Sunday, October 30, 2016


Starring Tom Cruise,
Cobie Smulders,
Danika Yarosh,
Patrick Heusinger,
Aldis Hodge,
Holt McCallany
Directed by Edward Zwick
Written by Richard Wenk,
Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Based on the book Never Go Back by Lee Child
Runtime 118 minutes
Rated PG-13

          Another great action movie from Tom Cruise.
          His is an undeniably unique presence in film. All of his off-screen aspects disappear in his movies. Especially in recent years. No one works harder to bring it, and bring it Cruise emphatically does. Say what one will about his personal life, at the end of the day, Cruise's work speaks volumes. Redefining the word ageless yet again, Cruise pulls out the stops and delivers on all counts.
          The previous film establishes the character as a lone wolf military man always on the move, always there to right any wrong. He plays by his own rules. You don't find him, he finds you. And yeah, he's kind of a legend.
          This second time introduces a new problem: instant family. Sort of. Reacher wants to go on a date with a military woman (Smulders) because sometimes they talk on the phone when he's doing his secret missions, and he figures he owes her a date with him. Not one to see past that, she agrees.
          But then, just when it looks like his "owing a dinner" trick might actually work, he finds she's been arrested by military police. Knowing in his lone heart that whatever the problem is, she's innocent, Reacher uses his special fighting skills, as only he can, to break her out and save her.
          Meanwhile, Reacher also learns of a woman who claims that he is the father of her child (Yarosh). Knowing in his lone heart that this cannot be so, Reacher says no.
          It doesn't matter, because the bad guys chasing the date he sprung now know to chase the teenage girl who he says isn't his daughter, but has to save anyway, because that's what he does.
          He's Jack Reacher.
          Ain't exactly The Grapes of Wrath, but what did John Steinbeck ever do for Tom Cruise? He's a lone wolf, now effectively bogged down by family concerns. And yeah, this time, it's personal.
          Standard as it sounds, key factors elevate the material. For one thing, the woman can fight. Echoes of Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, especially with the quasi-family unit defending themselves on the run while trying to set things right.
          Better still, we get to see the fight scenes clearly. Too often in films of the last ten years, directors over-edit. Instead of getting to see the action, we're left with an unsatisfying flurry of quick cuts. Not so here, though. Cruise, who produced the movie, seems intent on proving his agelessness. And it works.
          On top of that, there's actually some emotional content. We grow to like the initially annoying kid, and want the family to remain intact.
          Bit of a guilty pleasure? Absolutely.
          Also a good time at the movies? Darn tootin'.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


          From the good folks who brought us The Civil War, this big bold 8-part documentary covering "more than two million square miles of the most extraordinary landscape."
          For anyone curious about the dream landscape west of the Mississippi, The West holds the mother lode of invaluable information.
          Directed by Stephen Ives and produced by Ken Burns, the award-winning 1996 PBS documentary is packed with real photos of real people, and features insightful commentary from historians, novelists, and politicians. Actors such as Adam Arkin, Ossie Davis, Keith Carradine, Blythe Danner, John Lithgow, and Jimmy Smits bring to life the actual words of the famous and the unknown alike. Sparing no expense, the filmmakers even include narration from Peter Coyote.
          Episode 1, The People, which leads up to the year 1806, introduces to viewers the Nez Perce, Kiowa, Comanche, Pueblo, Apache, and many other peoples indigenous to the land that "was never empty." In some cultures, wealth was measured in slaves; in others, women owned all the property. In still other cultures, there was no word "I", only "we". Trade routes extended in all directions. Buffalo robes were worn by people who had never seen a buffalo. People spoke different languages, and people worshipped different gods--sometimes unaware of each other's existence.
          Spanish soldiers washed up by storm in what is now Galveston, Texas, thirty years after Columbus, are credited as the first Europeans to set foot in the West. Having already stolen Aztec and Inca treasure in their quest to spread Christianity, the Conquistadors, armed with horses and guns, destroyed village after village in a desperate search for gold that proved a total failure. It will come as no surprise that the Spanish accidentally introduced the horse to the West. Most viewers, however, are probably not aware that the Spanish thought the land they named California was an island, and that the name refers to Califia, a beautiful queen from a supposedly mythical land of giants.
          From Lewis and Clarke to the Gold Rush to Little Big Horn, The West both covers familiar ground and explores new territory with sounds and images supporting the endlessly interesting facts that help us understand who we are today.
          "The West is not any one thing," according to historian T.H. Watkins, but rather "a tremendous collection of stories" which any thinking person cannot help but regard "without feeling a mix of pride and shame."
          It is, in the words of novelist N. Scott Momaday, "a landscape that has to be seen to be believed. And," he adds, "it may have to be believed to be seen."
          Freely discovered online.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Starring Eva Green,
Asa Butterfield,
Samuel L. Jackson,
Judi Dench,
Rupert Everett,
Allison Janney,
Chris O'Dowd,
Terrence Stamp
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Jane Goldman
Based on the novel by Ransom Riggs
Runtime 127 minutes
Rated PG-13

          Another mostly fine film from Tim Burton.
          Remaining deliberately vague to preserve the story, suffice to say that when ill befalls the grandfather (Stamp) of a boy named Jake (Butterfield), Jake takes a trip to an island near Wales where he finds an eclectic group of weird kids with gnarly powers.
          These "peculiars" are governed by an equally peculiar instructor, Miss Peregrine (Green). Sort of X-Men meets Dark Shadows, with Miss Peregrine as Professor X. Neither of whom does too much teaching.
          By way of conflict, a faction of adult peculiars headed by Samuel L. Jackson.
          Although it's not one of Tim Burton's best films--Beetlejuice and Sleepy Hollow, for example--Peregrine's boasts an array of memorable moments. Each kid's peculiarity initially intrigues. One young gal is as strong as ten men, another lighter than air. One boy is invisible, and another can put a device to his eye which projects his dreams on a screen for others to see.
          Problem is, Peregrine's makes a better trailer (and poster) than it does a movie. It starts out slow and doesn't have much story. It's a bowl of soup all right, just not very savory.
          Unlike most of Burton's films, this one does not have music by Danny Elfman. Nor does it have Johnny Depp. Or Helena Bonham Carter. Nor is it based on something from fifty years ago. All these minuses add up to a movie that doesn't stand out in the repertoire. Which conceivably could be a plus. Either way, there it is.
          One thing Burton has never done is make a hardcore horror classic. Neither Rosemary's Baby nor The Shining could ever be possible for him. His films skew too young. That said, Burton can't be faulted for not being Alfred Hitchcock. And if he stopped making movies, cinema would be irrevocably diminished. It's good to live in a world where the real life Willy Wonka still makes candy. We should all recognize that.
          Peregrine's has humor. Peregrine's has charm. It has a sallow, lanky, dark-haired lad, unabashedly brims with the championship of the inner child, and right now doesn't have a whole lot of competition.
          Worth seeing on the big screen.