RIP Wilford Brimley, funnier than you think

Don’t see a lot of Wilford Brimley interviews Youtube archived from chat shows.

But Craig Ferguson had him on, and with a little coaxing and a lot of rooting from the audience, the veteran character actor, who just passed away at 86, just delights.

First time I noticed him was as a folksy decent rancher helping “The Electric Horseman” make his escape with a race horse turned Vegas show horse.

Never a big fan of “Cocoon,” but he was wonderful in decades of films — “The Natural,” “The China Syndrome,” “Harry and Son,” “Absence of Malice,” “Brubaker” among them, generally cast as “decent,” common sensical and righteous. He was so grumpily beloved that he became a breakfast oatmeal spokesman, a TV diabetes activist and a guy who was in on the joke when “Seinfeld” cast him as the Postmaster General.

He toured with shows like “Love Letters,” worked here and there,and lived an interesting life on and off camera. 

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Movie Review: No need to repent for “The Burnt Orange Heresy”

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is a ham-fisted thriller with a cast so “on the nose” it shows little imagination on the part of the filmmakers, who seem determined to leave the viewer unchallenged.

But what it has going for it atones for those shortcomings.

It takes place in a villa on Italy’s gorgeous Lake Como, for starters.

Mick Jagger plays a posh, ruthlessly unscrupulous art dealer and collector. Claes Bang of “The Square” is a scrambling, unethical fraud of an art critic. Elizabeth Debicki of “Widows” portrays a mysterious, willowy and sexy siren with a possible hidden agenda.

And Donald Sutherland is a reclusive artist of legendary reputation and no “surviving” works for dealers to haggle over.

Not a stretch for any of them, especially Sutherland, who twinkles whenever he isn’t playing the heavy, and doesn’t so much speak as “intone,” especially in this part.

“May I be direct, in the modern way?” Jerome Debney, his character, never is. “A favorite spot of mine,” he says, showing a guest a rocky beach on the lake, “one must labor to apprehend it.”

Who talks like that? Archetypes on a novelist’s page, of course. But the plummy locutions, the pithy digs at art, artists, “legends” and critics can be a quotable delight, and often are in Scott B. Smith’s script, adapted from Charles Willeford’s book.

Bang is James Figueras, an art critic who scrapes out a living publishing reviews, here and there, and giving this cleverly calculated lecture to art fans and tourists in cities around the world.

He weaves this florid metaphor, critics as “the banks of a river,” with the river “art flowing between us.” Then he, with a slapdash-looking work of modern art as his prop, proceeds to weave a back-story for the painting that convinces the unsophisticated that no no, this is a work with meaning and genius behind it.

It’s all a ruse, a joke and a lesson. No, we shouldn’t care that Hemingway’s mommy dressed him like a girl or how much your indie film cost. The work’s merits should be manifestly obvious. But critics, and art dealers and collectors, traffic in “the myth” as often as what’s inside the frame. Beware of such “critics,” Figueras and the novelistwarn us. They’re manipulators of reality.

A brazen American (Debicki) approaches, flirts and confronts James with the word “liar” so quickly they’re bound to wind up in. “Berenice,” she says her name is. From “Duluth,” she insists. It’s “the telling details” in such lies that put them over, he notes. And he should know. He’s an expert.

Jagger is Cassidy, the art dealer who invites James — and by extension his “freshly minted” friend — to his villa on Lake Como, ostensibly to get the guy to write a gallery catalog or some such. But what slithery Brit really has in mind is something rarer. He’s housing a famous artist on his property, one whose works have all burned in gallery fires. He wants one of whatever Debney (Sutherland) has been working on.

And being the criminal once-removed type, Cassidy the collector blackmails James into “procuring” such, by whatever means the enterprising and unscrupulous “critic” deems necessary.

When the two outsiders meet the J.D. Salinger of painters, there’s no drama — just pretentious musings about “blue.” But with four people capable of lies and trickery involved, deceit and dares, death and destruction await.

Director Giuseppe Capotondi (the speed-dating thriller “The Double Hour” was his) can’t hide the story’s too-few/too-obvious secrets. So he wisely leaves this one to the cast, letting them turn the script’s anecdotes, reminiscences and unreliable “history” into fascinating word pictures.

This is a storyteller’s movie, one where we can’t really trust any story to be true. That’s something of a cheat, because we are set up to believe there are bigger deceptions going on and hidden agendas that simply don’t pan out or are left hanging.

Even the third act’s twists have a prescribed order about them.

But if you can’t revel in Jagger’s delivery of every I’m-rich-and-you-have-no-idea-what-I’m-capable-of smiled threat, you’re missing out.

“I should never let a thing’s worth obscure the value.”

If you can’t take pleasure in Sutherland’s boring tales from an artist’s past, anecdotes freighted with gravitas because a “great artist” mouths them, this might not be for you.

“I saw a blue once, genuine blue, you understand.”

And if you can’t hear the danger in all the sexy but unromantic banter between James and Berenice —  “You treat serious things as if they’re trivial, and trivial things as if they’re serious.” — “The Burnt Orange Heresy” will be a mystery you won’t see the value in unraveling.


MPAA Rating: R, for some sexual content/nudity, language, drug use and violence

Cast: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger and Donald Sutherland

Credits: Directed by Giuseppe Capotondi, script by Scott B. Smith based on the Charles Willeford novel. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

Running time: 1:38

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Movie Preview: The entire movie’s in the trailer for Liam Neeson’s “Honest Thief”

Betcha good money that this is the ENTIRE movie. Seriously, every twist and action beat is previewed in this Oct release. Every one of them.

It could still be gritty and entertaining, and Liam always gives fair value. But hey, give away the whole movie in the trailer? Not cricket.

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Netfixable? South African and “Seriously Single


“Seriously Single” is a seriously inconsequential Buppie rom-com from South Africa, a movie with a few laughs, lots of wigs and costume changes and little else.

But it’s very existence makes it another movie that points to the massive footprint Netflix is establishing in international cinema. It’s lame in a lot of perfectly conventional ways. In the U.S. this story of a Black woman desperate to not be alone, and to get married, and learning to see that trait in guys she’s dating, would be set in Atlanta and might very well have Tyler Perry’s name attached to it.

Beautiful Black professionals mingling and mixing, drinking and sexually getting around, with their white collar jobs funding all these clothes, apartments-with-a-view? Seen it.

But we’ve never seen it Johannesburg. Netflix is spreading formulaic rom-coms like this from Peru to Italy, France to South Africa.


Dineo, played with a lot of spunk and spark by Fulu Mugovhani, works in social media marketing and cannot stand to be without romance, a man in her life. But everybody in her office, whether they speak Zulu or Xhosa, English or Afrikaans, knows her romances have a two to three month life span.

She loves being in love, and gives every relationship the full court press, right from the start. She ends up socially stalking her exes, because she scares them off.

“You men don’t get how hard we love!”

Vivacious roommate and BFF Noni (Tumi Morake) is always dragging her “back out there,” pushing to up her “bounce-back game.” That’s what brings her to Lunga (Bohang Moeko), a good-looking guy with a “just roll with it” game.

“Sometimes, relationships aren’t meant to last. We should enjoy them while we can.”

“Why hold onto the past when your future can be right in front of you?”

She’s all about having “someone to come home to.”

“I say it’s better to have someone to come home with!”

She falls for it and falls for him. Noni may cluck that “You’re already picking out baby names,” but Dineo isn’t hearing it. Yes, she’s headed for another fall.

Meanwhile, Noni’s ethos — never sleep with a guy more than once, “otherwise, it’s a ‘relationship,” is tested when hunky bartender Max (Yonda Thomas) gives her all his attention.

Who will change? Who will learn her lesson? Guess. Come on, it’s easy.

“Seriously Single” suggests we seriously need to rethink what we label as “generic” crutches in such romantic comedies. Yes, they’re conventional and worn out — the clubs, “doing shots,” Instagramming (renamed here) your “fun,” having your shame “go viral.”

Here, that’s in the form of Dineo’s wigless rant about faithless, feckless men not wanting what she wants, getting her labeled “#DesperateBae.”

That directors Katleho Ramaphakela and Rethabile Ramaphakela and screenwriter Lwazi Mvusi put that trope in a South African film suggests that either Netflix is handing a checklist to filmmakers in Spain, Italy, Colombia or wherever, or this “generic” device is now universal.

The viral rant, by the way? Funny. Morake gets most of the scattered funny lines and double-takes.

Mogovhani makes a perfectly cute, interesting, plucky and pouty heroine. And the little of South Africa that we see — integrated workplaces, beautiful and distinctly-decorated apartments, Africa-meets-nightclub-couture fashions — dazzles.

Leave the closed captioning on, because there’s a dizzying array of dialects listed. But in any language, this weary, overlong rom-com doesn’t deliver enough that’s distinctive about the “rom” or much of anything that’s funny in the “com” to come off.


MPAA Rating: TV-MA, sexual situations, alcohol abuse, profanity
Cast: Fulu Mugovhani, Tumi Morake, Bohang Moeko, Yonda Thomas.

Credits: Directed by Katleho Ramaphakela, Rethabile Ramaphakela, script by Lwazi Mvusi. Netflix release.

Running time: 1:47

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Movie Nation takes a quick break for hurricane prep

Can’t let Iaisis have his/her way, can we? Brought to you by Beck’s, the beer of old salts stripping the boat for a storm since forever
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Movie Preview: Amazon goes after Netflix teens with “Chemical Hearts”

Netflix owns teen comedies and has done well with romance. But Amazon takes its shot at gaining a foothold with that audience and those genres with the serious high school romance “Chemical Hearts.”

Looks hopeful and poignant and very romantic.

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RIP Alan Parker, one of the best British directors of his generation — “Fame” to “Mississippi Burning”

Talked to him a few times over the years. A class act, sort of a British Norman Jewison.

“The Commitments,” “Fame,” “Bugsy Malone,” musicals that often didn’t play like musicals.

“Mississippi Burning” took deserved heat for its “white savior” tropes. But who else was making movies on that sort of subject at the time?

Hard to think of another director who would attempt at “Bugsy Malone.” A bigger deal in the UK than it ever was here, “The Commitments” likewise took on icon status in its Nation of Origin.

Parker was 76. Here’s the New York Times obit.

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Movie Review: Back to school isn’t all nostalgia when “I Used to Go Here”



It’s not so much a rule, as an understanding — an agreement between filmmaker and audience. If your comedy or rom-com is only 80 or so minutes long, you’ve got to give us something to laugh or at least smirk at in the first hour.

“I Used to Go Here” is an enervated laugher in a minor key starring Gillian Jacobs of TV’s “Community” “Ibiza” and “Walk of Shame.” For much of the movie, all that’s demanded of Jacobs is that she look cute and lonely.

She plays a first-time novelist deflated by the news that her book isn’t selling, that her publisher’s book tour has been canceled, and that her ex-fiance isn’t that interested in returning her calls.

And “deflated” is the only note Jacobs hits for most of this Kris Rey (“Unexepected”) comedy.

Kate’s book, “Seasons Passed,” has just come out. She’d love to celebrate, paint the town (Chicago), etc. But while her friends are thrilled for her, most of them seem pregnant and are otherwise distracted. The ex isn’t taking her calls. The publishers are underwhelmed, and their assurance that “a good New York Times review could change everything” is small comfort.

And we viewers know ominous foreshadowing when we hear it.

A call from out of the blue is her salvation. Her mentor at her alma mater down in Carbondale (called “U of I” here, but really the home of Southern Illinois U.) invites her down for a reading, a few days of being lauded and mentoring student writers.

Her “book tour” is how she describes it, in yet another message to the ex. Yay. It’s been 15 years, a little return-in-triumph is in order, and a walk down memory lane.

We sniff out the mentor in an instant. Casting Jemaine Clement in the role seals the deal. This writing teacher falls in the “those who can’t teach” bin, and a cozy college’s tenure will have to do. And even though he’s married, we do wonder about the student he lavishes his attention on (Hannah Marks) and wonder what he and Kate might have shared.

Kate revisits her old rental house, now filled with mild-mannered college boys, stumbles into a classmate and cyber-stalks her ex, who has plainly moved-on. But no matter what she puts out there, how needy and ready-for-a-rebound fling she advertises, the sophomoric sophomores aren’t buying, or are missing the signals.

Actress turned writer-director Rey is an alumnus of the “mumblecore” school of rom-com, films more about the banter than the action. She used to be married to mumblecore king Joe Swanberg.

But while this Aug. 7 release is plenty chatty, it’s not particularly witty, just winsome and sad. It’s starved of oxygen and incident, of funny lines or clever exchanges. Nothing the least bit amusing happens until Kate joins the generic college kids for some over-the-top hijinks, “hijinks” we’ve seen in scores of other comedies — “American Pie” is referenced, perhaps unintentionally.

It’s not grim to sit through, but casting comic talents like Kate Micucci (girlfriend of an old classmate) and Clement sets up expectations Rey can’t or won’t meet.

The movie this most resembles in a most superficial sense is “Liberal Arts,” which sent Josh Radnor back to campus to fall for Elizabeth Olsen. Like Radnor, Jacobs is used to the rhythms of sitcom acting. Like Radnor, she’s trapped in a movie that doesn’t have sparkling writing to rescue her or a particularly interesting character to play.

Like Radnor, she’s waiting for something clever or cute or funny to perform. You can almost see the wheels turning, “Maybe NEXT week’s script’ll be better.”



MPAA Rating: unrated, drugs, sexual situations, profanity

Cast: Gillian Jacobs, Jemaine Clement, Zoe Chao, Hannah Marks, Josh Wiggins, Khloe Janel, Forrest Goodluck and Kate Micucci

Credits:  A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:20

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Netflixable? “The Hater” perfects online smears and wonders “What now?”




The amorality that is obvious about Tomasz Giemza, from the first moment we meet him, had to have set in years before.

He’s still young and in college — law school, no less. But the plagiarism which gets him thrown out in the opening scene of “The Hater (Hejter”) suggests a lifetime of shortcuts. The canny bit of flattery that he uses on his accusing professor? That’s an acquired talent.

And seeing what he uses that flattery for — getting her to autograph and “dedicate” a copy of her book, even as she’s kicking him out of school? This is one cunning SOB, somebody well-practiced in playing chess five moves ahead or leaving a spare cell phone behind to “broadcast” what people say about him after he’s left the room.

This Polish film follows Tomasz or “Tomek” (Maciej Musialowski) from that fall, to his humiliation by the posh Warsaw family that has sponsored him, betrayed by their beautiful slacker daughter (Vanessa Aleksande), and where one goes when your moral compass has failed and life punishes you for it.

Into PR, of course!

“The Hater” is about Tomasz’s new life, bluffing his way from “moderator” for a social media sweatshop into manipulating public opinion, via unscrupulous and illegal “fake news” and online smears for “Best Buzz Public Relations” and its “whatever-it-takes” boss, Beata (Agata Kulesza).

Tomasz quickly graduates from smearing an online trainer and fitness drink vendor to working the “dirty tricks” side of a Warsaw mayoral election, manipulating video, messaging, situations and people put in those situations to keep a progressive gay candidate (Maciej Stuhr) from stemming the tide of Polish nationalist bigotry, which his opponent is counting on for victory.

Director Jan Komasa and screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz follow up their acclaimed drama “Corpus Christi,” about an ex-con posing as a priest, with one about another poseur.

Musialowksi makes Tomasz a poker-faced provincial, insulted behind his back and to his face by the rich relatives and co-workers, but not the sort of guy you want to cross. He looks out of place every where he goes, from the clubs he schemes to get into to be closer to Gabi, to the office where he hustles his way to a gig, to the upscale gallery openings and political fundraisers he worms his way into to “get” his “man.”

The script gives Tomasz access to all manner of gear, expertise and all sorts of situations where you’d think they’d see a conning creep like him coming. That sort of omnipotence doesn’t spare us from being shown the many steps it takes to get from kicked-out-of-law-school to “fixing” an election, by hook or by crook.

Forward motion in “The Hater” ceases to be a priority, the manipulations grow more convoluted and grotesque and the “long game” — a villain getting exactly what he wants, or deserves — seems more the product of serendipity and the contrivances of a screenwriter. Characters don’t register as much more than “types,” including our all-powerful anti-hero.

Tomasz is preternaturally gifted at video gaming, which he seems as the proper platform to recruit others, anonymously, to his master plan. Illustrating these “interactions” with a patsy, all set to Tomasz’s readings of the copy of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” which Beata has given him, is the most contrived element of all, contributing mightily to the bloat that weighs down “The Hater.”

All this amorality is in service of a morality tale, of course, pointing out that politics is more than just a game manipulated by liars and cheats. It’s a blood-port, and hate speech incites hate crimes in this self-righteous, long and meandering allegory.

Wear that “love conquers hate” T-shirt if you want. The cynical message of “The Hater” is “How could anybody be that naive?”


MPAA Rating: TV-MA, violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Maciej Musialowski, Vanessa Aleksande, Agata Kulesza, Maciej Stuhr, Piotr Biedron and Adam Gradowski

Credits: Directed by Jan Komasa, script by Mateusz Pacewicz. A Canal+ film/Netflix release.

Running time: 2:15

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Movie Preview: Evan Rachel Wood “skims” on behalf of Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins in “Kajillionaire”

Was writer-director Miranda July at least “inspired” by the Oscar nominated Japanese drama “Shoplifters?”

She’s not saying. But “Kajillionaire,” more a dramedy — colorfully comic con artists, until their “daughter” figures out she’s being used — than a drama, certainly has hints of that film about it.

This Sept. 18 look at how “the other half” hustle also stars Gina Rodriguez, and looks delightful.

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