KATIE SAYS GOODBYE (2017)

June 6, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. This little gem played at the 2017 Dallas International Film Festival, and at that time, I wrote about how writer/director Wayne Roberts was one of the new and most exciting filmmakers to burst on the scene. Now, more than two years later, the film is finally getting the distribution it deserves, and I still worry there will be those who decry another film exploiting women as a victim of society. I also still stand behind my case that there is another way to view the story of Katie, a good-hearted dreamer played beautifully by Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”, THOROUGHBREDS, READY PLAYER ONE).

Initially, Katie’s unflappable optimism seems unlikely, if not impossible. She walks miles to work along a dusty highway. She lives in a trailer park with her deadbeat mother (Mireille Enos), whom she supports both financially and emotionally. She works double-shifts as a waitress at a truck stop, where she’s known to toss in a couple extra bucks when a particularly frugal customer stiffs the other waitress. She also works a side job as a prostitute for locals and a regular trucker named Bear (Jim Belushi). Despite a life filled with *stuff*, Katie doggedly pursues her dream of saving enough money to move to San Francisco and become a hair stylist. Of course, since she’s cursed with a heart of gold, she has to save enough money for her own trip AND for her mother to live on. Her dream seems lofty, yet almost achievable.

When Katie falls for Bruno (Christopher Abbott), the new guy in town, she tries her best to fall in love and pull him into her dreams for a better life. It doesn’t take long before Bruno is made aware of Katie’s side job, and her fantasy world begins to crumble. On a daily basis, Katie happily (of course) drinks up the truck stop wisdom of diner owner Maybelle (Mary Steenburgen), who spouts such gems as “A man with a smile will hurt you”. Good intentions abound here, but we realize … even if Katie doesn’t … that the reality of people’s self-interest is the immovable object that so often tears down the dreamers of the world.

As with much of life, one’s enjoyment of the film is likely contingent upon the perspective you bring. A caustic, cynical view will have you waving off Katie’s lot in life as exploitive movie-making; while those who can share even a spoonful of Katie’s spirit, will find themselves rooting exuberantly for her dreams to come true … or at least to sustain her refreshing outlook on life and people. Director Roberts recently released his newest, THE PROFESSOR, starring Johnny Depp. He remains a filmmaker to follow.

watch the trailer:

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WORLD WAR Z (2013)

June 24, 2013

wwz1 Greetings again from the darkness. Max Brooks’ hugely successful novel was put through the proverbial wringer on it’s road to the big screen. Numerous script re-writes, many scenes re-shot, a re-worked third act, an all new ending, and a 6 month delay in release date. The final product is something that fans of TV’s “The Walking Dead” will probably appreciate and many others will find it entertaining enough.

Brad Pitt gives an earnest effort as a former United Nations investigator who now enjoys his new role as house-husband. In fact, director Marc Foster (Quantum of Solace, Monster’s Ball) zaps us with the first zombie action just after Pitt serves up pancakes to his two daughters and wife Karin (Mireille Enos, “The Killing”). It turns out Pitt is more than just an expert at flapjacks. His expertise is needed in this global zombie crisis brought on by a wwz2virus …or bacteria, that started in India … or Israel … or Asia. See, those details don’t really matter because the infection has spread to every corner of the globe.

I actually enjoyed Pitt more in the “quiet” moments than in the big CGI action sequences. He is quite believable as a doting husband and father, less so as the world’s savior. Still, the issues with this movie are not on Mr. Pitt. Four writers (in addition to the novelist) rarely deliver a coherent script’ however, since it’s an apocalyptic zombie thriller, they almost get away with it! If you haven’t visited the zombie genre in a few decades, be prepared … these aren’t wwz3the sluggish zombies made famous by George Romero. Instead, these are blazingly fast and able to leap tall buildings, flying helicopters … and the great wall of Jerusalem. Yes, Jerusalem. In one of the more unusual movie features, this one plays like “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. Pitt globe trots more than James Bond or Jason Bourne.

For many, the zombie sequences and global apocalyptic theme will provide sufficient cinematic entertainment. For the rest of us, it’s fine, but will forgotten as quickly as I am Legend. (06/24/13 UPDATE: the very talented and influential writer Richard Matheson passed away yesterday.  Among his work was the novel I AM LEGEND, which was the basis for the Will Smith movie that I referenced in my ending wisecrack.  I don’t blame Mr. Matheson’s fine work for that lackluster film.  His death is a great loss.)

**NOTE: Israeli newcomer Daniella Kurtesz (age 23) has an interesting screen presence and I look forward to seeing more of her work

**NOTE: Matthew Fox has a blink and you’ll miss him scene as part of the rooftop helicopter rescue team. The original third act had him playing a bigger role.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the Zombie craze OR you never miss a chance to see a long-haired Brad Pitt

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are bothered more by muddled story-telling than the global threat of a rapidly spreading zombie virus.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Md6Dvxdr0AQ


GANGSTER SQUAD (2013)

January 9, 2013

gangster Greetings again from the darkness. Admittedly, I am one of those who take movies very seriously. Good movies make me happy (even the sad ones), and bad movies make me sulk. Every now and then, one comes along that I find myself enjoying despite the warning buzzers blasting in my film snob brain. Such is the latest from director Ruben Fleisher (who also directed the entertaining Zombieland).

“Inspired by true events” should always be interpreted as a disclaimer that the movie will play fast and loose with history and the details of the story. Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen, a renowned Los Angeles gangster from the late 40’s. Due to widespread police corruption, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) authorized an “off the books” team to take down mob operations (gambling, prostitution, etc). This much was gangster4documented in Paul Lieberman’s book. How this story is presented by Fleisher and screenwriter Will Beall (signed on for the Justice League movie) has more in common with a comic book than actual history.

The movie is extremely beautiful to look at. It’s slick and stylish with a glamorous color palette, and the production design is top notch – capturing the look and feel of a booming Los Angeles. If you are expecting the next L.A. Confidential or even The Untouchables, you will be disappointed. It’s more in line with Dick Tracy, Scarface, and Hoffa. In other words … it looks great and the action, characters and dialogue are all way over the top!

gangster3 The cast is superb, but most are underutilized. Josh Brolin is the tough leader of the squad that features Ryan Gosling (the token cool womanizer), Robert Patrick (the token dead-eye gunslinger), Anthony Mackie (the innercity, knife-wielding token black cop), Giovanni Ribisi (the token geeky electronics expert), and Michael Pena (the rookie and token Hispanic cop). Unfortunately, my crude descriptions are just about as in-depth as the movie goes with any of them. In fact, Yvette Tucker playing Carmen Miranda, gets almost as much screen time as any of these cops as she sings “Chica Chica Boom Chic”.

The violence is cartoonish in its fervor. The aim of these gangsters is among the worst in movie history, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Using Tommy Guns and pistols, my estimate is that one in every 167 shots actually hits an intended target. Many elaborate set pieces are destroyed in the process. The exception is Robert Patrick’s character, who is actually featured in a detective serial. He never misses … even after being wounded. Penn plays Cohen as a ruthless mob boss, unwilling to accept any failure from his crew. And you know what that means. No pink slips here … just ugly death via power drill, burning elevator or classic car tug-of-war.

An interesting note is the presence of three actors from recent cult TV shows. Holt McCallany (Lights Out), Mireille Enos (The Killing) and Troy Garity (Boss) all have key roles in the film, as does Jon Polito, whose face gangster2and voice make him a must-cast in any gangster film.

If you are able to turn off the logical and reasoning part of your brain … just sit back and enjoy Emma Stone smoking a cig while wearing a red evening gown, an understated Ryan Gosling with an odd speech pattern, Sean Penn wearing a prosthetic nose and spewing hilarious bad guy lines, and the creepy feeling that Josh Brolin is just 25 years away from looking and sounding exactly like Nick Nolte … then hopefully you can take this one for what it is – a guilty pleasure.

**NOTE: the closing credits are a work of art … a tribute to the classic postcards from early Los Angeles

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you’re up for a rollicking good time … bullets flying, tongue firmly planted in cheek

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect historical accuracy and pure drama in your gangster flicks

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRVvEHk7xOs