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►  Review: Good intentions go up in smoke in ‘Only the Brave’

Firefighters must be our last real superheroes. They run toward stuff that’s on fire, for heaven’s sake. There are the few public servants — not cops, politicians or doctors — as beloved or who have managed to stay untainted.

What they surely don’t need is the old-fashioned Hollywood god-making treatment, but that’s exactly what they’ve gotten in the “Only the Brave,“ an attempt to honor a group of wildland firefighters that is overwrought when it needs to be honest and quiet. It wants to put capes on men who don’t need them.

The film, directed with a sure hand by Joseph Kosinski, centers on the 20-strong Granite Mountain Hotshots and their journey from a local Arizona firefighting team to an elite force at the front lines of the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, one of the country’s deadliest wildfires. (It’s “based on true events.“)


The spine of the story is the relationship between crusty local fire chief Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin, extra crusty) and an ex-junkie recruit hoping to straighten out his life (Miles Teller, very good).

There’s some gentle hazing for the newcomer from veterans sporting a frightening amount of mustaches, plenty of heavy metal on the soundtrack (Metallica, AC/DC) and spectacular scenes of nature engulfed in flames. The last few moments are handled with poignancy and beautiful horror, but the wind-up to that point is sadly lacking.

Mostly that’s because the film, written by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer, is burning up with cliches and laughable dialogue. There are insane moments, like Brolin staring at a distant wildfire and saying meaningfully, “What are you doing? What are you up to?“ like he’s a wildfire whisperer. Or Andie MacDowell, a wife of a fire honcho, telling another firefighter’s spouse: “It’s not easy sharing your man with a fire.“ (Someone also actually says “I’ll probably be home for dinner,“ a clear clue he won’t.)

Jennifer Connelly plays the veterinarian wife of Brolin’s character and she adds a complex mix to the testosterone-heavy film. But she’s also made magical in a baffling scene in which she approaches an abandoned and abused horse and just using her soft-eyed empathy gets it to instantly adore her. “You’re safe,“ she says, stroking its head. “You’re safe now. I promise.“ Then the horse meekly gets on its knees so Connelly can gently bathe it with soft wipes of a sponge. (This is pure horse manure.)

Instead of really bringing us into the real lives and motivations of the crew members, no matter how messy, we’re left with yee-haw action sequences or self-serving reputation burnishing. It’s like it was written specifically for a bunch of artistic Hollywood actors who always wanted to be in scenes where they could be cowboys or test pilots. (“Mount up. This is game time,“ is actual dialogue. Another: “If this isn’t the greatest job in the world, I don’t know what is.“)

The apex of this silliness comes when Brolin pauses dramatically to tell a story about when he was a young man fighting a blaze and saw a bear on fire rush past him. “It was the most beautiful and terrible thing I’ve ever seen,“ he says, deeply. Then, for reasons that confound, the filmmakers force us to WATCH a clearly CGI-created bear on fire rush through a forest. Subtle, huh?

The film comes out when real wildfire firefighters are battling massive blazes in Northern California’s wine country, putting a spotlight on the men and women putting their lives on the line under horrific conditions to save homes and souls. This film makes such firefighters into cartoons, which ill serves their legacy.

“Only the Brave,“ a Sony Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic content, some sexual references, language and drug material.“ Running time: 133 minutes. Two stars out of four.

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MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.


►  John McCain memoir, ‘The Restless Wave,’ coming in April

An upcoming memoir from Senator John McCain has taken on new meaning since he first decided to write it.

“The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations” is scheduled to come out in April, Simon & Schuster told The Associated Press on Friday. The publisher quietly signed up the book in February, without any formal announcement. In July, McCain disclosed he had been diagnosed with brain cancer and last month he said the prognosis was “very poor.”

McCain, 81, was re-elected to a sixth term in the Senate in 2016.

“This memoir will be about what matters most to him, and I hope it will be regarded as the work of an American hero,” said Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of Simon & Schuster’s flagship imprint.

The book is expected to begin in 2008, when the Arizona Republican lost to Barack Obama in the presidential election, and will include his “no-holds-barred opinions” on last year’s campaign and on current events in Washington. McCain has been a sharp critic of Donald Trump, a fellow Republican, and was a key opponent last summer of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this week, McCain denounced “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” remarks widely taken as criticism of Trump and such allies as former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“Candid, pragmatic, and always fascinating, John McCain holds nothing back in his latest memoir,” according to the publisher.

The memoir already has a notable change: The original title was “It’s Always Darkest Before It’s Totally Black,” an expression McCain likes to cite.

“The Restless Wave” reunites him with longtime collaborator Mark Salter and with Karp, his longtime editor. The three worked together on McCain’s million-selling “Faith of My Fathers,” which came out in 1999, and on such subsequent releases as “Worth the Fighting For” and “Why Courage Matters.”

In a recent email, Salter told the AP that there was “still a ways to go” before the book’s completion, but that McCain was “hard at it.” The original focus was “on international issues, his experiences overseas and movements and people he’s supported over the years.”

“There will still be examples of that in the book, but it will be a little more expansive and reflective about his career and life, the direction of our politics and our leadership in the world, and the causes and values that matter most to him,” Salter wrote. “The original title was an old joke he employed often over the years. But the Senator thought it was too flip for some of the subjects he now wants to address.”

For Karp, “The Restless Wave” is a poignant, painful reminder of a previous book he edited: “True Compass,” by McCain’s good friend Senator Edward M. Kennedy. As with the McCain book, Karp signed up Kennedy’s memoir before he was diagnosed with brain cancer. Kennedy died in August 2009, just weeks before “True Compass” was published.

“Both men represent the best of leadership,” Karp said. “Both men have been giants of the Senate who demonstrated an ability to work across the aisle in a truly admirable way.”

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  Sam Shepard novel coming out in December

A novel Sam Shepard completed shortly before his death is coming out in December.

In an announcement Wednesday, Alfred A. Knopf says that “Spy of the First Person” will be released December 5. In the novel, an unnamed narrator looks back on his life and the illness which afflicts him in old age.

Shepard died at his home in Kentucky in July after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a paralyzing condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Shepard was best known as a playwright. He also wrote prose fiction, including the story collections “Cruise Paradise” and “Great Dream of Heaven.”


►  Review: ‘Wonderstruck’ is a beautiful fable for youngsters

For devoted fans of certain prestige directors, it’s always a little disarming to see them make a true children’s film. Expectations have to be readjusted in real time as you submit to something else, something different. That exercise can yield disappointment, but sometimes, maybe even most of the time, the results are transcendent. Think about Alfonso Cuaron’s “A Little Princess” or Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.” When a master of cinema decides to look at the world from a child’s perspective, we should all line up.

“Wonderstruck ,” the latest from “Carol,” ″I’m Not There” and “Far From Heaven” director Todd Haynes is very much for the young — for those who still find pleasure in tactile simplicity, who pour over pop-up books and paper dolls, who fantasize about the past, and whose imaginations are richer, more elaborate and darker than most adults care to remember.

“Wonderstruck” is adapted from a Brian Selznick book, the same author of “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” which provided the basis for Scorsese’s “Hugo.” It intercuts the stories of two children, Rose, a young girl in 1927 and Ben, a young boy in 1977.

Rose, played by the magnificent newcomer Millicent Simmonds, is deaf. We see her world in black and white and without sounds. Carter Burwell’s beautiful score is our only respite from complete silence. And while things are pretty as a picture — an intentionally artificial rendering of that time — Rose is in agony and unable to hear or communicate with others except with a notepad. She doesn’t talk, and hasn’t yet been taught sign language. While she oscillates between frustration and annoyance with those around her, she finds some joy in cutting out pictures of and seeing films with her favorite silent movie star Lillian Mayhew (Julianne Moore).

Meanwhile, in 1977, where every color seems to have a dusty brown undertone, Ben (Oakes Fegley, who also starred in last summer’s “Pete’s Dragon”) is having nightmares and missing his mother (Michelle Williams), a local Minnesota librarian who died recently in a car accident. He carries around a folded up copy of the newspaper clipping in his pocket. He is also isolated from the world around him, and will become even more so when he suffers an accident and loses his hearing too.

Both children are destined for an adventure soon. Ben finds a clue that perhaps his father, whose identity he doesn’t know, is tied to a book store in New York City. And Rose sees that Lillian is set to perform in a play in the city. And both non-hearing kids set out in their respective times to the big city to find what they’re looking for, and find peace at the American Museum of Natural History.

The 1977 thread definitely plays second fiddle to the sumptuous and storybook-like saga of Rose in 1927, which is in no small part due to Simmonds’ deeply moving performance. Together, though, it feels at times like a stitched together Frankenstein of a film — a grand idea that never quite comes together until it’s forced to in the very final moments.

Indeed, the last 15 minutes are undeniably moving. Getting there, however earnest a journey it may be, is a bit of a tedious exercise punctuated by moments of humor and joy and beauty.

Still, for a kid in this age of digital devices and content disconnected from experience, “Wonderstruck” could be its own sort of treasure — a call to explore the real world, to submit to the magic of museums and the enchantment of a beautiful book.

“Wonderstruck,” an Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “for thematic elements and smoking.” Running time: 117 minutes. Three stars out of four.

___

MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  Tyler Perry set to play Colin Powell

Madea goes to Washington.

Tyler Perry, the actor/producer/Oprah pal best known for his popular and profitable “Madea” movie franchise, just landed an surprising new role that doesn’t require a wig or a dress. Perry will play retired four-star General Colin Powell in the as-yet-to-be titled Dick Cheney project, according to Deadline.

Co-starring alongside Christian Bale as Cheney and Steve Carell as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Perry, who has proven his movie mettle in non-Madea flicks such as “Gone Girl” and “Alex Cross,“ will become the former secretary of state during the drama of the President George W. Bush years. The film, written and directed by comedy vet Adam McKay, is a story about American power, according to the screenwriter.

“A lot of crazy stuff happened during those eight years,“ said McKay in a previous interview with Deadline, “and this is a vital puzzle piece in what got us to this moment with Donald Trump, with the world, as it is now, and Dick Cheney is at the center of it.“

Perhaps foreshadowing the news of his next big gig, on Monday Perry showed up in the White House briefing room - as Madea.

While promoting his current movie “Boo 2! A Madea Halloween” on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,“ Perry gave the audience a taste of what it would be like if the gun-toting grandma he plays became the Trump administration’s White House communications director.

When asked if she voted for Donald Trump, Perry as Madea pops off: “Hell, no. I didn’t vote for Trump. Only two black people voted for Trump. One was Ben Carson, and the other one is the man behind him at the rallies with the sign that says ‘Blacks for Trump.‘ I’m not one of them. I voted for Hillary three times. Thank you very much.“


►  ‘Happy Death Day’ recycles a comedy classic – as horror

Here’s a simple – and potentially chilling – concept: What if someone remade “Groundhog Day,“ in which a TV weatherman relives the same day over and over, as a horror movie?

Director Christopher Landon (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones”) and writer Scott Lobdell (of TV’s “X-Men” series) have done just that, paying fond homage to Harold Ramis’ 1993 comedy classic with a tale of a college student who must go through the day she’s murdered, again and again. Sadly, “Happy Death Day” proves that the clever notion is ill-suited to horror.

Set at a fictional Louisiana university, the movie opens on Tree (Jessica Rothe of “La La Land”), a popular sorority girl who wakes up on her birthday to find that she has spent the night with – gasp – an unpopular boy, whose name she doesn’t even remember (Israel Broussard).

From Tree’s smug, dismissive interactions with fellow students and former bedmates, it’s clear she isn’t a nice person. Later that evening, as students wander around campus wearing masks fashioned after the school’s grotesque infant mascot, a masked, hooded assailant stalks and kills Tree. Just at the moment of death, she wakes up in the boy’s bed, living through the same day, until she is killed by the same attacker.

Slaughter, rinse, repeat.

Like a character in a PG-13 after-school special, Tree comes to see this vicious cycle as an opportunity to become a better person. Unfortunately, while the movie’s cast is not unappealing, Tree’s journey to self-knowledge feels abrupt and unconvincing. What’s more, the cycle makes it impossible to build tension. We already know that Tree is going to die. Details and methods may change, but they aren’t particularly inventive.

With its circular arc of soul-searching and redemption, “Groundhog Day” has become a modern cautionary tale – “A Christmas Carol” for contemporary times that people watch, again and again. By borrowing that same premise, the makers of “Happy Death Day” hope to cash on the earlier film’s enduring appeal. But this is one movie that no one needs to relive.

—-

Two stars. PG-13. Contains sexual situations, strong language and graphic violence. 96 minutes.


►  French suspense novel chills, thrills, leads to unanswered questions

I didn’t understand the title, “Three Days and a Life,” but something about the premise intrigued me so I decided to read it anyway, figuring I’d learn what the title meant as the story moved along.

No, I never did figure out what the title meant, and for the first time, I reached the end of the quick-reading story somewhat scratching my head. The ending is full of nuances that allow the reader to ponder the route taken by the protagonist should the story continue.

If the reader wants to read deeply into the book, an English translation by Pierre Lemaitre, it is a complex experiment in the social infrastructure of a small French town, right and wrong and the rawness of the family unit. The easy reading suspense tome could also simply be the aftermath of a homicide – no mystery here though – committed by a child and its effect on that small village and its inhabitants.

The “good kid,” 12-year-old Antoine, kills a 6-year-old neighbor boy in a fit of rage over the death of a dog. Antoine hides the body and then watches as the entire village implodes, each person dealing with the disappearance of the youngster in their own way. The story is written from Antoine’s perspective as he runs through the gamut of emotions that truly do tear him from limb to limb as he realizes the gravity of what he has done. The story takes us through the turmoil in Antoine’s head as he attempts to make sense of what he has done, the ramifications of his actions and what he believes others are thinking about him.

Fast forward over a decade, the body has not been found, Antoine is a doctor, has a fiancée and, on the outside, appears to be doing well for himself. On a trip home, he has a fling with a childhood crush, she gets pregnant and she then attempts to coerce him into marriage. He refuses and right about the time her father says he’s going to demand a paternity test, the body of the young 6-year-old is found. Fearing a connection between the DNA tests, Antoine gives in, marries her and moves back to the small French town to which he swore he’d never return.

As the tragedy unfurls once again, there are several surprises, including the ending that leaves the reader a bit surprised and pondering the meaning of the nuanced semi-closure.

I found myself sort of sympathetic towards Antoine at the beginning. The usual angst of a preteen plus the pressures of living in a fishbowl of an environment and while being a good kid, not exactly fitting in to a niche. And then he goes and commits an incomprehensible act in a rage that is not typical of his personality. As an adult, though, I saw the same fears of getting caught, only this time, Antoine grappled with his emotions with pathetic cowardice.

As I continue to contemplate the ending, I still want to think Antoine will release the burden and come clean – perhaps the calculated action of one could propel him to give closure to the many who still grieve the child.

I just don’t have any answers.

But it’s a great book that generates a lot of thought-provoking questions.

“Three Days and a Life,” by Pierre Lemaitre

Arts & Entertainment News

The Free Press WV

►  Sales pick up for Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Killing England’

After a slow start, at least for Bill O’Reilly, his new book is gaining momentum.

O’Reilly’s “Killing England” had increased sales in its second week, an unusual feat for a high-profile release. His first “Killing” work since being forced out of Fox News last spring amid numerous allegations of sexual assault sold 71,000 copies, compared with 65,000 the week before. According to NBD BookScan, which tracks around 85 percent of retail sales, it was last week’s top nonfiction seller.

Pre-sales for “Killing England” were well below those for last year’s “Killing the Rising Sun.” But his new book was helped by a surprise appearance on Fox, where he was interviewed by Sean Hannity, and has been in the top 10 on Amazon.com since its Sept. 19 release.


►  ‘Fast & Furious 9’ release pushed back a year to 2020

The “Fast and the Furious” team is putting the brakes on the ninth installment in the franchise. Universal Pictures said Wednesday that the film’s release will move back a year to April 10, 2020.

It was originally set for release in April 2019. The studio did not offer a reason for the shift.

The latest film in the action series, “The Fate of the Furious,” came out earlier this year and went on to gross around $1.2 billion worldwide.

The franchise has earned more than $5 billion worldwide to date.


►  ‘NCIS’ star Pauley Perrette leaving drama after this season

Longtime “NCIS” star Pauley Perrette says she’s leaving the CBS crime drama after this season following 15 years on the show.

This is Perrette’s 15th season playing the pigtailed forensic scientist Abby Sciuto on the show. Perrette confirmed reports of her departure on Twitter on Wednesday, writing that “there have been all kinds of false rumors as to why” she’s leaving.

She says neither CBS nor the show’s producers are “mad” at her and the decision to leave was one she made last year. The 48-year-old Perrette adds that she loves her character “as much as you do.”

CBS didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Perrette’s departure.

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