True Story about a True Story

James Franco as accused killer Christian Longo
James Franco as accused killer Christian Longo

Rated R

1 hour 40 minutes
Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Cast: James Franco, Jonah Hill, Felicity Jones
Writers: Michael Finkel (memoir,) Ruper Goold

Jonah Hill as former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel
Jonah Hill as former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel

“True Story” is a film based on just that. The true story of former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel. He was fired in 2002 for bending the truth in a story he wrote on child slavery in African. Instead of telling the story of all five slaves he interviewed, he melded their experiences, creating one slave from the five stories. When the truth was revealed Finkel was fired.

No other papers, no other magazines would hire him. Then the really bizarre happened. Christian Longo – an Oregon father accused of killing his wife and three kids – fled to Mexico using Michael Finkel’s identity. When Finkel finds out he meets with the accused killer and an awkward friendship develops. Finkel sees it as the story of a lifetime and an opportunity to get back into journalism. Christian Longo sees it as an opportunity to get someone to tell his side of the story, someone who already knows how to bend the truth. Is it a relationship full of lies or a chance at a fresh start? Either way is doesn’t set well with Jill Barker, Finkel’s girlfriend.

James Franco plays accused killer Christian Longo. Jonah Hill plays journalist Michael Finkel – it’s a third time the two have worked together. First in Knocked Up and again in This is the End. Both much lighter fare than a drama, mystery, thriller. Felicity Jones plays Jill Barker and while her character comes off as quiet and calm, she’s clearly the strongest person of the three, both the character and the actress. It felt like Franco was working a little too hard to convince the audience that he was a killer. Jonah Hill’s best acting came in the courtroom scenes toward the end of film. Quite powerful really. Jones created a character from very few lines but those she had were convincing, compelling and totally believable.
“True Story” is only part of the true story. Christian Longo is still in prison and still communicating with Michael Finkel. To this day Longo calls Finkel on the first Sunday of every month. And Finkel apparently always takes his call. He told a New York Times reporter recently that he “was way too emotionally involved in this story, and I want to see it play through.” “Despite the fact he’s a sociopath and a quadruple murderer, Long is also insanely perception and eloquent, and his descriptive abilities are amazing. So yes, I pick up the phone. I’m a journalist.”
I like films based on truth. And I really like this one because it’s about a real journalist, smart, high-ranking and competitive. No matter how hard a reporter tries, they are human. All of us learn, absorb and tell stories based on our personal filter – how we were raised, what motivates us, our personality traits, our personal experiences. There isn’t any writer who can 100-percent of the time be completely neutral, non-judgmental, emotionless. We all see life differently, we all make mistakes and sometimes get caught.

Arruga! – 0
Fidget Factor – 0
Age Range – 16 and up
Overall Grade – B +

“The Longest Ride”: A Nostalgic Journey

PG-13
139 minutes
Drama, Romance

Cast: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda, Jack Huston, Oona Chaplin

Young love.
Young love.

“The Longest Ride” is two stories from two different eras that become connected by fate. Professional Bull Rider, Luke Collins’ (Scott Eastwood) career has been impressive though not without serious injuries. Getting back on a bull is a major accomplishment. Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) is an art history major at Wake Forest with an internship waiting upon graduation in New York. So when the two meet and seemingly share a genuine connection, they’re fearful to cultivate the relationship because they come from two very different places, heading down two very different paths. Then by fate they’re faced with a life-saving emergency when they pull an old man from a burning car.

longestrideiraruth

He’s Ira Levinson (Alan Alda.) A widow and a curmudgeon whose long hospital stay becomes more pleasant only with Sophia’s visits. Since his failing eyesight prevents him from reading, she visits nearly every today to read to him all the personal letters he wrote his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin) through their many years of marriage from the first time Ira (Jack Huston) laid eyes on her.

No relationship is perfect and all love requires sacrifice. But does that mean a cowboy has to settle by leaving his ranch for the city? Or that an art history lover has to stay stuck in rural America with no place to practice her passion? Or could there be another way?

Nicholas Sparks seems to often find a way to work it out. And perhaps that’s why women fall for his stories – whether paperback or movies – Sparks knows how to appeal to our gender. His writing may not be award winning but it sure sells novels and pulls women to theaters.  Perhaps it’s because he provides hope that even when it seems there’s no way imaginable for two unlikely loves to stay together, a believable answer seems to appear.

All eyes are on Scott Eastwood, son of Clint, who stars in this dramatic love story. Can the model he act? Sure. Does he look like his dad? Yes, but better. Does he handle his own stunts, in this case, bull riding? No. Well, at least after the bull leaves the gate. He left up to the professionals those famous 8-seconds bull riders are required to “hold on.”

“The Longest Ride” is to women this weekend what “Furious 7” was to men last weekend. It reminds us of our youth, those feelings of our first serious love, the romantic dance in our early 20’s when some hot guy clearly has feelings for us. Could he be THE one? Just like Ira was THE one for his wife Ruth?

The script is simple so don’t expect any academy award wins out of this film. But it’s well shot, well acted, and it left this middle-aged woman reaching for her tissues, even with the snickering row of film critics sitting behind me.  It also kept me in suspense: how would it end?  Was there a way for this young couple to end up together?  Let the critics laugh, I don’t care. It was fun remembering the sense of overwhelming love that comes with a first love. It’s remembering how I felt when I first really fell in love. It’s fun to remember a time when passion came at every turn,  when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other, when we each wondered how if ever we’d be able to be a permanent couple. And how trying times and sacrifice can be the best thing that ever happened to a relationship.

So ladies – hold your head high, grab a few kleenex and if the man you first fell in love with isn’t available to go see this one, grab a girlfriend you aren’t embarrassed to cry around.

Arruga! – 0

Fidget Factor – 0

Age Range – 13 and up

Overall Grade – B

I’m kind of mad about “Furious 7”

 

THE FRANCHISE FANS
Yes. I’m THAT person who has never seen a Fast & Furious flick until now. I thought going in that I had seen at least one of them. Nope. It was clear in the first 30 minutes when I realized everyone on screen clearly knew one another, that they’d been hanging out for several years and I was clearly the new kid in the room. I had no idea who Dom (Vin Diesel) was or Deckard (Jason Statham) was or Letty (Michelle Rodriguez)  or Mia (Jordana Brewster.)  I visually recognized these actors along with Dwayne Johnson and Kurt Russell. But I certainly didn’t understand whose funeral they were attending. I knew who Brian was because I read the news. Paul Walker’s untimely death half way through filming nearly put the brakes on this 7th in the franchise. But it didn’t.  Brian lives on.

LET’S CUT RIGHT TO THE ENDING
Through the amazing technology of computer generated graphics and the love and generosity of Paul’s brothers the 7th in the series was completed. Once the cast had time to mourn his death in 2013, it was decided to reorganize the script, and finish the project by super imposing Paul’s face over his brothers’ who clearly sound a LOT like their late brother. With great taste, film maker James Wan (known for horror films not action films) and writers Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson came up with an ending that in no way resembles the real life ending of Paul Walker – a fiery car crash.

HOW TO SHOOT CARS FALLING FROM THE SKY?                         VERY CAREFULLY
It doesn’t take long to understand that the hard core Fast & Furious fans haven’t been showing up all these years for the story. They’ve been showing up for the very fast cars. Suped up cars have never done much for me. Muscle cars and muscle men have never been my thing. So the revving of engines, screeching of tires and over the top RPMs did little to keep my attention. I impatiently waited for THE scene – cars falling out of airplanes. We had all seen it in the trailers and wanted to find out how it turned out. The free-fall worked for me and I’m sure the sky divers will be happy to know it was worth it. When real cars were shoved out the back of a cargo plane photographers were airborne filming the cars while trying to dodge the huge objects falling from the sky. Hope they were paid extra that day! For the most part the scene worked though I didn’t believe any vehicle with that speed could ever manage such a hard landing and still race through a forest without hitting a tree!  Come on!

TRYING TO SEE IT AS THE TANK HALF FULL                                                  I also didn’t believe a sports car could jump from one building to another AND another and stay in tact. I know. It’s the movies. The Fast & Furious movies and I’m not part of the club. But for those who will be coaxed into going, to spending their hard earned cash on this film plus the cost of popcorn and a drink, know that it’s hard to track, it’s short on humor (you won’t get the jokes) and it’s a bunch of high speed cars, crashes, and stunts with little time for heart and emotion between a bunch of people I doubt you’ll feel any closer to when it’s all over. Except one. And that’s because YOU have heart and emotion. God rest your soul Paul Walker.

Arruga! – 0
Fidget Factor – 1  (137 minutes. Time I will never get back.)
Age Range – 13 and up
Overall Grade – C (But what do I know. I haven’t seen the other six in the franchise either.)