Thursday, May 16, 2019


Rated:  R

STARS: Matthias Schoenaerts, Bruce Dern, Connie Britton
DIRECTOR: Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
GENRE: Drama

To buy into The Mustang means you gotta buy into the BLM's policy of rounding up thousands of wild horses in western states. Most of them will spend the rest of their lives in long-term holding facilities, while a relatively select few will be trained in a prison program that matches inmates up with horses to break them, train them, and make them presentable for auction--with some of the animals going on to a career in  law enforcement and some going to the public. Personally, I think all horses should be wild and free. We should all be wild and free as well, running naked beside them. That's a Garden Of Eden scenario, but hey, I'm a throwback kinda guy.

So right off the bat, this was not going to be my kind of movie. It's extremely loud throughout a good portion of it--with loud rebellious horses...loud angry men...loud helicopters, etc. And it features a protagonist who's about as unsympathetic a character as you'll find. Roman (Matthias Schoenaerts) is an inmate at a Nevada prison with such extreme anger issues that he shouldn't be around anybody--man nor beast. But somehow he gets accepted into the horse training program run by crusty old wrangler Myles (Bruce Dern).

What follows is a battle of wills between Roman and his horse--and as it says in the trailers: "Some horses you can break, and some you can't." It's a fairly predictable story of redemption for Roman, who finally comes around to showing his human side in an emotionally charged meeting with his young pregnant daughter--trying to make amends to her for his past misdeeds. The trouble with this character study is that it's only vaguely alluded to that he brutally beat his wife and daughter's mother and made her something of a vegetable, requiring long-term care. But we never learn what makes this ticking time bomb tick. There's no back story. Had we learned that Roman was also abused, as most abusers are, I could have felt something for him. As it is, he's just a loose cannon who gets into a fight with his horse...punching the horse, and getting trampled for it as his just desserts. 

Bruce Dern is in his element here as the curmudgeonly old horse trainer who keeps giving Roman second chances. Schoenaerts is convincing--maybe too convincing--in his role. If I'm going to be totally objective, I have to acknowledge that The Mustang is a very well made film in terms of acting, cinematography, realism, and so on. But personally, I didn't enjoy it. This film rips your heart out, and not in a kind or gentle way. It's sad for the horses, because they're not wild and free. It's sad for the inmates, because they're wild but not free. But the real life program The Mustang is based on reportedly has had a transformative effect on many men when they are reintegrated into society.  

Grade:  B -


As a consummate lover of horse movies from Thunderhead (1945) to Black Stallion (1979) to Seabiscuit (2003), I was not disappointed with The Mustang. In fact, I was blown away by the story, the cinematography and most especially Matthias Schoenaerts' performance.

Have you ever watched an actor that you're unfamiliar with and, after seeing him, feel compelled to look up every film he's ever been in? Such was the case with me and Matthias Schoenaerts. A few weeks back, I watched a 2014 film titled A Little Chaos on Netflix. About King Louis XIV's chief landscape architect played by Schoenaerts, who falls in love with a commoner (Kate Winslet) hired to help design a lavish garden at Versailles. I was so moved by Schoenaerts' acting that I had to find out more about him. I didn't remember him in The Danish Girl(small part) and his other films were ones I hadn't seen – or didn't remember seeing. (Rust and Bone,BullheadRed Sparrow). Life went on and I soon forgot all about this Belgian-born hunk.

Until I saw Mustang.

If this film had been released closer to Oscar nominating season, I'd bet my last euro Schoenaerts would be up for a Best Actor award. And if they gave those gold statuettes to animals, I'd cast my vote for Marcus the Mustang. I was also impressed by female director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre's handling of this very male movie. Last but not least, I applaud Ruben Impens' brilliant cinematography. The aerial shots at the beginning were breath-taking as well as emotionally heart-wrenching.

So what didn't I like? The secondary plot about drugs and nasty cellies was, for me, a cliche and totally unnecessary. When there's an animal in a film, who cares about secondary plots? The Mustang is not for everyone. But if you decide to see it, I guarantee it will make a lasting impression on you.

Grade: A -

Wednesday, May 8, 2019


Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy, Meagan Good
DIRECTOR: Deon Taylor
GENRE: Mystery /Suspense /Horror

You won't know what to make of The Intruder any more than the young couple--Scott and Annie--know what to make of the former owner of the opulent house in the woods they just bought. 

Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid) is having a little trouble "letting go." He's a gun nut and a deer killer who can't get over the sentimental attachment he has to the house he grew up in. Scott (Michael Ealy) and Annie (Meagan Good) are an upwardly mobile African-American couple--he's an executive at a San Francisco ad agency, and she does some writing for magazines. Still, there's nothing to indicate they can afford the 3.3 million price tag of the house. Scott initially balks when he hears that figure, but he soon relents because Annie likes the place so much and he wouldn't want her to pout.

They think Charlie is off to Florida to live with his daughter,  but...surprise! He shows up again uninvited to mow the lawn and putter around and continue to kill defenseless animals on their property. You can't get rid of the guy. Scott begins to figure out that Charlie has a screw loose early on, but Annie thinks oh-the-poor-man--he lost his wife  (under suspicious circumstances), and his attachment to his longtime home is something he'll get over in time. So she continues to blindly indulge his impromptu visits, even when Scott is away at work.

There's nothing we haven't seen before in The Intruder. It employs all the old tricks of the trade in the mystery/suspense/ horror genre. The characters do things that are so clueless and stupid--and the brunt of that lies with Annie--that you, as an audience member, want to take off your shoe and throw it at the screen!  But director Deon Taylor is apparently hoping you'll just enjoy it for what it is, and maybe grin along with the darkly comedic aspect of it-- though we don't know if that part of it is unintentional.  

Dennis Quaid is the saving grace of the film. His portrayal of a guy who is right on the edge, and then goes over that edge into a full-blown psychopath is memorable. How crazy is Charlie? He's the second coming of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. There's even a scene that's lifted right out of that horror classic, where Charlie pops his demonically grinning mug through a hole he's carved in the door. You're half expecting his next words to be: HERE'S CHARLIE!  

The Intruder is over the top, but it does the one thing that any good suspense thriller is supposed to do, and that's to keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration. 

Grade:  C +


A pox on you, Tim, for stealing one of my cinematic comparisons. The Intruder, like The Shining, has quite a few similarities actually. Aside from axe-wielding Dennis Quaid, the darkly-lit home with so many nooks and crannies reminded me of The Overlook Hotel. And the woodsy isolation of the place was also reminiscent of the Stephen King classic. (Granted, the weather was a lot better in this one!)

Yes, The Intruder held few surprises. But who goes to a scary movie to figure out the plot? The idea of pitting a red-neckish white man against a financially solvent black couple was refreshing. And who doesn't relate to the angst of giving up one's longtime home?

But I have to immediately mention something I truly hated about this movie: the score. Every once in a while, especially in the beginning, some loud gangsta rap would blare forth as if our classy couple were more comfortable in the ghetto than the glens of Napa Valley. Intrusive, to say the least. And very much out of character.

When I got to the theater and I saw how empty it was, I assumed I'd be in for a 'summer bummer.'  I was wrong. Within minutes, I became totally absorbed, inwardly groaning with each hospitable move our heroine made toward her obviously obsessed neighbor. Whether you liked The ShiningPsychoThe Amityville Horror, or a legion of other palpitation-makers, The Intruder is definitely worth seeing.

Grade: B