By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
The heydays of the Western in cinema
have been over for decades, but occasionally, thanks to filmmakers
like Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and Lawrence Kasdan they make
a brief comeback. Luckily for ardent fans of the classic Western,
various platforms allow them to revisit the cowboy and law-and-order
adventures of earlier, simpler times.
Once in a while some gems of Westerns
get made and mostly reap modest financial gains but still are well
worth viewing. Earlier this year Ethan Hawke as Pat Garrett was seen
in his efforts to bring Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) to justice in
"The Kid," a rendering that offered a softer side to Billy with his
relationship with orphaned siblings Rio and Sarah Cutler.
Last year, Joaquin Phoenix and John C.
Reilly were featured as paid assassins Charlie and Eli in "The
Now in the fall of 2019,
writer-director Justin Lee has offered "Badland," a throwback to the
old good guys vs. bad guys post-Civil War story. Lee has captured
the essence of a staple of this genre of action and drama -- the
loner, driven either by honor or the pursuit of a more desirable and
less violent life, puts himself in the line of fire.
"Badland" played in a handful of
theaters when released in Nov. 1 and has been offered on demand as
well before its release on DVD.
Kevin Makely, with his rugged good
looks, plays Mathias Breecher, a Civil War vet now working as a
Pinkerton detective. He has been tasked by Sen. Benjamin Burke (Tony
Todd) to track down former Confederate officers who have been
convicted of war crimes and bring them to justice. The protocol
Breecher must follow is to inform these men they have been convicted
of crimes and ask if they plan to cooperate in the administering of
justice. Since this means a hanging, naturally Breecher meets,
resistance, and at that point the gloves come off.
Lee has divided "Badland" into four
chapters, and the opening segment, "The General," illustrates that
Breecher is up to the task as he confronts Gen. Corbin Dandridge
(Trace Adkins), a menacing bulk of a man who also happens to have a
ring of fellow bad men at hand. This chapter is the setup and shows
that Breecher is very capable in carrying out his duties.
Breecher is a man of few words but a
strong sense of duty and values. Following his encounter with the
general he runs into Harlan Red (Wes Studi), who as a bounty hunter
is something of a business competitor of Breecher. These two men
respect each other, knowing the risks they take in this perilous
occupation, but they concede that someday may arrive when they will
have to do battle with each other.
In the next chapter "The Cooke's,"
Breecher faces a different scenario. The man he is hunting, Reginald
Cooke (Bruce Dern), is already on his death bed with pneumonia,
having lived peacefully post-war on his small farming spread with
his wife, now passed on, and his daughter Sarah (Mira Sorvino). The
elder Cooke acknowledges the evil deeds he committed during the war
but believes the slow death he is going through is more than enough
punishment and sneers at the prospect of an undignified execution by
This presents a new wrinkle in
Breecher's duties and he must compromise. Meanwhile he finds he also
has wandered into a small range war, with the land-greedy Fred Quaid
(James Russo), who covets the Cookes' property, on the brink of a
hostile takeover. Also, Breecher is falling for the hard-working and
In the third chapter, "The Sheriff,"
Breecher pulls up reins in a town called Knife's Edge, a once busy
place now past its prime but being ruled over by a tyrannical
sheriff, Huxley Wainwright (Jeff Fahey), who has an overstaffed
corps of deputies that do his bidding without question. Breecher
seeks lodgings in the town's surviving hot spot, the combined
hotel/bar/brothel, being run by Alice Hollenbeck (Amanda Wyss), who
like everyone else in the town is kept in line by Wainwright and his
goons. Alice, sensing that Breecher will be perceived as a threat to
Wainwright, begs the detective to leave, but that is out of the
question, as Wainwright is another war criminal Breecher must bring
The fourth chapter, "Breecher,"
focuses on the man as he deals with the physical and psychological
wounds of his profession when he reaches a crossroads and finally
can take time to assess his options.
Beautifully photographed by Idan Menin
in the Santa Clarita area, and accompanied by a lush score by Jared
Forman, "Badland" is an effective homage to the Westerns, laced with
the usual ingredients of honor, dishonor, gunplay and heroism.
Makely makes Breecher the bedrock good
guy, a man who longs for a quiet and even boring life, but not
before he fulfills his duties. He is supported by the real pros.
Russo and Fahey have had impressive resumes as bad guys and seethe
all the characteristics that make us want to see them punished.
Sorvino and Wyss epitomize that strong women of that era, both who
have known hardships in differing circumstances and able to summon
courage when needed.
CHAT WITH AMANDA WYSS
In the third chapter of "Badland,"
Breecher's tracking of a Civil War criminal, Huxley Wainwright,
takes him to a rundown town called Knife's Edge, where Wainwright
now is a corrupt, tyrannical sheriff. Amanda Wyss has the
pivotal role of Alice Hollenbeck, who runs the town's bar. Through
clearly facing tough circumstances, Alice turns out to be a valuable
ally to Breecher.
Amanda Wyss, who plays the role, says
she was really delighted to play the role of a strong woman in this
chapter of "Badland," joining Mira Sorvino from the earlier chapter
as women who had to be tough to survive the wild west.
"(Writer-director) Justin Lee did a
wonderful job of creating these two really strong women -- they're
not girls, they're women. It's really nice, " Wyss says.
Although Wyss built a back story on
the Alice character in preparation for the role, she says she
doesn't want to say what it was because she believes viewers can
imbue in Alice whatever they feel.
"I tried to portray it so that perhaps
she was running from something, and there wasn't anywhere else for
her to go. Knife's Edge is portrayed as the 'last chance' town.
People that had nothing left or nowhere left to go end up there. And
I feel it really is a purgatory; they can't go back to where they
were from, and they're just sort of there ... waiting."
Wyss sees Alice as a person that we
all are when we feel trapped. "I think the character of Alice
is really strong and smart and has been through a lot, and yet has a
fragility to her, an earnestness and an openness ... she's kind of
all heart. And with that she's very strong. She's courageous in that
she doesn't want to put herself in that sort of danger but she does
because it is the right thing to do."
Wyss had a role in Lawrence Kasdan's
"Silverado" (1985), in which she plays a woman named Phoebe who
works in a bar in a town run by a corrupt sheriff, Cobb (Brian
Dennehy) who also owns the bar and it is managed by Stella (Linda
Hunt). There are parallels in the roles of Alice and Stella.
"People who know 'Silverado' will see
similarities between Jeff (Fahey's) character and Brian Dennehy's,
and my character (Alice) and Linda Hunt. It's a fun parallel to play
-- for me, really, really big shoes to try to step into the
footsteps of, and I'm sure I didn't even come close, but it was an
honor to follow in those footsteps of somebody so esteemed as Linda
was kind of like Phoebe growing up to take over the bar," Wyss adds.
In the end, after Breecher leaves
Knife's Edge, Wyss says Alice has "rediscovered the strength she had
before she got beaten down by this town. And I believe she takes
over the town and runs it and surrounds herself with good people
that are honest and strong and fierce and that they just whip that
town into shape."
Although Wyss says Knife's Edge, even
cleaned up, will be a town with bad people coming in, Alice will be
up to the challenge.
"I would love to see a sequel with
Alice in charge of Knife's Edge," Wyss says.
Wyss, known for roles in "A Nightmare
on Elm Street," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Better Off
Dead," and who recently appeared on an episode of "All Rise" on CBS,
playing Caroline Halliwell, a woman attending the trial of the
murder of her daughter, has a role in the upcoming "The Orchard,"
which she says may have a title change before its release early in
2020. She is also preparing to be in "Catch a Fallen Star," a movie
about country Western music, which will be in production soon,
co-starring with Dee Wallace.
"Badland" will be released on DVD Dec. 10.
"TERMINATOR: DARK FATE"
James Cameron returns to the
"Terminator" franchise as producer and creator of the story, letting
Tim Miller do the directing, and as another "Terminator" movie,
"Dark Fate" fulfills the expectations of this series. Yet there is
the nagging feeling of: haven't we seen his before?
Once again a person, this time Dani
Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is targeted by a new and improved Terminator,
the REV-9 (Gabriel Luna) sent from the future, while another
protector, an enhanced super-soldier named Grace (Mackenzie Davis)
also is dispatched. So essentially it is the same story as the
original "Terminator" with a kind of "the next generation" vibe to
On the positive side, Sarah Connor
(Linda Hamilton), the original one who needed protection, is back --
older, tougher and armed to the teeth. She joins up with Grace to
keep Dani alive as once again the terminator is relentless and
nearly indestructible. In a nice twist, the trio also teams up with
good old T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who seems to have altered
his deadly programming and become a family man named Carl. He
professes to be a good guy, willing to help save Dan -- kind of like
a heel in pro wrestling turning baby face. Naturally, there is
tension between Sarah and T-800 as she understandably doesn't trust
him and even if he is an ally, Sarah still wants to destroy him.
So there is a lot of death and
destruction and even after the dust clears there is the definite
"this ain't over yet" mood. But with this movie not doing as well at
the box office as it needs to be to prolong the franchise, one
wonders if all this chaos may really be over.
A throwback to the war heroes movie,
but now enhanced by tremendous advancements in special effects,
"Midway" revisits the key World War II battle in the Pacific which
is said to have turned the tide of the war for the United States
against the Japanese. Directed by Roland Emmerich ("Independence
Day"), who is right at home with these action-packed efforts, it
focuses on key members of the U.S. military who had to make tough
decisions or had to fly into the demon of deadly weapons being fired
Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson) is the
top intelligence officer, still stung by the attack on Pearl Harbor,
who now has to rely on pieces of data to collect and interpret what
the Japanese strategy will be with their ample arsenal of
battleships and aircraft carriers.
Chester Nimitz (Woody Harrelson) is
tasked with leading a severely crippled Navy into battle and luckily
has faith in what Layton tells him.
William Halsey (Dennis Quaid) is the
officer in the line of fire as he leads ships to a confrontation
with an enemy that could blow them out of the water.
Dick Best (Ed Skrein) and Wade
McClusky (Luke Evans) are two courageous dive-bomber pilots who not
only have to lead men into a mission from which many would not
return, but also face the prospect of fiery deaths themselves.
Jimmy Doolittle (Aaron Eckhart) leads
a daring bombing raid over Tokyo, striking a blow to the Japanese'
belief their homeland was safe from attack.
Ann Best (Mandy Moore) and Dagne
Layton (Rachael Perrell Fosket) are the supportive wives of two of
the key men and are true foundations for their husbands in a time of
stress and peril.
The special effects are astounding and
really capture the danger of aerial gunfights and the terror of
dive-bombing toward a target that is firing heavy artillery at you.
A much anticipated sequel, among
horror fans, to the Stanley Kubrick-directed "The Shining" (1980),
"Doctor Sleep" was put in good hands with Mike Flanagan, who adapted
the screenplay from the Stephen King novel and directed. Flanagan is
much revered among fans of horror movies with his efforts on
"Oculus" (2013), "Hush" (2016), "Before I Wake" and "Ouija: Origin
of Evil" (both in 2016), "Gerald's Game" (2017) and the recent
acclaimed series on Netflix "The Haunting of Hill House." Flanagan
has put together an engrossing and heartfelt film that is unsettling
-- as it should be, given it is a Stephen King story.
Ewan McGregor takes on the role as
Danny Torrance, now an adult who understandably has issues and is
still coping from his terrifying childhood experience at the
Overlook Hotel, where not only was he enlightened and warned about
"the shining" gift he has and shares with the Overlook head chef
Dick Halloran (the late Scatman Crothers), but also becomes aware of
the hotel's creepy past and in the end has to flee his ax-wielding
crazed father Jack (Jack Nicholson).
Danny, like his father, has a drinking
problem and is prone to violence. He seems to find peace when he
ends up in a New Hampshire town where he is taken in by a recovering
alcoholic, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). He becomes an orderly at a
nursing home and his shining gift is useful in helping dying
patients move on, hence is known as Dr. Sleep.
This quiet existence is short-lived,
as Danny via his shining hooks up mentally with young Abra Stone
(Kyliegh Curran), another child gifted with the shining (and
powerfully so) and through her learns that a tribe of people called
The True Knot travel the country in search of children with the
shining, tracking them down and torturing them to death, using the
"steam" they exhale while suffering as a means of sustenance. These
True Knot members are quasi-immortal, able to live centuries as long
as they can "feed" off the fear and pain of these gifted children.
They are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), truly one of most
evil characters to be portrayed on screen.
So Danny, who still is being counseled
by the spirit of Halloran (Carl Lumbly doing an impressive
impersonation of Crothers), reluctantly is drawn into this battle
between shiners and a vile group of people whose thirst for survival
leads to some horrific deaths of children.
There is one particularly disturbing
scene in which a young boy is apprehended and brutally and slowly
slain by members of The True Knot. In fact Ferguson said that upon
wrapping up that scene, she and her fellow actors were visibly
Flanagan has cleverly inserted bits
and pieces from "The Shining" and then inevitably has Danny going
back to the now abandoned Overlook (some impressive Overlook sets
were constructed that superbly duplicate the original Overlook,
albeit now aged and beat up).
"Doctor Sleep" at a running time of
nearly two and half hours, actually is longer than "The Shining,"
but it moves swiftly as the suspense and horror keep it clicking.
McGregor does well in conveying the adult Danny who has to summon
what he sees as a curse and use it to crush evil. Curran is a real
find as Abra, seemingly sweet and innocent but ultimately being a
menacing adversary to The True Knot. While Lumbly is impressive as
Halloran, Alex Essoe also deserves praise as she fills in as Wendy
Torrance in some flashback scenes, really capturing the essence of
that tormented character portrayed by Shelley Duvall in "The
Ferguson really gets under your skin
as Rose because she exploits an attractiveness and charm that draws
victims to her. Yet she can be lethally self-absorbed and exuding of
a self-confidence that makes her a dangerously effective predator.
"FORD V FERRARI"
Director James Mangold has an enviable
list of movies under his realm that include drama ("Girl,
Interrupted"), biography ("Walk the Line"), action ("3:10 to Yuma"
and "Knight and Day"), and, oh yeah, a couple of flicks featuring
Hugh Jackman ("The Wolverine" and "Logan"). Now he is back with
recreating a true story about how an underdog overcame a dominating
Matt Damon and Christian Bale are
exceptional as Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles, respectively, two
strong-willed men who form a volatile alliance in an effort to
dethrone automaker Ferrari, which seems to have a lock on capturing
the Le Mans race in France year after year.
Damon's Shelby was a pretty decent
race car driver in his own right until a heart condition forces him
to quit competing. He redirects his efforts into building
custom-made high-performance vehicles. He has an association with
Miles, a very skilled, risk-taking, stubborn and quick-tempered
racer, and when Shelby hooks up with the Ford Motor Company to build
a car to beat Ferarri, he and Miles -- although Miles is at first
skeptical -- share an obsessive desire to build a car that can
endure the grueling 24-hour race without breaking down and beat what
are recognized as top-of-line speedsters produced by Ferrari.
"Ford v Ferrari" covers the successes
and failures of the Shelby team while having to deal with
subordinates of Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts), particularly marketing
exec Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) who tries to undermine Shelby and Miles
as much as possible in the name of good salesmanship.
Damon makes Shelby a likable guy who
is dogged by corporate shenanigans that challenge his loyalty to
Miles. But he is clever and gives as much leeway to Miles without
sabotaging the effort.
As good as Damon is, Bale really is
the soul of the movie as Miles. When tax problems lead him to near
financial ruin, he is in effect pulled out of that morass by Shelby.
He is an absolute genius when it comes to squeezing out the most in
a race car and has the necessary instincts to seize every advantage
on the track.
While the racing scenes are terrific
and exciting, "Ford v Ferrari" under Mangold's direction from a
script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller, takes
time to focus on Miles as a husband and father. Catriona Balfe
is Mile's wife, Mollie, and one can see she has the emotional
fortitude to be this man's mate. She can summon enough spunk that
even the seemingly rock-solid Ken softens under her influence.
Also effective are Ken's moments with
his pre-teen son Peter (Noah Jupe), a boy who reveres his dad and is
lucky enough to have a father who takes time to be a parent and a
There are some humorous moments -- a
brawl between Carroll and Ken, calmly witnessed by Mollie as she
lounges in a chair, that proves they really are not fighters; an
amusing scene in which Shelby takes Henry Ford II on a wild test
drive; and times when Shelby messes mentally with the Ferrari pit
crew during Le Mans.
"Ford v Ferrari" is a "win with an
asterisk" story in which an underdog prevails but some of the
details erode the victory. But in the end, two men were able to walk
away proudly, knowing their determination and skill paid off.
"FORD V FERRARI"
"THE GOOD LIAR"
Here it is fun to see two accomplished
performers in Ian McKellan and Helen Mirren starring in a movie
together for the first time, although they did appear together on
stage in August Strindberg's "Dance of Death" in 2001.
Based upon the novel by Nicholas
Searle, adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by
Bill Condon, "The Good Liar" is one of those films that details a
con game, showing how someone or some group pulls a fast one on
another person or group.
McKellan is dapper and coolly devious
as Roy Courtnay, a con man who has been living lies most of his
life. In the beginning of the movie we see him do some tricks and
double-tricks to swindle some investors of a big chunk of money.
Meanwhile, he also believes he has hit
a jackpot when he meets via a seniors online dating service the
widow Betty McLeish (Mirren), who happens to be financially very
well off. The relationship blossoms as basically a companionship
rather than a lusty one, with Ray gaining the trust of Betty. It is
moving along nicely, as far as Ray can see, despite warnings issued
to Betty by her grandson Stephen (Russell Tovey).
You get a feeling of where this movie
is going to go, but seeing the twists unfold, and the interplay
between McKellan and Mirren, makes it a worthy couple of hours of
"THE GOOD LIAR"
"A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE
Tom Hanks may be in line for yet
another Academy Award nomination (he has five, with two Oscars,
although he has not been nominated since 2000 for "Cast Away"), for
his gentle portrayal of Fred Rogers, host of the longtime television
program "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" aimed at children and
designed to deliver life lessons in a heart-warming way.
"Neighborhood" is not a straight film
bio of Fred Rogers. It is instead inspired by a true story of Rogers
and his friendship with magazine journalist Tom Junod that was
formed when Junod was assigned to do a feature on the television
The script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and
Noah Harpster is based upon Junod's November 1998 Esquire article
"Can You Say...'Hero'?" The screen story by Fitzerman- Blue and
Harpster is cleverly conceived as if being an actual episode of
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," complete with the model sets of
exterior shots as well as use of puppets like Daniel Tiger and King
Friday the 13th.
The movie was nearly a decade in the
making, as director Marielle Heller (a friend of Hanks' son Colin)
and the film producers took time to work with the Rogers family
(Fred Rogers died Feb. 27, 2003 at the age of 74) to ensure its
accuracy. Interestingly, Hanks took the role even though he had
declared he did not want to portray any more real people in movies.
The Junod character has been renamed
Lloyd Vogel (Michael Rhys) although his employer still is Esquire.
Known more for his solid investigative reporting, Lloyd is dismayed
when his editor Ellen (Christine Lahti), planning an issue on
heroes, assigns him to do a 400-word profile of Fred Rogers.
Lloyd, though happily married to
Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and the father of a baby boy, Gavin,
has some old family wounds that come to life when he attends his
sister Lorraine's (Tammy Blanchard) third wedding and their father
Jerry (Chris Cooper) shows up. Clearly Lloyd despises his father for
indiscretions at the cost of his mother, now deceased. Even as
Jerry, now in a solid relationship with Dorothy (Wendy Makkena),
wants to make amends for his earlier mistakes, Lloyd refuses to
reconnect with his father.
When Lloyd contacts Fred and starts
conducting the interview for the article, he finds himself under the
microscope himself. Fred, who has read some of Lloyd's previous
articles, observes that Vogel his a cynical view of people. This
contrasts with Rogers' philosophy of accepting people as who they
are, and this also means that forgiveness, no matter how difficult,
can be a key to contentment.
There are a lot of emotionally magical
moments in "Neighborhood" as well as tense ones, and while Hanks
does his usual impeccable job, it is Rhys who had to do the heavy
lifting with the pain and rage. Watson as his wife also provides
solid uncompromising support, letting Lloyd know that his own
stubbornness is a roadblock to tranquility.
Interspersed with some of the simple
but meaningful songs written by Fred Rogers, "Neighborhood" is a
touching story about how Rogers practiced what he preached, showing
that the man who wore the sweater and tennis shoes on his show was
truly a compassionate and wise man, and how taking time to truly be
the kind of neighbor he sang about, helped mend a man and his