Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! There is a real mix of movies this week, from painful to joyful to fantastical to outright TERRIFYING. One film, John Huston’s, “Wise Blood,” an old b&w, sounded good and maybe even is good, but I couldn’t get past the ongoing racial epithets by the main character and at least one other actor. There was a focus on the racist terms and racist philosophy that stopped me cold. I gave it 20 minutes and that was more than it deserved. I’ve watched other movies, like “Django Unchained,” which is set in the days of slavery and uses a lot of the epithets; yet there is purpose to it and there is some measure of justice seen against the oppressors in it. In “Wise Blood,” it felt like a normalized fixture with no relief – sorry, nope, not going there – even if that’s the way it was at some point.
Woman Walks Ahead (2017)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Michael Greyeyes, Sam Rockwell, Ciaran Hinds, and many more.
Director: Susanna White
Genres: biography, drama
Synopsis: Set in the 1880s-1890s Catherine Weldon (played by Chastain) is a Brooklyn lady who paints portraits. She decides to travel out west to Dakota to attempt to gain permission from Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (played by Greyeyes) to paint his portrait. The Chief now lives with his people on a settlement. A vote is coming up where the tribe will vote on whether to give up essentially half of their reservation land to the government. The powrs tha be don’t take kindly to this eastern “liberal” getting “the natives” riled up and begin to use all manner of dirty tactics to exert their will on the situation. The primary focus in the film is on the growing friendship/alliance between Weldon and the Chief who, in a way, have some important things in common.
Impressions: All else shrinks in comparison in the film to the connection growing between the two main characters which is good in a way but in another it minimizes the unconscionable situation facing those who have been pretty much coralled and contained on land that is being threatened with being taken away yet again. I do love the actor they chose to play Chief Sitting Bull; it is clear that this is more than just a role for him. I think they did a good job of presenting the story sensitively and beautifully (if not completely accurately from what I’m reading.) I will end my impressions here as I don’t want to give away any spoilers.
Etc.: The movie is based on Eileen Pollack’s “Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull”, a book released on 2002. Per imdb trivia, several “facts” in this fictionalized account are inaccurate. Per wikipedia:
Weldon painted four portraits of Sitting Bull of which two are known to have survived. One is now held by the North Dakota Historical Society in Bismarck, ND and the other at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, AR.
Awards: 6 wins and 1 nomination
The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Starring: Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis, William Jordan, Maria Richwine, Amy Johnston, Dick O’Neill, Fred Travelena, and many many more.
Director: Steve Rash
Genres: biography, drama
Synopsis: Singer/guitarist Buddy (played by Busey,) Drummer Jesse (played by Stroud,) and Upright Bass Player Ray Bob (played by Smith) are playing a new kind of music live at the roller skating rink that drive the kids wild. The sponsors and the DJ that broadcasts it live on the radio are in an uproar over “the devil’s music,” and force it off the air. The DJ tapes one of the sessions and sends it to Nashville, who want the guys to come do some recording. After that flops miserably they end up headed to NYC, where things start to shake. Also part of the story is Buddy meeting the love of his life, Maria, at the record producer’s office and how the two start to build a life together. The story ends “the day the music died.”
Impressions: I adored Busey as Buddy. He brought Buddy’s sharp musical talents and passion to life as well as his sound business savvy. I loved the support cast in this as well, especially Richwine as Maria. There are a lot of musical performances in here by Buddy and the Crickets (Jesse and Ray Bob) but also other musicians. The movie was a fun way to learn more about Buddy Holly and makes me want to listen to more of his discography.
Etc.: per imdb:
Since widow Maria Elena Holly was in control of Buddy Holly’s estate as executor and administrator, it was she with whom producer Fred Bauer, director Steve Rash, and executive producer Ed Cohen (Edward H. Cohen) made a film agreement. Once the details were settled, the crucial area of casting was approached. It was agreed upon by all that no big-name star could fit the bill because emphasis would be shifted away from Buddy Holly and toward the particular celebrity playing the part. Further, whoever played the role had to be able to perform professionally in the numerous music sequences depicting highlights in Buddy Holly’s career. With this in mind, it was decided that unlike most previous music-oriented films, no pre-recorded and lip-synched techniques would be employed. All the music would be staged, performed, and recorded on the film’s soundtrack.
Awards: 3 wins and 6 nominations
Synchronic (2019) (netflix)
Starring: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan, Katie Aselton, Ally Ioannides, Ramiz Monsef, and many more.
Director: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Genres: drama, sci-fi
Synopsis: Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, Steve (played by Mackie) and Dennis (played by Dornan) are 2 paramedics who have been friends and co-workers for at least 20 years. The story begins when they start being called to scenes where dead people are found in bizarre conditions. Survivors at the scenes give clues that they and those found dead had taken a designer drug just before mayhem broke loose. Steve begins to put the pieces together on what this designer drug does and uses the information when it is a matter of life and death for a loved one. Speaking of life and death, Steve is also battling a terminal brain tumor that he decides to keep a secret from everyone.
Impressions: When I saw this one on the netflix banner with Mackie, who I’ve seen in several things over the past couple of years and liked, and Fifty Shades Dornan, I thought this is worth giving a try. I really wanted to like this one but the plot is so outlandish and the pacing is so off that it felt like it never really got up off of the ground. I liked these two as buddies and they played well off of each other, but this felt like a made-for-tv movie rather than something to be shown on the big screen. The dialogue was pretty awful and there was so much gratuitous swearing! Just an unpalatable icing on a tasteless cake.
Etc.: imdb trivia: At 01:20:00, Steve and Dennis are strolling through New Orleans’ Garden District and decide to sit on a curb and talk. The house they sit in front of (the Brevard-Clapp House at 1239 First Street) was formerly owned by horror novelist Anne Rice.
Awards: none known
Lean on Pete (2017)
Starring: Charlie Plummer, Amy Seimetz, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi, Jason Beem, Tolo Tuitele, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, and many more.
Director: Andrew Haig
Genres: adventure, drama
Synopsis: Charley (played by Plummer) and Ray, his dad (played by Fimmel,) are transients that travel around the Pacific Northwest, living in ratty rentals and never anywhere for long. Dad likes to party and 15 year-old Charley is left to his own devices much of the time. Despite the barriers to success, Charley and Ray have a close relationship and there’s never any doubt the two love each other. The story begins in their latest stop, Portland, OR, where Charley is out jogging/conditioning for football and gets pulled into helping Del (played by Buscemi) change a truck tire near the racetrack. Soon Charley is working for Del and learning the quarter horse racing trade. Unfortunately Del isn’t above shady practices and shows little loyalty to any of his horses that don’t win. Unfortunately Charley gets attached to one of the horses by the name of Lean on Pete. Also thrown into this mix is Bonnie (played by Sevigny,) the jockey Del uses who also doesn’t blink at shady practices or have much sentimentality when it comes to the horses. There is a feeling the Del and Bonnie used to care but have become jaded over time.
Impressions: This is another one of those movies I had to stop watching halfway through it because I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next. The author of the book this film is adapted from based Charley’s character on his own life at that age and his extremely challenging way of getting by as a teenager left to his own devices in a big cold world.The cinematography and long uninterrupted shots in real places with real people as extras gave an authenticity to it that makes it stand out. The 4 main characters (Charley, Ray, Del, and Bonnie) are phenomenal! They inhabit their characters and make a believer out of you. There are also some wonderful landscape shots. Have the kleenex ready on this one, as you will need it.
Etc.: per imdb: Director Andrew Haigh has referred to Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny as “the king and queen of American independent cinema,” respectively.
Awards: 11 wins and 18 nominations
Before going into the review of “Tusk,” there needs to be a warning that this film should never be seen by children or watched by anyone who isn’t prepared to see extreme scenes of torture and violence. Please DO NOT watch it if you aren’t prepared for it.
Starring: Michael Parks, Justin Long, Genesis Rodriguez, Haley Joel Osment, Johnny Depp (in deep disguise,) Harley Morenstein, Ralph Garman, and many more.
Director and Writer: Kevin Smith
Genres: horror (imdb says this is a comedy!?!?!? no effin way) and drama
Synopsis: Wallace (played by Long) and Teddy (played by Osment) have a zany podcast where they say a lot of inappropriate things, make fun of people, and share videos they can slice and dice. Their adoring fans love the show and ratings soar. Wallace has a hot girfriend, Ally (played by Rodriguez) who loved Wallace more before he made it big as a podcaster. When a Canadian guy sends them a video of him accidentally maiming himself, Wallace and Teddy have a field day with it. When the guy begs Wallace to come to Canada to interview him, he sees another hit show and decides to go interview him. Wallace finds an unfortunate surprise when he gets to Canada as he cannot interview the guy. He doesn’t want to leave Canada without a story. As he puts intention to the wind, he happens upon an opportunity to get a story to take back. Howard Howe (played by Michael Parks) is the storyteller Wallace meets, and from the moment they shake hands it feels like we step through a portal where one’s most vivid nightmares come to life. While that nightmare is going on, Teddy and Ally are back at home, waiting to hear from Wallace and begin to get worried when days go by without hearing from him.
Impressions: I don’t know how this film got on my list, and I was a little leery of the cover art, but I decided to watch it; similar to when a person knows their gullet can’t take hot food but guzzles a ghost pepper anyway. The way it is put together is masterful. The sets are fantastic! The meticulous notching up of the horror feels like that scene in The Pit and the Pendulum where the pendulum is swinging ever closer. It also has the familiarity of the old Hammer Horror films, but the special effects are so much more intense. Parks is one creepy maniac in this!
Etc.: per imdb: Although set in Canada, it is actually filmed in NC. One of the primary filming locations, The Cramer Mountain Country Club, near Charlotte, North Carolina, was the site where the perpetrators of the 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery purchased a mansion after the robbery. Much of the movie was filmed at the adjacent golf club.
Awards: 2 wins and 7 nominations