Rider (R) *****
Let me start by saying this is a remarkable film for many reasons, most of all the story. It is the story of a young man, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) who was a rodeo rider until suffering a near-fatal fall. We meet him as he is delicately removing a dozen or so staples from his surgical wound. Why he did this himself is not clear, but it may be part of the manhood exercises he performs throughout the film: getting an involved tattoo on his back, going back to the rodeo, or exercising his true profession—horse trainer.
One of the most mysterious and wonderful scenes in the film is Brady starting to work with an unbroken horse in a stockade. Wordlessly, he works with the horse to calm him and train him to the bridle. Most remarkable in the scene is the horse. We see his eye in close focus and it is apparent that he, too, is playing himself; this is no fake training. The scene ends with Brady riding the horse, beautifully.
After he recovers this far, and against doctor’s orders, he starts to ride regularly again. But he has a lingering condition that makes things difficult: his right hand clenches unpredictably and at one point he finds himself in danger over it. He continues on at the urging of his father (Tim Jandreau), who spends most of his time drinking and gambling. His greatest support comes from his autistic sister, Lilly (Lilly Blackburn).
His loyalties extend to Lane Scott (Lane Scott) who has become paraplegic from a rodeo fall. Brady’s painful attempts to help Lane in his mental and physical rehabilitation are among the most moving scenes in the film.
By now you must have figured out that this is a film in which real people recreate the story of Brady’s life. He was, in fact, bucked from a horse and stepped on, causing the injuries we see on the screen. After diagnosis of his hand paralysis, doctors advise, “No more riding. No more rodeo.” Brady tries to go back to the rodeo in a moving scene in which he is forced to make the choice between life and death with his father and sister watching.
The film was made on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the Badlands of the Dakotas, and most of the cast consists of Sioux Indians. Chloé Zhao wrote, directed and produced the film after meeting Brady and hearing his story. Her firm, disciplined hand keeps the story from becoming melodramatic and produces restrained, sensitive acting from her amateur cast.
Most critics who have seen the film rate it as the best film in 2018. There are adequate reasons for that judgment. Those ages 15 and older should be able to handle the language and the events.
In most places the film is not in general release, so you have to look for it. Do so. It’s worth the effort. It is remarkable work.
Life of the Party (PG-13) *****
Five stars for being the first laugh-out-loud funny movie of the 2018 summer season. Melissa McCarthy as Deanna teamed with real-life husband and director Ben Falcone to write an inspired takeoff on Mom (or Dad) goes back to college tropes and succeeded wildly.
After 23 years of marriage, Deanna and Dan (Matt Walsh) are done. Dan has fallen in love with realtor Marcie (Julie Bowen) and, left with few alternatives, Dee goes back to college with her daughter, Maddie (Molly Gordon), and an instant group of sorority sisters who eventually make Dee an honorary member (and dub her “Dee Rock”). She is assigned a roommate, Leonor who is hysterically played dead-pan by Heidi Gardner, and finds a boyfriend less than half her age, Jack (Luke Benward). Soon Jack and Dee are having it off in the stacks of the library and she’s telling her daughter about her “vagoogle.” You can guess what that is, but the script gets good mileage out of the gag. In fact, the mileage rate for lines and themes in this movie is remarkably long and are all very funny.
Things get complicated when it turns out that Jack is related, in a way, to Dee’s ex. After an infusion of pot brownies, Dee wreaks havoc on the reception of Marcie and Dan.
Maya Rudolph as Dee’s BFF Christie almost steals the film, particularly in a spectacularly disjointed and riotous arbitration scene between Dan, Dee and Marcie. But this is McCarthy’s movie. For summer, this one is a winner. Enjoy.
Overboard (PG-13) ****
A charming, if not uproariously funny movie, even with all the slapstick in it. “Overboard” stars the ever-lovable Anna Faris as Kate and Eugenio Derbez as Leonardo, the rich snob who gets turned around. The turnaround is thanks to amnesia that allows Kate to pretend to be his wife. She hits him with three charming kids who do not look like him; Kate explains that he tested negative for paternity.
Eva Longoria is Kate’s BFF, Theresa, but she doesn’t have much to do. Leo goes to work on a building crew and is promptly dubbed “Lady Hands” for his lack of calluses, but he tries.
Banished to the barn to sleep, Leo laments, “I’m a poor, dark nobody who has to pee in a green bottle!” Before the amnesia, he was a millionaire playboy of Mexican descent.
But Leo is also a trooper and before you know it, while his real family is passing an urn full of hamburger off as his ashes, he’s becoming invaluable to Kate and especially her kids (Payton Lepinski, Hannah Nordberg and Alyvia Alyn Lind).
The script is almost half in Spanish and that adds to the emerging joke that it is almost parallel to the telenovelas that the Mexican cast is always watching. Amusing, relaxing but not screamingly funny—a fine diversion for a hot summer.
Bad Samaritan (R) ***
A technically decent thriller marred by a sloppy plot filled with coincidences that strain the imagination and a lead character trust baby, David Tennant as Cale Erendreich who doesn’t do much else but run his loud Maserati around the streets of Portland. This film starts as menacing and ends as totally over the top.
Irish Robert Sheehan as Sean plays the part of a conscience-stricken witness to an ongoing crime: the capture and imprisonment of a young woman, Katie (Kerry Condon, also Irish). Sean and his buddy, Derek (Carlito Olivero), have a tricky scam going. Ostensibly valet parkers for a fine Italian restaurant, they run off with the cars that look promising using their GPS and garage openers to break into the owners’ houses and steal whatever they wish. That works until a grim-faced Cale shows up in his Maserati.
Going to Cale’s high-tech smart house, Sean finds himself in trouble when Cale’s smartphone allows him to find out exactly what’s going on. In the meantime, Cale has kidnapped and encaged Katie. Believing she’s in danger and stricken by his conscience, Sean does everything he can to rescue her but neither Portland police nor the FBI believe him.
Cale starts damaging people who know Sean and turns out to be stark, raving mad as he eliminates folks who know Sean and goes to even further extremes. There are a lot of loose ends in the plot, as is usual, and the musical score does a lot of screaming as the coincidences increase to the point of impatience.
The target audience is largely teenage males, but even they may have seen this kind of thing too many times already. There are better choices this summer.
Breaking In (PG-13) **
In “A Quiet Place,” a recent box office surprise, a child is killed in the first scene, letting the audience know that no one is safe in this film. Maybe that would have worked in this routine thriller starring its producer, Gabrielle Union. After a cruel accident/murder to open the film, Shaun Russell (Union) and her two children flee in their Mercedes to a remote and huge “cabin” in Wisconsin. It’s huge by design: When the chase starts, as we know it will, there are plenty of rooms to enter, sweep with a pistol both sides and up, taking time from developing plot.
There really is no plot other than “catch Mom and kill kids after finding $4 million.” We finally discover that the money is linked to the dead guy at the start of the film but it takes a long time to discover where the safe is. Will the quartet of baddies let the family go after they get the money? Of course not. Shaun is, after all, as she is told by the leader of the gang, Eddie: “Just a mom at the mercy of nature.”
There is a relentless aspect of the plot that I felt came from seeing this same story oft-writ before. Shaun has just enough time to remind Eddie, “I’m just a mom” before his last efforts to wipe her out with a pistol armed with scores of bullets and no sign of a magazine.
Richard Cabral makes an excellent, though overdone villain with what he must have considered a deadly stare and lots of tats. One thing you can say for the gang is they’re very hard to kill. If endurance is your mark of a good movie, go. Otherwise there must be a good baseball game on TV.