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Slow West

Directed by John Maclean, Slow Westslowwest is so typical of the true frontier that the movie chases away the notions of the true hero of the Old West. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish, who is a lovelorn young Scot traveling by horse in the unforgiving frontier. He is hoping to find his lady love, Rose Ross, played brilliantly by Caren Pistorius. Jay comes from a wealthy family, so he isn’t prepared for the rugged terrain and its outlaws.

Rose and her father fled Scotland to escape the law after they accidentally murdered Jay’s relative. Jay has no idea the woman he hopes to find and marry is a fugitive. Just like Scotland’s lore, he is following his heart.

Silas played exceptionally well by Michael Fassbender is a gun slinging outlaw. Fassbender is also one of the movie’s producers. He meets Jay by opportunity and guides him through the frontier in search of his lady love. He promises to keep him alive for fifty dollars now and fifty dollars more when they find Rose.

Jay and Silas are total opposites, so they are not the best of buddies. Silas is a bounty hunter, who shoots first and asks questions later. Jay is refined and mature in respectability. He even gets them out of some scrapes now and then. As if the frontier isn’t hard enough on them, they have a gang of bounty hunters following close behind. The gang is led by Payne played menacingly by Ben Mendelsohn. He and the other bounty hunters are looking to collect $2000 reward for Rose and her father, dead or alive.

Slow West won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, so it has the strength of really good movie. Yet, it is a simple but distressing story that foretells the end through Jay’s dreams. On the other hand, like a Western the story has gun fights, deaths and drunkenness, and the ending is more real than the great Westerns of Old Hollywood.

Whitney

Whiwhitneydvdtney Houston will always be one of the greatest singers of her generation and beyond. Her untimely death shocked the world, but didn’t surprise the few who knew her so well. In the made for television movie, Whitney, directed by Angela Basset and released by Lifetime, we are shown as a spectator the rise and fall of a beloved celebrity.

Basset’s take on the movie is told in a heroic way, and it deserves to be viewed by those who arrived at the fandom of Whitney’s voice and acting talent, and who felt deep sorrow for her demise. Watching the movie, I was drawn into the story by the cinematic talent of Anastas Michos with his long, silent shots that kept the drama raw in an artsy way. The movie felt incredibly real and often ugly,

Basset remains objective throughout the movie as I wondered if Houston family sanction movie. The director didn’t slam the legend, but let the story unfold, so I could see what happened to Whitney.

Yet, I still felt empty at the end with unanswered questions. What destroyed her life? What were the factors involved? Was it her husband’s immoral lifestyle that influenced her?

Any fan of this multi-talented star will enjoy this movie despite the lack of real details.

There are a couple of issues to consider when viewing this movie. It appears the scenes are reenactments, yet there is no back story and no foreshadowing. As a result, the movie lacks character development that indicates how Whitney became the celebrity who accidently drowned in a bathtub at Beverly Hilton Hotel room.  We are not given a hint as to why and how she started taking drugs. I would have liked to have seen Basset take this into consideration because the story would have been more interesting. Of course, it is hard to get into the soul of an individual, but I am sure Whitney’s close friends and family could have provided key information.

Yaya DaCosta as Whitney is brilliant, and she gained control of Whitney’s mannerisms. Her singing is without flaws and believable with vocals being performed well by Deborah Cox. Arlen Escarpeta who plays Whitney’s ex-husband Bobby nails the part as a celebrity hood.

Viewers might quickly blame Bobby for Whitney’s demise and rightly so. He was the man in her life that should have protected her from the evils of stardom. Most of us wish he had protected her, or wish she had found refuge elsewhere in the arms of a religion or a true friend who knew how to help her.

Beyond the Reach

beyondthereachBeyond the Reach is a remake of another TV movie called Savages (1974) starring Any Griffith and Sam Bottoms. Both movies follow the same storyline based on the book Deathwatch by Robb White.

Directed by French filmmaker Jean-Baptiste Leonerri, Michael Douglas plays a wealthy, cocky businessman Madec. Early one morning he drives into a small town in the Mojave Desert. He makes quite an impression with his Mercedes G63 AMG 6×6 asking the sheriff for an expert hunting guide. The sheriff refers him a young, though experienced guide named Ben played by Jeremy Irvine. Ben is poor, and his long term girlfriend just left him to go study in out-of-state college. Ben takes the job, but he is suspicious of Madec and his “big-money” talk. The two men end up in the middle of Mojave Desert, and Madec fatally shoots another man by accident. The incident tests the limits of the two men.

The movie is about survival with Douglas playing a very dark character in a cat-and-mouse game across a barren and brutal desert. If you are a Michael Douglas fan, you know he plays dark, evil characters very well.

The special features include an audio commentary with Michael Douglas, director Jean-Baptiste Leonerri and producer Robert Mitas, and a featurette called “Six Wheeling: Inside and Outside the Ultimate Ride” featuring the Mercedes from the movie.

Little House on the Prairie

littlehouse5Promoting family values in television is lacking today. That’s one of the reasons I gave up television 13 years ago. Shows like Games of Thrones or Supernatural mark up the television screen with gratuitous violence and sex.

However, I need to confess I returned to television last year because one of my favorite books is now an episodic cable show. It is the only show I watch on television. It’s on Starz and does have violence and sex. However, the TV version promotes honor, keeping one’s promise and staying devoted to your love one.  It is the only show I watch, and I justify watching it by the fact that I read all the books first and love the story.

I am trying not to write about violence, sex and Outlander. I am really trying to tell you about a great new Blu-Ray/DVD on the market.

Without further fuss, let’s take look at Little House on the Prairie. The series is also based on a book and is one of those shows in the late 1970s where you knew violence or sex didn’t play a role in the storyline. Matter of fact, there wasn’t much violence or sex in television in those days at all – it was unheard of.  There were lessons learned and characters were polite and caring. Families could watch television together.  Now, NBC is releasing Little House on the Prairie on Blu-ray and DVD as remastered and restored to broadcast length.

Just released is Season 5. It is very popular season with the storyline moving the whole family away from Walnut Grove, so they can be closer to Mary’s school for the blind in Winoka. Mary and Adam even get engaged and married.

However, there is a drawback to a lengthy television series that last five years and beyond. They become cookie cutter or listless with lack of stories to fill a full season. More medium shoots are filmed versus master shots to cut the production down and get the crew home for dinner. I heard two cinematographers talk about cutting production time down on a long running TV show by not moving the camera. He moved the other actor into place of the former actor in front of the camera instead of moving the camera and keeping the background obscure. He said it kept the actors happy. I think you see a bit of “cheating” in the final seasons of Little House on the Prairie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great show, and the fact that it lasted almost a decade and is still popular today, over 40 years later, says a lot about the quality of the production.

I have broken down Season 5 episodes for your enjoyment. The summaries indicate the wholesomeness and family values portrayed on the award winning show.

As Long As We’re Together (2 Parts) – Poor economic conditions cause the Ingalls to move closer to Mary who is now teaching at the Blind school in Winoka. Charles befriends Albert an orphan, who Laura catches stealing from the hotel they manage. Fabulous, the producers were able to include a moral message.

The Winoka Warriors – A blind student feels that he is useless and is reluctant to participate in school. He gains self-confidence when he joins the football team and becomes the quarterback. This episode is contemporary in nature because I doubt this happened during our frontier history.

The Man Inside – Amelia, Laura’s new friend feels ashamed of her overweight father. He works at the blind school were the students are very fond of him. Laura learns an important lesson when she ridicules him with the other children in her class.

There’s No Place Like Home (2 Parts) – The Ingalls along with Albert, the Garvey’s and the Oleson’s tire of the bustling city and decide to return to Walnut Grove. They discover that the town has been severely neglected after they left the town. Together, they begin work immediately to organize the town back to its former glory.

Fagin – Albert runs away after overhearing Charles and Caroline discussing how Laura feels ignored and left out because Charles spends so much time with him.

Harriet’s Happenings
– Harriet Oleson tries her hand at journalism when her cousin visits Walnut Grove. Her cousin starts a newspaper with Harriet’s column “Harriet’s Happenings” in it. Charles steps in when she writes unpleasant things about his family.

The Wedding
– Adam finally asks Mary to marry him. She begins having second thoughts when her parents remind her of when she was a child.

Men Will Be Boys
– Albert and Andrew are tired of being treated like kids. They want to be treated like “men.” Charles and Jonathan decide to teach them a lesson and permit them on a trip through the woods to Sleepy Eye, by themselves. They figure it’ll take the boys a few hours to give up. The fathers follow them all the way. The boys end up having an uneventful trip. Charles and Jonathan are the ones who have an eventful trip. Wonder what happened?

The Cheaters – Mrs. Garvey, embarrassed by her son’s grades in school, hires Nellie to tutor him. Nellie reveals her secret on how she gets her good grades. She forces Andy to keep her secret.

Blind Journey (2 Parts)
– The blind school in Winoka is forced to close down. The citizens of Walnut Grove donate an old building, so the school can transfer to Walnut Grove. Harriet Oleson decides she needs to be present to bring the children to Walnut Grove with Charles. The two of them together proves to be an interesting trip!

The Godsister – No one is available to play with her, Carrie makes up a friend Alissa. It is kind of a cute story where the hold family can watch.

The Craftsman – Albert starts to work for an old Jewish man as an apprentice. All the children start calling him “Jew-Lover.” Even Laura is embarrassed by him. He soon develops a pride in his work, and the two become the best of friends. Another good message makes the show popular with a storyline about prejudice.

Blind Man’s Bluff – After he is involved in an accident, Jordan, Laura and Albert’s friend, pretend to be blind to keep his parents together. I am not quite sure who is pretending to be blind, but looks like a fun show to watch.

Dance With Me – Laura and Albert become matchmakers just in time for the upcoming dance.

The Sound Of Children – Mary finds out she is pregnant and writes to her father-in-law. She thinks he and Adam are becoming closer. But, she loses the child, and she finds that her father-in-law was just interested in the baby.

The Lake Kezia Monster – Kezia refuses to pay her taxes. Mrs. Oleson buys her land, and Kezia who has nowhere to go somehow gets roped into being the Oleson’s maid. Laura, Albert, and Andy are mad that Mrs. Oleson just bought the place. So they make up a tale of a monster to scare Mrs. Oleson and her rotten children off the place. Sounds like a fun ending.

Barn Burner
– The price of wheat begins to drop, and the farmers agree to not compete against one another by charging the same price. One of them breaks the bargain, and Andy gets hurt. Mr. Garvey takes action.

The Enchanted Cottage – The Ingalls beginning to hope that Mary is regaining sight when she believes that she can distinguish light from dark. Sounds like a tearjerker.

Someone Please Love Me – Charles is asked to prevent a divorce by the children of a troubled couple.

Mortal Mission – Sick mutton gets around Walnut Grove, and everybody seems to turn for the worst. Jonathan and Charles are sent to go get some medicine in Sleepy Eye, but are robbed on the way back.

The Odyssey
– Dylon is dying of leukemia and wants, more than anything to see the ocean. Albert and Laura decide to run away and help him achieve his goal. Heartfelt story means learning the value of friends.

Did you recognize any episodes you’ve seen before? The DVD set also comes with Special Features that include: Interview with Dabbs Greer (Reverend Alden), Interview with Allison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson), and an interactive quiz for Season 5.
Like I said, Little House on the Prairie brings families together. Something we miss so much in television today. The whole series could be seen by the entire family. Whether you buy it or rent it, make sure you are watching it with your closest friends and family.

Miss Julie

MissJulieMiss Julie is not a movie to get excited about because of the slow pacing, which turned me off. At times, the stellar acting kept me interested. If you are not familiar with the setting of the play, you most likely will have a hard time liking or even understanding the movie.

Both Jessica Chastain (from my hometown) and Colin Farrell kept me watching the movie despite the stark production. The undertones between the characters came off very strong. I was curious about each character’s next move or motive. The cinematography created a visual masterpiece with darkness in light.

Directed by the legendary actress Liv Ullmann, the story takes place in Northern Ireland 1890. Miss Julie, a daughter of a Baron, lives a very privilege life. She was raised to be independent, like a man of this era. The movie doesn’t make this clear as to why she behaves this way, but I hear the stage play makes it clear as to what drives her to be so independent. In the movie, she is still a strong woman who feels she can flirt with men the way men would normally flirt with her.

The movie begins with a flashback scene of her as a child, which I totally enjoyed. Here we see her read one of her books while the story offers an implication of loneliness and neglect within an empty house. The story flashes forward to 1890 on mid-summer’s night.

There are only three characters in the movie. Miss Julie (Chastain) is an adult. John (Farrell) is the Baron’s Valet, and Kathleen (Samantha Morton) is John’s fiancé and the cook.

Like the stage play, the dialogue moves the story. John and Kathleen are having a conversation in the kitchen. John grumbles about his duties and the behavior of Miss Julie. He explains to Kathleen, how she stooped below her station, dancing with the gamekeeper and even ordering him to dance. John takes on the air of Miss Julie and orders Kathleen to clean and fetch. As he talks to Kathleen, he longs for faraway places like Paris. He is well traveled for a servant and taken care to get educated. Miss Julie enters the kitchen, and the dialogue changes to include her presence as the mistress of the house, and of romantic or sexual interest. She becomes more assertive and takes charge of what happens between her and a John.

Now the story is arranged for what the battle is really about.  Who will maintain the upper hand as it sways back and forth. The power change in the story is a bit confusing if the viewer doesn’t notice the nuances and fundamental symbolism the stage play offers.

All in all, Miss Julie is an intellectual story that needs a bit of spice in its pacing to keep me interested.

Liars Fires and Bears

liars fires bears

If you are into movies like I am, you know that original movies are hard to come by. The cookie cutter process film studios stick to is en nausea. I understand why they keep to the same formula because it makes money. If the original Die Hard had not been a multi-million dollar hit, another film genre would have been over produced today. Enough said because on rare occasions we come across an original film, thanks to film festivals, that is truly original. I am talking about Liars Fires and Bears.

Brinkvision sent this gem to me about a month ago. Due to a shifty move by a former website hosting company, I am finally able to tell you about this movie.  Liars Fires and Bears is a story worth watching.

liars jeremy_cloe

University of Nevada graduate and AFI alumni Jeremy Cloe directed the unpretentious indie, which is his first feature film. He tells a simple story of two people individually alike but hard on their luck. The actors create characters that are imperfect but real in a rather refreshing way.

The story grabbed my attention, right away. It held me throughout the movie with stellar acting, talented cinematography by Brett Austin Walters and Cloe’s directing and editing.

Eve and Dave meet up and go on a journey together that is not only thought provoking but curiously pleasing. Megli Micek plays Eve brilliantly and dominates the screen while Lundon Boyd, who also co-wrote the script, plays Dave and clearly has met his match.

Cloe draws us into their story. We understand them and become part of their unfortunate and desperate situations. Softly emotions run high because Eve is a young girl and a constant mystery of how she can truly survive so far down on her luck. I have to say it again. The movie is refreshing, and a solid reason why we need to attend and support film festivals.

 

Lesser-Known Movies with Well-known Stars

Son_Of_A_Gun

Son of a Gun from Down Under

Son of a Gun is not a great gangster movie, and I lost my interest about half way through the movie. I turned off the movie when JR, played by Brenton Thwaites, who reminds me of a young Colin Farrell, goes swimming with the gangster’s girlfriend.  The story was too predictable. Don’t get me wrong. The acting was stellar.

The story is about JR meeting crime boss Brendan (Ewan McGregor) while serving a short stint in prison. Brendan protects JR from gang rapes in prison with the understanding he now owes Brendan his life. JR gets out of prison. He breaks Brendan and two other cohorts out of prison. They embark on a heist with a Brendan’s girl (Alicia Vikander) who I mentioned earlier.

What happens next?  The story can be easily guessed , and I wasn’t interested in finding out if I was right.

captive

The Captive

I think Ryan Reynolds made this movie in Canada while his wife Blake Lively was starring in a much better movie being filmed in Canada.  I guess, it was something for him to do, so he could hang with his wife in Canada.

The Captive has a good message, but many plot points are missing, and I suspect that the movie just didn’t have the budget to develop a strong storyline.  The result is several puzzle pieces missing on a rather easy puzzle to put together.  That is aggravating as a viewer.

Using flashbacks and forwards and more flashbacks makes matters worse because the back stories of key characters are the puzzle pieces missing.  If they had added those, I think the movie would have come off like nice little movie with a strong message.

The acting was believable, but like I said, I wanted to know more about the characters’ back story.

laggies

Laggies

Keira Knightley and Chloe Grace Moretz are actresses that I enjoying watching on film because they are believable and have honest performances.  Sam Rockwell, who also stars in this movie, is just as believable. Having all three of them in this simple, splice of life, indie movie is pure joy.

I wouldn’t call this movie a gem, but I would say it’s worth the time to view.  The story is about a woman, Knightley, who follows a different beat from her lifelong friends.  She has a college education, supporting parents, a committed boyfriend, and yet she feels she is missing something from her life.

She meets Moretz’s character, a High School student, with a divorced dad (Rockwell) and an absentee mother.  All four characters discover something about themselves in a rather awkward and thought provoking way.

Vice

Vice

Bruce Willis is a legend. Yet, he picks movies that are poorly produced.  Vice is one of those movies. Tons of wasted material with a lost plot delivered at a snail’s pace.  Bruce Willis is great in the movie, and likely he shot his role in a couple of days.

The movie looks like a video game gone wrong, nothing substantial backs up the storyline.  There are more holes in each scene that I couldn’t watch it, so I had to turn the movie off.

The movie starts with Bruce Willis explaining the futuristic city of Vice like the movie Westworld. Though Westworld was believable and entertaining and Vice is not.