The Hero – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

Once a famous Western movie star now reduced to doing occasional voiceover work for barbeque sauce commercials, Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott) is lonely, aging, and seriously ill. He’s lost his wife and daughter through divorce, lost his integrity by accepting mediocre acting jobs he doesn’t believe in, and lost his will to live. At age 71 with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, he’s ready to give up on life.

Sam Elliott stars in The Hero. Photo copyright 2017 The Orchard.

In a familiar movie cliche, he’s offered a “Lifetime Achievement Award” by an obscure group of Western movie lovers. Naturally, he perceives this as another step toward the grave. One day while smoking pot at his neighborhood dealer’s home, he meets Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a much-younger woman who seems attracted to him.

A New Romance Late in Life

Lee and Charlotte meet again by chance, and this time her interest is undeniable. After inviting her to the award ceremony, their romance has officially begun. But she’s a standup comedian who uses his age and infirmity as part of her routine, so her motives for dating him are not entirely clear. Hurt by yet another reminder of his age, Lee angrily walks out of the performance.

Known for his deep voice and thick mustache (like the actor himself), Lee has no trouble communicating with people as the iconic role he played in “The Hero.” As himself, however, he’s far less successful. He tries to tell his ex-wife (Katharine Ross), his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter), and his neighbor (Nick Offerman) about his illness, and finds himself unable to be vulnerable.

Dreams Relive Glory Days

He’s more open with Charlotte, but their age differences and her mean streak (balanced with her sensitive love of poetry) make him uncertain of whether or not the relationship is worth the effort of staying alive. His nightly dreams relive his glory days, but offer no hope for the future.

Although the plot sounds grim and is sometimes overly familiar, Sam Elliott embodies Lee so perfectly that each small expression or rumble of his voice seems to hold deep meaning. Sam Elliott fans won’t be disappointed in this stellar performance, and for those just discovering him, why did you wait so long?

The Hero

  • An aging Western iconic actor looks back at some of the choices he’s made in life.
  • Stars: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katherine Ross
  • Director: Brett Haley
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for drug use, language, and some sexual content)
  • Additional Information: The Hero was the opening night film at the recent Florida Film Festival held throughout Central Florida.

My Cousin Rachel – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

The title, My Cousin Rachel, sounds like the latest rom-com where a mysterious long-lost cousin shows up to the perfect wedding and nearly ruins everything as riotous laughs ensue. Actually, that’s not too far from the actual premise, except without the humor. This film, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier (The Birds) with a screenplay adaptation by Roger Michell, is a remake of the 1952 film, a creepy suspense thriller set in 19th Century England.

Sam Claflin as “Philip” and Rachel Weisz as “Rachel Ashley” in My Cousin Rachel. Photo by Nicola Dove. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Cousin Rachel

The story focuses on a naive 24-year-old Englishman named Philip (Sam Claflin), whose cherished guardian leaves for a warmer climate to improve his health. While away, he falls in love with his mysterious cousin Rachel (Rachel Weisz), and they soon wed. Philip then receives increasingly disturbing letters from his guardian suggesting that Rachel is controlling him and poisoning his tea.

In a rage, Philip journeys to the newlyweds’ home and discovers from an attorney that his guardian recently died of a brain tumor – a condition that may have affected his perception. Intent on vengeance, Philip invites the so-called grieving widow to visit his soon-to-be-inherited estate so he can confront her.

Hinted Sexuality

Once there, however, virginal Philip becomes mesmerized by Rachel’s charm (despite his close relationship with the ever-loyal Louise (Holliday Grainger), who clearly hopes to marry him someday. Even dressed in her black widow’s garb, Rachel’s sophistication and hinted sexuality entice Philip enough to protect her from gossip, pain, and poverty. The latter issue is especially problematic because Philip is weeks away from turning age 24 and inheriting a full fortune in jewels and real estate.

His plan to rescue Rachel turn into a desperate attempt to save himself and his wealth as Philip suddenly becomes ill with an unexplained sickness. Is she poisoning him, too? Did she actually murder his guardian? Does she have another husband in Italy to whom she sends money? Sometimes it seems that way and sometimes it doesn’t.

No Concrete Answers

This is not a film that provides concrete answers. Much like its movie poster that features Rachel’s face shrouded by a black widow’s veil, the film’s mysteries are never fully revealed, which leaves the viewer to form his or her own conclusions based on the facts presented, patterns of behavior, and subtle innuendos.

Claflin convincing plays the innocent young man who is easily manipulated by the slightest touch of a feminine hand. Weisz’s fragile beauty seems less suited to her role as the enigmatic cousin, alluring enough to make nearly any man fall in love with her. Even so, production values in this period piece come together nicely. The costumes, landscapes, and candle-lit interiors provide a rich backdrop to the story that intrigues, but never truly thrills.

My Cousin Rachel

  • An Englishman on the brink of inheriting a fortune falls in love with a mysterious woman who may have murdered his guardian.
  • Stars: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Poppy Lee Friar, Andrew Knott, Andrew Havill
  • Director: Roger Michell
  • Genre: Mystery Drama
  • Run Time: 146 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and brief strong language)

The Last Word – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

If you had the money and power to hire your own newspaper obituary writer while you were still living, would you do it? For wealthy control freak, Harriet Lauler (Shirley MacLaine), there’s no hesitation in making the decision. Only Harriet gets the last word on how she will be posthumously remembered in print.

Shirley MacLaine stars in The Last Word. Photo copyright 2017 Bleecker Street Media.

The former successful advertising executive has always been concerned about public image. That was her specialty, after all, until she was fired from her own advertising agency for a disastrous temper tantrum in front of clients. Universally despised – though respected for her intelligence and professional achievements – Harriet has no friends or loved ones in her old age.

Rewriting Her Life Story

Realizing she may end up with a generic obituary, she bulldozes her way into the local newspaper office where she still has enough clout to get the editor to bow to her will. Harriet coerces him into assigning young obituary writer, Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried) to the case – against Anne’s wishes, of course.

Harriet’s research reveals that a memorable obituary needs to cover specific areas of one’s life, so she’s determined to re-write her life story at this late stage. Specifically, she wants to mend fences with her estranged daughter (Anne Heche) and ex-husband (Philip Baker Hall), re-gain the respect of her co-workers, perform charity work with an at-risk minority, and be remembered for a “wild card,” that is, some random act that helps identify her quirkiness.

Overly Familiar Stereotypes

What begins as the stereotypical wide-eyed youth forced into a close relationship with a grouchy old person turns into another stereotype: the interaction between young and old causes the heart-of-gold beneath Harriet’s rough exterior to emerge, and in turn change Anne’s life for the better. Woven into the script are a romance between Anne and an independent radio station manager (Thomas Sadoski), (enabled by Harriet, naturally), and a sassy young black girl (AnnJewel Lee Dixon) whom Harriet mentors.

Though much of the storyline and characters feel overly familiar, MacLaine stamps the movie with her own unique mark. She rises above the material to find the humanity in her larger-than-life character. The others are not quite as successful: The idealistic young writer stuck cranking out obituaries, the foul-mouthed at-risk minority youth who changes almost instantaneously into a good kid, and the handsome single radio station manager just waiting for the love of his life to walk through the door are shallow stereotypes without depth or weight. The script by Stuart Ross Fink provides a few laughs, but most viewers likely will not remember anything about this movie beyond MacLaine’s powerful performance.

 The Last Word

  • A wealthy elderly woman hires a newspaper obituary writer to memorialize her while she’s still alive.
  • Stars: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, AnnJewel Lee Dixon, Thomas Sadoski, Philip Baker Hall, Tom Everett Scott, Joel Murray, Anne Heche
  • Director: Mark Pellington
  • Genre: Comedy/Drama
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for language)

Other Films with Shirley MacLaine



The Ottoman Lieutenant – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

A young nurse risks her life and reputation by following her heart in this romantic adventure set in 1914 in the Ottoman Empire during the early days of World War I.

Love triangle in The Ottoman Lieutenant. Photo copyright 2016 Paladin.

Idealistic 22-year-old Lillie Rowe (Hera Hilmar) leads a comfortable life with her wealthy family in Philadelphia, caring for the sick and injured, which she believes to be her calling in life. One day, she meets Jude Gresham (Josh Hartnett), a passionate young doctor who lectures at a local fundraising event about the impoverished medical mission where he works in Van, a small village in Anatolia in the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire. Wanting to change the world, Lillie defies her parents by making arrangements to move to the mission along with a vehicle of medical supplies.

War is Imminent

Fresh off the ship, Lillie suffers from culture shock. Men and women are segregated; her head must be covered while visiting the mosque; and roving bandits are considered local heroes. Aiding her acclimation and serving as her unwilling guide, the handsome Lieutenant Ismail Veli (Michiel Huisman) takes her to the remote mission, warning her along the way about an imminent war and the danger she may face. Despite bandits stealing her medical supplies, Lillie is determined to help the medical unit. Once she arrives at the hospital, Jude and the mission’s founder, Dr. Garrett Woodruff (the always wonderful Ben Kingsley), also encourage her to go back home immediately.

Nevertheless, Lillie stays to help tend to the assortment of patients who find their way to the mission, whatever their age, nationality, or alliance. As Jude’s affection for Lillie becomes increasingly apparent, her mutual attraction to the Lieutenant cannot be denied. Ismail serves as her guide again for another errand, and they meet on occasion for personal time together, as well. As with most love triangles, jealousy grows until a private little war becomes inevitable amidst the war-time backdrop.

Lillie’s Story

There’s much to enjoy about this film, such as the exotic locations shot in Turkey, the life-or-death immediacy of the hospital work, the wartime action scenes, and the forbidden love story at its core. However, cliches are imbedded within the story, and it’s often easy to predict what scene is coming next. For example, based on the initial confrontation between Jude and Ismail, we can predict that at some point Jude will have to overcome his obvious jealousy and rage in an attempt to save Ismail’s life.

Although the film’s title refers to Ismail, it’s really Lillie’s story. She says she wants to change the world, but, in fact, the world changes her. In an epic tale during a war not often explored in the movies, The Ottoman Lieutenant shows us why and how those changes occur.

The Ottoman Lieutenant

  • An American nurse and a Turkish officer fall in love during the early days of World War I in the eastern part of the Ottoman Empire.
  • Stars: Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley, Haluk Bilginer, Affif Ben Badra
  • Director: Joseph Ruben
  • Genre: War Drama/Romance
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: R (for some war violence)

Other Films and Television Series with Michiel Huisman


Table 19 – Movie Review

By Leslie C. Halpern

The bride placed this table of misfits in the back of the hotel ballroom to keep them away from the bridal party and out of the limelight, but some personalities just can’t be suppressed.

Copyright 2017 Fox Searchlight Pictures

These particular personalities revolve around ex-maid of honor Eloise (Anna Kendrick) a young woman whose boyfriend (and the best man/brother of the bride) Teddy (Wyatt Russell) broke up with her by text after a two-year romance. The other motley tablemates consist of the always-awkward Walter (Stephen Merchant), recently released from prison and living in a halfway house, and the bride’s former nanny, Jo (June Quibb), a clueless old-timer who thinks she’s at a special table for treasured guests. Completing the group are a relentlessly horny high schooler (Tony Revolori) and a bickering married couple (Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow) who do business with the bride’s father.

Their Lowly Status at Table 19

In case the group has any doubts, Eloise – quick to speak before she thinks – immediately informs them of their lowly status at the reception and of her own situation as the former insider who’s now an outcast. She passionately kisses a handsome stranger, freaks out when Teddy makes a toast, and vomits into a napkin. Few actresses could make it through scenes like this without losing the audience’s sympathy, but Kendrick (The Hollars) manages to stay likable.

On the other hand, Teddy and his “new” girlfriend (Amanda Crew as his first love) are far less likable. He’s a shaggy, ill-spoken screw-up who reunites with his previous girlfriend – a mean-spirited shrew – at the earliest opportunity. This immature pair actually appears to be better suited to each other than Eloise and Teddy. At least it seems that way for most of the movie until a relatively unimportant detail proves otherwise. A big dramatic scene between Eloise and Teddy as the wedding party prepares to leave for a nighttime cruise excursion feels contrived and unnatural, with uncomfortable dialogue to go with it.

Hidden Similarities

The other warring couple (played by Robinson and Kudrow) has much better lines that actually sound like things people say to each other. Though snarky and unhappy, they reveal real emotion as they hint at the long-felt disappointment in their marriage and the dream of rekindling their lost love. By far not their most challenging roles, Robinson and Kudrow add much-needed depth and authenticity to the movie.

In a script co-written by the Duplass brothers (Jay and Mark), the story brings together people who have nothing in common on the surface – apart from their total disregard by the bridal couple. However, as the movie progresses, similarities underneath the quirks begin to emerge. The group from table 19 leaves the ballroom together, confident their presence will not be missed, and head for Jo’s room in the hotel where her pot is stashed. They bond over shared tales of woe, a ruined wedding cake, and several pratfalls (clearly intended to provide humor the script often lacks).

Though containing a few good laughs, this movie is mostly filled with the “potential” for comedy and a feel-good ending. Overall, Table 19 is a few utensils short of a place setting.

Table 19

  • After simultaneously getting dumped by her boyfriend and relieved of her duties as maid of honor at his sister’s wedding, Eloise attends the big event anyway and finds herself seated at a table of random undesirables near the back of the ballroom.
  • Stars: Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, June Quibb, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Amanda Crew, Wyatt Russell
  • Director: Jeffrey Blitz
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Run Time: 87 minutes
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity)

Other Films With Anna Kendrick