Lucky


The late great Harry Dean Stanton gives us one last hurrah.

(2017) Dramedy (Magnolia) Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, Yvonne Huff, Hugo Armstrong, Bertila Damas, Ana Mercedes, Sarah Cook, Amy Claire, Ulysses Olmedo, Mikey Kampmann, Otti Feder, Pam Sparks, Alan Corvaia, Rhandy Torres, K.C. Page, Bonnie Williams. Directed by John Carroll Lynch

 

Hollywood lost one of it’s all time greatest character actors in Harry Dean Stanton on September 15 last year. Fittingly, he had one film left in the pipeline that turned out to be an appropriate farewell for the late actor.

Lucky (Stanton) is a curmudgeonly World War II vet and nonagenarian living in a small desert town in the Southwest. He has an unvarying routine; yoga in the morning, breakfast at the local diner while he does the crossword puzzle, a stop by the local corner grocery to pick up milk and cigarettes, then back to his house to watch the afternoon game shows and water the cacti. Finally, over to Elaine’s, a local watering hole where he drinks down an adult beverage in the company of friends, most especially Howard (Lynch) who is grieving the loss of a tortoise. The tortoise didn’t die, mind you, he just wandered off.

Stanton rarely played lead roles but on the occasions that he did he always shined. This is a Seinfeld-esque film all about nothing really; there’s some lank attempts at deciding who’s figured out life better but in reality this is simply an excuse to watch Stanton do his thing and that in itself is all you really need. There are some fine character actors backing him up (James Darren, Tom Skerritt, Barry Shabaka Henley) and one behind the camera – John Carroll Lynch (no relation to David), best known as Drew Carey’s brother on his sitcom some years ago, who does a pretty decent job of setting the tone and allowing his lead enough space to shine.

This isn’t really a eulogy as such but it is a nice way to say farewell. Stanton was always more of a cult figure than anything else but he still had some moments in films like Alien, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Repo Man and particularly Paris, Texas. This probably doesn’t hold up with any of them except the second but still in all not every actor gets a sendoff like this one and it’s nice that someone who didn’t get the acclaim he deserved generally got one.

REASONS TO GO: Stanton’s final performance is a strong one. The soundtrack is righteous.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the plot points feel a bit contrived. The pacing is a little bit on the slow side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a healthy amount of profanity, some sexual material, a bit of violence and a surfeit of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stanton passed away at the age of 91, two weeks before the September 29, 2017 release date for the film.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Get Low
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Wind Traces

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Montana Amazon


Montana Amazon

Haley Joel Osment and Allison Brie wonder why the film's budget didn't include dry cleaning.

(2011) Comedy (Self-Distributed) Olympia Dukakis, Haley Joel Osment, Allison Brie, Veronica Cartwright, Ellen Geer, Lew Temple, James McDonald, Liza Del Mundo, Angel Oquendo, Haley Pullos, Michelle Bonilla, Zach Lewis, Connie Cooper, Patty McCall. Directed by D.G. Brock

Not everyone is born a genius. Not everyone is even born with normal intelligence. Some people are born to march to a different drummer, and some people are just born.

The Dunderheads of Montana are the kind of family that small towns in Montana sometimes have to put up with; not super bright, not socially graceful and apt to do the wrong thing more times than not. Ira (Dukakis) is nearly mute, for whom smoking seems to be her only joy in life. She is as mean-tempered as a Missouri mule and twice as violent as a Manson family disciple.

Ella (Brie), her granddaughter, has the sexuality of Sue Lyon in Lolita and the maturity of a six-year-old. She dreams of being swept off her feet by a studly gas station attendant (she has a thing for gas station attendants) and has all the sophistication of a musk ox in heat. As beautiful as she is, there is something disturbing about her that makes most guys go running in the opposite direction; that is if they have any sense at all.

Womple (Osment) is Ira’s grandson and Ella’s brother; he dreams of finding his father, who has been missing in action most of his life. Womple believes he is a big game hunter in Africa. He is sure his dad will return any day now, a hope that his sister ridicules at every opportunity. Ira doesn’t have much to say on the subject; she doesn’t have much to say at all.

When Womple accidentally kills a friend (and believe me, Womple doesn’t have many), a paranoid Ira herds her grandkids into an ancient Ford Falcon and drives off to escape the law. She has but one word in her vocabulary: “Canada!” which she grunts with ferocity. There’s just one problem; Canada is to the North of Montana; Ira heads resolutely south.

Along the way the Dunderheads leave a trail of mayhem and chaos behind them, but Womple will also discover the truth about his father and the family skeleton that he literally comes face to face with, and we will discover that some families are dysfunctional for a reason.

Director D.G. Brock is not a name I’m familiar with but she is a name you want to keep your eye on. This is one of the best-directed comedies I’ve seen in quite awhile. The pace is absolutely frenetic, moving from scene to scene with reckless abandon. There are a lot of really big laughs here, and many of them come from the puzzled expression of Haley Joel Osment, who probably saw a few dead people when he was channeling his performance, most notably the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.

Olympia Dukakis is a treasure; while she has been cast in a lot of similar roles over her career (mother and now grandmother), she carries off this offbeat role bravely, allowing herself to go outside of her comfort zone (she beats the crap out of Osment throughout the movie and smokes like a fiend) and as a result, delivers one of the best performances of her stellar career.

Allison Brie is familiar to television viewers more than movie fans, having critical roles in both “Mad Men” and “Community” but she does a great job here. While her performance isn’t quite as fearless as Dukakis’, she displays a comic touch that marks her as a comic actress who has a future on the big screen as well as the small.

Cartwright and Geer deliver strong albeit brief performances in supporting roles. In fact, the acting is uniformly strong in this movie which for the most part has flown under the national radar. I caught it at the Orlando Film Festival and while the movie isn’t scheduled for U.S. release until April 2011 (and at present has no national distribution lined up), nonetheless this is one of those movies that remind you that good movies don’t necessarily generate Internet buzz. It’s an impressive comedy that mixes the best elements of screwball comedy and road pictures but injects a modern sensibility into the mix. It’s one worth making an effort to look out for.

REASONS TO GO: This movie is as manic as they come; combines the traditions of the screwball comedy and the road comedy, only with a modern sensibility. Dukakis, Osment, Brie and Cartwright all deliver the goods here. The ending packs quite an unexpected wallop.

REASONS TO STAY: At times the Dunderheads act so dumb and revolting it’s hard to sympathize with them.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing scenes, a bit of bad language (not much) and some scenes of sexuality, as well as some sexual language; I would rate this as acceptable for most teenaged audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Those who bought tickets in advance from the film’s website can get a free download of the John Legend song that is played during the closing credits.

HOME OR THEATER: While it is still possible the film might be picked up for national distribution, it is more likely your best bet will be to find it on DVD/Blu-Ray either on Netflix or online.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Flushed Away

The Book of Eli


The Book of Eli

Tell them Eli's coming and Heaven's coming with him.

(Warner Brothers) Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, Jennifer Beals, Michael Gambon, Frances de la Tour, Malcolm McDowell, Tom Waits, Evan Jones, Joe Pingue, Chris Browning, Lora Martinez-Cunningham. Directed by the Hughes Brothers

There are those who say that faith and religion are to blame for all the world’s troubles. There are also those who say that the world would be a savage place without them.

The world as we know it has come to an end. War has ripped a hole in the ozone, allowing the sun’s radiation to cook the Earth. It is the apocalypse, and as we all know from watching films set in the post-Apocalyptic era, the Earth turns into the Old West.

Down the dusty pock-marked roads that are all that is left of the Interstates comes a walker, a middle-aged man – something that is rare in this world where both the good and the bad die young – carrying a satchel and armed to the teeth, as would be prudent in a time where law and civilization have broken down. Darwin’s law has become the only law that is enforced.

The man is Eli (Washington) and he carries with him something very valuable. Not just the trinkets he’s been able to pick up, mostly from corpses and the already-stripped houses that remain standing, but something worth dying for…maybe even worth killing for. It is the King James Bible, and it may be the last one left. After the war had decimated the planet, many of those who remained on it blamed religion for the war and Bible-burning became the new national pastime.

Eli is a man to be reckoned with, lightning quick and merciless with knives, as a group of scavenging hijackers who mean to rob him and eat him find out. He is also merciful and compassionate with the weak, as the woman (Martinez-Cunningham) who was used as bait also discovers.

Eli comes to a small town which looks uncannily like Tombstone, Arizona, mostly to get supplies and to recharge a battery charger. While he’s waiting for the Engineer (Waits) who runs the general store to charge the battery, he goes across the street to the Orpheum bar to fill his canteen. Some rough and tumble sorts led by Martz (Jones) try to mess with him and wind up writhing on the floor or dead. The leader of the town, Carnegie (Oldman) is impressed and is anxious for Eli to join his group of enforcers. Eli is unwilling; he has business to the West to which Carnegie responds “There’s nothing west of here.” Carnegie isn’t the sort to take no for an answer so he has Eli sleep on it, whether he wants to or not.

Carnegie sends his girlfriend in, blind Claudia (Beals) with food and drink. He then sends in Claudia’s daughter Solara (Kunis) to tempt him with baser charms. Eli turns her down but she begs him to allow her to stay the night and give Carnegie the illusion that she had done as he asked; if he does not, she tells him, her mother will pay the price for her failure. Eli relents and allows her to stay.

The next morning Solara inadvertently lets slip that Eli is carrying with him a book. Carnegie goes ballistic – this is the very book he has been sending bands of illiterate marauders out to retrieve. With it he can control the remaining populace and act as a kind of post-Apocalyptic messiah. He has to have this book! He and his right hand man Redridge (Stevenson) go running into Eli’s cell, only to find him gone. He hasn’t gone far and after a brutal gun battle in which Carnegie gets hit in the leg, Eli escapes with Solara chasing after him, eager to get away from her existence in the town.

The enraged Carnegie takes nearly all his enforcers in what vehicles remain and head out after him. Eli believes he is on a divine mission to take the Bible to safety, but with such a man on his tail can Eli reach safety even with heavenly assistance?

While much about the movie is basic Post-Apocalypse 101 from the Old West-style towns, the rusting cars abandoned on highways that have collapsed, the desert-like environment to the abundance of trenchcoats and shotguns, the concept is unique. It is not your usual action-adventure type of film that is usual for this genre (although there is plenty of both); it is also meant to be an examination of faith and belief.

Kudos for screenwriter Gary Whitta and the Hughes Brothers for trying something a little daring. It is not an easy sale sometimes for secular Hollywood to take on themes of morality and faith, but they do so here. I’m sure the presence of Denzel Washington in the project had more than a little to do with the studio taking a chance on it.

Washington is perhaps the most movie star-like actor out there today. He has the kind of screen presence and charisma that gives him appeal not only to African-American audiences who revere him, but also to white audiences who respect him, female audiences who adore him and male audiences who want to be like him. He carries films in the same way that Clint Eastwood once did. In fact, this is the most Eastwood-like of Washington’s performances ever, as he plays essentially a man with no name and of few words who comes into a town, kicks ass and fights injustice. It’s the kind of role few have tackled since Eastwood hung up his gunbelt.

Kunis has been getting a lot of high-profile roles lately, and she has a great deal of potential, but in many ways this was the wrong part for her. She seems far more adept at light comedies and romantic roles than in action movies. However, I was pleased to see Jennifer Beals do so well in this movie; after Flashdance she never really regained the kind of attention that movie brought her, but she is a talented performer as she shows undeniably here. Ray Stevenson, who was last seen playing the comic book character the Punisher is also very strong as Carnegie’s lackey.

Gary Oldman plays villains with a great deal of panache and you get the feeling that he has more fun with them than he does with characters like Sirius Black from the Harry Potter movies. He is certainly playing a demagogue – when we first meet Carnegie he’s reading a biography of Mussolini – but he’s not completely unsympathetic.

I have to mention that there is a bit of a twist ending here, one I didn’t see coming which is somewhat unusual these days, and it elevates the movie in my opinion. However, it also must be said that because the filmmakers are showing a world in which the sunlight is much brighter, the whole movie has a washed out, colorless look that is at times distracting. I know it’s probably a realistic look and I understand what the filmmakers were going for, but just the same it did wear a little bit on me personally. Just sayin’.

I’m not going to say this is a pleasant little film because there’s a good deal of brutality in it, but I found it to be a pleasant surprise. It was much better than most of the critics I’ve read and heard from made it out to be. Denzel is a fine actor and an engaging screen presence and while I hesitate to say he can do no wrong, he has for sure not done wrong here.

REASONS TO GO: A very nice twist at the end. Washington does his best Clint Eastwood and is surprisingly good at it. Oldman is always an engaging actor.

REASONS TO STAY: The film has a bit of a washed-out feeling that lacks color, which I found to be a bit distracting after awhile. Once you’ve seen one post-apocalyptic landscape, you’ve seen them all.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a great deal of brutality and some rough language. There’s also a suggestion of rape. Definitely not for the squeamish.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: On the wall of the room in which Eli is kept prisoner at the Orpheum is a poster for A Boy and His Dog, another post-apocalyptic movie.

HOME OR THEATER: It’s a bit washed-out from a cinematography standpoint, so a smaller screen might lose some detail. See it in a theater just to be on the safe side.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Darwin Awards