The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017): Life of an “Also Ran” (Review)

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The Ballad of Lefty Brown is an interesting concept from start to finish. Part homage – it pays more than a little tribute to both The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Unforgiven – with a story about a western “also ran” who did not make the pages of the penny dreadfuls of the time. Written and directed by  Jared Moshe, the film is described as a “coming of age” film. 

Lefty Brown, played brilliantly by personal favorite Bill Pullman, is a “man-child.” His implied backstory is that at one time he and three other partners terrorized the southwest territory. One of these is going to be the new senator (Peter Fonda in a small but pivotal role) and after his death, two other old friends arrive to sort things out.

The film gives us a protagonist that, at times, is both simple and sly. One wonders just how much of Lefty Brown’s “slowness” is real. There are many instances where this character appears to be more than meets the eye.

We are privy to Lefty’s journey and Moshe gives us a story that pleases almost as much as it dismays. Pullman’s character goes through his paces with a doggedness that one assumes has been his main trait since birth.

It is his very pedantic, and simple,  approach to all things that has kept him from gracing the pages of the dime novel that the greenhorn Jeremiah (played very well by newcomer Diego Josef) carries with him in the film. Jim Caviezel and the splendid Scottish actor Tommy Flanagan are outstanding as the two old pals who were once part of the “gang.” 

Kathy Baker is spot on as the bitter and angry widow who fights for what is rightfully hers and the tale, while coming across as rather dire, is interesting enough to keep one glued to the seat for the climax. At just under two hours, The Ballad of Lefty Brown successfully manages to combine a character study with the western genre. 

This is Pullman’s film. From start to finish he commands the screen with his characterization of a man destined to be forgotten by all who knew him and it is Oscar-worthy. “Lefty Brown” combines music, sets and costumes effectively to make this oddly intimate film feel like a sweeping epic, along the lines of a John Ford (Cheyenne Autumn for example) western with just a touch of Spaghetti Western for good measure.

There is not an awful lot in the way of gun play, just one short gunfight in the middle, and the violence is not overly visceral in nature. This is more of a character study as we watch a man whose life has always been, it seems, outside the action.

However, there is the hint of a backstory that is slightly evocative of the Ford classic, “The Searchers” where the marshal’s wife was kidnapped by a Native American Tribe and one of the small group wishes for the good old days when “folks’ trembled before them.

This is an American West that resembles the AMC Robert Redford retelling of this countries history. It is all corrupt politics and bad men profiting from their past. Somethings, apparently, have not changed.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown is a solid 5 star film that delivers some solid performances from all the leads and gives Bill Pullman a real chance at garnering some awards.  Fans of the genre will love this homage to all things western.

Wonder Woman (2017): A DC Ode to Powerful Women (Review)

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It is hard to believe that Wonder Woman (brought to us by the same man who dehumanized Superman – Zack Snyder; but directed by Patty Jenkins which explains so much) came at the beginning of a year that has turned into one of empowerment for females in “the business.” Gal Gadot, in her second outing as Diana “Queen of the Amazons,” proves once more that one can love a strong yet beautiful woman warrior with little effort. 

The film itself shows that, Harley Quinn aside, there are positive female role models out there in the darker verse. It also takes Wonder Woman out of those 1970’s spandex short-shorts sported by the TV version played so capably by Linda Carter.

Despite the original outcry of dismay when Gadot was cast as the lasso spinning heroine, the actress (whose face could launch a 1000 ships) brings the DC seeker of justice to living breathing life. All the emotions missing in Snyder’s version of Superman are there for the taking in this film.

Set in WWI, versus the WWII origins of Marvel’s  Captain America, Chris Pine easily plays the American spy who is running from the Germans, aka the Hun (the Nazis do not turn up for quite some time…) headed up by the maestro of acting, Danny Huston. The cast is full of familiar and well-known names, all of whom turn in splendid performances.

David Thewlis, that long, tall and talented Brit actor, who needs to be in more films damn it, kills it as the politico whom one suspects immediately of shady dealings and the crew that Pine collects to stop Huston’s character are all brilliant as well. 

The only shocker, in terms of cast and actors, is the transformation of Lucy Davis (who is, perhaps, best known for playing Dianne in Shaun of the Dead) into a modern version of “Aunt Clara” from Bewitched, aka the late actress Marion Lorne.

Image courtesy of IMDb
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Elena Anaya plays the sinister and scarred doctor who plans of murdering a lot of her fellow denizens with a new gas. She is a close colleague of Huston’s murderous general and the two make a great “couple.” Cameos by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright round out this film with yet more stand out performances. 

Make no mistake though this is Gadot’s film.  She manages to surpass Carter’s TV heroine in this “origin” story with scary ease. Jenkins skillfully moves the film and her performers through the paces with admirable snap, crackle and pop.

Wonder Woman is up for a number of awards in the upcoming Oscar race and deservedly so. The effects, with the exception of that glowing lasso, are brilliant. The sets are spot on and London, for the brief time it is on show, looks authentic.

The story itself echoes real-life complaints of how the “war to end all wars” was run by generals sitting on their bums at Whitehall (see the last season of Black Adder “Black Adder Goes Forth” for a more blackly comic reference). Diana’s rant to the room of bureaucrats who have no problem sentencing thousands of innocents to death is spot on.

WW is a long film, it runs for two hours and 21 minutes, but does not lag or bog down in the middle. There is a jab at the ridiculous concept that glasses can adequately hide a superhero’s identity (Clark Kent anyone?) and we find that Diana works for the Dark Knight himself; Bruce Wayne.

There is enough time to wonder if the special gas that Dr. Maru gives Ludendorff is meant to be a tongue in cheek jibe at Viagra, but this does not distract from the overall film. (One also wonders if Wonder Woman would be so popular with fans if she were a plain yet muscly, superhero who looked horrid in those small warrior outfits. Although at the end of the day, the conclusion is that it really does not matter. Diana is appealing because of her mindset, not her appearance, although many teen boys, and girls, might disagree.)

Wonder Woman earns a full  five stars. It entertains full stop. While it is up for a number of those little gold chaps that the Academy like to give out, it will, no doubt, be snubbed. It is, after all, a comic book film and not, for instance, Schindler’s List…

There is a good bit of violence, of the non-visceral sort, no intense cursing and no on-screen sex antics. This is a film that the entire family can enjoy. It is also amazingly pertinent at a time when the Weinsteins, and others with that “casting couch” mentality, are being drummed out of the business by some very brave and new “wonder women.”

John Travolta: So Now He is Not Allegedly Gay?

Poor old John Travolta, the actor has been plagued with accusations of being a closet gay for years and now, he is being slammed for getting too “touchy-feely” with the girls at the Oscars, does this mean that the “Pulp Fiction” star is not allegedly gay? Not that it should matter one way or the other, after all Travolta has been married to Kelly Preston since 1991 and they have had three children together.

Read the rest on Viral Global News…

J K Simmons Best Supporting Actor…Really?

J K Simmons publicity shot

It is trending right now on Facebook, “J K Simmons wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Whiplash.” Really? I watched that film, loved it, and when that time came around for all the critics to vote, I chose Simmons for the Best Actor award. A long discussion ensued where I explained my rationale for picking that category and initially the head of the Nevada Film Critic’s Society let me keep old J K there for the gong of BA instead of BSA.

My reasoning for popping his portrayal of Fletcher, the cruel, manipulative and driven music instructor for the top gong was simple. Without this manic and over-the-top sadist there would have been no film. In my mind, supporting actors are ones whose character’s may be quite important to the plot, but, if their roles end up on the cutting room floor, the film will still progress quite nicely, thank you very much.

With no Simmons, aka Fletcher, there was no film. Miles Teller as Andrew, may have been the studio’s choice to win Best Actor, but again, without Fletcher, the wanna-be drummer had no one to respond to.  It is obvious that the studio wanted both its actors to get a gong so Simmons was pushed into the lesser category. However, the instructor was the driving force here, not the socially inept boy who practices till his hands bleed.

I do believe that J K Simmons really deserves  the Best Actor gong for his performance in Whiplash. Best Supporting Actor does not really fit what he did with that role. Sitting in the cinema and watching the film, every single time the man showed up on screen my blood pressure rose and my heartbeat doubled.

His Fletcher was so overwhelming and brutal that he reached out into the audience and intimidated me. Even in the safety of my own seat, surrounded by other reviewers whom I count as friends, Simmons make me so uncomfortable that I was tempted to watch scenes with slightly averted eyes, through fingers.

In the film, both individuals are equally driven. Both want perfection and the two will do what ever it takes to achieve their goal. By the end of the film, I was exhausted and so tense that a cramp shot through my right leg. And as the final credits rolled, we all looked at one another in awe.

This film, with no real violence, no romance (to speak of) and no sex, had held us spellbound for the entire length of the movie. Despite the fact that neither of the two main protagonists were likable and hard to connect with, I cared what happened to both of them.

In the last scene of the film, and there is a twist oh yes, my mouth dropped open in amazement. I will not say why, but suffice to say, it was magic. Subtle and simple and marvelous. J K Simmons should have gotten the Best Actor for Whiplash and not Best Supporting Actor because in my mind he really sold the film and his character. I do know that I was not the only critic who believed that the man should have been placed in the higher category, but despite my disappointment at his “demotion” I will still say congratulations matey! You earned it.

22 February 2015

Ellen DeGeneres Oscars Selfie: When Spontaneous Is Not

Ellen DeGeneres Oscars Selfie: When Spontaneous Is Not

During the 86th Annual Academy Awards ceremony when Ellen DeGeneres took her Oscars selfie Twitter went wild and then broke while the popular talk show host got her tweeted pic retweeted so much it broke records as well as the app; ironically this spontaneous act was not spontaneous at all. Certainly, the producers of the show are saying that the selfie was Ellen’s idea and not something that had been preplanned. Unfortunately, the facts suggest otherwise.