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By Vernor Rodgers
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"BADLAND"

 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 Sisters Brothers."

 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 hanging.

 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 tough Sarah.

 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 to justice.

 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.

"BADLAND" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/eDTFhrpE5FM

AMANDA WYSSA 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 Hunt."

 AMANDA WYSS"It 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 it.

 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.

"TERMINATOR: DARK FATE" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/jCyEX6u-Yhs

 

"MIDWAY"

 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 at them:

 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.

"MIDWAY" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/w7HnS-tpWMo

 

"DOCTOR SLEEP"

 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 shaken.

 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 Shining."

 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.

"DOCTOR SLEEP" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/2msJTFvhkU4

 

"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 entity.

 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 pal.

 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" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/I3h9Z89U9ZA

 

"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 entertainment.

"THE GOOD LIAR" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/ljKzFGpPHhw

 

"A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD"

 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 host.

 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 hurting family.

"A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/-VLEPhfEN2M

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