Archive for the ‘ Movie Reviews ’ Category

I Liked It.

As a big fan of high profile period piece movies, there was no way I was missing Murder On The Orient Express.

I saw the Sidney Lumet version in 1974 and to be honest, as excited as I was to see the new version, I was sure it would not hold a candle to the star studded 1974 Oscar nominated film.

I’ll say this; it’s better.

I came home from the movie and rented the 1974 version on demand…as much as I love it, the new one is better.

Sorry Sean Connery, sorry Laruen Bacall, and  yes, sorry Vanessa Redgrave, but it is.

Of course not all the critics agree with me.


And I’ll admit, there was change or two which will surely fluster Agatha Christie devotees; most notably, the replacement of Swedish missionary Greta Ohlsson with a missionary named Pilar Estravados (played by Penelope Cruz.)

Here’s a thought:  star power.  Penelope Cruz sells tickets, Penelope Cruz would be slightly miscast as a Swede; ergo:  Hola Pilar, como estas?

Speaking of star power, I had actually heard of or seen all of them.

That’s a first in a long time, and a refreshing one.

Sure, sure, it’s great to give Hollywood newcomers a chance, but Kenneth Branagh wanted to sell tickets, so he pulled out all the stops.

Branagh leads a star-studded troupe which includes Johnny Depp, who dies early on – oh get over it, if you’ve read the book or seen the original or for that matter read the title, someone gets murdered.

After all, it’s not called Inconvenience on the Orient Express even though there is some.

Michelle Pfeiffer, Dame Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, and Derek Jacobi complete the starring roles.

The story, first published by Agatha Christie in 1934, revolves around an eccentric detective with a mustache so epic I am sure it required its own trailer on the lot, who just happens to be on a train when one of the first class passengers is murdered.

He has a slew of suspects, uses his wiles to solve the crime while thwarted by a snow storm, derailment, treachery, deceit, and subterfuge.

If you don’t know the story, the ending will surprise you.

If you do, well, Kenny added a twist or two.

It is a story about murder not a robbery, but one did occur in the lobby while we were there.  Three tickets, three cokes, and one popcorn came to $57.00!

It was nearly impossible to get my wallet out of my pocket while holding my arms UP.

Thinking back, she didn’t even say, “Stick ‘em UP.”

Go see it, you’ll like it, it’s beautifully filmed movie with a Wes Anderson color palette at times. (Wes was not involved, it’s a Ridley Scott film.)

Or, if your TV is big enough, wait for the video.

BTW, both the movie and the popcorn are dolphin free. Yes, I asked.

The Summit: Crime On The Agenda.

I think the Godfather franchise may be, if not my favorite, at least one of my favorites.

I even like Godfather III.

Yeah, I know, I’m one of two.


Pacino, Brando, Keaton, Caan, they were all great, realistic, believable and the movies stayed pretty close to the book; which I also like.

So, why are we talking about The Godfather when there’s so much going on in the world?

Well, I’m not really a social justice warrior, I realize I can’t do much about world events, and it’s my blog so I’ll talk about what I want.

Back to the Godfather.

Remember the scene where they have the big meeting in UP state New York and all the mafia dons and their henchmen show UP?

Although the Godfather is a work of fiction, the meeting portrayed in the film actually happened.

And it happened on November 14, 1957.

So, that’s why, it was 60 years ago today.

The meeting was a summit of the American Mafia and was hosted at the home of Joseph Barbara, aka – Joe the Barber in Apalachin, New York.

The agenda included topics such as loan-sharking, narcotics trafficking, gambling, prostitution, and extortion.  Oh, and the big item on the agenda was who was going to take over for the late Albert Anastasia who met his “untimely death” at the hands of two men with scarves over their faces who were probably members of either the Profaci, Patriarca, or Gambino families (every one hated him) as he relaxed in a barber’s chair in New York City.

An estimated 100 Mafiosi from the US, Italy, and Cuba were there.  The meeting was called by Vito Genovese on whom the fictional character of Don Corleone is loosely based.

Everything was going great until the cops showed UP!

Local and state police became suspicious when expensive car after expensive car with out of state plate started showing UP in the sleepy town.

Knowing that Barbara was a shady character and had a house full of shady friends, they set UP road blocks and raided the meeting.

Many of the Dons in $1,000 suits headed for the woods and escaped; but roughly 60 underworld bosses were detained and indicted following the raid.

Most of the charges were dropped, but 20 or so were eventually charged with obstruction, fined $10,000 and released.

So what was the big meeting all about and why risk it?

In the early 50s, Vito Genovese was working to take over the Luciano Family.  Frank Costello was running it at the time since Luciano was in the slammer.  Vito felt it was time to make his move, but in order to do so he had to take out Costello and his allies, so he teamed UP with Gambino and they hit Anastasia.

Costello barely escaped a hit and decided to take a down grade from Mafia boss to “some guy who’s connected” which left Genovese in control of his own family.

But that wasn’t enough.  He wanted the entire organization and to be the boss of bosses.

So Vito called for a national meeting of bosses and Joe the Barber was kind enough to lend his country estate for the event, again.

The 58 acre tract of land west of New York City was located along the Susquehanna River near the Pennsylvania state line.

It was remote, quiet, and relatively unknown.

And most of the folks there drove Chevys or Fords with the occasional Buick.

So when Joe went into town and bought enough steak for 100 people and Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Imperials rolled into town, the law got suspicious.

Hence the road block and the raid.

Rather than cement Genovese’s power as the head of the Mafia, the meeting was the beginning of his decline in power.  Most of the old guard blamed him for the new found attention on the outfit.

Prior to the meeting and arrests, the Cosa Nostra, Mafia, or Brotherhood was all myth, conjecture, and theory.

After Apalachin, it was real; so real the FBI established a team to go after the gang.

In 1959 Genovese was set UP by Luciano and went to prison for 15 years.  He died from a heart attack in 1969.  The real winner turned out to be Carlo Gambino who actually became “the Godfather” and took over the organization.

As to Joe the Barber, the summit brought its host nothing but aggravation and humiliation.  His home was raided, his “friends” were arrested – and really pissed at him.  What should have been a feather in his cap turned into a nightmare.

He had been reluctant to have the meeting at his home as he’d hosted one the previous year, and had warned the bosses that a local cop named Croswell disliked him and would cause trouble if he got wind of the meeting.

Which he did.

After the meeting, Barbara was under investigation, indictment, and eventually charged with income tax evasion and submitting fraudulent corporate tax forms.

His business interest waned, he lost lucrative contracts, one with Canada Dry, and his health declined.

He too died of a heart attack in 1959.

His estate was sold and for a short while the new owners conducted “sightseeing tours” and spoke about the Aplachin Summit.

The most significant outcome of the raid was the fact that it helped to confirm the existence of the American Mafia to the public.

Even the FBI and its director, J Edgar Hoover had refused to publicly acknowledge its existence. Hoover had denied the existence of a “national crime syndicate” for years and expressed no need to address organized crime in America.

After the Summit, he was forced to acknowledge the syndicate’s existence and its influence and control of crime.  Hoover created the “Top Hoodlum Program” and went after the syndicate’s leaders.

All because crime was on the agenda.

Back Street

Susan Hayward would have turned 100 today.

She died at the age of 57 after developing brain cancer.  Most likely, Hayward was another victim of radioactive poisoning from the movie set of The Conqueror, which was filmed in St. George, Utah a former atomic test site.

There were 220 people on the set, 91 would develop cancer of one sort or another, and 46 had already died from the disease by 1980.

The deaths included Agnes Moorehead, John Wayne, and Dick Powell.

Hayward isn’t remembered for the way she died, she’s remembered for her films.

Moving to Hollywood in 1937 to land the role of Scarlett O’Hara (she didn’t), the girl who would eventually live on a large farm in Georgia, started her career as a model, and quickly found bit parts in films throughout WW II.

After the war, she was “discovered” by Walter Wagner and signed a seven year contract.

Wagner, apparently a visionary, paid her, a veritable unknown, $100,000 a year.

In 1947, she received the first of five Academy Award nominations when she played an alcoholic nightclub singer in Smash UP, the Story of a Woman.

She went on to become one of the public’s favorite leading ladies, delighting audiences by portraying Rachel Jackson in The President’s Lady,  another boozer in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and a California murderer, Barbara Graham, in I Want To Live.

She won her only Oscar for that one.

But my favorite and one that gets little attention is Back Street, a lavish Ross Hunter re-make of an earlier film.

No one played the role of the “other woman” like Susan Hayward, and Rae of  Back Street was an “other woman” role like no other!

Back Street is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite memories.  My sister, Zola, and I would stay UP late, lie in front of the black and white swivel bottom TV, get as close as we could get,  turn the sound low to keep from waking the house, and watch Back Street.

Mother of course, would come out and tell us to get to bed; quite frankly, I think I was an adult before I saw the end of the film.

Melodrama at its best, Back Street is the story of a wealthy department store heir’s love affair with a small town dress shop owner.  The dress shop owner dumps him when she finds out he’s married.

Of course, she runs to New York, becomes a fashion designer, moves to Rome and becomes the brains behind a salon and becomes an even more famous designer.

The heir pursues her, telling her his lush of a wife won’t give him a divorce, pledging his love yadda, yadda, yadda.

Of course, she caves, they become lovers, things happen, the wife shows UP, Chautauqua hits the fan…you know the drill.

I won’t spoil the end, but it’s one of Old Hollywood’s classiest.

Check it out, make a new memory.

Hey, it’s gonna be hot this weekend, and you need something to do.

Hollywood Connection…

So, there’s this little movie out there called Hunter Gatherer.

photo credit: Josh Locy

It’s an indie film, the kind I like.

I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone, and the story line isn’t the happiest all the time.  But there’s redemption in there somewhere.

Beautifully filmed in a Bonnie and Clyde gritty kinda way, the film tells the struggle of an ex-con’s reentry into society.

He looks for his last love; she’s not looking for him.

He looks for his friends; they’re not looking for him.

He looks for a future; and finds one that’s an unsure surprise.

The film was featured and was a winner at the 2016 South by Southwest film festival.

Roger Ebert said this, “…Written and directed by Joshua Locy, “Hunter Gatherer” doesn’t look or feel like many movies being made right now. It’s about African-Americans living modestly in a black neighborhood in our second largest city, and the sense of inequity and systemic discrimination is implicit in the story, but it’s a quiet, gentle film, laid back without seeming sluggish. It never veers into a brutal crime plot to juice things up (as many similarly-set movies tend to do), nor does it feel compelled to make a statement about anything other than its eccentric characters’ relationships to each other and the wider world.”

So, why this film? And Who’s Josh Locy?

Josh Locy is the son of a childhood friend, Linda McKemy Locy of Virginia and Ohio.  His mom and I were sweethearts while on the cradle roll at Kerrs Creek Baptist Church back in the day.

She was six, I was five.  Really, there’s no there, there.

Our families have remained close over the years and their family is one of those five or so families that form a core friend base.

photo credit:

So, I had to see it.

The problem was, it isn’t in too many theaters.  It’s a small film.  But luckily I was able to watch it on demand, and luckily, I had an in to the writer director, Josh, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.

So here goes…
RLR:  Why films?

JL:  All my friends growing up were in bands. I wanted so badly to be in a band but they were way more talented musically than I was. In our eyes they were super successful. So I regulated myself to being a superfan. But they opened the door up to creative endeavors.

RLR:  Directing/writing v. acting?

JL:  I know I have a couple acting credits on my imdb but I’m truly not an actor. Just a couple of projects I did to help out friends.  But writing and directing is the ultimate act of collaborative creation! I love having my vision expanded by the technicians, creatives, and actors who embody the script I wrote! It’s a truly magical experience and I can’t wait to do it again!

RLR:  What are your Inspiration points?

JL:  I am inspired by the realism and naturalism of great films from the 70’s like Panic in Needle Park, Straight Time, and Midnight Cowboy. I am also inspired by the magical realism of filmmakers like Apitchatpong Weerasethekul and novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. HG starts off strictly based in reality, but those boundaries are slowly erased.

RLR:  Where did Hunter Gatherer come from?

JL:  HG was inspired by stories I heard from a friend named Eddie who was a heroin addicted pimp in 1980’s Philadelphia. When I first started writing the script, it was terrible because I had no real connection to the drugs and illicit activities, so I made a conceptual move to remove all of that stuff from the script and find what it is that truly connected me to this world and these characters. Upon doing that I realized that I was connected to the similarities between my own experiences in searching for true human connection with the experience of these characters who were so different from me.

RLR:  Which brings me to this question, How does a pasty white boy from Lynchburg, Virginia come UP with a story like HG?

JL:  haha — well — I think it comes from an intention to focus on the humanity of the characters. I was raised in a relatively homogenous community so knew that I needed to be intimately involved in an artistic endeavor with people who were different than me. I needed to be challenged and I needed my worldview expanded to understand myself and the world better. More than any assumed knowledge I have of the world I am portraying, ultimately the story is a product of constant, unquenchable curiosity about that world and a desire to connect with it at a deeper level.

RLR:  How difficult is it to get buy in and support for a film like this?

JL:  It’s impossible! Everything in the film industry is impossible until it’s not.  There are only so many investors at our budget level and we talked with all of them!  Finally – a company called cinetic connected us with two of their investor connections who were looking for exactly this kind of project. There was a lot of serendipity involved as well but my producers Sara Murphy and April Lamb kept pushing and pushing until we found the right people!

RLR:  How does your upbringing impact your motivation and style in art?

JL:  I was raised super religious in the south. I think there was a certain amount of humility and naiveté imbued in me from a young age. This fuels my curiosity and keeps me nice to people!

RLR:  What is the best thing anyone has said about the film?

JL:  An older gentleman at AFI Fest who had grown up in the neighborhood where we shot said that he had never seen his neighborhood represented so well on film. He told me that it is depicted just as it is. This meant a lot to me considering my answer to the next question.

RLR:  The worst?

JL:  People who suggest that I am not allowed to tell a story that features people who are different than I am have said the meanest things to me. It was to be expected and I understand that there are lot of questions to answer and conversations to be had in this regard.

RLR:  How did you snag Andre Royo?  (Great choice BTW.)

JL:  I’ve been a big fan of André’s since the wire and the spectacular now, but I avoided him because I didn’t want HG to feel like a stepson to the wire. But our mutual friend, the casting director Julia Kim, sent him the script anyway. He connected with the material on a deep, emotional level like no one else had. We met and discussed our goals and fears and agreed that we should give this thing a go.

RLR:  What’s next?

JL:  I’m working on a project with my friend about cheating and intrigue in the early days of professional bass fishing. A comedic noir in the vein of Fargo with nutso characters, high stakes, and murders!

So…it’s one of those films that stick with you, you have to pay attention to, and leaves you wanting to know more.

Check it out.

It’s not in theaters much, so you’ll have to down load or on demand it.  And you should.