At The Movies: Inferno

It’s said that the third film in a trilogy is usually the weakest. “Inferno” does nothing to dispel that belief.

This is the third in a series of mystery/thrillers starring Harvard Professor and apocalypse preventer Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks). It’s based on the writings of Dan Brown and follows up on his hits “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons.”

You remember “The Da Vinci Code,” right? It was all the rage back in the day. “Angels & Demons” got a fair amount of hype too. Yet I didn’t even know this third story existed until the commercials started airing a few weeks ago. And if it hadn’t been for Tom Hanks running around like an action hero, I never would’ve known it was another movie in the series.

inferno_2016_filmThe movie begins with Langdon dazed and confused in a hospital bed in Florence, Italy. He doesn’t know how he got there or what he’s doing there. He’s beset upon by vivid, gruesome visions that look like they came out of Dante’s “Inferno.” Turns out they are.

An assassin dressed up like a cop (Ana Ularu) arrives and starts shooting up the place. Langdon is whisked away to safety by his doctor, Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones). They retreat to her apartment, where Langdon finds a tube with bio-hazard symbols on it in his coat pocket. They decide — what the heck? — let’s open it.

Inside the tube is a miniature projector which shines on the wall an image of Dante’s nine circles of Hell. This is just the first of a series of puzzles that will lead Langdon and Brooks to famed historic sites from Florence to Venice to Istanbul. They are being chased by a variety of people who are either trying to help them or kill them, depending on what point in the story you’re at.

The prize at the end of this elaborate scavenger hunt is a deadly virus cooked up by billionaire psycho Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster). Zobrist has decided that overpopulation is destroying the planet and so he’s going to unleash a virus that will wipe out a considerable part of the human race — saving us all in the long run.

Directed by Ron Howard, “Inferno” starts off slowly and maddeningly, picks up a bit in the middle, but then cashes in any good will with a drawn-out, overblown ending. There are too many twists and turns, too much exposition, too many undeveloped characters coming and going, and an unneccesary and unconvincing love story tossed in near the end.

Hanks is his usual, reliable self. It might be worth seeing just for him and the scenery. I also liked Irrfan Khan’s performance, even though I’m still not sure whose side he was on or what his goal was.






At The Movies: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Tom Cruise has a pretty solid reputation as a movie action hero. He’s had several hits and some misses. His previous “Jack Reacher” film was a fun, old-school kind of action film. This sequel is more of the same.

Created by writer Lee Child, Reacher is an ex-military macho man who now lives off the grid. He travels from place to place via thumb, and I imagine it’s probably easy to hitch a ride when you look like Tom Cruise. Occasionally he stops in a town, beats up some bad guys and exposes a crime. He always seems to be at least one step ahead of the bad guy.

jack_reacher_never_go_back_poster In the course of his crime-busting hobby, Reacher becomes phone friends with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders). He hitches a ride to Washington, D.C., with plans to have lunch with his new pal. Upon arrival, Reacher is told that Turner has been arrested on charges of espionage.

He is also informed that he is in trouble for not paying child support for a child he didn’t know he had. As is the way of action movies, things go bad, Reacher breaks Turner out of prison, and they go on the run until they can clear their names and bring the true criminals to justice. And of course they bring Reacher’s maybe-daughter (Danika Yarosh) along for the ride because they will need a hostage for the sadistic lead bad guy (Patrick Heusinger) to chase around New Orleans before the final fight.

If you’re looking for a thriller with twists and turns and unexpected, unconventional storytelling — this is not the movie you’re looking for. “Jack Reacher: Never Go Back” is a solid if unspectacular film. It doesn’t break new ground or reinvent the action drama but it delivers on what it offers. Cruise embodies Reacher with a know-it-all, I’m-better-and-faster-than-you attitude that works well.

The first movie was better. I don’t regret seeing “Jack Reacher 2” but I wouldn’t pay to see it.




Ten Reasons Bob Dylan Deserves The Nobel Prize For Literature


Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’


How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind


William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears


Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not I,” says the referee
“Don’t point your finger at me
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure
At not gettin’ their money’s worth
It’s too bad he had to go
But there was a pressure on me too, you know
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not us,” says the angry crowd
Whose screams filled the arena loud
“It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death
We just meant to see some sweat
There ain’t nothing wrong in that
It wasn’t us that made him fall
No, you can’t blame us at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says his manager
Puffing on a big cigar
“It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell
I always thought that he was well
It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead
But if he was sick, he should’ve said
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the gambling man
With his ticket stub still in his hand
“It wasn’t me that knocked him down
My hands never touched him none
I didn’t commit no ugly sin
Anyway, I put money on him to win
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the boxing writer
Pounding print on his old typewriter
Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame
There’s just as much danger in a football game”
Sayin’, “Fistfighting is here to stay
It’s just the old American way
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist
Who came here from Cuba’s door
Where boxing ain’t allowed no more
“I hit him, yes, it’s true
But that’s what I am paid to do
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill’
It was destiny, it was God’s will”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?


I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I wake in the morning
Fold my hands and pray for rain
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane
It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more
Well, he hands you a nickel
He hands you a dime
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time
Then he fines you every time you slam the door
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
Ah, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more
Well, she talks to all the servants
About man and God and law
Everybody says
She’s the brains behind pa
She’s sixty-eight, but she says she’s twenty-four
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more


“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”

“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl


Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue


Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
By the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles


Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they’d cut it out but when they will I can only guess
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me
I can’t help it if I’m lucky

People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at
I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that
Sweet lady

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

I ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike
I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long I can’t remember what it’s like
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door
You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars
After losin’ every battle

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin’ me see stars
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes
Blood on your saddle

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb
Blowing through the curtains in your room
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom

I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
don’t look into mine
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone-faced while the
building burned
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees, while the
springtime turned
Slowly into Autumn

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth
You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love
And it makes me feel so sorry

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats
Blowing through the letters that we wrote
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves
We’re idiots, babe
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves


 ’Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

And if I pass this way again, you can rest assured
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my word
In a world of steel-eyed death, and men who are fighting to be warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Not a word was spoke between us, there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Suddenly I turned around and she was standin’ there
With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Now there’s a wall between us, somethin’ there’s been lost
I took too much for granted, got my signals crossed
Just to think that it all began on a long-forgotten morn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Well, the deputy walks on hard nails and the preacher rides a mount
But nothing really matters much, it’s doom alone that counts
And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

I’ve heard newborn babies wailin’ like a mournin’ dove
And old men with broken teeth stranded without love
Do I understand your question, man, is it hopeless and forlorn?
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

In a little hilltop village, they gambled for my clothes
I bargained for salvation an’ they gave me a lethal dose
I offered up my innocence and got repaid with scorn
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”

Well, I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m bound to cross the line
Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock to when God and her were born
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm”


At The Movies: The Accountant

If you’re desperate for a superhero movie to fill the void between “Suicide Squad” and “Doctor Strange,” check out “The Accountant.” It’s like what would happen if Batman was an autistic savant who’s really good with numbers…and guns.

Ben Affleck stars as Christian Wolff, a quiet, reserved man who owns his own small accounting business in a strip-mall. But this is just a cover. Chris makes millions using his uncanny mathematical skills in the service of criminal kingpins and other dangerous people and organizations.

accountant_ver2And if he seems a little shy and peculiar, well that’s because he has autism. The film opens with a young Chris working on a puzzle and stemming while his frustrated parents try to find out what’s wrong. Chris’ long-suffering little brother sits in silence.

Chris’ father, a military man, rejects mom’s preference that they leave him at the nice, quiet institute where he can learn to deal with his condition. Dad is convinced the boy just needs tough, no-fooling-around, military-style training. Mom leaves. Dad and the boys travel the world learning how to fight and shoot and overcome autism through sheer force of will.

Damn. Why didn’t I think of that?

Chris grows up to become the kind of autistic savant that only Hollywood could dream up. He lives independently. He keeps everything important to him in a trailer so he can move at a moment’s notice. He has a mystery partner that deals with him via phone. He keeps an original Jackson Pollock on his ceiling.  Aside from his distant and sometimes brusque demeanor, he’s just like you and me.

But Chris’ activities have caught the attention of Commissioner Gordon, I mean, Treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons). King is determined to find out who “The Accountant” really is before he retires, but leaves the heavy lifting to analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson).

As Marybeth begins her investigation, Chris begins working for a new client, Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), owner of a robotics company. One of his staff (Anna Kendrick) has noticed a discrepancy in the books and Chris has been brought in to straighten the books out.

But when a thug named Brax (Jon Bernthal) and his goons show up, waving their guns around, Chris realizes it’s time to put down the ledgers and start dealing out the hot lead.

“The Accountant” is pretty absurd but it’s also a lot of fun. It’s your typical action-thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It plays out very much like a superhero origin story. The twist at the end gives the movie an unconventional ending.

Affleck and the rest of the cast are fine. The action sequences aren’t remarkable but they get the job done. “The Accountant” won’t win any Nobel prizes but it all adds up to an entertaining film.


At The Movies: The Girl On The Train

I’m guessing that “The Girl on the  Train” read better as a novel than it played out on screen, because otherwise I really don’t get its appeal.

Based on the 2015 book by Erin Cressida Wilson, “The Girl on the Train” stars Emily Blunt as Rachel Watson, an alcoholic, obsessive stalker. And she’s the heroine of the story.

girl-on-the-train-glamour-19july16-pr-bRachel rides the train into New York City every day to work. As she sits there day after day she fantasizes about the lives of the beautiful people who live in the beautiful houses just beyond the tracks.

She’s particularly attracted to Scott and Megan Hipwell (Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), who appear to have the perfect life. It’s not particularly perfect for Megan, who is seeing a psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez) to deal with her multitude of issues.

We soon learn that Rachel used to live in one of those beautiful houses, with her husband Tom (Justin Theroux). The couple have long since divorced and Tom still lives in their beautiful home, but now with second wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their infant daughter.

When Megan goes missing, Rachel hops off the train to do some sleuthing. Three or four jumps back and forth in time along with a half-dozen or so plot twists, and the movie finally, mercifully, ends.

“The Girl on the Train” is filled with unlikable people doing despicable things. They cheat, they drink to excess, they’re abusive, they whine, they cheat some more. There’s no one in this story to care about. And yes, I realize that an absurd twist is supposed to change the way I feel about the central character but it’s just too little, too late. I also found it ridiculous how a totally chance encounter with an ex-boss’ wife serves to upend the whole plot. The dreary look and feel of the film doesn’t help.

Mind the gap and stay away from ‘The Girl on the Train.’





At The Movies: The Birth Of A Nation

In the summer of 1831, a slave named Nat Turner led a 2-day rebellion in which between 50 and 65 white people were killed (depending on which source you consult) in Virginia. In retaliation, roughly 200 black people were killed, including Turner, who was hanged and skinned.

So, was Nat Turner a hero of the oppressed or a deranged killer? The new film “The Birth of a Nation” gives one answer to that question, and it won’t take long to figure out which side writer-producer-director-star Nate Parker stands on.

The movie opens with an infant Nat Turner taken to a secret ceremony hidden deep in the woods, where an old man proclaims the child to be a future leader because of a birthmark on his chest. He then raises the child into the air as everyone sings “The Circle of Life.”

OK, maybe that last part didn’t happen.

birthofnation.jpgNat grows up in a world much harsher than anything Simba put up with. As a child, his father is forced to run away after stealing food to keep the family alive. The boy shows a talent for reading and is brought into the plantation house where he learns to read — mainly the Bible.

Once he gets older, Nat is shipped off to work in the cotton fields. His owner is the sometimes benevolent — but oftentimes not — Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). Nat marries Cherry (Aja Naomi King) and gets some solace in his life preaching the gospel to his fellow slaves.

The local reverend (Mark Boone Junior) notices the slaves at Turner’s farm seem more complacent than elsewhere, and believes it is due to Nat’s preaching. He convinces Samuel to take Nat around to other plantations where he can preach the gospel of obedience to other slaves.

But a series of cruel events cause Nat to — not lose his religion, but find other meaning by looking at other passages. When his breaking point comes, Nat brings together the few men he can trust and embarks on a doomed rebellion.

“The Birth of a Nation” is a gripping, powerful film. Parker takes liberties with the historical record to make Turner more heroic than was the case, but that’s common in this type of production so I’ll let it slide. The director does do a good job recreating the look and feel of the pre-Civil War south.

The acting is strong and the story is compelling. These are troubled times racially in this country and “The Birth of a Nation” gives us that much more to think about.




On Stage: Once

“Once” isn’t a flashy spectacle of a musical. It’s just a very entertaining one.

Based on the 2007 film by John Carney, it was turned into a Broadway show by Enda Walsh (book), Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (music and lyrics). It went on to win eight Tony Awards in 2012, including Best Musical.


Mackenzie Lesser-Roy and Sam Cieri and the ONCE tour company. Photo by Joan Marcus

The show boasts an unconventional opening. The stage is set up as a large Irish pub and audience members are welcome to go up on stage and mingle before the show begins. The cast of actor/musicians come out and begin playing. As showtime approaches the audience slowly goes to their seats but the cast continue performing until seamlessly and without warning, the show is underway.

“Once” is the story of a Guy (Sam Cieri) and a Girl (Mackenzie Lesser-Roy) whose lives are changed through a one-week encounter. The guy is a struggling musician in Dublin. His girlfriend just left him for New York, and he spends his days fixing vacuum cleaners and his nights playing in a friend’s pub, where all the other customers also turn out to be musicians.

Guy has written several songs of love and longing about his ex-girlfriend, which he performs with great emotion. His talent gets the attention of Girl, a Czech woman recently settled in Dublin with her mother and daughter. She is determined to break him out of his funk, record some hit songs, and ship him off to New York for fame and a reunion with his lost love.

There’s not a lot of story here but what “Once” lacks in plot it makes up for in music and richly crafted characters. The music, mainly of the Irish-folk sound, includes the Academy Award-winning “Falling Slowly” and show stoppers like “Gold” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.”

The talented cast performs multiple duties as actors, dancers, the orchestra and setting up the stage between scenes. They handle all these challenges with skill and high energy.

“Once” runs through Saturday at the Fox Theatre.