Forgotten Gems: One False Move (****1/2) is the Promise of a Future

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One False Move – 1992

Director Carl Franklin
Screenplay Billy Bob Thornton, Tom Epperson
Starring Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach, Earl Billings, Jim Metzler

One False Move is now seen as somewhat of a jumping off point in the career of Billy Bob Thornton. It is here we saw his first foray into writing after a young career of playing under-achievers. At the time, it was viewed, rightly, as a sort of graduation to the big time for actor turned director Carl Franklin.

In the process we see some evidence of relative inexperience with perspective. The arrival of Ray and Pluto to the party at the start of the film is an example. Awkward dancing, people plopped in front of another view, back to awkward dancing. It’s in this first act, however that we see his true skill. Tasked with seeking a young child that has been left undetected and must be taken care of, we see the child found, standing, whimpering in a back room. This little boy seems to be doomed as the lens begins to focus on him. The moment we think the dam is about to burst on his young life, the imagery changes to halfway across the country, to a different kind of childhood experience. It is an unforgettable experience that never fails to bring strong emotions.

The story starts in Los Angeles, where Fantasia (Williams) is an accessory to a drug robbery and 6 murders. The killers are her boyfriend Ray (Thornton) and Pluto (Beach). Ray is a blunt object, who seems only to know about 30 words, but uses them often. Pluto is more deliberate and obviously intelligent. He is the one with the plans for the ill-gotten loot. When things start to go bad, Ray thinks immediately of the small sum of cash and Pluto reveals the shortsighted nature of his thinking. Fantasia wants to go back home, and her partners seem to be agreeable to that idea, after they achieve a few things on a cross-country trip.

Police in Los Angeles quickly determine the three as suspects, though, and they determine through evidence left behind where it is that Fantasia is headed. They head there first and discover the small town of Star City has a sheriff (Paxton) of boundless energy and seemingly questionable intelligence. The interplay between Sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon and his big city counterparts plays out differently than one would expect. Sure, Dixon is a good man who has a handle on what danger is for his part of the world. He seems to have little to no clue the horrors that are headed his way, though. And the fact that he hasn’t drawn his gun in 6 years doesn’t convince the L.A. cops that they want his help when the assailants arrive.

The contrast of the relationships of both sides of the law as the tension ratchets upon their pending convergence is handled expertly. The circumstances of the trio who are fleeing are such that we have sympathy for Fantasia, even as she descends from accomplice to full-fledged killer. It is a carefully layered evolution that never lets the viewer have the easy position, even as we move towards the conclusion.

Dixon is an equally complex character. Lingering looks give a hint to depth behind relatively innocent actions early on. As the moment draws near, we understand that the title of the movie plays a heavy role in a tragedy of Thomas Hardy-like proportions. This is the Bill Paxton performance, above all others, that made me a fan. Never before or since have I seen an actor who conveyed so much with his eyes.

There is a scene in a restaurant in the second act that brings every gift Paxton has to the fore. He stumbles across the Los Angeles policemen having a conversation over breakfast. That conversation is cruelly about him and their impressions of him as a true bumpkin of the highest order. Having made the mistake of confiding in one of the two earlier, that confidence is shattered, and he still has to work with these two. Everything shows in those eyes. And it isn’t even his best scene in the film.

Truly, this movie is Paxton’s finest two hours. He is shown in every light: a flawed hero yet to be tested. He’s doubted by those he admires, takes those who value him for granted. He has greatness in him, and secrets in his past that could destroy everything. Franklin is smart enough to realize that as good as the script is, Paxton is the best interpreter of the message Thornton and Epperson are trying to convey.

The script is a great one. The border of right and wrong is drawn obviously between factions, when in truth there is a lot of gray.

A few of the film’s drawbacks:

  • The limited variety of curse words (“God Damn It!” is used numerous times).
  • There are times when you can’t tell the difference between the person holding a VHS camera’s angle and that of the cinematographer.
  • The actors, even Billy Bob, just aren’t that good.

Overall, the film is a story that transcends time.  As Levon Helm stated in The Band’s remake of Springsteen’s Atlantic City, “There’s winners and there’s losers / And I’m south of the line…” One False Move shows us how the pieces move on either side of that line.

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Puss in Boots rises well above the tired Shrek dreck

Puss In Boots – 2011

Directed by Chris Miller
Starring the voices of Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek,  Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton, Amy Sedaris, Zeus Mendoza, Constance Marie, Guillermo Del Toro, Bob Joles, Mike Mitchell
Screenplay by Tom Wheeler, Will Davies, Brian Lynch

Having been weary of Shrek for some time, a movie based on the Puss In Boots character is still an intriguing premise.  Puss was the only good thing about Shrek 2, and since then the only character worth revisiting in each successive film.  The best thing they could to would be to start mining other faerie tales with the offshoot movie, instead of trying to use “hip” modern references, which so aged the Shrek series.  Beyond that, it remained to be seen whether the movie could survive expanding such an intriguing supporting character.

Those eyes...

Well, they succeeded, for the most part.  The character Puss (Banderas) is smart without being a genius, intriguing without being overdone, and more than a pair of adorable eyes with a sharp retinue of pads, paws and claws.  Giving him an erstwhile partnership with Humpty Dumpty (Galifianakis) was an inspired move, giving a back story that provides depth to both.  Additionally, the insertion of a worthy companion in Kitty Softpaws (Hayek), matching him in guile and showing interest without being too much of what we’ve seen before.  The usage of Jack and Jill, (Thornton and Sedaris) was somewhat underinspired, but Jack “Andy” Beanstalk (Mitchell) makes a welcome and clever appearance.

Kitty Softpaws: Not quite as impressed with him as he is with himself.

The animation was superior, but this is to be expected from Dreamworks by now.  As crisp as Kung Fu Panda 2 and How To Train Your Dragon, with a pallet of vibrant green and soft brown hues, there are plenty of opportunities for 3D without making watching it a chore.  At this point, its style points that count, and Puss In Boots has style to spare.  Some of this is due to the influence of Del Toro, who served as Producer and voice for the Constable.

When all is said and done, it’s a pretty skimpy tale.  There are opportunities aplenty to play on the habits of cats, and they hit a few of them here, like milk in a shot glass, cats chasing lights and the “litter box.”  Even better is the “ooh” kitty, who shows up to augment any tense situation.  The movie could have benefited from a few more.  It was good enough for my kids, though.  They just watched it 3 times.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Faster: In which The Rock is really pissed at a minimal rate of speed.

Faster – 2010

Directed by George Tillman, Jr.

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thorton, Carla Gugino, Tom Berenger, Moon Bloodgood, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Mike Epps

Written by Joe and Tony Gayton

There is a prologue to the movie Faster in which Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is getting out of prison.  He looks real hard at a picture of himself with another person, which, one could guess, is his brother.  He looks really steamed for a guy getting out of prison.  He is marched into the Warden’s (Berenger) office.  The Warden gives him a long list of helpful information about support he can get outside the bars.  Johnson says nothing.  The Warden asks if there are any more questions that he can answer.  Johnson finally says he just wants to know the direction of the door.  Then, at said door, The Rock looks out on the barren lands surrounding the prison.  No one is coming to pick him up.  So he starts to run.  On foot.  What an ironically bad way to start a movie called Faster.

Johnson, playing Driver, literally named getaway driver for a bank robbery for which he got nabbed and served 10 years.  Why and how is for you to find out, as he goes down the list of those who wronged him and shoots ’em, stabs them and sometimes shoots them again.  Some of these guys need killing.  There’s a telemarketer (hate those guys), a pedophile (really hate those guys) and a bouncer (normally don’t hate those guys, but he’s on the list, so…).

The list is one obtained from a mysterious guy with a big bouncer near the beginning of the film.  How he obtained the list is irrelevant, because we aren’t double checking the research here.  Like Vasquez said:

“I only need to know one thing: Where they are.”

People outside of the list include Billy Bob Thorton, as the crooked cop,  Carla Gugino as the good cop and Oliver Jackson-Cohen as the killer.  Calling anyone “The Killer” in a movie like this is kind of redundant, as everyone seems to have more than one notch on their belt.

I could list out the clichés one by one, express a measure of disappointment that an actor with the talent (yes, talent) of Johnson keeps getting tied into below average productions made by directors like Tillman, Jr. who have done better work (the Barbershop films).  What good would it do.  There are many movies made like this every season.  They serve the same purpose for men as any of the films of Anne Fletcher (Step Up, 27 Dresses, The Proposal) would do for women.   I knew this movie was trash before I picked it up, watched it all the way through, and I enjoyed it as such.

Among the highlights of this effort is the performance of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as a Preacher with a past (like there ever is a preacher without a past).  The scene between he and the Driver is almost better than the film deserves, going a long way to redeeming them both.  I do like the hospital scene for its completeness, mixed with the back and forth phone calls between a son and his father’s killer.  I sincerely wish Gugino had more of a presence in the film, as too much Billy Bob is never as good a thing as he thinks it is.

I am not sure how many more movies like this Johnson will make before he finds the director to utilize his considerable talent as well as mitigate his action hero size.  His eyes are remarkably revealing when compared to, say, Charles Bronson.  If his gamble with Richard Kelly on Southland Tales  would have worked, he might be on his way to Samuel L. Jackson territory.  For now, he will mix in sequels to block busters with action trash and the occasional experiment.  Here’s hoping he makes it.

By the end of the film, after a gunfight, my wife asked me why they called the movie Faster.  I couldn’t tell her.  Maybe they were trying to cash in on the title of his next film.