Sunday, January 27, 2013



           HAL HOLBROOK

Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama

So Steve (Matt Damon) and his partner in crime, Sue, (Frances McDormand) roll into the quaint farming community of McKinley as representatives of a big natural gas juggernaut (so big it's called "Global") that wants to get the local rubes to sell the drilling rights to their land so that the company can come in and start fracking everything up in the name of big business taking whatever they want. (Fracking is the colloquial term for industrial gas drilling.)  The shekels the company offers for drilling rights make the economically challenged locals' eyes light up with dollar signs and they forget about those possible unfortunate side-effects of  poisoning the air and water. (Like those drug commercials on TV that start out by telling you the benefits of the drug in the first ten seconds, then the next forty-five seconds are devoted to a laundry list of side effects that could be so harmful and debilitating--even fatal--that no one in his right mind would even consider taking that poison--then the last five seconds they say in a smiling voice: SO ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT FRAXIL !  And people do...because they are insane.)

But it ain't gonna be so easy to roll over the yokels  in Promised Land  because at least one resident didn't get his education behind the barn.Former engineer Frank Yates, (Hal Holbrook) teaches science at the local high school, and he wants the town to put  the proposition to a public vote (united we stand--divided we fall off the bar stool one by one.)

Then along comes Jones in the form of Dustin Noble, (John Krasinski) an environmentalist who blows into town like a foreboding wind and begins to make waves. Steve, who honestly seems to believe in what he's peddling--at least at first--and Dustin are ready made rivals  Promised Land  is clearly nudging you to root for the good guy Dustin in the name of things most of us hold sacred, like clean air and water, but the movie is magnanimous enough to present the other side as well to anyone who is listening. That is until the out-of-left-field plot twist near the end that gives a surreal good versus evil dynamic to the proceedings--it's the conflict between those who have no conscience and those who allow their conscience to get the best of them--but it feels like they are beating us over the head with it.

Damon and Krasinski play off of each other well, as each tries to win over the hearts and minds of the townsfolk. Mcdormand's character has been around the block a time or three--she's just a gal who is more concerned about getting along and providing for her family in the short term, and doesn't want to think about long-term implications. (Like most folks, it seems.) Rosemary DeWitt gives a nice turn as Alice, a local school teacher who is attracted to both Steve and Dustin, exemplifying the film's theme of inner conflict.

In the end, Promised Land is likely to create a few more cynics in a society that may already be too cynical for its own good.

Grade:  B

Friday, January 18, 2013


Rated : R

Stars: Jamie Foxx,  Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel  L. Jackson, Kerry Washington
Director:  Quentin Tarantino

Genre: Western, Action/Adventure, Dark Comedy
Quentin Tarantino isn't normally my cup of blood. After a while all that splatter has a numbing effect, and you find your mind wandering to thoughts like: Who gets to clean up all this mess? But Django Unchained grabbed me from the outset with the haunting strains of  its spaghetti western score from Ennio Morricone (he's only the greatest film composer of all time, mind you).  Add to that a discernible plot that I could see developing and I was ready to hang on for the ride.  

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave in the deep south before the Civil War who meets his liberator in the personage of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) . Schultz poses as a traveling dentist, but he's really a bounty hunter looking for a couple of bad hombres named the Brittle Brothers. Django, having had previous dealings with said scum, teams with the good doctor to ferret them out, and that takes them to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) 

Django has another reason to be there, and that's to find his long lost wife, Broomhilda, (Kerry Washington) whom he suspects is one of Candie's cadre of slaves. There the partners meet  the uppity Stephen, (Samuel L. Jackson)  who is something of an indentured butler and  advisor to Candie. Stephen doesn't like what he sees in Django--no no--and that's ATTITUDE he doesn't think a black man should have in these here times--freeman or not. Jackson's portrayal of the cantankerous and ultimately treacherous Stephen should have gotten him an Oscar nod for best supporting butler, or something, along with the four other nominations Django Unchained received. And it demonstrates that racism can and does exist within one's own skin shade as well.    

The prevailing opinion seems to be that DiCaprio was similarly slighted, and he does give a powerful performance, even though its a tongue-in-cheek stereotype of a pompous southern plantation owner. 

Waltz does get a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and he earned it with his prissy Dr. Schultz. 

Django Unchained contains one of the funniest film scenes I've ever seen...just get ready to spew your soda when the Ku Klux Klan makes it appearance, cuz it ain't what you think it's gonna be! 

You should also be prepared for the "N" word, which is used 110 times. The first time it's a bit jolting, and it's like, okay, so we've bypassed any political correctness considerations and we're going for true realism--because let's face it, that's the term that was in common usage in that era. And Tarantino is nothing if not gutsy. By the twentieth time it popped up, I was flashing back to Dustin Hoffman in Lenny .  Lenny Bruce tried to show people that no word has more power than we are willing to give it,  and what really matters is not the word itself, but the  INTENT behind the word. That, of course,  was  too subtle for the dumbed-down, one-size-fits-all America of today.    

Grade:  B +