Big Kill (2018)


You can always tell the bad guys by their eccentric taste in fashion.

(2018) Western (Cinedigm/Archstone) Christoph Sanders, Scott Martin, Clint Hummel, Jason Patric, Lou Diamond Phillips, Michael Parė, Danny Trejo, K.C. Clyde, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Audrey Walters, Jermaine Washington, Dennis LaValle, David Manzanares, Sarah Minnich, Paul Blott, Stephanie Beran, Toby Bronson, Bob Jesser, David Hight, Itzel Montelongo, Tsailii Rogers. Directed by Scott Martin

 

Part of the reason Westerns were so popular 50 and 60 years ago is that once upon a time, they were fun. The hero was always an easy-going sort with a code of honor not unlike a knight of old, the shopkeeper was as honest as the day was long, the villains were shoot first and don’t ask questions at all, and the saloon gals had hearts of gold.

Along came the ‘70s to turn the heroes into anti-heroes, the shopkeepers to be racists, the villains even more despicable than the heroes but only just so, and saloon gals who were hookers whose bustles came off at the drop of a cowboy hat.  The audience became somewhat more sophisticated and Westerns all but disappeared from the cinematic landscape.

They’ve begun to slowly come back only recently and there have been a few really good ones in and among the mix with even the occasional big budget Hollywood western making an appearance every so often. The hallowed B Western, once the province of actors like Dean Martin, Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood, have remained in the background although from time to time an indie western surfaces, generally on the ultra-violent side (Bone Tomahawk).

Big Kill opens up with a pair of ne’er do well gunfighters – Travis (Hummel) who never met a woman he couldn’t seduce, and Jake (Martin), a gambler who if it weren’t for bad luck wouldn’t have any luck at all – being run out of Mexico by a general (Trejo) whose daughter Travis defiled. While under the protection of the U.S. Cavalry in an outpost so forlorn and isolated it can barely be called a fort, they meet up with Philadelphia accountant Jim Andrews (Sanders) who is on his way to the Silver mine boom town of Big Kill, Arizona to meet up with his brother who wrote Jim glowingly about the saloon he owns and how successful the town is.

When they get there, nobody has heard of Jim’s brother, the town is nearly deserted and those who have remained are intimidated by the nefarious Preacher (Patric) who believes in handing out his brand of justice on the end of a gun and salvation, as he administers the last rites to those he guns down, as well as the Preacher’s enforcer, sociopathic gunslinger Johnny Kane (Phillips) who looks like Wayne Newton playing a gaudy 50s cowboy in a red suit.

Travis and Jake are all for leaving while the leaving is good but Jim needs to find out what happened to his brother. He meets shopkeeper’s daughter Sophie (McLaughlin) who is sweet as pie but a real pistol. She gives Jim another reason to stick around; however, you know that a confrontation between the bad guys and the good guys for the soul of the town is just around the corner.

This is a fun little movie that has some really nice touches; the final gunfight between Jim and the Preacher involves the two mostly circling around each other and firing off wild shots that don’t hit anything except, maybe, a cameraman on the movie filming over at the next butte. Despite the fact that the Preacher was earlier shown to be a proficient gunfighter, Jim being an Eastern tenderfoot and proud of it likely would be hard pressed to hit the broad side of a barn door. Sanders, best known as lovable dim bulb Kyle in Last Man Standing, is perfectly cast for the role and does a pretty credible job of holding our interest.

Patric, a veteran of some really good movies back in the 90s, does a fine turn as the charismatic villain that makes me wonder why he doesn’t get cast more often. Phillips doesn’t play a mustache twirling villain all that often but he does a good job of it here, sans the mustache twirling.

Like most westerns, there are some beautifully photographed vistas and a soundtrack that mixes soaring themes with the occasional twang twang twang of the Jew’s harp to lend color. Where the movie falls down is in the editing; some of the exposition is drawn out too much and some of the scenes could have used some tightening up. Still, there is a lot to like here. This is the kind of Western I used to watch regularly on TV and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A little nostalgia is good for the soul.

REASONS TO SEE: This really isn’t half-bad. Sanders is inspired casting.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the exposition is excessive and would have benefited from tighter editing. It’s a little bit derivative.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, a good deal of violence, some sexuality and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is an English-language remake of Lelio’s 2013 film Gloria.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/9/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 22% positive reviews: Metacritic: 42/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Magnificent Seven
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Advertisements

Silencer


 

Even the best of shots don’t always hit what they take aim at.

(2018) Action (Cinedigm) Johnny Messner, Danny Trejo, Robert LoSardo, Nikki Leigh, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Heather Johansen, Erik Aude, Edward Modlin II, Mariene Márquez, Mike Ferguson, Sofia Esmaili, Erin Michele Soto, Said Faraj, Tristian Eggerling, Ashlee Nicole Jordan, William Guirola, Nailia Lajoie, Noli Mollakuge, Tom Struckhoff, Victor Boneva, Rachael Santhon. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

Some men kill for their country; they are trained to do it and it is a job for most of them. However, when someone’s family is threatened, killing becomes much more than a job and if the person in question is a trained sniper, God help the one doing the threatening.

Frank (Messner) is a decorated ex-Marine whose military service was marred by the accidental killing of a child. The event haunted him and led him to seek a quiet life as a restorer of antique vehicles in Las Cruces, New Mexico. One of his clients, Ocho (Trejo) has cartel connections as well as a personal friendship with Frank going back a ways. When Ocho’s daughter is hit by a drunk driver and dies in her own driveway, Ocho wants vengeance. Frank agrees to help him get it but this will be his last job. You can guess how that’s going to work out.

When Frank stalks the drunk driver, he meets up with him and discovers there are children in the car and so he can’t quite bring himself to pull the trigger. The grief-stricken Ocho doesn’t care; he wants this guy dead and when Frank fails, Ocho sends his henchman Nels (Liddell, channeling Michael Rooker) to kidnap Frank’s stepdaughter and ends up shooting Frank’s girlfriend Cass (Leigh). That turns out to be a mistake; Frank along with his buddy Lazarus (Ortiz) go on a rampage that ends up with a bloody confrontation on Ocho’s Old Mexican hacienda.

This is essentially standard revenge action fare, with Messner doing a surprisingly good job in the role of an action antihero. Frank is a bit of a loose cannon, he has a drinking problem and tends to shut out the people he loves the most. However, push him a little bit and he turns into Schwarzenegger and Stallone’s crazy love child. There is a future for Messner in low budget action films and maybe some big budget ones if he gets a few breaks.

The dialogue tends to be florid and infected with clichés.. There are also some pacing problems particularly early on, although the ending is pretty nifty if you ask me. However, most of the actors chew the scenery with gusto which is distracting at times.

This is not something I would generally recommend; the movie is seriously flawed. However, fans of 80s and 90s action movies ought to get a kick out of this one and it is possible that Messner may be an action star in the not-so-distant future. For those reasons alone I give the movie a very mild thumbs up, as a better film critic than I might have said.

REASONS TO GO: Messner has a lot of potential as an action hero.
REASONS TO STAY: The film starts slowly (although it does pick up).
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and a fair amount of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Liddell and Ortiz are notorious MMA rivals.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Commando
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
It Will Be Chaos

Good Fortune: The John Paul DeJoria Story


John Paul DeJoria did well so he could do good.

(2016) Documentary (Paladin) John Paul DeJoria, Dan Aykroyd, Danny Trejo, Arianna Huffington, Cheech Marin, Robert Kennedy, Ron White, John Capra, Michelle Phillips, Pierce Brosnan, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Lou Jacobellis, Michaeline DeJoria, Goose, Pam Peplow, Angus Mitchell, Paul Watson, Alexis DeJoria, Julia Povost, Joyce Campbell, Mara Goudrine, Ilana Edelstein. Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell

 

“Success that is not shared is failure” according to billionaire John Paul DeJoria. It’s an attitude that is refreshing in an era where the top 1% of our wealthiest citizens are viewed with distrust if not outright hostility and for good reason. Our wealthy have acted in a manner befitting the “Let them eat cake” crowd in an orgy of conspicuous consumption and overall lack of care for the planet and the people on it. The arrogance and utter blind disregard that they have shown to everyone and everything else that doesn’t immediately affect their bank accounts positively is absolutely deplorable.

DeJoria is different. He came from a background that these days isn’t uncommon, but back in the 40s and 50s was certainly not the norm. His father left when John Paul, or JP as most of his friends call him, was two years old. Raised by a single mom – an immigrant from Greece – in East Los Angeles, he and his brother were poor but never really knew that they were. His mother instilled in them a respect for others and a desire to help those who were worse off than themselves, making JP and his brother put a dime in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas even though they were living hand to mouth but even then she felt the urge to do good. DeJoria justifiably has been close to his mom ever since.

After a stint in the U.S. Navy where he learned the value of hard work and teamwork, he set out to make something of himself. He discovered an affinity for sales and was successful selling encyclopedias door to door as well as a short but successful career selling life insurance. After being introduced to the hair care industry working for Redken (a company my own father worked for decades earlier) he met hairstylist Paul Mitchell in 1971 and together they formed John Paul Mitchell Systems, a hair care line sold exclusively through salons. After a rocky and precarious start, the partners were rewarded when the 80s, perhaps the most hair-conscious era in history, helped their sales explode..

After Mitchell’s death in 1986 from pancreatic cancer, DeJoria became the sole owner of the company and continued to run it in the manner he always had; with an eye towards the environment and with respect and care for the people who worked for him. He had come a long way from living out of his car on two separate occasions (including once while he was getting John Paul Mitchell Systems up and running), from being in a biker gang (after graduating high school) and from two failed marriages.

He would use his millions to start several ventures, including the House of Blues and Absolut Vodka (not touched upon in the film) and more importantly, Patron Tequila which is covered extensively in the movie. He married a third time and found love; he has been a doting father to his blended family with children from both his previous marriages and from his new one, as well as her children from before her marriage to John Paul. One of his children is Alexis DeJoria, a funny car driver who owns the world record.

Ever since the Salvation Army incident in his youth, JP has had almost an obsession with giving back. He supports something like 250 different charities not only with financial contributions but also with his rather precious time. He is shown here spending time with Chrysalis, a Los Angeles-based charity that gets homeless people aid in getting back into the workforce, and Sea Shepard, dedicated to stopping illegal poaching of marine life (such as blue whales and bluefin tuna, both nearly extinct). Not shown in the film is his devotion to Food4Africa which has provided something like 400,000 meals to starving children in Africa since their inception. Not touched upon in the film was his contribution to Ted Cruz’ campaign which seems at odds with his world view of protecting the planet. I’d love to know why he would donate to someone who has voted consistently against climate change and environmental protection but that’s just me.

The husband/wife team of Joshua and Rebecca Tickell has some pretty serious films to their credit and to their credit they do portray their subject as distinctly non-saintly although there is a steady stream of praise coming from such celebrities as Cheech Marin, Ariana Huffington, Pierce Brosnan, Ron White, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Danny Trejo and Michelle Phillips – the latter two friends since childhood.

I get the sense that DeJoria is much too humble to want to be the subject of a fawn-a-thon. What my guess is that he did this picture for was to inspire those who are down and out to go out and chase their dream anyway. He certainly did and through hard work and determination became wealthy beyond his wildest imagining. Not everyone is going to achieve that kind of success but certainly people willing to do their best are likely to at least improve their situation in life.

DeJoria is an inspiring person whose commitment to the environment, to the betterment of humanity and to the inspiration of others is worthy of emulation. I wish that more of the 1% would adopt his attitude and some have to be fair – I see you, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – although not enough to rehabilitate the reputation of the rich and shameless.

DeJoria is also an engaging, charismatic individual and that makes the film a lot easier to enjoy. Not only are you rooting for him throughout the film but you want to hang out with him – and one gets the sense that he would love for you to hang out with him, too. People like DeJoria are rare commodities these days and if anyone deserves a documentary of their own, it’s them. I’m glad that DeJoria got his.

REASONS TO GO: The subject is quite inspiring. DeJoria himself is an engaging personality.
REASONS TO STAY: The film occasionally is too fawning.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of DeJoria’s children work for him at Paul Mitchell Systems.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Becoming Warren Buffett
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Traficant: The Congressman of Crimetown

New Releases for the Week of June 2, 2017


WONDER WOMAN

(Warner Brothers) Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Ewen Bremner, Danny Huston. Directed by Patty Jenkins

The enigmatic Diana Prince from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice gets her origin story as the DC Extended Universe kicks into high gear for 2017. Diana, Princess of the Amazons, has her idyllic life on an island that is nothing short of paradise interrupted by the arrival of a handsome American pilot who crash lands in the waters surrounding her island. He tells the incredulous Amazons that a war has engulfed the entire world and Diana knows that she must go to the world of men to save it, but if she does so she will go against the wishes of her mother.

See the trailer, clips and video features here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content)

3 Idiotas

(Pantelion) Martha Higareda, Sebastián Zurita, Vadhir Derbez, Germán Valdés. Two engineering students decide to go on a quest to find their friend Pancho, who disappeared on the eve of college graduation. Having been through some unforgettable adventures in college, it can only get even more bizarre now that they’ve graduated. Well, at least two of them anyway.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal The Loop

Rating: NR

All About the Money

(Gravitas) Danny Trejo, Casper Van Dien, Mindy Robinson, Lin Shaye. Two buddies who are having financial difficulties are convinced by a third to take a vacation in a third world country. Only after arriving do they discover the real reason they are there – to capture the most wanted criminal in America for the reward money, despite the fact they are woefully unprepared and untrained for the job.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex

Rating: NR

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

(DreamWorks Animation) Starring the voices of Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll. Two young pranksters manage to hypnotize their overbearing school principal into thinking he’s the dimwitted superhero Captain Underpants. The consequences of their prank however go beyond what they could have expected. Based on the bestselling juvenile book series and cartoon show.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor throughout)

Churchill

(Cohen Media Group) Brian Cox, Miranda Richardson, John Slattery, James Purefoy. On the eve of D-Day, the Allied forces gather in England to mount the monumental invasion of Europe. One man stands in the way – Winston Churchill. Britain’s doughty Prime Minister, exhausted by years of war and haunted by his failure at Gallipoli in World War I, he is desperate not to be the architect of carnage once again. Beset by political opponents and frustrated generals, only the intervention of his wife and his King may yet spur to greatness a man who is destined for it.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief war images, historical smoking throughout, and some language)

Paris Can Wait

(Sony Classics) Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin, Arnaud Viard, Élodie Navarre. The wife of a successful but inattentive movie producer is tired of traveling through Europe (first world problems) and wants to head straight to Paris rather than go on to Budapest and who can blame her. Her husband’s French business partner offers to drive her. Instead of a seven hour direct drive, instead the business partner takes her on a real Tour de France, meandering down country roads and showing her fine food, fabulous wines and spectacular sights – the real France. Along the way her sense of life and joy in living is reawakened.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website
.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, smoking and some language)

Vincent N Roxxy

(Vertical) Emile Hirsch, Zoë Kravitz, Zoey Deutch, Emory Cohen. A loner in a small town falls for rebellious punk rocker. Circumstances dictate that they take an immediate departure from where they are but wherever they go, violence and bloodshed seems to follow them.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs

Rating: R (for bloody brutal violence, language throughout, some strong sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use)

The Wedding Plan

(Roadside Attractions) Davi Alferon, Noa Koler, Oded Leopold, Ronny Merhavi. With only six weeks to go before her wedding, a 32-year-old Orthodox Jew is dumped by her husband-to-be. Rather than cancel all the plans – the reception hall, the dress, the ceremony – she believes that God will provide her a groom and goes on a whirlwind search for the right man to spend the rest of her life with.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for thematic elements)

ALSO PLAYING IN MIAMI:

Afterimage
Champion
The Commune
Elián
Slack Bay

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

Obit

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

Buster’s Mal Heart

Storks


For those who wonder how babies are made, here's your answer.

For those who wonder how babies are made, here’s your answer.

(2016) Animated Feature (Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell, Anton Starkman, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Danny Trejo, Stephen Kramer Glickman, Chris Smith, Awkwafina, Ike Barinholtz, Jorma Taccone, Amanda Lund. Directed by Doug Sweetland and Nicholas Stoller

 

In a cutthroat commercial world, one must adapt to survive. Nobody knows that better than the storks, who at one time delivered babies exclusively. However, as satisfying as that job was, it wasn’t very lucrative. Now they toil for Cornerstore, a dot com shopping site that bears a sneaky resemblance to Amazon. Less baby poop to clean up, too.

Junior (Samberg) is the best courier in all of stork-dom. He has earned the attention of Hunter (Grammer), the boss stork who is looking for someone to succeed him. Junior seems the most likely candidate. All in all, Junior’s life is going exactly the way he wants.

Not so for Nate Gardner (Starkman), a little boy who is bored and lonely. His Mom (Aniston) and Dad (Burrell) are both completely involved in their real estate business with little time for their son. He desperately wants a sibling to fill his time, preferably one with ninja skills. As a result, he sends a letter to the Storks hoping to get a new baby brother.

Junior gets his first assignment as Hunter’s protégé; he is to fire Tulip (Crown), a human girl (the only human on Stork Mountain) whose delivery to her parents was messed up by the psychotic stork Jasper (Trejo) so she has been trying to earn her keep for the storks, except that she’s something of a klutz. Hunter has had enough of her, but the tender-hearted Junior exiles her to the “mail room” where letters requesting babies are essentially warehoused, as the storks don’t answer those any longer. Of course, Tulip being Tulip, she accidentally activates the baby-making machine with a single letter – the one Nate Gardner sent.

Now there’s a baby to be delivered and Junior realizes that it must be done quietly or his career is history. So he and Tulip set off to get the rugrat delivered, while Nate prepares his house for the new arrival and the deliverers are chased by a pack of very limber wolves (don’t ask) and when Hunter finds out from Pigeon Toady (Glickman), a real stool pigeon, things are going to get even more complicated.

The tone here skews towards the whimsical, with occasional moments that recall the Looney Tunes which are part of the Warner Animation Group’s DNA. The Rube Goldberg-esque baby making machine is fun to watch in action and the Wolves who turn themselves into submarines and motorcycles (among other things) are also pretty clever.

That said the movie also goes for the Disney points by getting the family bonding thing going between Nate and his parents and setting Tulip up to find her “birth” parents. Kids today are also a lot more sophisticated; while they may not necessarily know how babies are born, they certainly know that storks don’t bring ‘em. In that sense, the story is a bit antiquated.

The voice casting is top of the line, and one must give the producers kudos for including both Key and Peele in the cast; they work as well together here as they do on their hit Comedy Central show, albeit with less scintillating material. In fact, things pretty much go the non-subversive route, although the anti-corporate tinge here might infuriate your average Trump supporter.

In any case, this is pretty lightweight material that will keep your kids occupied and likely not rile you up too much unless, of course, you tend towards the heavy capitalist philosophy of life. Chances are you’ll be drifting off with far better movies on your mind while you watch this bit of fluff with your kids.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of whimsy displayed throughout the movie.
REASONS TO STAY: Plenty of cliches displayed throughout the movie.
FAMILY VALUES:  There are some thematic elements and some kid-friendly action sequences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The Ty Burrell character is a real estate agent; Burrell also plays a real estate agent in his TV series Modern Family.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/23/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Arthur Christmas
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Stray

The Ridiculous 6


The Old West was never this wild.

The Old West was never this wild.

(2015) Western Comedy (Netflix) Adam Sandler, Luke Wilson, Rob Schneider, Nick Nolte, Jorge Garcia, Terry Crews, Will Forte, Steve Zahn, Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Whitney Cummings, David Spade, Danny Trejo, Nick Swardson, Blake Shelton, Vanilla Ice, Julia Jones, Saginaw Grant, Lavell Crawford, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Chris Kattan, Norm McDonald, Jackie Sandler. Directed by Frank Coraci

With Westerns making a bit of a comeback lately, it’s inevitable that there would be movies that poke fun at the genre. With Adam Sandler involved, that means there are a segment of people who will tune in no matter what. Others will stay away in droves.

White Knife (Sandler) is an orphan, taken in by the Apache when his mother was murdered. The Apache chief Screaming Eagle (Grant) teaches the young white boy how to fight, and the ways of the Apache warrior, which turn out to be somewhat more Zen than Caucasian culture gave them credit for. He is engaged to Smoking Fox (Jones), the most beautiful woman in the tribe. When a would-be outlaw (Zahn) tries to make trouble with her, White Knife makes short work of him.

However, there is trouble on the horizon. White Knife’s biological father, whom he never knew, shows up at the camp. His name is Frank Stockburn (Nolte) and he wants to make get to know the son he never knew. Just then, his old outlaw gang led by the notorious Cicero (Trejo) shows up and Stockburn hides his stash with the tribe, knowing Cicero will take it. Instead, Cicero takes Frank who tries to lead the gang away from the peaceful Native Americans by saying the stash is buried by an old windmill. White Knife knows that unless Cicero gets the $50,000 that Frank had taken, the old man would be killed.

Having just met his dad, White Knife isn’t willing to let him die. He heads out after them, vowing to obtain the money one way or another to rescue dear old dad. However, it turns out Dear Old Dad was very busy. White Knife discovers he has five half-brothers of other mothers – Ramon (Schneider) the Mexican bandito with the amazing diarrhea donkey, Lil’ Pete (Lautner) who’s the village idiot for more than one village but has a curiously strong neck, Chico (Crews) a saloon pianist who doesn’t use his fingers to tickle the ivories but something a little more genitalia-like, Herm (Garcia) the nearly unintelligible moonshiner and Danny (Wilson) who was Abe Lincoln’s bodyguard at Ford’s Theater who inadvertently showed John Wilkes Booth (Kattan) the road to infamy.

All six of these men have peculiar talents. All six are eager to rescue their father. And all six are incredibly, incredibly ridiculous. The Old West will never be the same once they’ve hit town.

Sandler as I alluded to earlier seems to affect people in extreme ways; either they are utterly devoted to him, or they hate him with a passion. He seems to inspire no middle ground. I try to be as objective as I can about him but I find that when he tends to be a little more serious I actually appreciate him more; his humor tends to be a little more scatological and quite frankly, a bit more juvenile-appealing than is my own personal taste.

He has assembled an impressive cast, several of whom (Crews, Schneider, MacDonald) are all veterans of SNL or of Sandler films, as well as folks like Nolte – who does a fine job here unsurprisingly – and Lautner, who does a really good job here, surprisingly. The latter hasn’t really exhibited much in the way of comedy chops previously, having done mostly action roles in movies that weren’t all that good. However, he proves to have some timing and comic presence, neither of which are easy tasks. I found myself liking him here, which isn’t my usual reaction to his performances.

Part of the problem here is that a lot of jokes fell flat for me, and it appears to a lot of other critics as well (see scores below). The whole thing about the amazing crapping donkey is humor at the level of five-year-olds and I know Sandler is better than that. Still, one can’t argue with success and most of the movies of his that reap box office gold have been the ones that have been, to me, the most childish. I think that says a lot more about the movie-going public than it does about Sandler.

Westerns tend to lend themselves to wonderful vistas and extraordinary cinematography and this movie was no different as veteran Dean Semler gives us some pretty pictures to look at. This is one of Sandler’s most cinematic films which makes it a bit ironic that it was released directly to Netflix as part of his four-picture deal with the streaming giant. However, it wasn’t for lack of trying; the film was in development at three different theatrical studios until Netflix finally came in and got it made.

There has been some controversy about the portrayal of Native American culture and I don’t intend to ignore it. While some outlets got nearly hysterical about it to the point of knee-jerkiness, the fact is that that several Native American extras had some concerns about the jokes made at the expense of their culture and eventually walked off the set when those concerns weren’t addressed. The initial reports made it sound like there was an uprising the size of Little Big Horn; in actuality the affair involved four extras, far less than the 150 Native American extras who were employed by the film. Watching the movie, I didn’t see anything that was more than culturally insensitive but the movie seemed to be that way to nearly everyone, in particular the white culture itself. Perhaps if the movie had been better written the insults would have seemed less egregious.

REASONS TO GO: A really good cast with Nolte and Lautner actually doing some good work. Lovely cinematography.
REASONS TO STAY: Unnecessarily dumb gags and situations. Attempts at parody miss the mark.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor, mild profanity and sexual innuendo.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A group of Native American extras walked off the set due to what they perceived as negative and inaccurate portrayals of their culture; while initially the number of extras involved was reported to be about a dozen, sources close to the film put the number at four actors.
BEYOND THE THEATER:  Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/18/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews. Metacritic: 18/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Million Ways to Die in the West
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Angels Crest

The Book of Life


Viva Mexico!

Viva Mexico!

(2014) Animated Feature (20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Carlos Alazraqui, Ana de la Reguera, Emil-Bastien Bouffard, Elias Garza, Genesis Ochoa, Placido Domingo, Gabriel Iglesias, Miguel Sandoval, Grey deLisle, Dan Navarro, Sandra Echeverria. Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez

They say the only two sure things in life are death and taxes. That’s not strictly true; there is one other sure thing – that love wins out over everything. All three of those items however are sure things in all cultures although they tend to put their own spins on everything. Take Mexico, for example.

At a museum a group of snot-nosed little brats are given a museum tour by the bemused Mary Beth (Applegate). She brings them into an as-of-yet unopened exhibit on Mexico and presents to them the Book of Life, an amazing magical book that contains all the stories ever written and proceeds to present to them a story from San Angel, a small village in Mexico. The town lives constantly in fear of the reprehensible bandit Chakal (Navarro).

There Manolo (Luna) comes from a long line of heroic bull fighters including his prideful father Carlos (Elizondo) and an acerbic grandmother (deLisle). His closest friend is Joaquin (Tatum) whose father died a hero. Joaquin wants nothing more than to be the hero his father was, if not greater. With them is Maria (Saldana), a headstrong little charmer whose father General Posada (Alazraqui) is alcalde of the village of San Angel. Both boys vie for the hand of Maria, who is sent away to Europe to learn manners.

When she returns, she is a beautiful young woman. Joaquin has become a heroic soldier in defense of the town and in fact, all of Mexico. Manolo shows potential to be the greatest Sanchez of them all but longs to be a troubadour, guitar in hand and spends most of his free time playing mariachi music with Pepe (Iglesias) much to the disapproval of his father. The two young men resume their rivalry although they continue to be the best of friends.

Unbeknownst to anyone in the village, two rulers of the underworld – La Muerte (del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba (Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten – have taken interest in the situation with Manolo, Joaquin and Maria and have enacted a little wager. If Xibalba wins, he gets to rule the vibrant Land of the Remembered which is an eternal fiesta. Given that the Land of the Forgotten is a depressing wasteland, he will do whatever it takes to win the wager – including to cheat. He makes sure that not only does Manolo lose the wager but that he is bitten by a particularly venomous snake in the bargain.

Manolo awakens in the Land of the Remembered where souls who are remembered and loved by someone in world of the living, a colorful land that gets even more festive on the Day of the Dead (which is when I happened to see the movie – how is that for smart planning?) when the fiesta turns epic. Manolo meets his mother (de la Reguera) as well as other deceased members of the Sanchez family including the opera singer wannabe Jorge (Domingo). However, Manolo doesn’t want to be dead. He wants to return because his love for Maria is so strong.

Realizing that Xibalba had a hand in Monolo’s premature demise, Monolo’s family agree to help him go see The Candle Maker (Cube), a jovial god who is in charge of maintaining balance in the universe.  But the way to his domain is a perilous one and in Monolo’s absence San Angel is in mortal danger. Can Manolo save the day after he’s already dead?

The visuals here are charming and inventive, colorful and arresting. Based on Mexican folk art particularly the work of Jose Guadalupe Posada, the characters resemble wooden marionettes with a curiously human overlay. You’ve never seen anything quite like this.

While most animated features are fairy tales, this is folklore (there is quite a difference) even though the story is essentially an original one, it’s roots are in characters and symbols that exist in Mexican folklore traditions. Although a bit sugar coated and watered down, there is still some kernels of Mexico here and carry a flavor of that country that is as real and vibrant as a properly made guacamole.

Gutierrez wisely casts actors with distinctive voices that make their roles personable and memorable. He also casts a good deal of Hispanic actors in the role some of whom might be unfamiliar to you but are stars in Mexico, like telenovela heroine del Castillo, leading man Luna (who has appeared in a number of Hollywood films as well), action hero Trejo and comedians Iglesias and Cheech Marin.

There are also several gringos in the cast – Tatum, Elizondo (who is of Portuguese descent), Saldana, Ice Cube and Applegate. All of the cast, Hispanic and otherwise, perform admirably. The plot may be paper-thin and resemble typical animated plots in construction, but the visuals and Mexican cultural overlay elevate the movie from the typical.

Now there may be a few who take offense at some of the images – a giant mustache on Mexico as the center of a universe that looks uncannily like a sombrero and the characters who nearly all look like something out of a theme park version of Mexico with serapes, sombreros and facial hair adorning nearly every character. There is also the old trope of a woman being fought over like she’s the Publisher’s Clearing House prize. However, I suspect that this is not done so much as perpetuating stereotypes as it is making gentle fun of them as the filmmakers treat these things with affection. It is part of the Mexican culture to be humorously self-effacing.

It is nice to see an animated feature that isn’t largely just like all the others. Even Pixar has put out one or two of these lately. In a year where family audiences have been under-served, this comes as a breath of fresh air. Hopefully families will embrace this movie rather than reject it because of its cultural element; the soft box office it has had leads me to suspect that there are some families who are choosing not to see it because they aren’t interested in the Mexican culture at all. I hope not, but I do have to wonder in a country that has not grown out of its racist tendencies yet (as evidenced by draconian laws in Arizona and a refusal to overhaul its immigration policies aimed squarely at keeping Mexicans out) that this beautifully made feature hasn’t been a bigger hit than it is – or deserves to be.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderfully inventive and beautiful animation. All the voices have character.
REASONS TO STAY: Not sure if its making fun of racial and gender stereotypes or perpetuating them.
FAMILY VALUES: Some rude humor and mildly scary images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Paul Williams was approached to co-write a pair of songs on the soundtrack because director Jorge R. Gutierrez was a fan of his work in Phantom of the Paradise.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/5/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Corpse Bride
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Ouija