  R

Runtime:  105 minutes

Genre:  Action – Crime – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  6.1/10

Amazon:  3.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Jesse V. Johnson

Written by:  Scott Adkins and Stu Small (screenplay), Pat Mills and Tony Skinner (comic)

Music by:  Sean Murray

Cast:  Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, David Paymer, Ashley Greene

Film Locations:  London, England

Budget:  $ NA Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

Mike Fallon (Adkins) has a nice life concocting natural death for others.  Fallon is a successful contract killer that goes to great lengths to make sure his murders are not judged murders, just someone having a bad hair day or another wrong place, wrong time accident. Death is a good business so life is good until his ex-girlfriend is murdered. Piecing together the story of her death he begins to realize that his mates in the causality business may have had a hand in her demise. Fallon sets out to even the score with judo chops and bullets flying non-stop.

The movie is based on a series of comics by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, published in 1991 in the magazine, Toxic!  The series was collected into a graphic novel, The Complete Accident Man in 2014 by Titan.

Jesse V. Johnson, stuntman in the 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man and director and writer of the incredibly bad The Last Sentinel, puts together a story and cast to produce a decent action film with few plot holes but at the same time producing nothing spectacular. Everything is a bit off.  Great martial arts scenes but it doesn’t flow together or congeal into an exciting whole.

In the end this movie is all Scott Adkins.  He produces, he writes, he acts, he fights.  It all works to a certain degree but fails to grab you, or emotionally tie you to the film.  I wouldn’t mind a sequel but hopefully with a larger budget to ratchet everything up a notch. An ok movie with some original scenes but nothing terribly memorable.

Westerns Redefined

Stagecoach  M Stagecoach 1939

Theaters:  February 1939

Streaming:  May 2010 (digitally restored)

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  96 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Classic – Drama – Romance – Western

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.9/10

Amazon:  4.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:  2 Academy Awards

Directed by:  John Ford

Written by:  Dudley Nichols (screen play), Ernest Haycox (short story)

Music by:  Gerard Carbonara

Cast:  Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, John Wayne, Andy Devine, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Louise Platt

Film Locations:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, US

Budget:  $531,374

Worldwide Box Office:  $1,103,757

A stagecoach, in 1880, carries 9 disparate members of the old west from Tonto in the Arizona Territory, through hostile Apache territory, to Lordsburg, New Mexico; all passengers with a story that needs telling.  Ringo Kid (Wayne) breaks out of jail to avenge his father’s and brother’s murder, a banker (Churchill) escaping his harping wife with ill-gotten gains, a mysterious southerner (Carradine) attracted to a pretty young lady passenger (Platt), a submissive whiskey salesman (Meek), a marshal (Bancroft) along to ride shotgun and return Ringo to prison, a prostitute (Trevor), and an alcoholic doctor (Mitchell), all compelled to Lordsburg by ghosts that don’t give a wit about the Apaches. They start off their trip in relative safety with a cavalry escort but lose it at the next town when the relief soldiers fail to show.  As they continue on their way to Lordsburg, tensions and troubles mount as the Apaches close in for the attack.

The movie is based on the 1937 Ernest Haycox short story, Stagecoach to Lordsburg, originally published as The Last Stage to Lordsburg in the 10 April 1937 issue of Colliers. Dudley Nichols, a frequent writer for John Ford movies, adapted the book for this movie.

John Ford hadn’t made a western since the 1920s. No one was making big budget westerns in the 1930s and no one wanted Wayne anywhere near a big production, especially in a starring role. Well Ford had an idea and a story that proved he was right and the experts could go teach their grandmothers to suck eggs. Ford resurrected the western, took it out of the kids’ Saturday matinée round-up, and gave the movie going public a good 30 years of great follow-up action movies involving horses and gunslingers. Oh, by the way, this movie made John Wayne the biggest name in Hollywood for decades to come. Artists are always a tough bunch to judge.

It is a rare movie when all the characters are cast just right.  Wayne the righteous bad guy-good guy, Meek the meek whiskey peddler, Trevor the conflicted prostitute; all fitting their roles like a cow hand’s wet leather glove.  Devine, along with Ken Curtis and Walter Brennan, defined the role of humorous sidekick, adding in the well oiled schtick to move the drama along. Carradine plays a good guy this time, although it is not apparent until much later in the movie whether he is a shady character or an honorable southern gentleman. Playing a drunk doesn’t get more realistic than Mitchell’s whimsical but competent doctor portrayal, for which he deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for.

This movie redefined westerns going into the 40s and 50s for the movie going public.  Not the best western every made but certainly in the top 10. Orson Wells is said to have watched this movie dozens of times to provide background and ideas for his Citizen Kane.  Watching this movie dozens of times in a short period is likely not good for your mental health but once a decade will remind you what a truly ground breaking film this was.

Han Solo Weeps

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets  M Valerian 2017

Theaters:  July 2017

Streaming:  November 2017

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  137 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Fantasy – Science Fiction – Space Opera

els:  5.0/10

IMDB:  6.5/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 5.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  51/100

Metacritic User Score:  6.4/10

Awards:  NA

Directed by:  Luc Besson

Written by:  Luc Besson (screenplay), Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières (comic book)

Music by:  Alexandre Desplat

Cast:  Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke,                 Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

Film Locations:  Studios de Paris, La Cité du Cinéma, Saint-Denis, Seine-Saint-Denis, France

Budget:  $209,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $215,116,000

For centuries the International Space Station has acquired additional modules at a consistent rate and by the 28th century its mass is too much for its low Earth orbit. Consequently the decision is made to move it out of the solar system, into the wild cosmos of open space, acquiring a new name in the process; Alpha. As it travels the galaxy it continues to  grow, both in size and population. Millions of life forms from all corners of the galaxy now inhabit the station necessitating a special police force to maintain peace not only on the station but throughout the galaxy. The two protagonists: Major Valerian (DeHaan) and his side kick Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) are members of this police force.

Flash back 30 years,  Commander Arün Filitt (Owen) is in a space battle with another space faring species above the planet Mul. In order to win a decisive victory the Commander must destroy the idyllic planet, killing most of the peaceful sentient beings that occupy the surface and their priceless energy pearl replicator.  Flash forward 30 years; one replicator did survive the destruction of the planet, becoming the most sought after object in the Galaxy. Valerian and Laureline are tasked with retrieving the object, initiating a grand adventure through fantastic planets and the mysterious bowels of the quirky Alpha.

The movie is based on the 1967-2010 French comic book series; Valerian and Laureline, created by Pierre Christin (story), Jean-Claude Mézières (art).  The best-selling comic focuses on the pair as they traverse space and time for adventure and good.

Luc Besson, director of imaginative and idiosyncratic films, including the 2014 Lucy and the 1997 The Fifth Element, has created another highly original movie replete with a story containing unique concepts, great cinematography, exceptional special effects, and mostly superb acting. And it all fails to gel into a coherent whole.  The parts are greater than their sum, great scenes producing an indifferent movie.

The movie fails because of the 2 main characters: Valerian and Laureline. Neither one has a screen presence, just reciting lines without bringing the audience along. Harrison Ford would have had you cheering and believing. DeHaan has you wondering when will he start shaving. Delevingne’s “oh please” attitude throughout the movie reminds one of a pretty high school football cheerleader being pursued by the awkward school geek. These two eventually deliver you to a mental stage of not bothering to care what they do. Unfortunately for the movie you reach that stage with these two very early on.  On the flip side, Rihanna and Ethan Hawke are the movies tour de force along with the 3 goofy trumpet nosed, fuzz balls. Without their talents the whole movie would have cratered into a mess of special effects without any pretense of art or style.

I saw this in 2D so the story and acting had to carry the movie where as the 3D version likely overwhelmed the audience with inner-ear confusion and visual exhilaration. Besson personally crowd sourced and financed this big-budget extravaganza. On paper it appears to have grossed a bit more than it cost to make but with all things “Hollywood” it likely lost money. Talk of a sequel is in the air but finding the money may prove insurmountable, especially if they keep DeHaan and Delevingne in the lead roles.  This is a mediocre movie at best. You will be able to carry on with your life if you miss this one.

Into the Woods

Braven M Braven 2018

Theaters:  February 2018

Streaming:  February 2018

Rated:  R

Runtime:  93-94 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Drama – Thriller

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  6.4/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 5.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  60/100

Metacritic User Score:  7.8/10

Awards: NA

Directed by: Lin Oeding

Written by: Mike Nilon, Thomas Pa’a Sibbett

Music by:  NA

Cast: Jason Momoa, Garrett Dillahunt, Stephan Lang, Zahn McClarnon, Jill Wagner, Sasha Rossof

Film Locations: Newfoundland, Canada

Budget: $NA Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office: $125,000

Joe Braven (Momoa) owns and operates a logging company from a small town in the forests of Canada, living a quiet life with his wife Stephanie (Wagner), their young daughter Charlotte (Rossof), and Joe’s father Linden (Lang), who suffers from dementia. One of Joe’s log haulers, Weston (Brendan Fletcher), agrees to transport drugs hidden in a hollowed out log for a ruthless syndicate of drug dealers.  During transport of the logs, and drugs, on a dark and snowy night, Weston crashes the truck, spilling the logs all over the deserted mountain road.  They move the drugs to Joe’s nearby, empty cabin before the sheriff shows up to assist with the truck accident.

Joe and his wife are having an increasingly difficult time caring for Linden and the doctors suggest they consider alternatives for his care. Stephanie suggests that Joe take Linden up to the cabin for a one-on-one discussion about possible elder-care options.  As they ride up to the cabin, Charlotte sneaks along as a stowaway.  After arriving at the cabin Joe and Linden discover the drugs, and Charlotte, both unexpected.  They immediately realize that whoever planted the drugs will be coming back for them and because of Charlotte they need to urgently leave the area. In the meantime the drug syndicate is rapidly converging on the cabin to retrieve the drugs and eliminate any witnesses. The action quickly escalates to a no-holds-barred display of death and destruction by all means available.

This is Lin Oeding’s first movie directing and he does an admirable job putting together a coherent, compelling story on a limited budget.  He initially takes a long, slow, meandering ride developing the plot that has the audience tapping their toes and checking their watches, waiting for a movie that is billed as an action movie to produce some action. When Oeding finally gets all the preliminaries out-of-the-way, he injects an overdose of adrenaline into the scenes, producing a wild ride of novel, engaging, and thrilling action against a contrasting backdrop of snow-covered mountain beauty. The story is familiar but the execution is pleasantly different.  As a freshman effort, Oeding gets the job done with few complaints from the viewers but it’s his biography that generates as much interest, for me at least, as the movie.  He’s a martial arts fighter with an impressive record of 16-1-2, has performed stunts in the 2010 Inception, was the stunt coordinator for the 2014 The Equalizer, and the 2015 Straight outta Compton, performed fight scenes with just about everyone including Dwayne Johnson, Tom Cruise, and Vin Diesel, competed in bare-knuckle, pay-per-view fighting and is a 1989 Nintendo’s semi-finalist world champion as well as a world-class Tetris player.  What does this guy do to relax?

Mike Nilon and Thomas Pa’a Sibbett have put together a screenplay that has few holes and lots of original action.  My only complaint is when Charlotte is rescued by the local sheriff they immediately drive her back to the very hot kill-zone. This is Nilon’s first attempt at writing and in the past, has used his energy in producing movies such as the 2014 Left Behind fantasy drama. This is also Sibbett’s first writing credit, known previously for consulting on the 2017 short, I am Because You Are.

Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa of the 10th season Baywatch fame, provides a believable character in Joe Braven, executing the sparse dialogue but intense action scenes with a smoothness that belies his hulking mass.  With Jason as the proletarian workhorse, Garrett Dillahunt plays the impatient thoroughbred, chomping to complete the task and move on.  He nails the psychopath persona with egotistical aplomb and a general’s overly assured command of his inferiors.

Braven is an easy movie to settle into, once you get past the opening drudgery. It provides entertainment without any preachy philosophy getting in the way.  The movie is well worth the 90 plus minutes.  Grab the popcorn and enjoy.

Million Dollar Kidnapping

Big Jake  M Jake 1971

Theaters:  May 1971

Streaming:  April 2003

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  110 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Classic – Western

els:  7.0/10

IMDB:  7.2/10

Amazon:  4.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  George Sherman, John Wayne (uncredited)

Written by:  Harry J. Fink, Rita M. Fink

Music by:  Elmer Bernstein

Cast:  John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Hara

Film Locations: Durango, Sonora, Zacatecas, Mexico

Budget: $4,800,000

Worldwide Box Office: $25,350,000

Little Jake (Ethan Wayne), Big Jake’s (John Wayne) grandson, is kidnapped from the family ranch by a ruthless gang of cutthroats who take the boy across the border from Arizona into Mexico. They will not release the boy until the family delivers a $1,000,000 ransom to them in the dusty deserts of Mexico. Martha McCandles (O’Hara), Big Jake’s estranged wife, manages the ranch while her husband, who has deserted her, travels the west with his redundantly named dog; she calls him home to perform the “harsh and unpleasant business” of bringing the boy back to the family.

George Sherman spent his life in film, starting in the mail room of Warner Brothers and eventually working his way up to director of almost exclusively ‘B’ movies, primarily westerns.  He directed John Wayne in a series of low-budget and forgotten westerns in the 1938 and 1939; a period in John Wayne’s career where he was clawing his way back to stardom after a 1931 run-in with Columbia boss Harry Cohn.  John Wayne never forgot. Sherman only danced in the big time twice. He directed Wayne in Big Jake although he fell ill during filming and John Wayne filled in for him but didn’t take any screen credit for it. He also produced Wayne in the 1961 western, Comancheros.  Sherman earned a reputation of making something out of nothing in his low-budget films; creating motion cantatas of cowboys doing what cowboys do, jumping on horses, riding horses, jumping off horses.  In Big Jake he gives his cinematographer, William H. Clothier, free rein to film the majestic Sonoran Desert panoramas along with superbly and convincingly constructing a story that straddles the fading west as it melts into the modern world of 1909.

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara reprise their, can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em roles, that they so charmingly put together in the 1963 comedy, McLintock!. The charm and laughs are still there but this time Big Jake is a tad meaner.  He is still a gentleman but he can be down right ornery and lethal when needed and in this story, it’s needed.  O’Hara is a true treasure in the Hollywood of days gone by and in this movie she proves why. She is absorbing and natural but there is not enough of her. Her part ends after the opening scenes.  It’s a shame they couldn’t find a way to keep her in through the end. Richard Boone, as bad guy John Fain, upholds his part with a performance that has you believing that he is truly a dastardly beast.

Big Jake is a friends and family affair. Wayne’s friends and family are thick in the making of this movie. They direct, produce and act. Wayne pays his debts and provides avenues for the up and coming just as John Ford and others did for him in the past.  Wayne also makes this a movie of morals and putting the pieces of his broken family back together again.  Another fine, although not great, John Wayne western that you should watch more than once.

A Waste in Time

A Wrinkle in Time   M Wrinkle 2018

Rated:  PG

Runtime:  109 minutes

Genre:  Adventure – Family – Fantasy – Science Fiction

Theaters:  February/March 2018

Streaming:  NA

els:  1.5/10

IMDB:  4.1/10

Amazon:  NA/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  2.5/5

Metacritic Metascore:  52/100

Metacritic User Score:  2.9/10

Awards: NA

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Written by:  Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell (screenplay), Madeleine L’Engle (book)

Music by:  Ramin Djawadi

Cast: Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Levi Miller, Chris Pine

Film Locations:  Eureka, Los Angeles, Santi Clarita – California – US;  Hunter Valley, Wanaka – Otaga – New Zealand

Budget: $103,000,000

Worldwide Take: $39,000,000 (Opening Weekend)

Dr. Murray (Pine), an astrophysicist, referred to as Mr. Murray for reasons not stated, tells an audience of his peers that he can transverse 93 billion light years in the wink of an eye using a concept called tessering.  He is laughed off the stage. Later he disappears without a trace leaving his wife and two children adrift in the world without him. Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), youngest sibling of the two Dr. Murrays and a child prodigy, discovers the three Ws: Mrs. Which (Oprah), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling); shape shifting, time travelers who are in search of a hero to save the universe. Charles Wallace introduces his socially inept sister, Meg (Storm Reid) to the Ws and they all convince her to be that hero; to search for her father and save the universe before the evil thing, It, destroys all that is light and good.

B Wrinkle 1962The movie is based on the Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book A Wrinkle in Time, a children’s book that was rejected 26 times before eventually finding a publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The book has been  in continuous print ever since.  The book, as with the movie, deals openly with evil while simultaneously equating Jesus with Buddha and other notable humans.  Publishers felt these topics too heavy for children and too anti-Christian for adults.  Later L’Engle hinted, because the hero was female, that misogyny also contributed to its multiple rejections. Elizabeth Bennett, Jane Eyre, Scott Finch, Dorothy Gale, Anna Karenina, Joe March, Lady Macbeth, and Natasha Rostova could not be reached for comment.

The director, Ava DuVernay, opened the movie with a brief comment on making the film and thanking the viewers for watching, almost begging them to like it.  This was a tact that I have never experienced before, at least that I can remember (maybe Walt Disney did the same with his movies).  At some level, I suspect, she was warning us that what was to follow was an absolute rotter.  She has managed to make a movie where not one single thing clicks.  It’s all strung together scenes with no audience connection, no avenues provided to bring the viewers into the movie. She gives us no reason to like this movie, just reasons to hope it ends soon.  DuVernay along with the writers Lee and Stockwell seem to have a lot of ideas to make great movies but using them all in one film is probably not wise.  The long drudgery of scene on the planet Uriel comes across as an excuse to film in 3D and imitate the 2009 film Avatar. Sorry, but James Cameron did it better.  For a children’s movie the writing was childish. The Ws tell Meg that her faults are her strengths.  Later Meg tries telling her brother that she is uncoordinated and we are supposed to believe that this is a strength that will conquer the big bad evil thing, It.

This is the first movie that a female director was given a $100 million for a budget.  I’m sure it’s not the last big budget for a woman but hopefully its the last for DuVernay.  As for Jennifer Lee it appears animation is where her talents are best utilized.

There is very little good to say about the acting. Oprah is thoroughly wooden throughout the movie and never quite figures out where to look when using the green screen.  Mindy Kaling reads her lines with no delivery —  sad. Meg has no ability beyond deer in the headlights wonder. Witherspoon was charming and excellent but not enough to cancel out the bad acting going on all around her.  Zach Galifianakis, playing the Happy Medium, was also fun and he had the only line in the movie that made me laugh.  He is lecturing Meg and she tells him he sounds like her mother.  Galifianakis responds in all seriousness, “Why is she a baritone?”.

My family watched this movie together at a theater, which we very seldom do anymore; streaming at home is so much easier.  With my wife and I were our 26 year-old daughter, 15 year-old son, and 3 year-old granddaughter. Not one of us 5 liked the movie.  Not the kid, not the teenager, not the young adult, not us slightly older folks.

The granddaughter didn’t exactly say the movie was bad, she just didn’t watch it.  While the movie was playing she found a better use of her time; passing out popcorn to the rest of us one kernel at a time.  In the end I’m not sure who Disney made this movie for or why they wasted everyone’s time with it.  Save your time and cherish your time, see something else with your precious time.  I haven’t seen a movie this bad in long time.

Bullets from the Past

22 Bullets  (L’immortel, original title — French Audio, English Subtitles)M 22 Bullets 2010

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  115-117 minutes

Genre:  Action  – Crime – Drama – International – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

Theaters:  Europe – March 2010

Streaming:  US – February 2014

els:  5.5/10

IMDB:  6.7/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Richard Berry

Written by:  Eric Assous and Richard Berry (screenplay), Franz-Olivier Giesbert (book)

Music by:  Klaus Badelt

Cast:  Jean Reno, Kad Merad, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

Film Locations:  Avignon, Marseille, Paris, France

Budget: $20,000,000

Worldwide Take: $21,300,000

Charlie Mattei (Jean Reno) after a career as a gangster wants to retire and spend the rest of his life peacefully with his family; a wife and 2 children.  Well, if wishes were politicians, thieves would rule — oh wait.  Mattei leaves his gangster business to his old criminal friend, Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad), and for 3 years he actually enjoys some peace until someone has 8 mobsters pump Charlie full of chemically accelerated lead. Charlie miraculously survives and recovers from the damage of 22 bullets and sets out to find those responsible; first without bloodshed then when that doesn’t work, firmer measures are employed.

The movie is loosely based on the real life Marseille mobster, Jacques “Jacky Le Mat” Imbert, who in the 1950s specialized in burglaries, hold-ups, and general thuggery.  By 1960s he added extortion, kidnapping and murder to his resume and was, and still is, considered the “Last Godfather” within French crime circles. In the late 1970 Imbert was gunned down by several mobsters associated with his old crime boss, Tony Zampa.  Doctors removed 22 pieces of metal from his body including 7 bullets.  He survived but his right hand was paralyzed.  Later 11 mobsters working for Zampa were gunned down in apparent retaliation for the failed hit. Police suspected and arrested Imbert but released him after 6 months for lack of evidence in the murders.  He reportedly retired when released but continued to associate with gangsters in Paris including the angelic, drug kingpin Francis “The Belgian” Vanverberghe of  The French Connection infamy.

Richard Berry, director, screenwriter and actor, known mainly for his work in French cinema, puts together a glossy gangster movie with great acting talent and replete with all the essential scenes of murder and car chases but little in the way of pizzazz or a hold-onto-your-seat intensity.  The movie at first has visions of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather but quickly degenerates into a story too-many-times told with an uneven delivery of what, in the end, is another pedestrian revenge flick.  The movie keeps your interest but the character development is spotty for the secondary actors, leaving the viewer occasionally lost in the gun-smoke of plot development.  Berry could have also left out the morality lectures from gangsters; way too out-of-place for this genera. Honor among thieves is one thing but mobsters as altar boys is a step too far.

Jean Reno plays Charlie Mattei with his usual aplomb and sophistication which always makes him one of the more, if not the most interesting person in a movie.  Think Leon in The Professional or the inspector Captain Bezu Fache  in Da Vinci Code.

This is an average revenge movie with some interesting and creative scenes of the bad guys delivering justice to the bad guys but it never gets past the formulaic, and thus, predictable plot.  The movie could have been much more with less mobster morality, more with less graphic in your face violence, more with less regularity; a few real plot twists would have taken this movie to another, more interesting level.

A Little Big Tale

Little Big Man (Theaters – December 1970; Streaming – April 2003)  Rated: PG  —M Little 1970  Runtime: 139 minutes

Genre:  Adventure – Comedy – Satire – Western

els:  6.5/10

IMDB:  7.6/10

Amazon:  4.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore:  63/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.0/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Arthur Penn

Written by:  Calder Willingham (screenplay), Thomas Berger (book)

Music by:  John Hammond

Cast:  Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan

Film Locations: Calgary, Morely, Alberta, Canada; Billings, Crow Indian Reservation, Hardin, Lame Deer, Little Big Horn Battlefield, Nevada City, Virginia City, Montana – Agoura Hills, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, California, US

Budget: $15,000,000

Worldwide Box Office: $31,600,000

An ancient and time-worn Jack Crabb (Hoffman), spending his final days in a nursing home, relates his incongruous life of farce and fate to an interested historian.  At the age of 10 a Pawnee raiding party attacks his family and kills his parents. Later a Cheyenne brave finds him and his sister hiding in their destroyed wagon and takes them back to his tribe.  The tribe’s chief, Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) raises the boy and thus begins a series of improbable events that punctuate Jack’s long and full life. Indian on Indian battles, white on red battles, sexually repressed preacher’s wife battles, gunfighter playing, snake oil selling, drunken despondency; all  in a day in the life of a western meme.

Arthur Penn creates a movie of contrasts that is labeled revisionist history but is no more than a comedy situated in the late 19th century American west, incorporating events of historical interest but not necessarily accurate or correct. The contrasts are established through the lives of the story’s actors, their happenstance encounters and experiences highlighting life’s hypocrisy and charades. Jack as a natural gunfighter that cannot stomach killing, a preacher’s wife that seeks pleasure over salvation, a narcissistic general searching for fame through folly. A tragedy’s lessons told through tongue-in-cheek schtick. An effective delivery of farce that unfortunately passed as truth for millions of viewers.

Hoffman takes top billing as lead actor and he delivers a masterful performance both on-screen and as the voice-over narrator, but it is Chief Dan George who shines, turning an ok script into a wonderful exhibition of cheerful existence in the face of our inhumanity. George was nominated for an Academy Award but unfortunately lost out to John Mills in the totally forgettable Ryan’s Daughter. Richard Mulligan, as Custer, turns in a performance that is remarkable in its absurdity, an under-dog role elevated to a tour-de-force of parody. Faye Dunaway’s hilarious representation as a sexually needy whore and preacher’s wife sets the standard for urgency over love, a role reprised brilliantly by Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp in the 1974 romp, Blazing Saddles.

Little Big Man is a fun chuckle of a movie that should not be confused for history but as a satire of the past. A movie encompassing a large swath of all western tales encapsulated into a few hours of humor and jest.

 

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