There is a scene in John Sturges’ classic 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven, where Steve McQueen keeps toying with the hat in his hands to upstage the film;s “star,” Yul Brenner. In the “updated” version, none of the actors would dare to try such a stunt with Denzel Washington. Instead of a dusty Mexican village terrorized by a bandito, we watch a post-civil war town held hostage by a White industrialist. Joining the poorly paid fight are seven, purposefully diverse outlaws—a bounty hunter, gambler, sharpshooter, tracker, assassin, bandito and Comanche warrior. With Nic Pizzopallo and Richard Wenk’s tepid script, and Antoine Fuqua constantly asking himself “would grandma like this?” it is James Horner’s music and Mauro Fiore’s cinematography that carry the film.
I had a great conversation with Jean Hegland, the Healdsburg novelist whose quiet, post-apocalyptic book Into the Forest was the basis for this film https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/krcb-fm-word-by-word/id514744798?mt=2 . She told me that although the modernistic house onscreen is nothing like her vision, and they had to “cut out some things,” producer Ellen Page and screenwriter/director Patricia Rozema have done “a good job.” Jean is especially pleased that the “tone” at the end of the film is very similar to the end of her book.
Clint Eastwood’s spare and carefully planned directing style works well with Sully, the story about airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his air and ground crew. Dubbed “the miracle on the Hudson,” Sully carefully set his U.S. Airways plane on the surface of the Hudson river and saved the 155 passengers and flight crew. Sully is a semi-local hero (he lives in Danville), and his TV appearances as an airline safety expert, as well as accolades from Presidents Bush and Obama and being grand marshall of the Rose Parade have resulted in him being labelled a “Jimmy Stewart, aw shucks, kinda guy.” Since Stewart is no longer with us, Tom Hanks (who played astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13), is perfectly cast as Sully. Presented within the setting of the FAA investigation, the story is told in flashbacks. What we learn is that except for the Canada geese disabling the jet engines, everyone involved in flight 1549 did what they were trained to do. . “I’ve got to thank my crew,” Sully says in testimony, “in the plane and on the ground. Everyone did their job.”
In Little Men, a film written and directed by Ira Sachs, 13-year-old Jake moves into his recently deceased grandfather’s Brooklyn house where the shop downstairs is rented by a Chilean dressmaker and her son. Finding Brooklyn very expensive, Jake’s parents raise the rent on the shop, and ignite a feud between the two families—including the two boys.
What were you doing in 1989? In Southside With You, a young law associate and community organizer was escorting his advisor on a sunny, day-long walk through Southside, Chicago that included a trip to an art exhibit, and an ice cream shop. He wants this to be their first date, while she believes they should remain colleagues—and nothing more. Until a fateful incident with the ice cream cone—when the relationship between the man named Barrack and the woman named Michelle blossoms before our eyes.
Mired in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, two Texan brothers begin robbing banks in an amateurish fashion. They are soon pursued by a pair of Texas Rangers—a grizzled one nearing retirement, and a Native -American/Mexican one. Everyone does what he’s gotta’ do while empathizing with their counterparts and hating the bankers getting fatter from ordinary people’s misery. The background is littered with abandoned stores and houses, graffiti-slashed moans of despair, and an underlying sense of inevitable grief. The acting, in Hell Or Highwater especially by Chris Pine as a bank robber and Jeff Bridges as a lawman, is astoundingly mournful.
Meryl Streep, Cillian Murphy, Philip Roth, Keegan-Michael Key and a Disney Dragon are all good choices
Once again competing movies are made on the same subject. This time, it’s the unlikely tale of a 1940‘s era woman of wealth who turns her dream of singing opera in Carnegie Hall into reality—despite the fact she is completely tone-deaf. Last year’s French film, Marguerite, presented the story as a farce which focused on how money could create celebrity. In Florence Foster Jenkins, Meryl Streep wins us over by placing a slightly askew wig on her head, wearing padding to look plump and singing annoyingly off-key in front of various groups. This includes the notorious 1944 Carnegie Hall operatic solo where Cole Porter, Lily Pons and her husband Andre Kostelantez, soldiers and sailors on shore leave (accompanied by their girlfriends-for -the-night), and tipsy revelers who come to be amused made up the audience. Steep manages to walk that fine line of laughing at the joke while making us believe she believes in Florence’s “God-given talent.”
The idea of releasing villains from prison to utilize their talents to aid the government is hardly new, and the concept of sending seven desperados to save innocents has inspired Kurasawa and Sturges and scores of other imitators. Don’t be fooled by the humorous previews, Suicide Squad is an uber violent collection of suicidal nihilists who ISIS would recruit in an instant. Aimed directly at the wallets of 13-year-old boys, the filmmakers chicken-out regarding the best character onscreen. Margot Robbie plays the pig-tailed psychotic, Harley Quinn with elan, but director David Ayer keeps relegating her part to serving as eye-candy for the adolescents in the audience.
With all the Bourne wannabe movies this summer, it’s nice to have Matt Damon and Paul Greenglass making the real thing again. Cyber terrorism is the driving force behind Jason Bourne’s latest return, and with scenes featuring Silicon Valley tech stars, arguments over privacy vs security, a Las Vegas electronics convention and even a truck mowing down innocent passersby on the sidewalks, the film is almost prescient. Our plucky, seemingly indestructible hero takes everything in stride and despite all the assault and battery he dishes out, he somehow makes us feel safer.
Star Trek Beyond is directed by the man who made Fast and Furious must-see fan-fare, with lots of humor and a story that would have worked in Gene Roddenbury’s original TV shows. This lizard-guy attacks the USS Enterprise to reacquire the so-called “death machine” and leaves the away team stranded on a uninhabited planet with a landscape similar to Mono Lake. There’s a domed city straight out of Logan’s Run (if created by M.C. Escher), a motorcycle race between Kirks from different timelines that’s reminiscent of the race in the Tron reboot, and, with a nod to 2016 sensibilities, a brief interlude where Sulu and his husband bond with their adopted girl. Despite the one-liners and visual jokes, the film is a somber reminder that well-loved actors Leonard Nimoy (who appears briefly as Spock) and Anton Yelchin (who plays Chekov) have recently passed away. 3 pieces of entertaining in a retro sort of way toast