Proud Citizen


What could be more American than funnel cake on the Fourth of July?

What could be more American than funnel cake on the Fourth of July?

(2014) Drama (Giant Dolphin) Katerina Stoykova-Klemer, Natalie E. Cummings, Leif Erickson, Ryan Case, Judy Sanders, Sami Allison, Elliott Moore Haynes, Blakeley Burger. Directed by Thom Southerland

Florida Film Festival 2015

Being alone in a city where you know nobody can be daunting. Sometimes all you can do is play tourist, particularly when you have a lot of time on your hands. While it can be liberating to be alone in a city – you make all the decisions about where to eat, what to do, when to do it and so on – it can also reinforce the loneliness in your own life at home.

Krasi (Stoykova-Klemer) is a Bulgarian poet and playwright who has just taken second place in a theater competition. First place got to see their play produced in New York City. Second place got Lexington, Kentucky. There was no third place.

So she’s left Bulgaria for the bright lights and big city of Lexington but things almost immediately begin to get strange. First of all, Debbie (Cummings), the stage manager who was supposed to meet Krasi at the airport is quite late; she seems flustered as the play is in technical rehearsals and opens just a few days hence. She dumps Krasi at her non-descript hotel and rushes back to the theater, leaving Krasi on her own.

Not knowing anything about the area, Krasi decides to explore downtown Lexington…on foot. It’s a bit of a walk from her hotel but doable, so she puts on a nice dress and heads out, all dressed up and nowhere to go from a literal standpoint. While the downtown area is pleasant enough, there aren’t a lot of people there and those that are aren’t particularly hospitable.

The name of the play that Krasi wrote is Black Coat and is autobiographical. Andy (Erickson), the actor portraying her father seems quite nice; Jeremy (Case), the director is also flustered but friendly at least; Natalie (Burger), the young actress playing Krasi as a teen is a bit withdrawn, spending time practicing on the violin when she’s not texting her friends but is more focused on schoolwork and getting into college than on picking Krasi’s brain for insights which Andy is more prone to doing. Andy takes Krasi to a beautiful urban park in Lexington which she appreciates but his invitation to dinner seem to create a distance between them.

She takes a tour of a local horse farm which is where Kentucky Derby runner-up Proud Citizen resides. She appreciates the horse and a pony that she gets to meet very much; there are statues of horses all over downtown Lexington but no actual horses. Lucy (Allison), the tour guide, befriends Krasi and invites her over for dinner where Krasi becomes enchanted with Elliot (Haynes), her 3-year-old son. Krasi eventually spends the night.

The next day is the Fourth of July and Lucy invites Krasi to go downtown and see the festivities. There’s funnel cake and parades, and eventually fireworks but while they are there Lucy meets an ex-boyfriend. She initially doesn’t want to get his attention but Krasi makes sure that he notices her and the two converse. The ex wants to take Lucy out and Krasi insists that Lucy go, promising to take Eliot home and watch over him until she returns.

She’s eventually gone overnight and Krasi goes outside after Elliot goes to sleep to play with sparklers, neglecting to lock the back door when she comes back in. After she falls asleep, Elliot wanders outside. When Lucy does eventually return, she is panicked to find that Elliot isn’t in his bed. She eventually finds him nearby but Krasi is absolutely mortified and leaves, having a lot to do as that evening is opening night for the play in any case and then she’ll be returning home the next day.

There is more but this is more of a slice of life, five days in a different country for Krasi. Southerland, a Kentucky native, shoots this in black and white which gives it a kind of timeless feel that combines Eastern Europe with a bygone era in America. The lovely black-and-white cinematography really sets the tone for the film.

Most of the cast is made up of amateurs, several of them having local stage experience in the Lexington area but that’s it. They do a pretty solid job considering their lack of film experience. Stoykova-Klemer has no acting experience; she is a poet who has a radio show in the Lexington area whose voice caught Southerland’s ear and whose story inspired the character of Stasi. In fact, Black Coats is the name of Stoykova-Klemer’s published book of poetry which in turn inspired the play that bears its name in the movie.

Loneliness is a central theme here; most of the main characters suffer from it in one form or another. Horses are also a main element which seems pretty understandable as they are a major part of the world that is Lexington. Most of the time Krasi handles the loneliness with a smile, but she has at least one moment of self-pity during the movie which is also understandable. It’s hard not to feel sorry for yourself when you’re alone as nobody is there to do it for you.

A good deal of the movie was improvised by the actors, making the conversation sound real and unforced. The story gets a little disjointed though; although it all makes sense by the end, it meanders a bit during the five day period which is I suppose the way our own stories in real life tend to be told.

This isn’t a movie for everybody. Those who are impatient, require their movies to be loud and kinetic will find this to be boring, which it most assuredly is not. This is a reflection of life and of an outsider looking at America through an outsider’s prism. We have a tendency to take things for granted over here, the kind of things that are hard to come by in lands less blessed by freedom and plenty than we are. We sometimes fail to realize how enviable our lives can be but then again, it is as human as it gets to want more than what we already have…or at least something different.

REASONS TO GO: Amateur cast comes through. Surprisingly conversational. Slice of life.
REASONS TO STAY: May be too low-key for some. A little bit scattered.
FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Lucy’s 3-year-old son is her 3-year-old son in real life.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/15: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lost in America
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Once Upon a Crime: The Borelli-Davis Conspiracy

Getaway


This is Ethan Hawke's career going up in flames.

This is Ethan Hawke’s career going up in flames.

(2013) Action (Warner Brothers) Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight, Rebecca Budig, Bruce Payne, Paul Freeman, Ivailo Geraskov, Dimo Alexiev, Slavi Pavlov, Deyan Angelov, Kaloian Vodenicharov, Danko Jordanov, Velizar Peev, Peewee Piemonte, Esteban Cueto, Kiril Todarov, Georgi Dimitrov, Lena Milan, Silvia Ranguelova, Maria Bobeva. Directed by Courtney Solomon

Some filmmakers accept their limitations and try to work within them. There are directors who specialize in certain types of movies and seem fairly content to making those sorts of films year after year, churning out films that are right in their wheelhouse. Others prefer to challenge themselves.

I’m not sure which kind of director Courtney Solomon is. What he has delivered to us here is basically a 90 minute car chase through the streets of downtown Sofia, Bulgaria with little thought given to plot or logic. The reason for that may be that Solomon is good and filming car stunts – or perhaps he isn’t and wants to get better at it.

Either way. Here we witness Brent Magra (Hawke), a former race car driver now living in Bulgaria after his career went belly-up and he’d turned briefly to a life of crime. Now married to a Good Woman (Budig) with whom he can start over in Eastern Europe, he is working a legit job. It’s Christmastime. What could go wrong?

Well, a lot. He comes home and finds his apartment trashed and blood on the floor. He receives a call on his cell from a guy with a German accent (Voight) who informs him that they have his wife. Just for good measure, pictures are sent to prove they mean business. Brent is to steal a car – a tricked out Shelby Mustang with all the latest gadgets including surveillance equipment inside and out, armor plating and a hands-free phone. It even comes with its irate owner, a Kid (Gomez) who is the daughter of a bank executive who happens to be a brilliant computer hacker and happens to have a gun. Brent is ordered to take her along and drive throughout downtown Sofia causing all manners of mayhem, like driving through a crowded park and ramming police cars.

Soon the entire Bulgarian police force is after him and the Kid and Brent need to figure out what the Voice wants; it’s clear to both of them that once the real deed is achieved the many and various thugs will kill Brent, the Kid, his Wife and a small village in Bosnia. Think of the Voice as a walking talking Monsanto.

It’s hard to know where to begin here. The acting is wooden and Gomez is horribly miscast. I get that she wants to scuttle her Disney Channel reputation and move on to more adult roles but she is about as convincing as a street-wise punk as De Niro would be as Tinker Bell. Hawke, who has done some fine work in the past, seems to be distracted throughout; maybe he’s thinking about how to invest his paycheck.

The big crime here is not the one being committed by the Voice and his gang but by the writers. There are incredible lapses in logic and continuity that are simply beyond amateur. For example, one of the tasks Brent and the Kid are given to do is to blow up a power plant by uploading a virus that overloads the system, causing a shower of sparks. We see the lights go out in Sofia. Cut to the very next scene and all the lights are on. Every. Last. One. When was the last time that your power went out and your lights came on within five minutes? Exactly.

Brent is chased by the cops and the thugs and none of them can shoot very well. Apparently there’s bullet proof glass in the car, but they are seen rolling down the windows on several occasions. Not with bullet proof glass you can’t. The Shelby is smashed and bashed by multiple collisions yet all the delicate electronics continue to work. Even given the armor plating, isn’t it likely a wire or two might be jarred loose?

I could go on and on but frankly this isn’t worth it. Those of you who think Hal Needham was too highbrow for your tastes might be happy as a pig in slop with this mess. For the rest of us, move along. Nothing here to see.

REASONS TO GO: Some decent car stunts.

REASONS TO STAY: Gomez is miscast. One trick pony.  Severe lapses in logic.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of action and general mayhem throughout, a few choice words here and there and a few rude gestures to go along with them.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: 130 cars were wrecked in the making of the movie; the wrecked cars were stored in an on-set junkyard.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/24/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 2% positive reviews. Metacritic: 22/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Transporter

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Kick-Ass 2

56 Up


Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

(2012) Documentary (First Run) Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker. Directed by Michael Apted and Paul Almond (archival footage)

In 1964, director Paul Almond along with a young researcher named Michael Apted who went on to a successful directing career interviewed fourteen 7-year-old children from around England (mostly the London area) from differing social circumstances. The interviews consisted of the hopes and dreams of the children; what they thought their lives would turn out to be. The television show that resulted in these interviews became a wild success in British and was made a feature film that received a great deal of acclaim here in the United States.

Every seven years since then Apted would return to chat with the fourteen subjects (Peter Davies dropped out after 28 Up in 1985 but returns in time for the newest installment, ostensibly to promote his band the Good Intentions and Charles Furneaux dropped out of the series after 21 Up in 1978 to pursue his own documentary career). Remarkably, all 14 have reached middle age with varying degrees of comfort.

The initial series was supposed to be a commentary on the British class system. What it has become is something else entirely. It has become much more of a personal study, looking at the individuals and how their lives have progressed.

Few lives have been as poignant as that of Neil Hughes. He has skirted on the edge of society, on occasions being homeless. There are certainly demons there; he is asked point blank about his sanity and reflects that he has received some sort of therapy although he doesn’t elaborate. He often seems melancholy, as if disappointed by his own experiences and in where his life has gone. None who saw the ebullient young Neil in Seven Up! and Seven plus Seven Up would have predicted this. In 56 Up he is on a town public works council in Cambria (he seems to prefer Britain’s north) and has become an Anglican canon where he gets to do just about everything a priest does. While he doesn’t seem completely satisfied with his life, he at least seems to be more sanguine than he’s been in recent years.

It is hard to ignore the incidence of divorce in the lives of these kids. While some have been blessed with long marriages (some rocky – Tony Walker dealt with his own infidelity but he and his wife managed to work things out without divorcing) five of the kids have been divorced at least once with one having never married (Neil).

Their lives have turned out quite a bit differently than they would have predicted I think. At 56 the gaze is turning more to the past than the future; ahead lies retirement and grandchildren (some of them are already enjoying the latter) and at this time of life one becomes more or less resigned if not content with one’s position in life or at the very least accepting of it.

These movies are a bit of a mixed blessing. They are fascinating on the one hand to see the progression of life from youth to middle age but these are mere snapshots. It’s like taking a Polaroid of a life and extrapolating from it. As Nick Hitchon, now teaching electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin says that this “is not an absolutely accurate picture (of me) but it’s the picture of somebody and that’s the value of it.”

It is not for me to judge a life and in some ways we are forced to do just that in viewing this. We become as voyeurs, making opinions of these lives and passing judgment on those who have lived them and while that’s inevitable, it’s also something to be resisted. Keep in mind that we are seeing these people through interviews that last approximately six hours out of seven years. We really aren’t getting to know them as people, just the surface facts. And for some of them, it is more compelling than it is for others.

This is a fairly long movie (about two hours) and it can be tedious in places. There is certainly a value to these movies – this was reality television before there was reality television – but it isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. If all you want out of a movie is to be taken out of your own life and transported to more exciting and wonderful places, this isn’t going to do much for you. But those who look to find insight into their own lives by seeing the lives of others will find much value here.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating, particularly if you’ve been following the series for 49 years.

REASONS TO STAY: Not every life is interesting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of foul language but that’s about it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The series began on British television and continues there to this day; it is in the United States that a compilation has been released as a feature film for almost every installment.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100; the documentary got outstanding reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 49 Up

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jack the Giant Slayer

The Expendables 2


The Expendables

Chuck Norris jut made that car burst into flames with the power of his steely-eyed glare.

(2012) Action (Lionsgate) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, Jet Li, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jean-Claude van Damme, Chuck Norris, Scott Adkins, Charisma Carpenter, Amanda Ooms, Nikolette Noel. Directed by Simon West

 

Back in the 70s and 80s, action movies were at their pinnacle. Movies like The Terminator, Rambo, Die Hard, Timecop and Missing in Action were box office bonanzas. As time went on and the men who played those heroes aged, the popularity of these sorts of movies began to wane. Although new heroes like Jet Li and Jason Statham took those action spots, action heroes were as likely to star in family movies geared towards kids as they were in old fashioned shoot ’em ups.

In 2010, Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed The Expendables, an ensemble action movie uniting some of the biggest action heroes of the last 30 years, including Stallone, Statham, Willis, Schwarzenegger, Li, Mickey Rourke and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Just getting those names onto the big screen together was a feat in and of itself and it ignited the imaginations of fanboys all over the world. Schwarzenegger was still Governor of California at the time and hadn’t been in a movie for six years.

The movie was a big hit and of course plans for a sequel rolled around. Rourke dropped out, van Damme and Norris signed up (as did Liam Hemsworth) and Stallone relinquished the director’s chair to veteran action director West, who has Con-Air to his credit among others – the Stallion wanted to concentrate on writing – and here we go again.

This time, the Expendables – led by Barney Ross (Stallone) and his right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham)  are on a mission to rescue a Chinese billionaire and gets an extra added bonus attraction. Shortly thereafter, Ross has a meeting with Church (Willis) to whom Ross owes a favor – and Church aims to collect. He wants Barney’s team to head to Bulgaria to find a downed plane which was carrying a safe. The contents of the safe are something Church wants very much. He sends computer expert Maggie (Yu) along to help open the safe.

But things go south. They are intercepted by Vilain (van Damme) who also wants the contents of the safe. One of the Expendables doesn’t make it out of the encounter alive. Barney and the boys don’t take too kindly to it. They want that which is stolen from them but also they want payback. And we all know what payback is.

One of the problems with movies like this is that so many characters is that many of them get short shrift in screen time. That was also the complaint with the first movie in which Willis and Schwarzenegger only appeared in one scene. They have considerably more time onscreen this time out and get to do what we all wanted them to do in the first movie – shoot stuff up. But what the filmmakers giveth the filmmakers taketh away – Jet Li literally parachutes out of the movie after a single scene.

And there’s a whole lot of that. And if that’s all that you’re after, you’ve found nirvana here. The story is pretty….well, non-descript. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before and no way you’re not going to figure out what’s going to happen next at every turn. And let’s face it – none of these guys are known for being amazing actors. But that’s not why you’d go and see a movie like this.

But still in all, the last movie had Mickey Rourke to elevate it. He gave a soliloquy during the first movie that still gives me the shivers it’s so good. There’s nothing like that here. I will admit that watching Chuck Norris save the day (as he does twice) put a huge smile on my face. There’s even a Chuck Norris fact for your cinematic enjoyment – it’s the one about the cobra, for those who are up on such things.

I have to admit that the thrill of seeing these guys together was kind of lost the second time out. It was nice and all but this is essentially a generic by-the-numbers action movie with a high-priced cast. It’s a novelty, but not much more. Sadly, I’m less eager to see The Expendables 3 than I was to see The Expendables 2.

REASONS TO GO: Seeing these old war horses in action again is a hoot.

REASONS TO STAY: Overreliance on catchphrase and cliché. A bit too predictable.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and foul language, a little bit of sensuality too (but not much).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gunnar Jensen has a degree in chemical engineering. So does the actor who plays him, Dolph Lundgren.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/25/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100. The reviews are mixed but trending towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Losers

CATCHPHRASE LOVERS: Iconic catchphrases from action movies, like “I’ll be back” and “Yippie Ki Yay” are all uttered although generally not by the actors who first said them.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Cinema Paradiso