There is an anomaly that occurs just when it’s supposed to;  a perfect performance. Harry Dean Stanton, the star of John Carroll Lynch’s new gem, is no stranger to show business. He’s been acting since the dawn of time. Paris, Texas — which is widely regarded as Stanton’s finest work — was released less than a month after I was born.

He’s got the chops, but it isn’t just that. Lucky isn’t just a sublime film, but a showcase of what Stanton is all about. His manipulation of an audience to make them feel included in the picture is totally remarkable.

Lucky is the story of a grizzled and grey atheist living alone in his little desert town. He may be a bit long in the tooth, but Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is hardly “old”. He starts each day with lively music, a healthy regimen of calisthenics, and enough coffee to make even this java enthusiast wary.

He enjoys his whole milk, his crosswords, his game shows, and his pack-a-day smokes. Lucky lives a simple life that isn’t simple at all.

His quotidian ambling through the cacti takes him to a local diner, a convenience store, and a bar. Each visit is a window into his sometimes cantankerous demeanor; a peek behind the curtain.

Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Loretta (Yvonne Huff) at his breakfast spot keep a close eye on him, admonishing his nicotine intake and even checking up on him at home. Bibi (Bertila Damas), the clerk at his mini-mart, invites him to her son’s birthday party. The crew at the neighborhood watering hole — Howard, Elaine, Paulie, and Vincent (David LynchBeth GrantJames Darren, and Hugo Armstrong, respectively) — see to his Bloody Mary needs and lend an ear to his intermittent venting. 


While alone but not lonely — a meaningful distinction — behind Lucky’s eyes is the dread of things to come. An atheist, he doesn’t have the catchall heaven or hell plan. Where do we go and what’s going to happen; harrowing queries, as no one knows for sure. After taking a fall one morning, Lucky visits his doctor. Dr. Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley Jr.) marvels at his good health despite all of his bad habits and the 90 years he’s got under his belt.

So what’s it all mean? What’s the significance behind a film about an old dude frittering away his afternoons wandering the desert? The subtext of the picture is something so enormously, profoundly identifiable in all of us. It is the lingering fret over the point of it all. Everyone works through it differently, but it is a hinderance to a happy life at times and can even spawn nihilism.

Lucky is a staggeringly thoughtful glance at a life, the lives it touches, and the doubtful, ubiquitous unease living behind courageous eyes. John Carroll Lynch’s first feature film is a sublime and wistful directing feat. It’s sentimental, sincere nature gives way for light-heartedness and whimsy in all the right places.

The cast of familiar faces brings it home in their earnest and loving portrayals of these characters that can’t possibly be too far removed from the actors themselves. The dynamic is organic and intimate and the viewer begins to feel part of it all; the ultimate theater-going experience. We even get to see Stanton and Tom Skerritt sharing the screen again for the first time since Alien (1979). Superb cinematography puts a bow on this masterpiece and leaves the audience awe-struck.

I was “Lucky” enough to screen this picture at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks as well as Director John Carroll Lynch were in attendance and even participated in a Q&A. Everyone has such warm regard for this film and especially for Stanton. Sparks has been Stanton’s assistant for 15 years and shared a bit of his experience, telling us how this character, Lucky, is essentially who Stanton is.


Never have I so closely related to a character in a film. That’s a transcendent feeling to have and a rarity in movies. 

Lucky comes out this Fall and I implore you to see it. I will see it with you. It is lovable and wise and works expertly on every level from start to finish. It stays with you.

  1. the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.



Free Fire

Free Fire Hero 2

Think of your favorite action sequence in a film. What comes to mind? For me personally, it’s pictures like True Grit, Die Hard, Smokin’ Aces, Django Unchained, Deadpool; these all have a common denominator — gun fights with precise choreography akin to that of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance number.

This movie does not share that factor. Possessing a beauty all its own, Free Fire is about a bunch of dimwits, a handful of marksmen, too many guns, and a briefcase full of money; an 80-minute shootout stemming from an arms deal gone dreadfully, enormously cockeyed.

Free Fire has one of the most accurate taglines I’ve ever seen; All Guns. No Control. Let me give you a quick rundown on how this goes:

Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) — a couple of Beantown reprobates — are en route to meet a pair of IRA affiliates. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) — along with their saucy arbitrator, Justine (Brie Larson) — await the duo outside of a dilapidated warehouse to purchase some firearms.

Once everyone has arrived, Ord (Armie Hammer) — an agent in attendance on behalf of the guy who represents the goods — conducts a quick wire search and leads the group inside.

Waiting there is the unctuous dealer presenting the wares, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), as well as his confederates, Harry, Martin, and Gordon (Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, and Noah Taylor, respectively).


Now that we’ve taken roll, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes.

While Martin counts up the clams in the case to make sure it’s all there, Vern plays show and tell only to find that he doesn’t have what Chris asked for. Discovering that he’s brought the wrong weapons, tensions flare. Meanwhile, Stevo — who’s rockin’ a shiner from a bar fight — recognizes one of Vern’s goons as the bloke who popped him. The decidedly shaky foundation on which this meeting once stood is swiftly obliterated and we’ve got first blood in the maelstrom.

Crawling around in a grabbag of glass, dirt, and probably asbestos, the group finds common ground in that everyone has the same goal: don’t get shot. Also, get the money.


Enter players eleven and twelve. One of these dirty dogs brought in a couple of ringers who are hiding in the shadows with sniper rifles. Whom is the question, and any remaining trust is out the window.

When the peal of a telephone comes out of nowhere, the race is on to call in reinforcements, but who’ll reach it first?

Free Fire seems implausible in concept alone. The premise could easily get sticky after awhile. Fortunately, Writer/Director/Editor Ben Wheatley and Writer/Editor Amy Jump — the minds behind High-Rise and Sightseers — found a brilliant workaround. They curated a formula that keeps things fresh and always moving forward at a pace that the audience can get excited about again and again.


This movie works on so many levels. The cast is superb; not a weak link in the bunch. Wheatley and Jump have accomplished something sublime in the brutality to satire equation. In the same vein as a horror movie that is also a comedy, there’s a balancing act that — if not executed perfectly — can leave the audience feeling jilted. The same principle applies here in that, if not done properly, the gore can overpower the relief and the viewer might abandon ship.

Free Fire accomplishes this feat effortlessly. The script — some of it seeming and probably being improvised — is biting and clever. A dry delivery to many of the film’s impeccably placed jokes elicits delicious solace when we need it most. As a sweet little cherry on top, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury have concocted a score that fits like a glove. Undulating between a sexy spy movie vibe and an anxiety-riddled, toe-tapping sound, this unique brew brings it all home.

Free Fire offers the pleasure received from pain. It categorically owns the one thing that all movies covet: watchability. If you’re looking for an unquestionably satisfying theater-going experience, this is the film to see. One of the best of the year so far and one of the funniest I’ve seen in ages. “Watch and Vern.”