Sunday, April 29, 2018


Rated: R

STARS: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Travis Fimmel
DIRECTOR: Andrew Haigh
GENRE: Drama

I once read a review by a prominent film critic who was so disgusted by the ending of Pay It Forward that he revealed the ending in the review, reasoning that what happened was a cheap and shitty thing to do to viewers who had invested their money and emotional energy into something that up to that point had been an uplifting experience, and that they were better off knowing. I'm about to do something similar here, though I'm not revealing the ending...just the ending of my caring anything about what happens in this film from that point forward. 

Imagine if King Kong were not about a gorilla, but more about one of the Skull islanders who threw bananas at him from afar, and the gorilla was just incidental to the story...a prop, basically. You'd wonder why the hell they named the movie King Kong, now wouldn't you? And you might be pretty pissed at the film makers for the misleading way they advertised the movie to get gorilla lovers to fill the seats. That, in essence, is Lean On Pete, purportedly a story about a boy and his horse. It's not. It's a violent, mean-spirited film masquerading as a lyrical tale about a boy and a horse. The horse is just incidental to the story--expendable not only to the cold-hearted racing industry that uses the animals up and then sends them off to the glue factory when they no longer make money for the owners, but expendable to the plot of this film as well. And I don't consider my revealing this a spoiler so much as a public service for animal lovers and parents with children who love horses. This is not your kind of movie!  

Charlie Plummer is Charley Thompson, the Oregon teenager who gets hired on as a stable hand for a grizzled, cynical trainer of the low-rent quarter horse racing circuit, Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi). Lean On Pete is the  name of the horse Charley takes a shine to. Despite repeated admonitions to not get emotionally involved (good idea for you too), Charley is crestfallen when he learns Del is about to sell Pete and that the horse will end up in Mexico and become dog food. Charley loads Pete into the trailer and takes off, embarking on a cross-country odyssey, roaming through picturesque fields that make for some great cinematography. He's trying to find his estranged aunt, who lives somewhere in Wyoming, and maybe have a place to call home.        

It is here where the film breaks the covenant with viewers who are expecting something more than just killing off characters for convenience. (Charley's dad dies earlier in the film as well.) Killing off characters is the easy way out if you don't know what to do with them. What's hard is bringing their screen time--synonymous with their time on this earth--to some sort of existential vista where they, and the viewer, can gaze back from and ponder how it all fits into the what's-it-all-about-Alfie narrative of their life. 

In fairness, the film makers were just being faithful to the 2010 novel by Willy Vlautin, so they're not responsible for the plot elements. What they are responsible for is the graphic, jarring and manipulative way they showed Pete making his "exit," which comes about two-thirds of the way through the film. After which, as stated above, I cared not a whit about what happened the rest of the way--just sat through it because I was going to review it. 

Still, this is a hard one for me to grade. Because there are good turns here from the young Plummer, who gives an understated performance that makes him seem real. And Steve Buscemi, demonstrating the versatility of his acting chops as the crusty trainer. And the film should maybe win an award for sound editing, because when those quarter horses come thundering past you, it puts you right there. I'm torn between what I want to give it on a heart level and what I want to give it on a head level. So I'll average the two out. 

Grade: C


Well, readers.  Get ready for some big disagreements. Lean On Pete is a film about survival.  And the title is both the name of a racehorse and a metaphor for Charley's journey.  Yes, I assumed when I entered the movie theater, that I'd be seeing a grittier version of My Friend Flicka. But even as the stark opening credits rolled and the unfamiliar production company announced itself, I knew it wasn't going to be a kiddies' film. 

There are so many unexpected twists and turns in Lean On Pete that I defy even the most knowledgeable film goer to predict any of them in advance.  Because they were so unpredictable, I actually felt like I was experiencing them along with Charley. (Not an altogether pleasant feeling but certainly an engrossing one.)  The kid who played Charley was brilliant.  Since his last name is Plummer, I wondered if he was any relation to Christopher. No, he isn't.  But he did play John Paul Getty's grandson in All The Money In The World. (The other Plummer played Getty Sr.) 

The rest of the cast was also excellent.  Steve Buscemi...Chloe Sevigny...and especially Steve Zahn, as a homeless psychopath. Reality was rampant in this nugget of a film  Whether witnessing PTSD victims at their very worst.  Or the smarmy side of horse racing.  I was hooked -- like a morbid onlooker at the scene of a car crash. 

Another disagreement with Tim?  I thought the sound editing sucked. Too loud in places, inaudible in others.  But a minor criticism.  On the whole, I really liked this movie.  My subtitle for Lean On Pete? (It ain't The Kentucky Derby....)

Grade: B+

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Jason Clarke, Ed Helms, Kate Mara, Bruce Dern
DIRECTOR: John Curran
GENRE: Historical Docudrama

Recalling my youthful impressions of what the Chappaquiddick incident was about: It's 1969 and Senator Ted Kennedy is driving home from a party late at night...possibly drunk...with a young worker from his late brother Bobby's campaign--Mary Jo Kopechne--when he runs off a bridge...the car is submerged...Kennedy escapes...she doesn't...he claims to have made valiant efforts to rescue her...he waits eight or so hours--pondering how to handle the situation--before reporting the incident to the authorities. He may have been boinking her.

As it turns out, my recollections were spot on according to the known facts as they are presented in Chappaquiddick. What remains unknown---and forever so--and the speculation surrounding it to this day is what keeps the film from being a boring documentary style retelling of old news.   

But if you're looking for fresh insights to lead you to one conclusion or another as to what really occurred on that fateful night, you won't find them--save for a couple of brief scenes that suggest the senator and Mary Joe may have engaged in some hanky-panky earlier in the evening. 

Chappaquiddick cuts Kennedy no slack, portraying him as shallow and more angst-ridden over the political ramifications to his possible presidential bid than he was over the snuffing out of a young life due to his negligence.  Jason Clarke, as the senator, brings these qualities out in spades. Kate Mara, as Mary Jo, doesn't get enough screen time (as you might expect) to bring any depth to the character of Ms. Kopechne. Bruce Dern, in what has to be the strangest and most WTF role of his career, plays a grotesque, near mute papa Joseph Kennedy, whose guttural utterances demonstrate his disdain for his only surviving son in scenes that are played to their maximum dramatic potential. Ed Helms, as cousin Joe Gargan--one of the senator's "fixers"--gives the strongest performance of the ensemble crew.  

Down the aisle from me, a coterie of older folks tittered away...derisively yukking it up virtually every time Teddy came on screen. In other words, the entire length of this brooding film--revealing themselves as being obviously from the "other side."  Reveling gleefully again in the man's misfortune! There's plenty of grist for them here too. Some will even interpret Chappaquiddick as a straight up hit piece on the Kennedy clan, and by implication, the progressive ideology they embraced--the timing of its release no coincidence in this critical election year. Anyway, prepare to be annoyed by such boisterous folk in the theater, depending on the random luck of where you are seated.  

If I were them, I'd have piped down and observed and taken a lesson from the master spin doctors who helped to resurrect Ted Kennedy's political career to where he was reelected to the U.S. senate continuously for another forty years until his death in 2009. Because when it comes to the art of the spin, their current heroes are tripping all over themselves. 

Grade:  B


As someone well acquainted with the environs of Cape Code and Martha's Vineyard, I felt Chappaquiddick portrayed both beach life and the world of the not-so-idle rich to perfection.  Kudos to cinematographer Maryse Alberti.  In watching the story of young Ted's self-serving neglect, I kept hoping none of the surviving Kennedys would watch this cinematic hatchet job on their uncle.  We all make mistakes....Granted, not as horrific as this one was....

I think the screenplay took certain liberties.  For example, it is widely known that Joseph Kennedy never spoke another word after his stroke. But the scene -- whether accurate or not -- where two of Ted's closest pals went diving in the water trying desperately to save Mary Jo while Ted lay prostrate on the dock was a definite shocker. 

An odd bit of casting was comedian Jim Gaffigan as states attorney Paul F. Marham.  A close friend of Teddy's, he willingly bent the truth for his drinking buddy. Be that as it may, I couldn't help watching Gaffigan in the role and recalling many of his comedy bits.  ("hot pockets," etc.)

I wasn't the least bit bored by this rehashing of history.  I did, however, wonder who Ann (Joseph Kennedy's caretaker) was.  A relative?  A nurse? Because she wielded quite a bit of power in this family drama, her relationship should have been explained. 

Not a film for everyone, especially if you're a  Kennedy worshipper.  But Jason Clark's performance is worth the price of a ticket.

Grade B+