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Review of MOANA (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A/A-
Entire family: Yes
2016, 107 min., Color
Animated adventure
Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements
Disney
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+/A-
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Moana was an Academy Award nominee (Best Animated Feature, Best Song) that also made waves because of Disney’s depiction of tattoos that some said were culturally insensitive. I won’t wade into those waters, because, typical of Disney, this full-length animated feature reflects the studio’s good intentions through otherwise careful research and, with the exception of Dwayne Johnson, the casting of Pacific islanders in lead roles. Ultimately, Moana is more celebratory of a culture and its people than it is exploitive. But let me say right away, lest the boys in your family think this is another cookie-cutter princess movie, far from it: Moana is an adventure film, and for the first time in forever there’s no inkling the princess actually cares that the opposite sex exists.

The culture is Ancient Polynesia, and the treatment recalls a number of Disney films. When Moana’s father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), keeps her from going out into the water that surrounds their island, it’s hard not to think of Ariel and the strict father who forbade her to leave her watery world to explore the land of humans. When Gramma Tala (Rachel House) coaxes her to follow her destiny to find the demigod Maui (Johnson) and sail with him to return a mystical relic, it’s hard not to think of the grandmother in Mulan or Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas. Given that Maui’s tattoos come alive and help with the narration, it’s also hard not to think of that other Disneyfied demigod, Hercules, and the artwork on the classical vase that functioned the same way. Then too, Disney just acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise, and there’s a little Yoda in Gramma Tala and a lot of Empire Strikes Back in a scene when Moana is advised to go deep inside a cave to discover who she really is.

Disney animators have a history of making subtle references to other House of Mouse films, but they do so more conspicuously in Moana. At one point, shape-shifting Maui goes through a series of animal transformations, and darned if one of them isn’t the reindeer Sven from Frozen. In another sequence, when Moana protests, “I am not a princess,” Maui deadpans, “If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” If you watch the end credits you’ll also see the giant scavenger crab Tamatoa saying, “If my name was Sebastian and I had a cool Jamaican accent, you’d totally help me.”

When you can allude to yourself you know you’re part of America’s cultural fabric. But the plot of this adventure will also remind indie film lovers of Whale Rider, the 2002 live-action story of a young Maori girl who takes to the sea to fulfill her destiny to become her people’s leader. Though being called by the Ocean to return a sacred relic isn’t exactly commonplace, young viewers—heck, all viewers—can certainly identify with a sense of purpose and the determination to accomplish a goal. Moana doesn’t leave home because she’s spiteful or rebellious. She does it for the greater good, and that kind of altruism is getting harder and harder to find.

Clements and Musker are Baby Boomers who grew up watching classic mythical adventures like Jason and the Argonauts, and Moana has that kind of feel. When Maui and Moana have to sail past the lava demon Te Kä they were obviously inspired by the scene in which Jason had to navigate past the Colossus of Rhodes—only they kicked it up about a hundred notches to make it much more exciting. But like Huck and Jim rafting down the Mississippi in Twain’s classic adventure, it’s what Moana and Maui learn interacting with each other during the journey that’s also a big part of the story.

Though the Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Opetaia Foa’i music helps elevate the film, the songs aren’t as singable and music takes a backseat to the visuals. It’s the first time that directors Ron Clements and John Musker (The Little Mermaid) went with all-CGI animation, and the results are spectacular, with water taken to new heights and CGI animated figures looking less like 3D claymation models and more like 2D figures with incredible depth. I didn’t think it possible, but in terms of looks, Moana finds a comfortable middle ground between traditional animation and 3D CGI animation. It’s a style of animation that’s really engaging, with a story that features Disney’s strongest female hero to date.

Language: Nothing objectionable
Sex: n/a
Violence: One battle with coconut warriors and the big battle with the lava monster, who is so frightening your little ones may need to be hugged throughout the sequence–but no more frightening than the Maleficent dragon scene in the animated Sleeping Beauty
Adult situations: There is peril throughout in this journey, but comic relief courtesy of a stowaway chicken that provides plenty of LOL moments
Takeaway: Moana is a film that even boys will like, and a hero that proves, once and hopefully for all, that girls can succeed on their own.

EVELYN (Blu-ray)

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evelyncoverGrade: B
2002, 95 min., Color
Olive Films
Drama
Rated PG for thematic material and language
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS 5.1 Surround
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

I’m guessing that more than a few people will notice that Evelyn is a film about an Irish father trying to gain custody of his kids and immediately think of Kramer vs. Kramer. How in the world is that appropriate for family viewing? Well, the 1979 Academy Award-winning picture starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep isn’t appropriate, unless you think it’s character building for children to watch parents say and do some pretty nasty things to each other while tugging at their offspring as if they were a wishbone. But Evelyn isn’t like that at all. To continue the analogy, it’s more like Kramer vs. the Government.

Based on a real 1955 custody case that had an entire nation hanging on the decision, Evelyn stars Pierce Brosnan in a very un-Bondlike role. He plays Desmond Doyle, an out-of-work Irishman evelynscreen2who sings in his father’s band and drinks a little too much. But it’s clear that he has a good heart and he loves his children. He’s crushed when his wife (and their mother) runs off to Australia with another man, and Irish law at the time forbade children from being raised by a single parent. The children are removed from the home and placed in a Roman Catholic orphanage, where neglect and abuse are as common as the priest scandals that have dominated the headlines in recent years. Viewers soon discover that the orphanages are full of faux orphans—children taken away from a single parent who still loves them dearly and wishes to care for them.

Most parents give up, the film’s narrative tells us. It is, after all, Irish law. But not Desmond Doyle. After a few aborted attempts to get his children illegally, he attracts the attention of a woman working extra hours as a bartender to help pay for her education. She has a brother (Stephen Rea) who might be able to help him. And a would-be suitor from America (Aidan Quinn) who just happens to be a barrister. Before long, they’ve attracted the interest of another lawyer who moonlights as a sports announcer (Alan Bates). Suddenly, Doyle isn’t just a single father fighting the system in futility. He’s part of a team that’s trying to establish a new precedent in Irish law—one that’s fairer to families.

evelynscreen1The first third of this film can seem like a downer, but the performances are absorbing and in no time at all it takes an inspirational, feel-good turn. You find yourself quickly pulling for Doyle and Evelyn and his two boys, who apparently aren’t important enough to be included in the title, and as you root for them and realize that people all over Ireland were doing the same back in 1955, the film takes on a life of its own. Evelyn (Sophie Vavasseur, Becoming Jane) even has an inspirational speech, and that won’t escape the notice of young viewers. But Hollywood being Hollywood, the truth is stretched to accommodate such feel-good moments. If you dip into historical accounts or even go back as far as the film’s 2003 release, you’ll find that abuse survivors weren’t pleased with the film. Then again, if they were, I probably wouldn’t be reviewing it for Family Home Theater.

Evelyn is capably directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) from a screenplay written by Paul Pender (The Bogie Man).

Language: Fewer than a dozen lesser obscenities
Sex: Just one very subtle joke about sex
Violence: A drunken Desmond has a bout with a priest
Adult situations: Desmond is no saint, and there is plenty of smoking and drinking
Takeaway: Hollywood may have given this the feel-good treatment, but there’s still an argument to be made for hopefulness and heartwarming cinema

PANTHER GIRL OF THE KONGO (Blu-ray)

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panthergirlcover

Grade:  C+/C
Entire family:  Yes (with caveat)
1954, 168 min. (12 episodes), Black-and-White
Olive Films
Adventure
Not rated (would be PG for fighting and “monsters”)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio:  Mono
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

Old-time serials were shown in theaters in weekly installments as a way of getting people to return to the movies frequently, and the 13-20 minute episodes were especially popular with children. Serials were all about the plot, and the premise behind Panther Girl of the Kongo—a 1955 12-episode black-and-white serial from Republic Pictures—was a doozy:

A mad scientist (albeit a rather understated and sedate one) has set up a lab in the Kongo and is using all his test tubes and beakers to distill jugs of super growth hormones that he’s feeding to crayfish. He’s breeding giant “claw monsters” in an attempt to scare everyone out of the area so he and his two garden-variety henchmen can access secret diamond mines. That means getting rid of Jean Evans, whose work for an international wildlife foundation is less clear than the title the “natives” have bestowed upon her: Panther Girl. She shoots, she swings through the trees on vines like Tarzan, and she rides atop an elephant, all while wearing a mini-skirt outfit that looks straight out of Robin Hood.

The Panther Girl also faints a lot, as women in old-time serials were expected to do, even as the medium was drying up in the mid-fifties. Or she’s knocked silly by such things as hitting her head on a couch cushion, leaving the real fighting to her big-game hunting friend, Larry Sanders (Myron Healey).

panthergirlscreen1Phyllis Coates plays the Panther Girl, and if she looks familiar, Coates played opposite George Reeves in the first 26 episodes of the popular TV series The Adventures of Superman. Before that, she appeared in a string of western movies and TV shows (including four episodes of The Cisco Kid) before first stepping onto a jungle set in 1953 when she co-starred with Clayton Moore (who would go on to play TV’s Lone Ranger) in Jungle Drums of Africa, a 12-episode black-and-white serial from Republic Pictures.

Those connections may delight Grandma and Grandpa, but the rest of the family will smile mostly because of the B-movie conventions that are unintentionally funny by today’s standards. An African tribesman carries a quiver of arrows that have the same look as North American Indians, and one African “native” speaks like the Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto (“Me get Bwana”) while the chief sounds as if he attended Oxford and says things like “Don’t mention it,” when thanked. This is a low-budget, man-in-a-gorilla-suit, plot-driven series, and studios just weren’t that concerned about verisimilitude. The attack of a panther is a particularly amusing reflection of low-budget filmmaking. All 12 episodes cost under $175,000 to make, and as was customary the studio reused stock footage (from Jungle Girl, an earlier serial), and the action itself never seems to match the hyperbole of the posters or chapter titles:

  • “The Claw Monster”
  • “Jungle Ambush”
  • “The Killer Beast”
  • “Sands of Doom”
  • “Test of Terror”
  • “High Peril”
  • “Double Trap”
  • “Crater of Flame”
  • “River of Death”
  • “Blasted Evidence”
  • “Double Danger”
  • “House of Doom”

panthergirlscreen2Even if children in the ‘50s didn’t know that Africa doesn’t have any crayfish, they probably realized that the giant claw coming out of a wooden crate would have to belong to a creature much larger than could fit inside. After all, it did look fake, and more importantly, it didn’t matter. Serials were just for fun, and the hokiness was all part of it. Even now, with the hokiness multiplied because of the sophistication of today’s audiences, the serials are still fun if family members turn it into a participatory event and crack jokes during playback.

That’s what our family did, and it’s fun for about three episodes . . . then it starts to get old because you’re joking about some of the same things. Panther Girl of the Kongo is best watched the way it was originally intended: as a weekly teaser before the main feature. It can be a fun idea for today’s families to start a serial tradition and tack on 15 minutes to the movie of the week. Panther Girl may not be as solid as Flash Gordon or even Commando Cody, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny in spots and a good one for savoring serial hokiness and Hollywood’s love of monsters and exotica.

Bottom line:  It’s silly, it’s fake-looking, and it’s unintentionally funny. But Panther Girl is a fun serial to watch, and a representative one at that. One caveat:  every jungle film coming out of Hollywood in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s was racist, and this one is no exception. “Native” warriors run spooked and wide-eyed from danger, they are talked down to by the whites, and their depiction feeds into all the negative stereotypes. At least, unlike some of the Tarzan movies, they used African American actors for most of the parts.

SEASONS (2015) (DVD)

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seasonsGrade: B+/B
Entire family: No
2015, 96 min., Color
Music Box Films
Rated PG for thematic elements and related images
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: French Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B
Trailer
Amazon link

Some people watch nature documentaries to learn about animals: their names, diets, habits, range, and habitats. But if it’s detailed knowledge you seek, you won’t find it in Seasons, a 2015 nature film from directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud (Winged Migration, Disney’s Oceans). Seasons is more of an art-house film than it is an informational documentary, a lyric pro-environmental political statement rather than matter-of-factual nature guide.

“The Golden Age of the forest is over,” a voiceover announces, and it doesn’t require much reading between the lines to understand that humans are responsible for the decline . . . and possible eventual extinction of the deep forest and all its inhabitants, who keep getting pushed more and more into unfamiliar, less hospitable habitats.

Seasons is a film that relies more on nature than narration to tell its story, and that’s good—since a French-language voiceover with English subtitles can be daunting for young viewers. Then again, given some of the footage, we’re probably talking about a film that’s suitable for age 10 and older anyway.

Since some animals are pursued and killed by predators—albeit in a manner that shows the least amount of graphic violence possible—you never really know which ones will survive the chase seasonsscreen2and which ones won’t. It might traumatize horse lovers, for example, to see a feral herd chased by a pack of wolves and one horse cornered, especially since later we see how close those same wolves come to the perimeter of a human campground at night. Lovers of all things cute and cuddly will hold their collective breath as a Eurasian lynx tries to catch and eat the bounciest, slipperiest rodent on the planet, and cringe or avert their eyes when an owl swoops in on a cute hedgehog after the little guy gives away his position in the dark by chuffing in an attempt to dislodge a mosquito from his face. It’s the small things that sometimes matter most, and the two Jacques capture plenty of engrossing footage of such moments—some of which I haven’t seen before.

I’ve seen a ton of baby birds being fed by their moms, but with big spiders and recognizable insects? Not so much. I’ve seen plenty of birds still in the nest flapping their wings, but when different species are all shown doing the same thing, it starts to make sense that they’re trying to master “lift off” before they attempt their first flight. Though shots of the wolfpack and feral boars are pretty impressive, the best shots are actually the subtlest. In fact, this film’s strength is probably the sheer number of frames that are so artistic that they would make for one terrific nature calendar or series of blown-up photographic prints. In fall, for example, we’ve all seen leaves drop en masse, but how often do we get a ground-level shot of one leaf landing on the head of a tiny frog? And see that little guy’s reaction?

seasonsscreen1If your child is a nature lover, there’s a lot of great footage here to appreciate, though it does come as a shock to see humans enter this forest documentary around the 54-minute mark and then pop up several times afterwards. What’s more, the humans aren’t contemporary—they’re at first prehistoric, then time fast-forwarding takes us through the middle ages as well. Count me among those who prefer the silence of the first hour of film—no professorial voiceover, no barrage of facts, no spoken narrative, no attempt to make political statements via juxtaposition of images, just immersive footage of nature for viewers to absorb and interpret on their own. Watching this first hour reminded me of the cathedral-like silence of the forest when cross-country skiing and the only sound is the gentle swoosh of movement.

Which is to say, the first part of the film is superior to the rest, even if the political message is as subtly filmed as the predator kills. But like the deer whose head bobs and who we can hear bleating before it disappears behind a snowy ridge, the message is clear. It’s somewhat reassuring to know that nothing was staged so that animals were put in jeopardy and that “no animals were harmed” during the making of the movie. But while the lyric first portion is the film’s chief strength, the downside is that if you see an animal—an interesting bird diving in and out of a stream, say— and you wonder what it is, this film doesn’t tell you. You have to look it up on your own. Some parents will think that’s not a bad idea. Why force-feed data all the time? Let children look up the things that interest them the most. Just remember that if they are so inclined, look up European animals, as Seasons was filmed in France, Poland, and Norway.

QUEEN OF KATWE (Blu-ray)

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queenofkatwecoverGrade: A-/B+
Entire family: Yes (with a one-scene caveat)
2016, 124 min., Color
Disney
Rated PG for thematic elements, an accident scene, and some suggestive material
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes:  Blu-ray, Digital HD
Trailer
Amazon link

Queen of Katwe is a co-production of Walt Disney Pictures and ESPN Films, and it does have the road-to-success structure of a typical sports biopic. The difference is that the “sport” here is chess—that two-player brainy board game enjoyed worldwide. If that sounds nerdy or dull, it’s not. This is no Bobby Fischer story of a temperamental prodigy living a life of privilege. Queen of Katwe is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), an Ugandan girl who grew up in a slum known as Katwe. And it’s not just her story. There are many places to find inspiration in this wonderful little PG-rated film, which seems perfect for family viewing on so many levels.

queenofkatwescreen1Shot in Kampala, Uganda in the actual slums of Katwe, the film provides a detailed picture of life as it’s lived in a Third World country . . . and in a section that’s impoverished even by Third World standards. Just to glimpse daily life there gives an eye-opening perspective to children raised in a western city, suburb, or small town. Though what you see isn’t overbearingly oppressive, it’s impossible to watch this film and not feel your mind and your own world expanding. There is poverty in Katwe, and yet there is still dignity and an attitude of joyfulness, especially in the children, that cannot be squashed. You feel it throughout the film, and as a result you come away from it appreciating your own life all the more—no matter what struggles you might have . . . or think you have.

You also develop an admiration for Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o), a young single mother who was determined not to go the easy way of women in such situations and trade sexual favors for cash in order to survive—a point made as subtly as possible. And you admire missionary outreach social worker queenofkatwescreen2Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), who coaches youth soccer and a group of dedicated young chess players he calls the Pioneers. He inspires them with his own story of learning to play well enough to beat the “city boys” and find enough pride in that moment to turn his life around. They can do it too, he tells them. They can use chess to find their way to a better life. He and his wife make sacrifices in order to take in some of the children, to help them, to convince reluctant parents like Nakku to let her two children join his little group of Pioneers and travel to matches. Queen of Katwe is a film about making good choices, and the characters we grow close to are wonderful role models.

Though it’s Phiona’s story, Queen of Katwe is also very much an ensemble film. The children in the film are all very good, and the camaraderie that the Pioneers have is contagious. It’s not just Phiona that you find yourself rooting for—it’s all of those chess-loving youngsters, and all the residents of Katwe and Uganda who, like the Jamaicans cheering their unlikely bobsledding Olympic heroes in Disney’s Cool Runnings, find inspiration and take pride in their accomplishments.

Queen of Katwe isn’t your typical feel-good Disney movie or biopic, but that’s another strength. With winning performances by the two stars and young Nalwanga, it’s the kind of film that sticks with you.

Language: Nothing to speak of
Sex: A sister is seen glamming up and going on a motorcycle with a man, and it’s implied that she is having relations with the man; it’s all very tastefully presented
Violence: One accident scene that could traumatize very young children
Adult situations: Talk of what the mother could be doing to pay the rent
Takeaway: Director Mira Nair has given us a wonderful triumph story that really resonates and inspires

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON: JOHNNY AND FRIENDS FEATURING JERRY SEINFELD (DVD)

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tonightshowseinfeldcoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family: No (young children will be bored)
1985-88, 157 min. (3 shows), Color
Time Life
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer
Amazon link

Okay, families, it’s cultural literacy time.

If you’re a fan of horror-thrillers, to appreciate that famous line “Here’s Johnny” from Stephen King’s The Shining, you really ought to have seen The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson at least ONCE, and witness sidekick Ed McMahon doing his introductory thing.

Since Seinfeld tops the TV Guide’s list of all-time greatest comedies and is still in syndication, you also ought to watch some of Jerry Seinfeld’s early Tonight Show stand-up routines to see a very young Jerry honing his craft and see how his humor, from the very beginning, focused on keen observations of the small things in everyday life.

This pure genius release from Time Life features three FULL episodes of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Fans of SNL and sketch comedy will find this worth buying just to see Carson’s classic impersonation of Sylvester Stallone in a one-man skit, “Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.” Inspired by Eddie Murphy’s 1983 SNL ghetto version of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, this 1985 sketch features Carson doing a spot-on Sly with special effects so much fun that the talk-show host thanked all of the people involved. It’s at least as funny as Murphy’s Mr. Robinson, and possibly funnier, given how great Carson’s impersonation is. And it’s way funnier than John Byner’s SNL version of “Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, tennis fans will delight in seeing 18-year-old Andre Agassi appear as a guest on one of these three shows—with a clip showing the mullet-haired Agassi, then a teen heartthrob, in three exchanges from a semi-final match he lost to Mats Wilander. It wasn’t much of a prediction, but Carson said on the air that in a few years Agassi would dominate the sport, and of course he did. There are some other great guest appearances on this DVD collection as well, including the only female drag racer back in 1986, Shirley Muldowney, whose interview with Carson is enlightening, even if Carson’s golf-cart drag racing challenge doesn’t meet expectations.

In TV, there’s probably no bigger name than Oprah, and she appears on one of these three shows to promote her appearance in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple (clip shown). This was before Oprah’s talk show went totally national, as she announced that the show would be available in the L.A. market “soon.” It’s fascinating to see this icon before she became huge . . . just as it’s fascinating to see Arnold Schwarzenegger appear to plug his fish-out-of-water cop comedy Red Heat before he successfully ran for governor of California.

Of the guests, the always-annoying Shelley Winters is the only bomb, useful only for Carson to poke fun of. She comes on directly after that funny Rambo sketch, which makes it all the more painful to watch . . . so much so that the all-male King’s Singers novelty a cappella act seems refreshing.

tonightshowseinfeldscreenAs for Carson himself, these three shows offer proof enough as to why he was a late-night institution for three decades, ranked #12 on “TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.” His monologues are a course in comedy for aspiring comedians, with his gestures, his timing, and his handling of jokes that fall flat (or jokes he muffs) ultimately tweaked and twisted until they become running gags or produce more laughs than if the joke had been successful. Much of the Reagan-era humor is topical, but there’s enough here to make each monologue funny enough to watch even now. One thing worth mentioning, though, is the show’s trademark interlude tiles, with a “We’ll be right back” static message displayed on-screen while you listen to a few bars (in some cases, quite a few) from the studio band led by Doc Severinsen. Later late-night shows would put the camera on the band.

Bottom line: If you’re wanting to see a few FULL episodes of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson to boost your cultural literacy, this is the disc to get, as these shows have appeal for a broader range of ages than others might. An added bonus is that you can choose to watch the shows with or without original commercials. Families will want to watch the commercials too, because it’s always fun to see old products and familiar ones advertised 25 years ago. There isn’t a scene selection menu for each show, but the scenes are easily accessed using the skip button on your remote. Two clicks on the first show, for example, and you’re right there in “Mr. Rambo’s Neighborhood.”

Young children will be bored, but children old enough to watch reruns of adult shows on TV might find this DVD compilation as fascinating as their parents will. These three episodes would be rated PG because of the Rambo sketch and some innuendo that will fly right over young one’s heads.

STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY (Blu-ray)

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stagecoachcoverGrade: C-/?
Entire family: No
2016, 91 min., Color
Cinedigm
Not rated (would be PG for violence)
Aspect ratio: Widescreen (letterboxed)
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Trailer
Amazon link

Before we board this stagecoach let’s get one thing out of the way: country singer Trace Adkins looks like a character you’d see in the Old West, but he’s not much of an actor. Neither are some of the others who mouth poorly written lines or chew scenery in Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story.

Sometimes I’m hard on writers for dragging a movie down, but with this low-budget ($2.2 million) 2016 Western it’s the acting that mostly pulls you out of the experience and reminds you you’re watching a movie . . . and a slightly below average one at best.

stagecoachscreen1In the beginning, the film, shot in HD, looks promising enough, with some interesting camera work and a gritty, realistic depiction of a stagecoach robbery. But then it gets schmaltzy in the next sequence as we fast forward years later and see a level of domesticity and niceties you got from ‘50s sitcoms like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver. Nathaniel Reed (Adkins) has put his past behind him and is a hardworking man now who’s married to the local teacher (Michelle Harrison, The Flash). They want to start a family, but times are tough (when weren’t they, for average folks?) and the villainy is shifted to the bank, which is ready to foreclose on them.

From those clichés and cheesy moments the tone shifts again as the film becomes unintentionally funny with the appearance of a one-eyed marshal named Calhoun (Kim Coates), a former victim of the stagecoach robbers who now has a female sidekick —the two of them acting as if they’d been cast as The Joker and Harley Quinn or characters in a Tarantino movie. Robbing a stagecoach suddenly seems less of a crime than scene stealing as these two monologue and methodically pursue the individual members of the gang that robbed him when he was working for the stagecoach line.

stagecoachscreen2“You shoot my eye out, that makes you guilty,” he drawls. Lines like that kind of tickle the funnybone, as does “It’s gonna take a lot more than dyin’ to kill Sid Dalton” or “There’s a bad hombre after us.” In fairness, there’s an inconsistency in the dialogue, with some lines ringing true and others seeming labored or studied or unintentionally funny—but that inconsistency draws attention to the dialogue, or rather, the way that those lines are delivered.

Adkins is stiff and his lines feel as if they’re labored; without a recognizable name he’d be an extra at best, rather than the outlaw-turned-respectable-turned-outlaw-with-an-alias. Meanwhile, Coates is over-the-top and flamboyant by comparison. As foils, they make for a curious pair, and they draw attention to the fact that they’re both acting.

Another head-snapper is the disjointed time sequence. After establishing a straight progression forward suddenly it goes from “Three Weeks Later” to “Two Weeks Earlier.” Huh?

Put it this way:  there are far better Westerns out there.

Language: Just Westernisms
Sex: Nope
Violence: People shot at close range, people beaten and bloodied, hand-to-hand fighting
Adult situations: Not as much drinking or swearing or chewing tobacco as some Westerns
Takeaway: Stagecoach: The Texas Jack Story feels like a movie that could have been so much better with better casting and a few changes in the script

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