Month: November 2018

Movie Review – The Old Man & the Gun

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Robert Redford, Sissy Spacek, Casey Affleck

Year: 2018

David Lowery loves working with Casey Affleck (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, A Ghost Story), and that’s fine with me; I think he’s one of the best actors working, outpacing his more-famous brother by miles (Manchester by the Sea).  Casey is an incredible dramatic actor, he’s a natural emotive force, and while he doesn’t sit well with all audiences, due to the intensity of his methods, I’ve always appreciated that he gives his entire soul to his performances, holding nothing back from those who are willing to receive the brunt of the impact.  But The Old Man & the Gun isn’t about Affleck, who has a smaller part but still works wonders, and should always be appreciated wherever he chooses to pop up.  No, this film is about Robert Redford, who is saying goodbye to his fans with one more ride down a familiar road, and all we can do is say thank you.

This is the true story of Forrest Tucker, a life-long criminal who we can’t help but root for.  In prison off and on since he was a teen, Forrest has never been able to conform to the rules or take his punishment laying down, he’s always needed to live on his own terms, even if that means a lifetime of running.  In his older days, he’s taken to robbing banks wearing a hat and fake mustache, politely telling the managers and tellers that they are being robbed, before walking out of the room with a smile of his face.  His latest exploits have captured the attention of the nation, as he moves from town to town taking what he wants, and making friends along the way.  But crime is crime, and officer John Hunt is determined to stop Tucker, even if he is an old man at the end of his days, a washed up crook who just can’t seem to stop stealing time before the clock runs out.

The Old Man & the Gun was meant as Robert Redford’s swan song, and even if he’s walked back the idea of retirement since the movie was released, it sure feels like the end of an era and a good time to say goodbye.  After all, the man is 82, a legend, has done all he can do, and can’t have too much time left, so we might as well pay respects before he’s gone; it’s a little silly to do it after.  And Redford does the situation justice with a classic role that’s right out of his canon, with a character that is mostly himself and the rest wonderful nostalgia.  The film is nice, it’s an easy watch, you root for the “bad guy”, and you have a good time; I expected and wanted nothing more.  Redford is great, Spacek fills a role pleasantly, Affleck is as strong as always, and I liked the sidekick duo of Danny Glover & Tom Waits, that worked really well.  A period piece, a cool adventure, a chance for a few last laughs; we tip our hats to a cinematic hero.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 13

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 13 Picks

(11-4 last week, 111-63-2 for the season)

Bye teams: none


NO @ Dal

Bal @ Atl

Car @ TB

Chi @ NYG

Buf @ Mia

Ind @ Jax

Cle @ Hou

Den @ Cin

LAR @ Det

Ari @ GB

KC @ Oak

NYJ @ Ten

SF @ Sea

Min @ NE

LAC @ Pit

Was @ Phi


DVD Review – Pin Cushion

Category : DVD Review

Director: Deborah Haywood

Starring: Lily Newman, Joanna Scanlan

Year: 2017

I have to be careful, because sometimes I simply enjoy a movie because I’m one of the few who has taken the opportunity to try it out, and sometimes that experience is worth more than the film itself.  An indie flick comes along, it goes entirely under the radar, it’s not a hidden gem by any means, but just watching gives those few in the audience a feeling of personal attention, and you find yourself rooting for a story and its character with a voracity that perhaps it doesn’t deserve.  This film is one that’s not strong enough to warrant the praise on its own, it needs its status to drum up support.  And although I am all for giving support to independent cinema, I also have to put back on my critic’s cap to judge it by its content as well, and when I do that, I find it rather lacking.

The Movie

Lyn and her daughter Iona are very close, about as close as mother and child can be, and they’ve developed a few idiosyncracies from their time together, little quirks that the outside world does not understand but that have only worked to bring them closer to one another.  Perhaps they are co-dependent, perhaps it isn’t healthy, perhaps they both need friends outside of their house, but at least they’re happy; a little weird, but happy.  Then comes a move to a new town and things of course change; new school, new schoolmates, new neighbors.  But neither was prepared for how much things would be different, or how far this once inseparable pair might grow apart.

Iona meets a new gang of girls who want to be her friends; well, kind of.  They want her to join their circle, but almost as a clown to poke fun of, not an equal to share a friendship with.  But Iona can’t see the difference, and so goes along with the wishes of these cool kids, getting herself in some trouble along the way.  They don’t treat her very nicely, make her do uncomfortable and sexual things that she’s not ready for, and push her to the limits of her patience, a boundary that she’s never really had to cross. Iona will have to learn fast how to deal with high school drama, before she’s run over, and Lyn will have to learn to be the mother of a teenage girl, before she’s left completely behind.

On one hand, this movie is the epitome of an indie flick and I am happy to help it succeed in reaching audiences, because a lot of work was put into making this idea a reality, and that’s worth very much.  Deborah Haywood took the coming-of-age idea and boiled it down to concentrated madness, which we can all attest is pretty close to reality.  Iona’s problems might be exaggerated for dramatics, but they aren’t too far from the truth, as drama and bullying and bad choices haunt teenagers in a way that they simply aren’t prepared for, and that’s something that’s sad but true.  This story speaks to that age, but also to parents who deal with their children growing up, leaving them alone, and making too many bad choices along the way, decisions that you wish you could make for them but you just can’t.

On the other hand, and despite its message and its A for effort, this movie isn’t as good as it needs to be to be placed in a category with contemporary drams and to be judged as working.  It’s too strange for its own good sometimes, going off into fantasies, going over the top too often, spinning in directions you didn’t see coming nor want to go down.  The plot needed reined in and held onto, not let loose to travel organically where it may; there wasn’t enough talent behind it to allow it that freedom.  Newman and Scanlan have been around, but they aren’t the stars needed to carry an odd story over the finish line, and asking them to do so would have been asking too much.  The indie mood worked, the morals held up, there are reasons to watch, but when weighed alongside others of its kind, I’m afraid this movie won’t balance out.


Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and shot using an Arri Alexa XT Plus camera, the video quality of the DVD is fine, with a solid amount of good color, but definitely not something to write home about.  The sets are nice, and the costumes stand out as well, but the cinematography does not, and the clarity of picture is only on par with other indie flicks that you might watch an allow a pass.

Audio – The language of the film is English, but there are no other details, languages, subtitles, technical statistics, or options.  The music of the movie is rather interesting and well-thought out, with an emphasis on mood that works.

Extras – The only special features are a slideshow, a trailer, and six Cleopatra previews for other films.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  For a low-budget picture, and a feature debut, Pin Cushion does enough right to warrant attention, without being so spectacular that you need to go tell your friends about it.  On the level that it can succeed, it did, but its ceiling was rather low, and there was no breaking through with this cast or this story.  The message was clear and the point made, but other than that the action was far too weird to appeal to most audiences.  In the film’s favor, it was short, unique, and colorful, but that only got it so far; there wasn’t really power left to take it all the way.  The video is fine, the audio interesting at times, there aren’t a lot of extras, so look elsewhere for stunning technical aspects.  But a very specific group would find this film endearing, it’s just hard to know where that demographic lies.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay



Movie Review – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Category : Movie Review

Director: The Coen Bros.

Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson

Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson

Year: 2018

The Coen Brothers aren’t afraid to try new things, and apparently that includes a six-part movie straight to Netflix about cowboys and the ways they die.  Sounds simple, but you know you’re getting something a little more complicated from these two men, and from the cast they employ to weave their tale.  Or their ballad, as it were, since the film starts musically and focuses on the title character, although the rest is something far different from what we prepare ourselves for from the beginning.  Perhaps that’s the true lesson within Buster Scruggs; to expect the unexpected, because the stories told here don’t go the way you might expect, which, at times, makes them all the more enjoyable.

Six segments abut each other over a just-over two-hour span, leaving viewers with a taste of Western life and a fear of their own inevitable deaths.  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs introduces us to the fastest son of a gun with a gun, the singing cowboy named Buster who is as quick with a trigger as he is with a tune.  Near Algodones takes us along on a bank robbery, albeit one that doesn’t go as planned and takes its bandit on a bumpy ride.  Meal Ticket shows us the darker side of show business, how the throat you cut to get ahead might be the one you’re supposed to be feeding.  All Gold Canyon presents us with a near-perfect valley, where treasure lies buried and beauty lies all around, but where violence follows close behind.  The Gal Who Got Rattled takes us on the Oregon Trail, a journey fraught with peril and with potential.  And lastly, The Mortal Remains, when a simple setting isn’t what it looks like.

I’m torn between enjoying one of my favorite directing teams and thinking their product was a little too weird.  It starts strangely, gets much better, but never quite overcomes its own oddities to become as good as it could potential have been.  I strongly disliked three stories, I really appreciated three others, so I land somewhere in the middle and can’t wholeheartedly recommend you run to your basement to turn on Netflix and watch this.  It might have worked better as an anthology series, something you could watch a la carte, like Black Mirror, which isn’t always amazing, but has enough moments to make it great.  Buster Scruggs simply isn’t a movie, never feels like a movie, and so suffers since it calls itself one.  Tom Waits is terrific (see him in The Old Man and the Gun as well), Zoe Kazan’s tale I loved, but I can’t think of anyone else who stood out, and at a little over 2 hours, the pacing was a bit tedious at times instead of constantly remaining engaging.  If they really wanted to be experimental, The Co Bros. should have made Buster Scruggs a show, not a film; I really think it would have worked better.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Outlaw King

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Mackenzie

Starring: Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle

Year: 2018

With a spectacular followup to Hell or High Water and an incredible tribute to Braveheart, Mackenzie and Pine team up once more to make Outlaw King one of the best films of the year, completely separate from its status as a Netflix original movie and completely shocking to those who did not see this war epic coming.  Hell or High Water was one of my favorite films from 2016 and Braveheart is one of my favorite movies of all time, so I was fairly prepared for a stellar achievement, but even I wasn’t ready for the power of Outlaw King, or the originality of its delivery.  Think the Scottish dramas you’ve seen before combined with the brutality of a slaughterhouse and you’ll have some idea what you’re in store for, and if that sounds like something you can appreciate/stomach, wow are you in for a treat.

As William Wallace’s rebellion fails and the legendary hero goes into hiding, Robert Bruce makes peace with the English in order to save what’s left of Scotland.  He and his nobles swear fealty, bend down, but haven’t forgotten, they’re only making the best decision they can with the threat of total annihilation hanging over their heads.  Robert will soon be King if he keeps his nose clean, but the death of Wallace sends a shock wave through the countryside, and the Scots are ready to fight again, though they remain exhausted from years of war.  So Bruce rallies his troops for another open rebellion, but without Wallace the Highlanders don’t come running down from the hills, and a quick death seems Robert’s fated end.  Only fast thinking and sheer, God-granted luck will keep him alive to see his nation free, though many a gruesome battle stands between the dream of independence and its fulfillment.

Mackenzie can direct anything, apparently, from a Neo-Western morality piece to a historic drama that we all thought we’d seen before.  Guess what; we hadn’t, Outlaw King tells another story, and although you’ll recollect some Braveheart if you’re a fan, this is the continuation of that tale, not a recycling.  Chris Pine takes a slightly different approach as well, playing his character with less accent and more introspection, allowing us to feel Bruce and his pain from start to finish.  But, as much as I loved Pine in this role, there are two men who have him outmatched here, and I am still shocked to be saying that.  Billy Howle (On Chesil Beach) as Prince Edward was something special, but Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla) as Black Douglas was something else entirely, a once-in-a-lifetime performance that should define his career.  So, Pine hasn’t been better since Z for Zachariah, Pugh continues past Lady Macbeth with another strong showing, and the film presents some amazing, dark cinematography to enjoy if what you want with your bleak picture is more bleakness.  More brutal than you were prepared for, more accurate than its predecessors, more moving than I expected; Outlaw King is one of the best 2018 has to offer.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 12

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 12 Picks

(8-5 last week, 100-59-2 for the season)

Bye teams: Chiefs, Rams


Chi @ Det

Was @ Dal

Atl @ NO

Cle @ Cin


Jax @ Buf

Oak @ Bal

Sea @ Car


NYG @ Phi

Ari @ LAC

Mia @ Ind

Pit @ Den

GB @ Min

Ten @ Hou


DVD Review – An Interview with God

Category : DVD Review

Director: Perry Lang

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, David Strathairn, Yael Grobglas

Year: 2018

Faith-based films are making their appearance known far too often, masquerading as real cinema, when all they really are is propaganda for a religion that is slowly dying and is desperate to reach new audiences before it blinks out completely.  Or at least, that’s a pessimistic (and potentially atheist) take on the genre; an optimist (or Christian/believer/hopeful soul) might see it in a completely different light.  That’s the inherent problem with this modern movement; you can talk about God in a movie, but making your story completely about one viewpoint is automatically polarizing, and those who haven’t fallen for the trick before aren’t very likely to fall to their knees in the theatre.

The Movie

Paul Asher has recently returned home to New York City from the war-hills of Afghanistan, where he was an imbedded reporter searching for the truth behind the firefights.  He came back a changed man, having seen things that would alter his life, and having met people whose lives he would change.  Many soldiers were having a hard time coming back, moving past the horrors that they saw, and Paul was there to help if he could, lending a listening ear or making a phone call to a professional; whatever he could do to make the return easier, since he knew firsthand how war destroys the soul.  His own homecoming wasn’t very joyous; he and his wife Sarah had drifted apart while he was away, and finding the love they once had might be impossible.

As Paul attempts to head back to work as an online journalist, amid the struggles he’s dealing with within his marriage, he meets with a man with a peculiar story to tell, a tale that might make a good article for Paul’s first since his reporting on the troops.  This story is very different; this man claims that he is God.  Not that he can talk to God, not that he hears voices, not that he’s one of the many gods; no, he’s convinced that’s he’s the actual, one, true G-O-D.  He and Paul will have three meetings together, three interviews with God, and rest assured they will not go as planned.  Paul is having a crisis of faith, here is someone who claims to have the answers, and yet it can’t be that easy; or can it?

This film is right on the edge of proclaiming itself faith-based, holding back slighting with a powerful restraint, casting stars we know to help soften the blow.  But there’s no doubt about it; this movie is aimed at a certain target from a very specific direction, and there’s no missing its point.  It even gives marriage advice straight from the pulpit, which might have been one the elements that bothered me the most, and it doesn’t shy away from saying, like the man claiming to be God, that it has all the answers.  That audacity alone is astounding, but that’s the mood of this genre; they don’t pretend to to be open-minded.  This is a very specific story for a very narrow audience, and that should be understood going in so that there isn’t any confusion.

Is that’s what you enjoy, I can’t say that there’s too much technical to scare you away; in fact, for a faith-based film, this might be one of the more talented casts you’ll come across.  Brenton Thwaites is a natural actor who has enough talent to reach a low ceiling, I’ll say that much for him.  His film choices have been poor, he’s never going to be a superstar, but he has talent, and doesn’t embarrass himself as Paul.  The same can be said about David Strathairn, who has made a career out of mediocrity, and I don’t say that will malice; I wish I was a paid actor who has been in the business for 40 years doing solid work.  Unfortunately, none of the smaller characters in the film were any good at all; in fact, they were terrible.  And the plot, if you don’t already believe, isn’t going to hit home, and isn’t going to make an impression.  This is a tale of two movies, in a way; choose your side.


Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (Anamorphic Widescreen) and shot using a Panasonic VariCam 35 camera, the video quality of the DVD is rather strong, for a low-budget, faith-based film that most audiences won’t expect much out of, technically speaking.  The picture is nice, the locations are interesting, the color is crisp; the cinematography isn’t anything spectacular, but the film looks good and watches well.

Audio – The disc was done in English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.  That’s it for the audio, and there isn’t much else to report.  The movie does have a nice underscore that feels new and seems relevant, so hats off to the crew for making the music work.  But there aren’t any audio standouts otherwise, and the sound won’t be memorable to anyone watching.

Extras – The only bonus features on the DVD are a Special Discussion: Key Themes and Questions interview session (22 minutes total) and a series of interviews with the four main cast members.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Since I lean more toward the pessimistic contingent of audiences and less toward the optimistic group, this film didn’t land well personally, but that didn’t stop me from recognizing that, while it’s far from perfect, it does offer certain aspects that don’t entirely fail.  The acting by the two leading men is fairly strong, and they play well off one another.  The remaining cast is terrible though, and the story is so monochromatic that you’ll find yourself choosing sides rather than enjoying either way.  The video is solid, the audio too, there are a couple special features, so the technical areas aren’t completely ignored, and the movie is aided by that fact.  Still, I won’t be shouting this film’s praises, and I can’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t already prepared to love it; that might be the only group this movie was made for anyway.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay



Movie Review – Early Man

Category : Movie Review

Director: Nick Park

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, Tom Hiddleston

Year: 2018

From the father of Wallace & Gromit comes Early Man, a claymation creation that continues the style but doesn’t live up to the nostalgia.  Nick Park is a legend for his work in this unique medium (or, at least, a medium that’s unique to still work in), and it’s nice to have another film to add to his list.  Various Wallace & Gromit tales, Chicken Run, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Park takes his time, gets every detail in order, and then presents us with a movie to add to his canon.  But that doesn’t mean that the resulting cinema will be spectacular, and his voice is definitely a very acquired, very British taste.  Early Man was nice but not necessary, and I’m not sure it was worth the time and effort it took to make.

In the period of the dinosaurs and the great upheaval that followed the massive comet strike, early men retreated to the valleys to live out the Stone Age in relative peace.  Their favorite pastime was football, a game given them by the cosmos itself, a simple competition that provided endless entertainment.  Fast forward a few epochs and Stone Age man is making way for Bronze Age man, but football still remains a pastime for the masses.  Clinging to the old ways, Dug and his tribe must fight for their little valley, which has been claimed by evil Lord Nooth, who wants it for its bronze mines.  They will face each other in a match on the pitch to decide their fates, playing their ancestors’ game as new eras emerge.

I think you’d have to have been raised on Wallace & Gromit to really dig into Early Man and enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed.  It’s very British, very silly, kind of dry, not very complicated, and relies heavily on the impression the animation makes, much more so than the impact of the story.  The characters are dull, not super well-done (with the exception of Tom Hiddleston and Rob Brydon), and the story is oddly obsessed with football in a way that those who call it soccer will never understand.  Still, watching it with my kids, I enjoyed its simplicity of content and complication of physical work; the hours they put into making these little clay figures, weaving in CGI for a bit of help, making it all come together over many years and with the help of many people.  It’s impressive and mostly fun, but nothing great, and not really important enough to warrant the build-up.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Category : Movie Review

Director: Morgan Neville

Starring: Fred Rogers

Year: 2018

Mr. Rogers was a part of the childhood of so many, and none of us will ever forget the impact he had on our lives.  He’s as important as Sesame Street, as legendary as Santa Claus, and as historic as television itself.  For countless kids, he was television, he was the reason you watched, and he was a trusted voice when not every sound in your world made sense.  I remember watching his show with joy; the puppets, the trolley, the cardigans, the shoes, the traffic light, the fish, the small adventures around town.  It was like having a wonderful relative that cared about you and wanted to show you the best that life had to offer, and yet this man had the capacity to wear that role for millions, which only shows the depth of his compassion and his determination.  The ability to love and to show love is the most important quality we can possess, and Mr. Rogers taught many of us where that quality could be found, because he wasn’t afraid to show it within himself.

Fred Rogers was set to be a minister when he first encountered the radical new invention called television, and it changed his life forever.  He understood that television was a way to get a message across that had never been and would never be rivaled.  He could spread his version of God’s love through a new technology, and that version was based on caring for others above all else.  He wanted to show the world that kindness could make a difference, that friendship could be forever, that a neighborhood can be made up of whoever is willing to lend a helping hand to another, that love really is all we need.  From meager beginnings to superstardom, Mr. Rodgers would become a television persona that mirrored the man, lending credibility to a message of peace and understanding that wasn’t exactly in holding with any religion or belief, but was somehow independently and marvelously magical.

I watched my fair share of Mr. Rodgers when I was younger, and I always loved the ease with which you could turn it on.  There weren’t action scenes, you didn’t need to follow every episode, nothing spectacular was going to pop out of the screen, you could just simply watch and enjoy, as this wonderful man showed you around his neighborhood and around your own imagination.  But he broached serious topics too, and Fred Rogers wasn’t afraid to take chances or push the envelope; quite the rebel for a buttoned-down minister in the 60s and 70s.  This documentary takes us along for the ride with Fred and his family, as he attempts to remake TV in his image, not conforming but forming, giving kids something they had always secretly wanted.  His message was simple; you’re welcome here, you’re loved the way you are here, you’re worth something here, and no one is excluded.  Pretty simple and very brilliant, and he created a show based on this concept, which seems idealistic, but somehow worked.  This film captures that spirit marvelously, and is worth your emotional investment.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 11

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 11 Picks

(9-5 last week, 92-54-2 for the season)

Bye teams: Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, 49ers


GB @ Sea

Cin @ Bal

Dal @ Atl


Pit @ Jax

Hou @ Was

Ten @ Ind

Car @ Det

Den @ LAC

Oak @ Ari

Phi @ NO

Min @ Chi