Category Archives: Movie Review

News of the World – Better Late Than Never

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Call me late (just never call me late for dinner, yuk yuk), but I just now got around to watching “News of the World,” starring Tom Hanks and a young German actress, Helena Zengel. It is true, this film came out in 2020. The plot centers on an 1800’s Civil War veteran who travels the west, bringing news to those without the benefit of such newfangled inventions of the future like television, radio and the internet. Ironic is that as late as I am giving my two cents about this picture, Hanks’ character, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, reads current and past events from newspapers that are actually months old by the time he reaches his various destinations. That said, I’m forgiving myself for taking so long to watch it.

I liked this film on multiple levels. For one thing, it brings to the forefront the unique fact that in the old west, there really were men who traipsed from town to town, bringing news and editorials to people who lived in remote areas. You don’t think Americans learned all at once that the Civil War was over, do you? They certainly didn’t, and even telegraphed messages – the fastest form of communication at the time which relied on Morse code – could only relay so much information at a time. Author Paulette Giles, whose book of the same name serves as the basis for this movie, was wise to set her story in the post-Civil War years when not everyone got the same message at the same time.

So, on to the story. Captain Kidd is rambling around doing his thing when he comes across an overturned coach. The only passenger appears to be a young girl (Zengel, in her first American role). Nearby, the Black driver of the coach has been lynched. As for the child, she is of German descent with blonde hair, a wide face and piercing sky-blue yes. Her name is Johanna. But the child speaks only Kiowa, owing to the fact that she was taken from her home after her parents were murdered sometime in the past. But her adopted Kiowa parents are dead too. What to do?

In so many westerns, grappling with the idea of a man coming across a child in need (think 1972’s “Jeremiah Johnson,” 1975’s “Against a Crooked Sky,” 1969’s “True Grit” and its 2010 remake, to name a few) has been regarded as a burden. How can you be a badass, or even a normal guy, doing what you need to survive, when you are suddenly encumbered by a child? In this case, Kidd has the wherewithal, and common sense, to see that it is his responsibility to take Johanna to the place she belongs: the home of her long lost kin. Doing so will require riding some rough roads strewn with highwaymen and other outlaws. On the back burner too are Kidd’s memories of his wife, whom he has not seen since he left for the war years before. But duty is duty as far as he is concerned, and he must deliver this little lost girl to the proper destination before moving on.

This is the part where I want to point out the virtues of Tom Hanks’ first role in a real, gritty, period western. We all know Tom, boy do we. He long ago mastered the art of his craft, with a slew of films illustrating the depth of his talent. These days, at the still-young age of 64, the actor himself has become almost a father-like figure in the film industry. But while other reviews have nailed him for acting like typical Tom Hanks in a Tom Hanks film, I didn’t care. I appreciated the aging Captain Kidd’s neutral approach to the task at hand. He reads his newspapers in a way that reminds me of the late Paul Harvey’s news commentaries, with a delivery that makes people automatically trust what he has to say. He is a voice of reason when his listeners vehemently object to the news he reads. In dealing with young Johanna, whose trust must be gained in order for the pair to survive, Kidd knows he must employ as much prudence as he can. If Hanks could not carry this role, I don’t know who could have done a better job.

One of the most poignant parts of the story is seeing how real the struggle is for Kidd’s conscience. He does not call the girl “Cicada,” her Kiowa name, and he is bent on returning her to her blood family, not the Natives she is obviously now more comfortable with. But when Johanna chirps out her sing-song words in Kiowa tongue, and employs survival skills she learned from the tribe, the conflict in Kidd’s face is genuine. And when she instinctively blurts out a German sentence, Kidd obviously feels even more uncomfortable. It is never spoken, but beautifully conveyed, that this man is truly torn between which of the worlds Johanna has lived in is the best one for her. Yet he knows how important it is for him to learn her words and teach her his, because communication is among the most vital survival skills this pair can share.

“News of the World” was filmed in New Mexico. It is a refreshing change to so many movie and shows that have lately fled film-unfriendly America to Canada in favor of more accommodating film commissions. I know New Mexico, and recognized a couple of sets, which gave this movie a comforting, familiar feel. The scenery is, as usual, beautiful. The costumes, sets, firearms, and most everything else used to make the film are authentic. The dialogue is flavorful. And for those who feel the storyline is a bit slow, I’m here to tell you that the wild west was not always wild. It could, on many levels, move at a very unhurried, steady pace that was akin to most lifestyles of the time. In our hurry-hurry world, that’s not really such a bad thing. So sit back, turns the lights low, and be willing to ride along the deliberate, often emotional path this story takes. You won’t be sorry.

Image courtesy IMDB.

“Buck Run”: Director Nick Frangione’s Film Takes Family Matters to Heart

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

If you are looking for the plastic eye-candy and shallow script that is so common in today’s movies, the kind where the plot is handed to you on a silver platter, this is not your kind of movie. But if you enjoy insightful and emotional irony, symbolism and empathy, this new film from Intuition Film Productions amply provides an intelligent story about the common thread of dysfunctional families and how they deal with life.

Buck Run, in rural Pennsylvania, serves as the backdrop for the film. Director Nick Frangione has a special connection to the place; it is his hometown. It is not surprising that Buck Run is loosely based on Frangione’s own childhood experiences, which is perhaps the reason the movie is so adept at presenting a sense of place. Like so many rural towns across America, Buck Run seems stuck in a time some decades ago. The homes of the film’s two main characters, Shaw (beautifully portrayed by Nolan Lyons) and William (ably played by James Le Gros), look like someone left sometime in the late 70’s and never went back. The bleak surroundings, from snowy woods to a dreary school and a run-of-the-mill crappy flea market, provide the elements of a place which time has forgotten. Those who have visited and lived in similar towns will understand why: even in the best of economic times, not everyone in rural America has the opportunity to flourish.

Fifteen-year-old Shaw Templeton is an emotional mess that has left him in shock and unsure of what to do. After spending a day and a half with the body of his deceased mother (Amy Hargreaves), Shaw is besieged by a slew of grown-ups who discover his situation. They aren’t inclined to do much about it other than push the boy off on his estranged father William, an impoverished alcoholic who can barely take care of himself, let alone his son. This less-than-ideal scenario only isolates Shaw further; he literally has nobody else to turn to. Furthering his troubles is the stark realization that everything familiar to him—namely his loving mother and his comfortable home—is no longer there for him. Closure and love is what this gentle young buck needs, but he seemingly has no way to harness either one.

From his father’s home (look for the symbolic painting of a buck running through the woods among the messy décor), Shaw must find a way to come to terms with his lot in life. His drunk father commandeers his cell phone, disappears and reappears without warning, and is emotionally unable to show love for his son. Shaw’s mother lies at the funeral home, awaiting funeral arrangements as her son is prevented from seeing her and anguishes over her burial. School is hell, as are social settings, when bullies stalk and assault the teen. And William has borrowed five grand from his buddy John (Kevin J. O’Connor), but blew it all on something he won’t talk about. The only glimmers of hope Shaw can find are in a kindly schoolmate named Robbie (Luke Embeck) and the local cop (Jim Parrack), who apathetically chastises the teen for smoking but finally asks how he’s getting along. In the end, it is up to Shaw to fight back, take matters into his own hands however he can, and, ultimately, see redemption in his father for William’s unseen and unappreciated efforts.

In this first film by Intuition Film Productions, screenwriter David Hauslein has made a noble effort in his presentation of a family in the throes of hardship. The movie is well-cast and the performances are candid. Lyons’ Shaw Templeton is so real that you want to just take the kid in yourself and give him a warm meal and a place to sleep off his grief-ridden demeanor. Le Gros, a veteran actor known for favoring independent films, does a fine job making William the sad and broken man he is. The excellent and supporting cast includes a cameo appearance by Alicia Goranson (The Connors) as the put-upon prostitute Misty, who must pick up laundry and make sure her kids are watching the tube before tending to business. Our characters go about their humble business to the lonely musical soundtrack set by Chris Brokaw, quite fitting for an emotionally tense film such as this.

For Frangione, who studied under Sundance winning filmmaker Eric Escobar, Buck Run is his fifth effort as director and is well played. Buck Run made its world premiere earlier this month at the Palm Springs Film Festival. To see the trailer on Vimeo, go to