At The Movies: Deepwater Horizon

It has been six years since a series of explosions rocked the Deepwater Horizon, sending the oil-drilling rig to the bottom of the ocean in a swirl of fire and water. The executives at BP, the multinational oil and gas company responsible for the disaster, were no doubt hoping that we’d all forgotten about the largest marine oil spill in history, or at least put it in the back of our minds.

But now comes director Peter Berg and a talented cast to bring all that horror and ugliness back to the surface.

deepwater-horizon-1Mark Wahlberg stars as Mike Williams, an oil rig worker about to begin another long shift on the Deepwater Horizon. He flies out to the rig with his boss, Jimmie “Mr. Jimmie” Harrell (Kurt Russell), co-worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), and a handful of BP executives led by Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich).

The BP chiefs have shown up to get the project, which is more than a month behind schedule, up and pumping oil. Mr. Jimmie is more concerned that the project has been too rushed as is, and that the rig has been dangerously put together and not seaworthy.

Vidrine agrees to a safety test before proceeding any further. When the test fails spectacularly, he demands a new, different test. The second test passes inspection and Vidrine is able to bully the crew into starting the drill.

The rest is history. The pipes can’t hold the gushing oil, things fly apart, fires erupt, followed by explosions. Now all that matters is survival.

“Deepwater Horizon” is a gripping disaster movie made all the more compelling because it really happened. Not a lot of time is spent getting to know the people involved — Wahlberg has a few scenes with his wife and daughter (Kate Hudson gets the thankless role of worried wife this time out) — but the focus is primarily on the disaster and what these people do to make it out alive.

Don’t come in expecting a nuanced look at the pros and cons of offshore oil drilling. Vidrine and his BP buddies are presented as greedy, careless, corporate goons while Harrell is the unheard voice of reason.

Finally, I always like to point out when movies — good or bad — make me sick. There’s a bit of jerky camera action in this film, and I did start to feel a bit nauseous by the end, but it wasn’t a big factor. And I saw this on the IMAX, so it might not be bad at all on a regular screen.






At The Movies: The Magnificent Seven

Antoine Fuqua’s remake of the 1960 classic “The Magnificent Seven” (itself a remake of the 1954 classic “Seven Samurai”) is a fun, familiar romp through many of the cliches and traditions that made the western such a popular genre back in the day.

First, I should explain to the young people in the audience. Westerns are movies set in the Old West of America, often around the time of the Civil War. They once roamed movie theaters (there weren’t multiplexes back then) in herds as large as buffalo. In other words, they were the superhero movies of yesteryear.

In fact, let me put this movie in today’s terms: The Magnificent Seven are basically The Avengers, but with rifles instead of repulsor rays. Denzel Washington is Captain America, the morally upright leader; Chris Pine is Iron Man, his smart-ass No. 2; Ethan Hawke is Thor, the legendary war hero; Vincent D’Onofrio is HULK, soft-spoken but good at smashing; Byung-hun Lee is Black Widow, the assassin;  and Martin Sensmeier is Hawkeye, the bow-and-arrow guy who doesn’t get to do much. Manuel Garci-Rulfo is Nick Fury, I guess, because they are both kinda the odd man out. Granted, it’s not a perfect analogy. Thor, for example, would never have a crisis of confidence.

The Loki of our story is played by Peter Sarsgaard. He doesn’t want to take over the world, just the town of Rose Creek. And he has an army of nameless, faceless thugs to do his fighting for him.

Magnificent_Seven_2016.jpgFor those of you who hate comic book comparisons, here’s the real deal: Sarsgaad stars as Bartholomew Bogue, an evil businessman who owns the local mine and now wants the town as well. He rides into town with some thugs, sets the church on fire, has several men killed, and promises to come back in three weeks and everybody better be gone.

Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett — I bet you thought there weren’t any women in this movie), whose husband is killed during Bogue’s visit, runs off to hire some killers to stand up to him. She runs into Sam Chisolm (Washington), a bounty hunter who has a prior history with Bogue.

Chisolm takes on the job, even though it’s suicide, and proceeds to round up all the actors listed in the third paragraph — all with personalities pretty similar to those mentioned above.

The Seven arrive in Rose Creek and make short work of the men Bogue has left in charge. Now the team has only a few days to turn the shop owners and farmers of Rose Creek into a fighting force ready to take on the army that Bogue will be bringing with him once he hears about what’s gone down.

“The Magnificent Seven” isn’t an original or groundbreaking film but it isn’t trying to be. It’s a solid, entertaining throwback to the movies that inspired it. The western vistas are gorgeous. The violence is plenty but not gratuitous — people die, but without blood splattered everywhere.

The Seven are captivating each in their own way — my favorite is D’Onofrio’s character, a man so gruff he’s referred to as a bear in a man’s clothing.

But hey, it is 2016 and so certain changes have been made: The Seven are a much more diverse bunch than the 1960 squad, as is the style of the times, and Mrs. Cullen doesn’t just sit around making stew for the menfolk. She can handle a firearm just as good as the hired killers, thank you very much.


Batman, Burritos, Bachman, Bart

That last word should be art, but that doesn’t start with a “B”

If you don’t know what to do Saturday, you haven’t been paying attention. If only the stupid weather would cooperate.

Batman Day

unnamed-72-600x922I don’t know why there is a Batman Day — because technically every day is Batman Day — but I’ll never turn down an opportunity to honor The Great One.

Comic book shops, normal book stores, libraries and who knows who else throughout this great land will be marking the occasion by giving away a free Batman comic book. There will probably be sales and other events going on. To find out what’s going on in your neighborhood, go here.

Note: There is no Superman Day. Stupid illegal alien.

Mexican Villa’s Birthday Fiesta

If you’re lucky enough to be in Springfield, Missouri, on Saturday (and trust me, that’s the only time I’ve ever said that), then stop by the Greatest Mexican Restaurant in the World as Mexican Villa celebrates its 65th birthday.


There will be a vintage car show (but who cares?), 65-cent tacos (I’ve never had a MV taco, but I’m sure they’re delicious), inflatables and face painting for the kids, and live music including bluegrass. Because nothing says Mexican food like bluegrass music.

But most important of all, they will be selling the Best Burrito in the World, as declared by The RROY REPORT, which you should enjoy with a side of rice. They also have the best hot sauce and chips. I wish I could be there.

Celebrate Randy Bachman

randy-bachman-1-340x340Celebrate St. Peters is taking place this weekend just down the road at 370 Lakeside Park. There will be carnival rides, kids activities, games and food – but none of that matters.

What matters is that Randy Bachman, mastermind of not one, but two, of the great bands of the 1970s, is the headliner on Saturday night.

Bachman will be playing classic Guess Who tunes like “UnDun,” “No Sugar Tonight” and “No Time” as well as Bachman-Turner Overdrive hits like “Roll On Down The Highway,” “Hey You” and “Takin’ Care of Business.” And all at no charge to you! Bring a lawn chair and set up next to me and the boy (the wife may join us if she’s not playing bingo). Unless it’s still raining and horribly wet. In which come over to the house where we’ll be listening to the Guess Who and BTO on CD while watching a Batman movie.


MOSAICS.jpgThe 22nd annual MOsaics Missouri Festival of the Arts is going on all weekend downtown on Main Street in St. Charles. It’s like the Festival of the Little Hills but smaller and less crowded and more upscale. The latter point being why it is smaller and less crowded. I also like it more than Little Hills Fest precisely because it is smaller and less crowded. There are art booths, food, live music, kid activities. The usual.



On Stage: A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder

The Fox Theatre launches its latest season of Broadway goodness with the delightful murder-musical-comedy “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.”

Based on the 1907 novel “Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal” by Roy Horniman, the tale was turned into a musical by Robert L. Freedman. The show opened on Broadway in 2013 and won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the following year.


The  cast with John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (center) in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

The gentleman in question is Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey), a poor nobody living in a flat in London and grieving over his mother’s recent death. He’s visited by a mysterious old woman named Marietta Shingle (Mary VanArsdel), who brings unexpected news of his lineage.

It turns out mother was a member of the prestigious D’Ysquith family. She had been cast out and cut off from the family years ago when she chose to run off with a lowly musician. In fact, Monty is ninth in line  to inherit the earldom of Highhurst. Miss Shingle suggests Monty contact the D’Ysquiths and try to mend fences.

When his letter is rebuffed, Monty meets with the clergyman of the family in the hopes he will be more helpful. He isn’t, and when the Reverend falls to his death from atop the church bell tower (a death Monty could have prevented), Mr. Navarro embarks on a scheme to murder the remaining seven D’Ysquiths who stand between him and the earldom.

Supporting him, but not assisting him with his plan, is Monty’s longtime lover Sibella Hallward (Kristen Beth Williams). Despite their feelings for each other, Sibella marries a man of higher status because she can’t wait around on Monty to become rich. They still get together regularly anyway. This relationship becomes more complicated once Monty meets and becomes attracted to his cousin, Phoebe D’Ysquith (Adrienne Eller). Fortunately, Phoebe is not in the line of succession.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” if a fun, if somewhat macabre, frolic with a very British sensibility. The show relies heavily on wordplay and slapstick. The music works in service to the story and as such is the weakest link in the show. While songs such as “I Don’t Understand the Poor” and “Better With A Man” are clever and amusing, they’re not the type of tunes you’ll be humming on your way out the door. The songs serve their purpose but aren’t very memorable.

Everything else is first rate.The action occurs in a variety of locations and to deal with this challenge the production features a stage on the stage which lets the story quickly and seamlessly move from place to place. The set design and costumes are impressive. The actors and musicians deliver fine performances.

While you might believe from the synopsis that the talented Kevin Massey is the star of the show, the real standout is John Rapson — who plays not one, not two, but all eight of the doomed D’Ysquiths. Each member of the royal family has his-or-her own eccentricities, and Rapson is a joy to watch as he brings them all to life. Then death.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” runs through Sept. 25.





At The Movies: Sully

It’s hard to speak ill of “Sully.” It’s one of those amazing-but-true inspirational tales of an unassuming, ordinary person doing extraordinary things under terrible conditions. It’s directed by the always solid Clint Eastwood. It stars the always reliable Tom Hanks. It’s a sure crowd pleaser.

So I’ll leave my minor but nagging criticisms for the end.

Hanks stars as veteran US Airways pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. One morning he and co-pilot Jeffery Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) begin a routine flight out of New York City when they encounter a flock of geese engaged in an unexpected game of chicken. The birds lose but in the process do enough damage to the plane’s engines than an emergency landing is necessary.

sully-2016-movie-posterConvinced they won’t make it back to LaGuardia or any other nearby landing strip, Sully decides to put the plane down in the frigid winter waters of the Hudson River. The pilot defies all odds and prior aviation history and lands the plane without a single casualty. Sully quickly becomes a national hero.

But there ain’t no drama in that. Enter the National Transportation Safety Board, aka The Heavies. While friendly at first, the investigators quickly question whether Sully used sound judgement in making a water landing and doubt his assurance that both engines were taking out by the birds.

“Sully” is a well-meaning and well-produced drama that I found entertaining but hollow. A big part of my problem is that there isn’t enough substance here for a movie, even one clocking in at a reasonable 96 minutes. The crash itself is over in minutes, leaving the bulk of the film focused on Sully sitting in hotel rooms or bars dealing with his new heroic status while anxious about his future. Laura Linney gets the unenviable chore of playing the worried wife, stuck dealing with the situation via telephone.

Eastwood fills some of the gaps with dream sequences and revisiting the crash throughout the film from various angles. I suspect he plays the NTSB investigators as more bloodthirsty than they were in the real account. But that’s what makes compelling cinema.

At The Movies: Morgan

If you’re hoping “Morgan” is a documentary about the life of Morgan Freeman (narrated by Morgan Freeman, naturally) then you’ll be disappointed.

No, “Morgan” is the latest in the line of no-frills, sci-fi thrillers that make their way to theaters every year. Think “Ex Machina” or “Lucy.” It’s quirky, compelling and strange. Pretty much what you expect from science fiction when it’s not being taken over by big budgets, special effects and spaceships.

Morgan-posterKate Mara stars as Lee Weathers, an analyst and fixer for a large corporation that is doing work in human genetic engineering. She’s been sent to a secluded, run-down mansion in the woods where a team of scientists are working with their latest test-tube subject, a young girl named Morgan (Anya-Taylor Joy).

Morgan recently had a violent outburst and savagely injured one of her keepers. Lee has been sent in to determine if she should be terminated.

The staff, led by Dr. Simon Ziegler (Toby Jones), are fiercely loyal to Morgan, despite the incident. The head of the program, Dr. Lui Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), is more reserved.

Things take a turn for the worse for Morgan during an interview with Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti), the expert sent to determine her state of mind. It’s clear to Lee what needs to be done, but Morgan won’t be the only person to reject the decision.

“Morgan” marks the directorial debut of Luke Scott, son of director Ridley Scott. While not at the level of his father’s works like “Alien,” “Blade Runner” or “The Martian,” it’s not a bad first film.  The set-up is intriguing and it takes an interesting turn near the end. It is a little thin on story and character development.

Kate Mara gives a good performance and most everyone else is adequate. Giamatti’s character takes it too far — if his goal was really to goad Morgan to the breaking point, you’d think he’d have security in the room with him given what happened the last time.



At The Movies: Don’t Breathe

So last week we talked about “Hell or High Water” and how a talented director took a stale plot or two and with the right writing and cast made it fresh and interesting. This week Fede Alvarez does a similar thing with the horror genre in “Don’t Breathe.”

Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto star as Rocky, Alex and Money — three young punks who go around robbing houses. Alex’s father works for a security company and he “borrows” the old man’s keys to aid them in their crimes.

Alex is the serious one, Money is the crazy one and Rocky is the sympathetic one — she’s only stealing so she can make enough money so she and her little sister can escape life with their abusive mother.

dont_breathe_ver4Money learns of a potential hit that’s too good to be true — an old, blind man living alone in a secluded house with a large sum of money he received in a legal settlement. And you know what they say about things that are too good to be true.

The trio show up in the dead of night only to find their only real obstacle is a growling, slobbering dog. They put him to sleep with some drugged meat and break in through the bathroom window — the only window that isn’t barred shut.

They encounter a room with a huge lock on it and assume that’s where they’ll find the cash. In the process of breaking the lock they wake up the old man (Stephen Lang). Although he’s blind, he’s more than willing to fight — and kill — to protect his home, his money — and his secrets.

I’m not much on horror movies but I do enjoy a good one, and “Don’t Breathe” is a good one. Alvarez knows when to crank up the tension and throws in some unexpected and effective twists. While the movie has its violent moments it doesn’t rely heavily on gore. This story is more about fear and terror than blood splatters.

Lang remains silent through most of the film, adding to the character’s creepiness, but when he finally does speak — that’s when the story becomes even more disturbing.

There are a few absurd horror movie moments, but overall “Don’t Breathe” is a brutal, chilling and clever film.