A Walk In The Woods



Route One Films/Wildwood Enterprises/Broad Green Pictures

Directed by Ken Kwapis

Produced by Robert Redford/Bill Holderman/Chip Diggins

Screenplay by Rick Kerb/Bill Holderman

Based on “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson

I suppose I must be getting old. I remember the day when a new Robert Redford movie was considered a major theatrical event. And a movie teaming him up with Nick Nolte? Hey, that’s news right there. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because it sure seems as if this movie almost snuck right by me. I vaguely remember seeing a trailer for it sometime during the summer but let’s face it, with all the trailers they show you before a summer movie (I swear that the showing of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” I attended, there was an even dozen trailers) it’s easy to forget.

But no matter. The main point is, I saw it. Did I like it? Well before we get into that, allow me to quote myself from my review of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Ahem. Here goes; “I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out in the evening or the afternoon to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.”

Okay? Because A WALK IN THE WOODS is a movie specifically geared toward that age group. Now I’m not saying that younger movie goers wouldn’t appreciate or like this movie if they gave it a chance but there’s a whole lot of things going on here that you can relate to better when you’re 50 or 60 than you can when you’re 20 or 30, is all.

Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has built up an impressive career as a writer of humorous travel books while living in England for about 20 years. He returns to America and lives quite well and peacefully with his wife Cynthia (Emma Thompson). While attending a funeral we’re shown that despite his age, Bill is still somewhat socially inept and uncomfortable around people. Maybe that’s why he suddenly takes it into his head to hike The Appalachian Trail. It goes for 2,200 miles through 14 states and is famous for the many hikers who attempt to hike the entirety of the trail. Only around 10% of those who start out actually finish. Bill intends to finish. He also wants to go by himself but Cynthia puts both feet down. The only way Bill is going to go is if he takes somebody along.


Enter Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte) an old friend who offers to come along. Bill hasn’t talked to him in years. Not because he’s mad at him or anything like that. They just simply drifted apart. But apparently, thanks to a scrapbook he’s kept all these years and luridly wild stories Stephen is more than happy to share with Cynthia, he and Bill had a pretty adventurous partnership for a while there.

Bill and Stephen set out on their last great adventure together and it soon becomes apparent to Bill (and hilariously to us) that Stephen isn’t as good a shape to go on this hike as he said he was. He’s got bad knees and his breathing sounds as if his lungs are made out of burlap. And if that wasn’t enough, Bill finds a pint of bourbon hidden in Stephen’s backpack and wonders if he’s got a boozer on his hands that is going to hinder his finishing the hike. Not that Bill is a model companion either. He’s got his own dysfunctional emotional issues that distance him from people and it says something about the man that he doesn’t seem interested in finding out why.


Despite all that heavy stuff, this is very much a buddy comedy and I can see why Robert Redford bought the rights to this book as this would have been the perfect third film for him to co-star with Paul Newman, forming a sort of unofficial trilogy. But sadly, Mr. Newman passed away in 2008. However, Nick Nolte makes a more than amiable and acceptable co-star. Indeed, he shamelessly steals every scene he can get away with and once again reminds us that he is as adept at comedy as he is at drama.

This photo provided by Broad Green Pictures shows, Robert Redford, left, as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz taking in the view along the Appalachian Trail in the film,

This photo provided by Broad Green Pictures shows, Robert Redford, left, as Bill Bryson and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz taking in the view along the Appalachian Trail in the film, “A Walk in the Woods.” The movie releases in U.S. theaters on Sept. 2, 2015. (Frank Masi, SMPSP/Broad Green Pictures via AP)

I can’t really say that there’s a compelling story here or even much suspense in wondering if Bill and Stephen will finish their hike. Mainly we get truly beautiful and astonishing views of the Appalachian Trail as the two men walk. Along the way they meet some interesting and eccentric characters such as Mary Ellen (Kristen Schaal) who is convinced that everybody else in the world is dumb and boring except for her. Mary Steenburgen shows up as a hotel manager who sends Bill clear signals that she’d like to provide him with the sort of room service the other guests don’t get. Stephen has a laundromat love affair with the plus-sized Beulah (Susan McPhail) that is definitely more than he bargained for. Nick Offerman also shows up for what is little more than a cameo but he does more with that than most actors do with 30 minutes worth of screen time.

So should you see A WALK IN THE WOODS? If you’re a fan of Robert Redford and/or Nick Nolte, absolutely. They have a wonderful rapport and chemistry that makes me wish they’d done some work together when they were younger. The story is a light one and designed to do nothing more than require you spend some time with two old friends reconnecting with each other and themselves. It’s fun to watch and that’s good enough for me.

Rated R: Be advised that the R rating is for language alone. The “F” word gets a mighty healthy workout in this one.

104 Minutes

Crazy As Hell



Humble Journey Films/Loose Screw Films

Directed by Eriq La Salle

Produced by Butch Robinson/Michael Huens

Written by Jeremy Leven based on his novel: “Satan, His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.”

See, the problem isn’t finding black characters in horror movies. There have been black characters in horror movies going all the way back to 1940’s “Son of Ingagi” which was the first horror movie featuring an all-black cast and written by that true pioneer of African-American film; Spencer Williams. And Mantan Moreland, best known for playing Charlie Chan’s chauffeur Birmingham Brown starred in a number of horror comedies that were more comedy than horror, but just go along with me for minute, okay?

And during the Blaxploitation Era we had the “Blacula” movies, “J.D.’s Revenge” “Abby” (which actually was yanked from theaters due to Warner Brothers filing a suit against the movie, claiming it was a blatant copy of “The Exorcist.”) “Ganja & Hess” “Sugar Hill” (which is actually just as much a superhero origin movie as it is a horror movie) and “Doctor Black, Mister Hyde” as well as many, many others.

As for the modern era there have been several superior horror movies featuring African-Americans such as “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Tales From The Hood” all worthy examples of the genre and well worth seeking out. So, no…black characters in horror movies aren’t hard to find. But for every one where the black character is the lead or the hero there’s a half dozen others where the black character is merely window dressing.  They’re usually the best friend of the hero/heroine as a sort of visual shorthand to let the audience know that our lead character is cool and hip because they have a black BFF. Or they are simply a sacrificial lamb that gets killed off halfway through the movie.

No, the problem is finding good horror movies with black characters and I’m pleased to have discovered one that has been around for a long time and that I’ve heard about but never had a chance to see until recently. CRAZY AS HELL turned out to be a real surprise for me and the longer I watched it, the more I liked the vibe I was getting from it. And while I don’t think it’s as good as “Angel Heart” or “Shutter Island” two movies it shares much in common with, CRAZY AS HELL is more than worth your time.

Superstar pop psychiatrist Ty Adams (Michael Beach) reports to his new job at Sedah State Mental Hospital. Adams is going to be put in charge of the facility for thirty days while a documentary crew records everything he does in his private time and in his therapy sessions with his patients. The head of the documentary crew, Parker (John C. McGinley) assures Adams of complete co-operation but it soon becomes apparent that Parker is deliberately filming encounters Adams has with the staff and patients that don’t exactly put him in a flattering or even professional light. And the faculty’s administrator, Dr. Delazo (Ronny Cox) doesn’t trust Adams or his methods as Adams believes in totally medication free treatment for his patients. Delazo also quiet accurately puts his finger on the fact that Adams is arrogantly overconfident with a rampaging ego that will not permit him to admit when he is wrong or admit defeat. None of these traits being exactly desirable in a man who is supposed to be putting his patients first.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Adams is given a new patient to treat. One who checked himself into the ha-hacienda voluntarily and insists on Adams being his doctor. The patient (Eriq La Salle) claims his name is Satan and his profession is The Father of Lies. Naturally Adams thinks he’s fulla felgercarb. But the more time he spends with Satan, the less certain he is about him. Satan knows things about Adams and the other patients that it isn’t possible for him to know. And is just a coincidence that at the same time Satan appears at the nuthouse, Adams begins to hallucinate about his wife and daughter? The same wife and daughter he refuses to talk about? Could it be that the wife and daughter are connected with “incident” in New York Dr. Delazo makes cryptic reference’s to?


The fun of watching CRAZY AS HELL is mostly in us, along with Dr. Adams is trying to figure out if this crazy guy is actually Satan or a just a really perceptive and smart guy playing a game with Adams. And for every piece of evidence that Adams finds that says he’s actually The Devil, there’s another piece that says he isn’t. It’s a movie that maintains that suspense right up until the end and there are not a lot of movies of this type I can say it about. It truly did keep me guessing.

Eriq La Salle effortlessly steals the movie both as an actor and as a director. He plays Satan with a scary seductiveness that walks a fine line between being funny and frightening. He finds the exact right note to play this character and never makes a wrong step. His direction his sharp, tight and keeps the story movie along at an even clip and again, he walks a fine line in keeping our interest while not letting us get too far ahead of Adams. He’ll drop us just enough to make us think we know more than Adams and then by the time we get to the end credits we realize we didn’t know a thing more than what he wanted us to know.


Ronny Cox supplies more than able backup here and Sinbad shows up as a hospital orderly who is constantly getting the high hat from Adams. And keep your eyes open for Tia Texada who plays Lupa, who works in the facility’s cafeteria. She has a small role but Moly Hoses, does she make the most of her short screen time. Trust me when I say that if you see the movie you’ll know exactly what I mean.

So should you see CRAZY AS HELL? Absolutely. It’s a terrific example of a type of horror filmmaking that doesn’t need buckets of blood, pornographic violence or fake out jump scares to do its job. CRAZY AS HELL is a type of horror that sneaks up on you and before you know it, it’s got you. Highly recommended.

Rated R

113 Minutes

Macked, Hammered, Slaughtered and Shafted



BadAzz MoFo

Written, Directed and Produced by David F. Walker

We live in a time where people are in absolute terror of being labeled or having labels put on anything. Especially creative folk. Ask a writer what she writes and she may very well look at you as if you’re something that dropped from the south end of a northbound horse while replying; “I refuse to put a label on my work.” Ask a musician what type of music he plays and he looks at you like you tried to shank his momma as he answers; “I don’t like to put a label on my work. Labels are limiting.”

Now, you may ask what does that have to do with my reviewing the highly entertaining and informative Blaxploitation documentary MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED? To be honest, absolutely nothing. It was a thought that occurred to me while watching the movie’s various interviews with the icons of Blaxploitation: Ron O’Neal. Jim Brown. The late great Jim Kelly and William Marshall. Gloria Hendry. Fred Williamson. Antonio Fargas. Robert Hooks. Rudy Ray Moore. Glynn Turman. The question is put to each of them what is Blaxploitation and each and every one had a different interpretation of what the Blaxploitation genre meant to them on a personal and professional level. Maybe the problem with labels is not the label itself but that people can never agree on one solid definition of what the label means?

Yeah, my brain ran to thoughts such as that while watching the movie and that’s a good thing because I enjoy watching a movie that makes me think. Especially when it’s about a subject I love such as Blaxploitation. That period of American Cinema isn’t just history for me. It’s very much an alive and vital genre as I vividly recall seeing most Blaxploitation movie double and triple features on Manhattan’s infamous 42end street during the decade Blaxploitation dominated movie theaters. (Roughly 1970 to 1979) And it’s a genre that still has a massive influence on my writing.


MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED runs only 92 minutes and covers a lot of ground in that relatively short running time. But writer/director David  F. Walker through his interviews manages to give us a fairly comprehensive overview of the psychological, financial and artistic aspects of the genre. And it’s an overview given by the men and women who were actually there and working during that time. And they speak quite frankly and honestly about how it was and what was going on. There are some truly eye-opening moments in those interviews such as when Jim Brown and Fred Williamson break it down financially exactly why Hollywood needs black actors far more than the black actors need Hollywood. Or when Jim Kelly talks about how Hollywood studios gladly sacrifice truckloads of money just as long as they can continue to promote the image of blacks that they want to promote.

I’ll occasionally have discussions with young black fans of films that are very dismissive and even disgusted with Blaxploitation. They see it as not being very far removed from the mammies and coons and minstrels of earlier Hollywood years. This documentary is made for them. It’s impossible to seriously study Blaxploitation and not also study how the genre related to the racial/political climate in America at that time. One is bound up in the other and if you explore one then you begin to understand the other.

And then when you throw in the dynamic that in the late 1960s Hollywood was dying as an industry and Blaxploitation saved it…well, that’s another whole bag of chips we done opened that we got to chew on if we’re gonna talk about the subject honestly. Sure, many of the images in those movies were hideously negative but some were uplifting and positive as well. Blaxploitation was just as much about empowerment and control as it was about making a profit and entertaining working folks on a Friday or Saturday night.


But I’m not here to make the movie’s case. It does that very well on its own. My only job is to recommend it to you and I do so very highly. MACKED, HAMMERED, SLAUGHTERED AND SHAFTED can be seen uncut, in its entirety and for free on Vimeo. If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation or don’t know a thing about it, either way you’ll enjoy yourself. Peace.


Mr. Holmes



AI Film/BBC Films/FilmNation Entertainment/Archer Gray productions/See-Saw Films/Miramax/Roadside Attractions

Directed by Bill Condon

Produced by Anne Carey/Iain Canning/Emile Sherman

Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher

Based on “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin

Sherlock Holmes is a character that reminds me of Batman in a lot of ways and not just because they’re both extraordinary detectives. Like Batman, Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in movies and on television in variety of settings and styles. There have been comedy versions of Holmes; my favorite being 1988’s “Without A Clue” in which it’s actually Dr. Watson (played by Ben Kingsley) who is a genius detective and hires a bumbling, alcoholic actor (Michael Caine) to play the role of Sherlock Holmes in public. Contemporary versions set in modern day starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. The animated series “Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century” where Holmes is brought back to life via cellular regeneration and resumes his career aided by a robot Dr. Watson and Inspector Beth Lestrade of New Scotland Yard. And there’s what I like to call the “Lethal Weapon” version of Sherlock Homes which stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. It’s a version that’s less concerned with straight-up deduction and more with martial arts, gunplay and pyrotechnics.

And that’s only a very few of the many ways Sherlock Holmes has been interpreted in film. But to my knowledge, MR. HOLMES is the only movie which deals with and portrays Holmes as an old man suffering from senility and having a hard time dealing with losing his most precious and valued asset: his intellect.

At the age of 93 in 1947 Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has long since retired to Sussex to become a beekeeper. Besides his beloved bees, his only companions are his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Due to his deteriorating health and mental condition Holmes has begrudgingly engaged the woman’s services but she knows that what he actually needs is a full-time nurse and is making arraignments to take a position elsewhere.


This isn’t welcomed by Roger who takes a liking to the old man. And in return, Holmes, impressed by the young man’s intelligence and curiosity, teaches him how to take care of the bees. Holmes is not taking very well to getting old. He is acutely aware that one thing that has defined him his entire life is going away and he has nothing to replace it with. He cannot even remember exactly why he retired but he does have tantalizing memories of his last case and instinctively feels that he must have done something terribly wrong during that case. Watson did write an account of that case but Holmes was never happy with that version and Holmes himself must take up pen to write the story of his last case and hopefully piece together what actually happened. He’s assisted in this by young Roger who in a way almost becomes a new Watson during this final investigation of Sherlock Holmes.


We get to see Ian McKellen as the Holmes of that last case in flashbacks and it’s the Holmes we all know and love with a mind that makes a barber’s razor look dull. And maybe it’s just me but he looks and sounds like a dead ringer for the late Sir John Gielgud in some of those flashback scenes. Holmes is retained by a man names Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) who believes that his wife (Hattie Morahan) has become mentally unbalanced after suffering two miscarriages and believes she is communicating with the spirits of her miscarried children. Kelton thinks his wife has fallen under the influence of a fake medium and wants Holmes to confirm his fears.


We also get a second series of flashbacks to a trip Holmes has just come back from to Japan to meet an admirer of his named Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) who helps Holmes obtain a prickly ash plant that Holmes thinks will help cure his ailing memory. But that isn’t Umezaki’s only reason for wanting to meet Holmes. His father disappeared at around the same time of the Kelmot case and the only clue Umezaki has as to why his father disappeared is a note he wrote to his son placed inside a collected volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and sent to Umezaki when he was a boy.

Is that long ago disappearance of Umezaki connected with the Kelmot case? Why did Dr.Watson hide a perfumed leather woman’s glove inside a secret compartment of his desk? These and other questions are answered but not in the way I expected and it was both surprising and remarkably poignant when the mysteries are at last all solved.

Ian McKellen does a magnificent job as Sherlock Holmes. He’s lost much of his towering arrogance as he is now unsure of his mental state. But he is still recognizably Holmes as in scenes where Roger challenges him to deduce where his mother has been all day and in a tense moment where Holmes has to quickly put together the correct sequence of events of how a terrible accident took place before his beloved bees are destroyed.

Milo Parker holds his own well in his scenes with McKellen and there is something overwhelmingly touching and affectionate as we watch a real and genuine friendship develop between a man at the end of his life and a boy just starting out on his. Laura Linney is the real surprise here as my wife and I didn’t even realize it was her playing Mrs. Munro until we saw her name in the end credits, that’s how well she disappears into her character. The production values, costuming and set designs are rich enough that you’ll swear you’re looking at a Mechant Ivory production, that’s how good they are.

Holmes and roger

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes then my all means, go and see MR. HOLMES. It’s a solidly elegant character study as well as an engaging mystery. And I feel it’s quite fitting that for his final case Sherlock Holmes must investigate and at last solve what has always been a total mystery to him; the nature of his own humanity.

104 Minutes

Rated PG

Fantastic Four



20th Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment/Constantin Film/Marv Film/TSG Entertainment

Directed by Josh Trank

Produced by Simon Kinberg/Matthew Vaughn/Hutch Parker/Robert Kulzar/Gregory Goodman

Screenplay by Jeremy Slater/Simon Kinberg/Josh Trank

Based on “Fantastic Four” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

At the end of the day I don’t blame Josh Trank at all for the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR, which looks destined to go down in history as the “Heaven’s Gate” of superhero movies. And maybe like “Heaven’s Gate”, twenty years from now future critics and movie lovers will be kinder to this movie than we are now because there is a lot of promise in this movie that sadly was never utilized or developed. And just in case you still can’t get past my first sentence let me repeat so you don’t think I’ve finally overdosed on Benzedrine and caffeine: I don’t blame Josh Trank at all for the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR.

I blame whoever hired him based on Trank’s previous movie; “Chronicle” which received rave reviews from critics and audiences. I myself am not a fan of the movie. It’s one of the darkest, most depressing and downright miserable superhero movies ever made. I’ve seen it exactly twice and have no desire to see it again as it’s simply too mean-spirited for me. It was made by a director who plainly does not believe in heroism or superheroes.  A director who fully embraces the hyper-violent, misogynist, racist and downright cruel world-view of mainstream comic books today and their fans who continually demand that their comics and their heroes be even darker, more destructive, more uncaring and more violent.

So Trank delivered the sort of movie that he only knows how to make. And I think it was way too soon in his career to entrust him with such a property, especially since the concept of The Fantastic Four is the exact opposite of Trank’s “Chronicle”. The Fantastic Four is about a family of scientific adventurers who gain superpowers by accident and decide to use those powers to help mankind and expand the knowledge and boundaries of The Marvel Universe by going on adventures that are…well, Fantastic. Trank needed a few more years to build up the directorial muscles needed to carry a movie like this and he needed a more positive world view which this movie definitely did not have. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way:


Teenage supergenius Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is invited to come study and live in The Baxter Building, a research institute for prodigies. Reed has been working on teleporting living matter ever since he was in grammar school, aided by his best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). The institute’s director, Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) believes that Reed can help with the institute’s Quantum Gate project and allow them to cross dimensional barriers and explore alternate universes. Reed eagerly accepts and becomes friends with Dr. Storm’s charismatic and brilliant children; Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) Dr. Storm reaches out to his estranged protégé, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) who designed the Quantum Gate and persuades him to return to the project.

The team gets the gate to work but is dismayed when the institute’s supervisor/government liaison Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson) informs them that the project is now to be turned over to the military. Reed, Victor and Johnny decide to beat them to it and in the movie’s biggest WTF moment, Reed calls up Ben and invites him to come along for the ride as if they’re going to hop in his ’57 Chevy and go on down to Atlantic City for the weekend.

The experiment seems to go well at first as the four materialize on “Planet Zero” and discover it is a world containing some form of living energy. Things quickly go from sugar to shit as Victor falls into a chasm and has to be left behind. Reed, Johnny and Ben barely return safely but the transport machine explodes, irradiating their cells with the Planet Zero energy. Sue gets irradiated also as she was in the control room when they return. The effects of the radiation give them superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Reed’s muscular/skeletal system is now elastic. Sue can become invisible and generate impenetrable force fields of energy. Johnny can transform into fire and fly. Ben is encased in a rocky hide that gives him super-strength and indestructability.

Now, this is the part where the movie is supposed to take off and soar. But it doesn’t. FANTASTIC FOUR actually goes wildly off the rails once our main characters gain their powers. For the first hour of the movie it’s actually a quite watchable, engaging sci-fi character study about a group of gifted people attempting to do something nobody else has done and I strongly get the feeling that this is indeed the movie Josh Trank wanted to make.

But once the superpowers come into play the plot holes appear, so big you could drop a Fantasticar into them. It’s as if Trank suddenly realizes that holy shit, this is a superhero movie so he’s got to have fights and explosions and he’s got to hurry up and provide them because the damn movie is only a 100 minutes long.  Victor Von Doom is brought back to Earth just in time to provide the obligatory menace to Earth and to wrap up the story in a most unsatisfying manner that leaves you sitting there wondering just what the hell happened.


And what is done to Ben Grimm once he’s transformed into The Thing and is conscripted into government service is utterly and totally reprehensible. Given the tone and atmosphere of the movie, I understand why his character was skewed in that direction but that don’t mean I gotta like it. I do like how it sets up a scene later on in the movie where Reed and Ben have a heart-to-heart about what has happened to Ben. It’s the most emotional scene in the movie for me and perfectly captures the anguish of Ben’s plight and we feel why Ben hates Reed.

I gotta say that in some cases the performances were about what I expected. While I like Kate Mara and appreciate the fact that she’s a competent, professional actress, she never really seems to stretch herself. Can you name a Kate Mara performance that stands out in your memory? She stays on one even note for the entire movie. She picks a lane and stays in it from start to finish.


But Miles Teller is even more disappointing. He’s more Peter Parker than Reed Richards and nobody is ever gonna call this cat “Mr. Fantastic” and mean it. Michael B. Jordan plays Johnny Storm as a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie who is clearly the only one happy to have superpowers and he manages to infuse the movie with some light moments that provide a laugh or two. Amazingly enough, most of his funnier scenes are with Toby Kebbell, who’s supposed to be the bad guy. We get scenes where Johnny and Victor are kidding and snapping on each other with dialog that should be between Johnny and Ben.

And the last five minutes of the movie…y’know how much I hate using the term ‘rip-off’ but there’s no way around it. It plays as if some Suit at Fox saw the ending of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and hurriedly demanded an ending for FANTASTIC FOUR that plays exactly like it. Because that’s what we get.


So has everything you’ve heard about FANTASTIC FOUR true? Well, yes and no. Is it a bad movie? Absolutely. But it’s not a worthless one and it was made by and stars people who cared about what they were doing. They just didn’t have any idea of what the material they were working with was about. I felt a sincerity from the movie and I don’t get the sense that Trank, his crew and his actors consciously set out to make a bad movie. But they did make one that has no sense of wonder, no excitement, no heart, very little overall entertainment value and worse of all, no fun. And that’s just as bad.

100 Minutes






Escape Artists/Fuqua Films/The Weinstein Company/WanDa Pictures/Riche Productions

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Produced by Todd Black/Jason Blumenthal/Steve Tisch/Peter Riche/Alan Riche/Antoine Fuqua/Jerry Ye

Written by Kurt Sutter

Previous to seeing SOUTHPAW for myself I got slightly involved in a Facebook conversation about the movie. A poster said that while he liked the movie he thought it was far too cliché. See, I dunno about that. Presumably one goes to see a boxing movie (or western or science fiction movie) with certain expectations that one is going to see elements unique to that genre. Is it cliché to have horses and six shooters in a western? No. You go see a western and you’re waiting for that stuff. It’s part of the fun of seeing a genre movie. SOUTHPAW is about the rise and fall of a boxer who suffers an emotionally crippling personal loss and it destroys his whole world. He then has to walk the long hard road of redemption to recover what he’s lost

Is this new or daring or innovative? Absolutely not. I bet that you can name at least a dozen boxing movies with that very same plot. Hell, Warner Brothers used to crank ‘em out by the truckload back in the 1930s and 40s. But as so often occurs in movies of this type, it’s the execution we pay attention to and look for. And how well is SOUTHPAW executed?

Pretty damn well, actually. Jake Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, Light Heavyweight Champion of The World. Life is very sweet for Billy. He’s got a beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) a brainy daughter (Oona Laurence) and owns a mansion and a yacht. His wife Maureen persuades him to quite while he’s still at the top. She’s worried that Billy’s highly unusual style of boxing is going to brain damage him. And it’s one hell of a style that consists of Billy letting his opponents pound him into hamburger before he decides to uncork and put them out with one punch. And it could just be me (and it usually is) but I got the distinct impression that Billy didn’t have all 52 cards in his deck even before he became a boxer.


Then comes the devastating personal loss that sends Billy right off the rails. He turns to drink and drugs. He becomes unstable and downright dangerous in the ring. His license is suspended and to pay off debts he is forced to sell everything he owns. His daughter is taken from him and put in the care of Child Protective Services officer Angela Rivera (Naomie Harris).

So there we have the fall. The rise comes in the form of Titus “Tick” Willis (Forest Whitaker) an ex-boxer himself who now runs a gym where he trains disadvantaged ghetto kids in the sweet science. Tick trained the only boxer who ever beat Billy and now Billy wants Tick to train him. And so begins the road to redemption.


In a way, there’s a certain satisfaction in our knowing how this movie is going to play out. We know we’re going to get emotional scenes between the boxer and the daughter where they have to work through their mutual pain. We know we’re going to get scenes where the grumpy trainer lays down the rules to the boxer. We know we’re going to have the sleazy fight promoter tempting the boxer with one last shot at the title.


I admire Jake Gyllenhaal a lot as an actor. He doesn’t believe in repeating himself and he’s got one of the most eclectic filmography of any modern day actor. He bulked up impressively for his role as Billy Hope and even though he mumbles most of his lines, I understood why he was doing that and just went with it. His supporting cast isn’t much help except for Forest Whitaker. At least with him, Jake Gyllenhaal has somebody to play with. The roles Rachel McAdams and Naomie Harris are little more than extended cameos. And if the person who insists on keeping on telling Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson that he can act is somehow reading this then would you please stop telling him that?

Antoine Fuqua has long been one of my favorite directors and his filmography is just as eclectic as Gyllenhaal’s. And he’s probably the most underrated director working in Hollywood today. He can do major action stuff like “Olympus Has Fallen” and “Shooter” gritty urban cop thrillers like “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Training Day” And now with SOUTHPAW he can add both a boxing film and family drama to his resume. How does he direct boxing matches? Well, the fights in SOUTHPAW are pretty much the same you see in most boxing movies from Hollywood. Guys punch each other so hard it sounds like sides of beef being whacked with baseball bats and you figure that their knuckles have to be exploding. If guys in real life boxing matches fought like boxers in the movies, somebody would be dead by the third round. But just go with it because it’s the emotional payoff that counts and SOUTHPAW delivers. It won’t be revered as a classic of the genre in years to come but it’s a well-made film. One full of sincerity and heart. It’s got love, pain, guts and at the end, a man stepping into the ring to prove to himself that he has pride and purpose on this planet and for a boxing movie, that’s just about all you need.

124 Minutes

Rated R




Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Peyton Reed

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Edgar Wright/Joe Cornish/Adam McKay/Paul Rudd

Story by Edgar Wright/Joe Cornish

You guys know that I’ve never held myself up to be any kind of expert on film. I’ve never been to film school or taken any formal courses so when I lay out my idea to you on why I think the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are so successful, it’s just me rattling on. Trust me, I don’t have the formula for how to make a successful motion picture and if I did I would be right now in my Beverly Hills mansion floating in a Tony Montana-sized platinum bathtub filled with champagne.

But here’s what I think. The Marvel movies are so good and so successful because they’re not just superhero movies. The “Iron Man” movies are not just superhero movies but techno-thrillers as well. The first “Captain America” was a war movie as well as a superhero movie while the second doubled as a political thriller. The “Thor” movies successfully blend heroic fantasy with the superheroics while “Guardians of The Galaxy” works as a straight space opera. I think you see where I’m going with this. ANT-MAN isn’t just a superhero movie; it’s also a pretty nifty heist flick. It also gives us a bonus in that it’s the first Marvel movie where we see one superhero pass on his name, powers and legacy to another. I’m a sucker for that kind of ‘passing the torch’ generational thing and it’s one of the more enjoyable aspects of ANT-MAN

Cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison and the first thing he informs his old cellmate/new roommate Luis (Michael Pena) is that he’s going straight. After all, he’s got a degree in electrical engineering so getting a good paying job should be a snap, right? Wrong. And without a job and apartment of his own, Scott’s ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) won’t allow visitation rights so that Scott can spend time with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) who worships her father. Maggie’s police detective boyfriend Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) is just itching for the chance to throw Scott back in jail.

And he may get his chance when Scott, disgusted with his failed efforts to hold down a job, agrees to hook up with Luis and his crew (Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian) for what Luis swears is a lucrative burglary that will make them all rich. The burglary is indeed an easy one but all Scott comes away with what he thinks is a funky looking old motorcycle suit.

Marvel's Ant-Man..Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)..Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal..? Marvel 2014

Intrigued by the circuitry and hi-tech elements of the helmet and suit, Scott tries it on, fools around with the controls and shrinks himself down to size of an insect. Scott is contacted by the owner of the suit, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) the Original Ant-Man who now needs Scott to become the new Ant-Man in order to keep his shrinking technology from being used by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) his former protégé. Cross has taken over Hank’s company and weaponized the Ant-Man technology, creating The Yellowjacket, a military battle suit. With the help of Hank’s daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) who is a senior board member of Pym Technologies and trusted by Cross, Hank wants Scott to sabotage The Yellowjacket.


I won’t keep you in suspense: I loved ANT-MAN. I’ve been a big fan of the character of Dr. Hank Pym ever since I was a kid. You can keep your super-strength and flight and magic spells. If I had my choice of superpowers, size changing is in my top five. It’s a delight to see Hank Pym brought to life by Michael Douglas who anchors this whole thing and give it gravitas. I defy any other actor to deliver a line like “I want you to be the new Ant-Man” the way Douglas does. He’s having fun at the same time he’s being totally serious. It’s a fine line to walk and he does it exquisitely. He has terrific chemistry with Evangeline Lilly and it’s really nice to see the movie’s script gives them time to work through their issues during the mayhem.


Paul Rudd did a far better job than I thought he was going to do and by the time we get to that to wonderfully badass scene of Ant-Man leading his squadron of flying ants into battle, he had me. Like the other MCU movies, ANT-MAN isn’t afraid to embrace the goofy ridiculousness of the situation and it doesn’t shy away from recognizing how silly the notion is of a guy whose superpower is being able to shrink to insect size and talk to ants. But at the same time, in highly imaginative ways it’s demonstrated how dangerous and powerful such abilities can be.

The only problem I have with ANT-MAN? The plot borrows heavily from the first “Iron Man” movie what with Corey Stoll playing an Obadiah Stane Lite. But Stoll is such a good actor and like everybody else here, he’s obviously having a good time I let it go. Marvel continues its winning streak of superhero movies that are pure undiluted FUN and keeps on giving me what I want: astonishing tales of superheroes who relish being superheroes and get a kick out of having amazing adventures. If you haven’t seen ANT-MAN yet, stop waiting and go.

117 Minutes