“Lauren Ambrose Shines in The Film – About Sunny”

I would imagine that being a single parent is one of the most difficult jobs someone has to undertake. All of the decisions regarding a child, that normally would be discussed and decided by two people, now fall on the shoulders of one individual. The single parent is responsible when it comes to making choices that are best for their child’s educational development, nutritional needs, who they are allowed to socialize with, disciplinary measures for misbehaving, and a myriad of other decisions. The task of one parent, doing the work of two, must be daunting, especially when the child is at an age where they can’t fend for themselves.

That is the dilemma facing Emmy nominated actress Lauren Ambrose’s character of financially struggling, rough around the edges, single mother, Angela, in the film “About Sunny.” Ambrose gives a masterful performance, completely embodying her character in the movie. The love she has for her daughter, Sunny (Audrey Scott) is evident, and they occasionally share happy moments together, but those times are few, and can change quickly when Sunny doesn’t do exactly as Angela asks her to do (what child does?). The viewer will recognize that Angela’s frustrations toward Sunny are merely projections of her own feelings of low self-esteem. Angela also demonstrates bad behavioral traits like smoking all the time in front of Sunny, as well as making poor judgment calls. For example, even though she owns a car, it has a bad battery, and frequently doesn’t start. Angela opts to take cabs and car services, instead of the bus, which even as a young child, Sunny suggests they do, because it will save a good deal of money.

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Written and directed by Bryan Wizemann, the film originally premiered under the name “Think of Me,” on September 9, 2011, at the “Toronto International Film Festival.” The drama has a runtime of one hundred and three minutes. I recently sat down to watch the film on Netflix. In the interest of full disclosure, I did so, only because Ambrose was the star of the movie. I have always thought she had great talent, and I am sorry she hasn’t been given more opportunity to showcase her acting prowess over the years since she was on HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”

The slow moving, emotional film takes place in Las Vegas, and begins with Angela picking up a guy (E.K. Harris) at a strip club. She doesn’t work at the club, but will sometimes stop in to have a drink, because it is close to her apartment. When morning comes, Sunny walks in while the man is getting dressed to leave. At that moment, Angela, who thinks the man she slept with is a professional basketball player, asks him if she could have a hundred dollars to help out with Sunny, which request he refuses.

Later that day, while working at her dead end telemarketing job, Angela is presented with an investment opportunity by her boss, Ted (David Conrad). The price of the initial investment, she is told, is $2,000, but if all goes according to plan, she will be able to triple her money. Jumping at the opportunity, she contacts Sunny’s father, who is never shown on screen, to ask for $2,000 toward back child support payments. She makes a deal with him, that if he wires her the money immediately, she won’t bother him for any more in the future.

Angela works at a call center with Max, Emmy nominated actor, Dylan Baker (The Good Wife). His character is unsavory, and is merely out for his own financial enrichment. In the evenings, he takes portraits at the mall. In addition, to that honest line of work, he also sells people’s names and social security numbers to a man who comes around to see him once a month. He lets Angela know that he makes $400 extra from that unscrupulous, side business, and asks if she wants to get in on it with him; she turns him down. She does, however, take Max up on the offer to take Sunny’s picture for free, because the child’s birthday is the following day. After he is done taking the pictures, Max points out some toys for Sunny to play with in the adjoining room. He then proceeds to tell Angela about his sister, Louise, portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way). Apparently, she and her husband Adam (Chris Boeres), attempted to adopt a child from China, paying the amount of $20,000, but the deal never went through, devastating the couple.

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The next day during Sunny’s birthday party, the money her ex sent her for the investment is stolen. Angela is in a state of panic, and contacts the police. She barely has time to deal with that situation, when she needs to head off to her new second job, at a cleaning service. Ironically, the building she is assigned to clean houses the firm she works for during the day; something, her boss discovers, and is none too pleased with. He is doubly upset with Angela because she never came through with the money for the investment; and he subsequently fires her. She knows he will be putting in a call to the cleaning agency, informing them that he doesn’t want her cleaning the offices at night. In one twenty-four period, she has lost both jobs and two-thousand dollars cash. She is right back to square one as far as her financial troubles are concerned, or is she?

About Sunny

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The day before, Max attended Sunny’s birthday party along with Louise, and Adam, who are visiting him from Toronto, Canada. Louise, a former teacher, starts helping Sunny with her reading, an area where she has been struggling; something that Angela had been informed about earlier in the film by Sunny’s actual teacher, who thinks she might have dyslexia. Private testing was recommended, but as with most things Angela can’t afford the testing. A short while later, the same amount of money that Louise and Adam were going to pay to adopt the child from China, is offered by Max to Angela for Sunny.

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What decision will Angela make given the state of desperation that she is in? Will she take the money? Does she not only give herself a badly needed financial boost, but at the same time relieve herself of the responsibilities of raising Sunny? Does she flat out reject the offer? Can she live with herself if she goes through with the deal, even if she thinks that Louise and Ted, taking Sunny is in the child’s best interest? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion, which, for Ambrose’s performance alone, is worth investing the under two hours it takes to watch it.

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“Big Bad Wolves”

When I learned that two time Academy Award winner Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction), went so far as to praise the movie “Big Bad Wolves” as the best film of 2013, I knew I had to see it. He is one of my favorite directors, so when I saw that the film was available for instant streaming on Netflix, I sat down the other night and watched it. I had very little knowledge of the film, prior to viewing it, and when it was finished, I am glad that I hadn’t come across that much information on the movie’s plot. Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, the captivating film comes from Israel. The movie is parts dark comedy, crime, and thriller, and has a runtime of 110 minutes.

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The catalyst for the film begins with an innocent child’s game of hide and seek, amongst three children, two girls and a boy. Innocence, however, soon turns to tragedy, with the disappearance of one of the little girls who had been hiding in a closet of an abandoned building the children were playing near. After the girl’s friend leaves the building to find her hiding spot, and the boy is shown counting, while standing in front of a tree, another figure is shown in the hallway. The viewer does not get to see the face, or any other telling characteristics, of who is walking toward the room where the girl is hiding. When the other two children return to the room and open the closet, their friend is missing; all that is left, is one single shoe.

The next scene depicts four police officers dragging a man into an abandoned warehouse. The man’s name is Dror (Rotem Keinan). He is a religious studies teacher, and the prime suspect in the disappearance of the girl. No concrete evidence supporting Dror’s guilt has been found, and during the entire film, he steadfastly maintains his innocence. The only thing the police have on Dror, is the eyewitness testimony of a child, who thinks she saw him at the scene of the crime. At the warehouse, the police attempt to beat a confession of guilt out of him. In addition to fists and kicks, the phone book is used as a weapon. Unfortunately for the officers involved, a teenager happens to also be at the location, and captures the entire incident on his cell phone camera. By the end of the day, the brutality committed against the suspect by the police has gone viral for the world to view. The strange thing is, that Dror doesn’t file a lawsuit against the officers in question, nor does he seek the help of the media to bring to justice those officers who have violated the laws they have sworn to uphold. This is where the first seed of suspicion as to the character’s guilt is planted, but the film, which is cleverly written, made me as a viewer, change my mind several different times regarding the validity of Dror’s guilt or innocence. When Tsvika (Dvir Benedek), the police officer in charge of those doing the interrogating, calls to find out what is going on, he wants the officers to immediately stop harming the suspect. Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), is convinced of Dror’s guilt, but per Tsvika’s orders, he has to allow him to go free.

A short time later, while Micki is being reprimanded by his boss, an anonymous phone call comes into the police station, alerting them to where they can find the missing girl. The girl’s body is discovered in a wooded area; most of her body anyway. The girl’s head is missing – it is the same method of killing that has been used in several other murders. At the scene of the crime, Micki is told by Tsvika, that he has been demoted to the traffic division, however, after the beating video reaches his desk, he tells Micki that he is temporarily off of the police force. Dror’s students have, by this point, seen the video as well, prompting one student to draw a very unflattering depiction, and others to write derogatory remarks in place of answers on their exam papers. Dror doesn’t have to worry long about the behavior of his class, because Principal Meir (Ami Weinberg), comes to speak to him about the phone calls he has been receiving from the parents of the students, encouraging Meir to fire Dror . Simultaneously, Micki, now free from the constraints of being a police officer, is able to pursue Dror, the way he wants to.

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At a park, Micki attempts to capture Dror for an interrogation, but Dror sees him coming in enough time to run away. Chasing after Dror, Micki eventually catches him, on a street where a truck is blocking a path to escape. Knocking Dror out, Micki drives him to the woods, and makes the suspect dig a hole; the threat of death hangs in the air. Micki asks questions, and each time he feels Dror doesn’t answer honestly, he puts a bullet into the chamber of his gun, and fires at Micki, not knowing if he will actually be firing a bullet or not.

The first two shots are empty air; after loading the third bullet into his gun, and about to fire, Dror thinks he has been granted a reprieve. A man comes up from behind Micki and knocks him out with a shovel. Dror might think he has been sent a guardian angel, but he is completely wrong. The man, Gidi (Tzahi Grad),who has saved Dror from Micki’s gun, is none other than the grief stricken father of the girl who was murdered. He has also been following Dror, taking pictures of him, and plotting revenge. Revenge that is based on the information of the police report he was able to obtain about what happened to not only his daughter, before she was murdered, but the other little girls as well.

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Writing more about the film from that moment forward, could potentially give too much away, and ruin the experience for those of you who have not seen it. The question I kept asking myself while watching the movie was: Is this teacher really guilty of the crimes he is accused of, or is Micki, to a degree, and the father, fully committed, to seeing a vile crime be answered for at all costs, despite any sort of concrete evidence or a confession? Credit must be paid to the three leads of the film, who give very convincing performances. Each brings his character to cinematic life, and the characters are written in such a way that doesn’t, for one second, make one feel they are stereotypical. The dialogue is another excellent aspect of the film; never did I feel it was forced, nor did I sense a false note being spoken at anytime. The music by Haim Frank Ilfman, also helps to drive the story forward, and adds to the overall tension during certain scenes. This is a film that, while there is not an overwhelming amount of gore, has certain scenes of intense violence, that might be too much for those of you who are generally squeamish. In closing, I very much liked how the film kept me in the dark as to the truth of what really happened until the final closing minutes, as well as the haunting last scene.

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“Donald Pleasence – Halloween’s Dr. Loomis – Takes a Trip to The Twilight Zone”

“Professor Ellis Fowler, a gentle, bookish guide to the young, who is about to discover that life still has certain surprises, and that the campus of the Rock Springs School for Boys lies on a direct path to another institution, commonly referred to as the Twilight Zone.”

Those words spoken by “Twilight Zone” creator, Rod Serling, who also wrote this season three episode, titled “The Changing of the Guard,” offers the viewer a bit of insight as to what is to come. I had initially planned for this blog to be in the same posting with the episode, “The Trade-Ins,” but felt that the blog would have been way too long for one posting if it contained both episodes. Directed by Robert Ellis Miller (Reuben, Reuben), the episode originally aired on June 1, 1962. As with many episodes of the “Twilight Zone” there is an essential question being asked at its core. In this instance that question is – what would someone who loved their profession, if not more than, than equal to anything else in their life, do if suddenly they were forced out of their line of work?



Facing what he feels is an incomprehensible dilemma, is Professor Ellis Fowler, portrayed in a very effective manner by Emmy nominated and BAFTA winner, Donald Pleasence (The Great Escape). The viewer learns that Professor Fowler has been teaching literature at the Rock Spring School For Boys in Vermont for the past fifty-one years. The episode begins on the last afternoon of the semester, three days before Christmas. After Pleasence’s character is finished teaching class, he gives his student’s a holiday present by informing them that they have all passed.

In route to exiting the building, the professor is stopped by the Headmaster of the school (Liam Sullivan), and asked to step into his office. He is wondering why Professor Fowler has not responded to the letter sent to him by the Board of Trustees of the school. Fowler admits to being behind on his mail, but that his answer is yes. The yes, he believes he is giving to the Headmaster, is that he will return to teach the following year. The school, apparently, only has their educators sign contracts for one year of teaching at a time. What the professor fails to realize, until he truly listens to what the Headmaster has to say, is that he has not received a letter asking him if he is going to return, but a termination letter. According to the Headmaster, new, younger men, with fresh ideas, need to be brought in to replace someone like Professor Fowler. The fact that the Headmaster informs the Professor that he will still make half salary for the remainder of his life, does nothing to quell the gut wrenching news he has just received.

Upon his arrival home, he sits and listens to Handel’s Messiah, on the radio. His housekeeper, Mrs. Landers (Philippa Bevans), comes in to inform the professor that dinner is ready. He tells her he’s not hungry; afterward, he proceeds to do a critique of himself that is rife with self-loathing and conjecture that his life as a teacher has been a failure. Fowler specifically feels that in all his years of teaching, he never once moved or motivated any of his students, and that particular poems, sayings and quotations, that he held in high regard, were forgotten as soon as his students left his classroom. Mrs. Landers, is moved to tears. In an attempt to assuage her, he tells her that he thinks he will go take a nap, but instead of heading to bed, he leaves the house, with a gun that he pulled out from his desk drawer. As Mrs. Landers looks out the wide open front door to Fowler’s home, she sees only the snow and darkness of the night.

Trivia buffs take note: This was the last episode of “The Twilight Zone” where the ending shot rose upward to reveal a starlit sky. The presence of the Horace Mann statue in the episode was important to Rod Serling. Mann was the first president of his alma matter, Antioch college, and the quote on the statue was Antioch’s motto. The episode marked the first American television appearance that actor Donald Pleasance ever made.

He makes his way to a statue of educator, Horace Mann. The professor reads the quote on the statue “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Lifting the gun up to his head, about to go through with his suicidal plans, he is granted a last minute reprieve. The ringing of the school bells, indicating class is in session, is what keeps him from pulling the trigger. Making his way to his classroom, he encounters a room full of students, however, these aren’t the same group of boys from the beginning of the episode. The room is populated with ghosts from the professor’s past, reaching all the way back to his first days as an educator. Can their presence, and what they convey to him, make enough of an impact, or will Professor Fowler wind up taking his life, because nothing can compensate for no longer being able to do what he loves most in the world?



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“The Crate Segment of Romero and King’s Creepshow”

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of catching up with a good friend from my childhood – - someone with whom I grew up in Long Island, New York. He was in South Florida, in a neighboring town, visiting his grandmother. While his days were occupied spending time with her, which was the reason for his visit, his nights were free. His grandmother, he informed me, always had been, even when she was younger, the type of person who went to bed no later than 11:00 P.M. and got up no later than 5:00AM every day. After a couple of evenings of going out, on the Sunday evening, the second to last night he was going to be in Florida, my friend and I decided to stay in to watch a movie, order some pizza, and drink a few beers.

Thanks to today’s technological advances, we had a wide variety of films to choose from, even current movies, playing in the theater, which we could have ordered from on-demand. We opted, however, to take a nostalgic trip back to our childhood, and watch two films from that time period, the second of which was the George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead), directed, “Creepshow.” My friends and I first saw the movie, when we were all around the ages of 11 and 12, and it quickly became one of those films we watched numerous times over the course of several years, before we each got our respective driver’s licenses, started dating, and began going to parties.

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Creepshow” was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France in May of 1982. The screenplay, written by prolific bestselling author, Stephen King (Doctor Sleep), is comprised of five diverse comic book stories, that are cinematically brought to life. King, actually stars in the second of the stories titled “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” The film is a genre mixing of comedy and horror. If you’ve watched the movie, you know what I am referring to. (As an aside, Stephen King’s son, who followed in his father’s footsteps, and writes under the name Joe Hill, has a small role in the prologue and epilogue of the film. He plays Billy, a child who is very much into horror, but whose father vastly disapproves of his reading of a comic book such as Creepshow).

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I am only going to be writing specifically about one of the five vignettes, the fourth in the film titled “The Crate.” To begin with, I felt the music performed by John Harrison, for that particular segment, as well as the rest of the stories, for that matter, played a strong role in setting a good atmosphere. I also very much enjoyed how certain moments of action involving a character or creature were framed, as if Romero were filming the pages of an actual comic book. The cast, as a whole, features well known actors, including: Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun Films), E.G. Marshall (12 Angry Men), Ed Harris (Game Change), and Ted Danson (Cheers). “The Crate” segment stars Emmy winner and Oscar nominated actor, Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild), Adrienne Barbeau (Maude), and Fritz Weaver (The X-Files).

The opening of “The Crate” begins with a janitor, named Mike (Don Keefer), who is flipping a quarter up in the air. The act is fairly commonplace. I would imagine most, if not all of us, have done it at some point in our lives; even if it were to merely decide who goes first at something. The quarter rolls under a stairwell storage area, a place from the looks of it, that hasn’t been paid much attention to over the years. More importantly, however, is what Mike spots with his flashlight, while searching for his quarter. He shines the light upon a crate that has writing stamped on it. The writing consists of a date which reads June 1834, and that its contents were packaged and shipped to America, from an Arctic expedition.

Mike, completely surprised by his discovery, calls Weaver’s character, Professor Dexter Stanley of the Zoology department, who is attending an afternoon party. At first, the professor is seemingly unimpressed, telling Mike that it’s probably old issues of National Geographic or Reader’s Digest. It’s only when Mike informs Professor Stanley of the date on the crate, that he becomes intrigued enough to leave the party. He drives to Amberson Hall at the college where he teaches, to find out what is inside the crate. Also in attendance at the party are Holbrook and Barbeau’s characters of Henry and Wilma Northrup. Henry is a colleague and very close friend of Dexter. He also teaches at the college, in the English Department. Wilma has no job, except, it seems, to drink like a fish, talk crassly in a loud tone of voice, and belittle Henry at every opportunity.

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Arriving at the college, Mike and Professor Stanley move the crate into a nearby classroom, and with eager anticipation, begin to open it. No sooner does the lock get removed and enough nails get pulled out of the top of its cover, than Mike is attacked by a deadly creature. Dexter attempts to intervene and save Mike, but it is to no avail, whatever has been locked up for close to 150 years is simply too strong and too hungry. The creature winds up not only killing Mike, but dragging his body into its domain. (As an aside the creature used in the segment was designed by makeup master, Tom Savini, who did all of the makeup work throughout the entire film. He also has a cameo appearance, as a garbage man, toward the end of the movie. Romero called the creature ‘fluffy,’ while filming was in progress.)

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In a state of sheer panic, Dexter flees the classroom. Running up the stairs and into the hallway. Walking toward him, is the only other person on campus, a student, Charlie Gereson (Robert Harper), who he tries to stop from going downstairs. Dexter relays his tale of terror to Charlie, who foolishly doesn’t believe him, and sets out to investigate. He receives the same treatment as Mike the janitor, although to his credit, he helps Dexter escape the creature’s grasp.

Dexter, sweating profusely and appearing as if he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, arrives at Henry’s home; fortunately, Wilma is not there. He explains what has transpired to his friend, while they consume some alcoholic beverages, the last of which, Henry drugs with sleeping pills. While they were talking, Henry has been formulating a plan, one that is shared with the viewer a short time later. The plan if successful, will get rid of not only the creature in the crate, but his awful wife as well. Does Henry’s plan succeed or does he become another victim of the monster in the crate?

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Why did I choose this particular segment to discuss, as opposed to the other four – - simple – - it is my favorite of the film. I actually would have preferred if Romero had decided to end the film after the segment, instead of including the fifth and final tale “They’re Creeping Up On You,” which I’ve truly never liked because I am no fan of the insect world, especially the kind of bug that, that story features. The original plan was that if “They’re Creeping Up On You,” became too difficult to film, it would be replaced with the Stephen King story “The Hitch-Hiker,” which wound up being used in the sequel to “Creepshow.” The other reason I chose that particular one, is that even after all these years, “The Crate” segment still has the ability to give me a bit of a haunting jolt, as if I were a twelve year old again.

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“The Trade-Ins – Presents the Sentimental Side of the Twilight Zone”

“Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, aging people who slowly and with trembling fingers turn the last pages of a book of life and hope against logic and the preordained that some magic printing press will add to this book another limited edition. But these two senior citizens happen to live in a time of the future when nothing is impossible, even the trading of old bodies for new. Mr. and Mrs. John Holt, in their twilight years – who are about to find that there happens to be a zone with the same name.”

Those words serve as the opening narration, and are spoken by Emmy & Golden Globe winner, Rod Serling, the creator of the “Twilight Zone” and the writer of the season three episode, “The Trade-Ins.” Directed by Elliot Silverstein, the twenty-five minute show originally aired on April 20, 1962. The question being asked at the heart of the episode is – what would someone, who is nearing the end of their days, give up for a second chance at life? In this particular scenario, two individuals are facing that dilemma. Seventy-nine year old John Holt, convincingly portrayed by Academy Award winner Joseph Schildkraut (The Life of Emile Zola), is a man who has a medical history rife with sickness. The viewer learns that he has been suffering from intense pain on a daily basis. John has been married to his wrinkled and frail wife, the seventy-four year old Marie (Alma Platt), for five decades. The couple is very much aware of their mortality, and so they seek out the help of a company known as The New Life Corporation, that could hold the key to the second chance at life that they both yearn for.

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While speaking with the congenial, New Life salesman, Mr. Vance (Noah Keen), he explains to the Holts, that his company can guarantee them approximately another one hundred and twelve years together. The business The New Life Corporation deals in, as he tells the Holts, is re-birth. Using bodies, that Mr. Vance refers to as units, the salesman explains that the process is quick and painless; that everything about the Holts, in regard to physiological functions of a human being, their psychological makeup, memories, distinct personality, etc, will remain intact. As Mr. Vance is making his pitch, Mr. Holt once again inquires about the pain, or the lack thereof, that will come from having the transformation procedure. He is assured by Mr. Vance that the pain will be a thing of the past; that the Holts will spend the next century in new, healthy bodies, those of people in their early twenties. The couple will be as close to perfection as can be genetically engineered. Mr. Vance, much like a car salesman, proceeds to show the Holts around the New Life showroom, allowing them to view the different models of units that they can choose from. The couple settle on the set of bodies they feel suits them best. The Holts also receive the assurance from Mr. Vance, that even though New Life has a customer satisfaction rate of 98%, that if they’re not 100% satisfied with their new bodies, that their old ones, which are kept in storage for a week, will be returned to them, and a full refund will be given.

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The price of such youth is five thousand dollars per person. The problem facing the Holts, and it is a major obstacle to their new lives together, is that their entire life savings only amounts to five thousand dollars. Of course, Mr. Holt asks the normal questions about financing, and down payments, but no such deal can be given in regard to the miracle of a second life. Per government regulations, in order for a procedure to be performed, the entire five thousand dollar payment must be made before surgery and in cash. With just enough money for one of the Holts to experience youth again, which one of them will it be?

Marie, being the loving wife that she is, insists that it be John that gets the transformation procedure. She knows his pain is taking a vicious toll on his physical well being, and she wants it to stop. John, on the other hand, genuinely loves his wife. In fact, at the beginning of the episode, he is as much states, that she is all he has left in the world that he cares about. Desperate to raise the additional five thousand dollars needed to transform Marie, John becomes reckless. He finds himself in a room where illegal gambling is taking place. He enters a game that is about to begin, one where he needs the rules explained to him. If not for Mr. Farraday, an inquisitive card shark with a heart of gold, played by prolific character actor, Theodore Marcuse, who takes pity on the elderly man, Mr. Holt would have lost every last dime he had. John is allowed to leave the game with the exact amount he came with, but what is he going to do now?

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If I was an individual suffering with chronic pain, and every day was a struggle for survival, where my life lacked enjoyment of any kind, what would I do? Would I become selfish in my old age, and cast aside, as in John’s case, a wife, who has been by my side for fifty years? Would I act in a noble manner, and insist that my wife have the procedure done, and that I would not take no for an answer? Would I be the sort of person who takes solace knowing that the person I love most in the world, would get to not only live on, but live over, be given the chance to correct past mistakes? Would I resort to even more desperate measures than Mr. Holt did, and perhaps instead of entering an illegal card game, attempt to rob a bank, or do something else exceptionally dangerous, knowing the chances of my success of getting away with the crime would be astronomically against me? Could any of us, who are thankfully not living in that sort of condition, be certain as to what we would ultimately do?

The answer as to which one of the Holts gets the transformation procedure is made known to the viewer at the end of the episode. For those of you who are perhaps watching the series on Netflix, or have purchased the seasons on DVD, and are making your way through them, I will let you find out for yourself what happens to the Holts in the end. Does a lifelong love conqueror all, or is the chance to be young again and pain free, too much of a temptation to pass up?

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“Patton: Scott’s Mesmerizing Portrayal of the American General”

“Patton,” which originally premiered in New York City, New York, on February 4, 1970, was Nominated for ten Oscars, and won seven, at the 43rd Annual Academy Awards. Director, Franklin J. Schaffner, (Planet of the Apes) was one of the individuals who was nominated and won Best Director, even though he was not present at the ceremony to receive his gold statuette. Lucky for Schaffner, Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, John Huston, (The African Queen), Academy Award nominee, Henry Hathaway ( The Lives of Bengal Lancer), and Academy Award and Golden Globe winner, Fred Zinnemann (High Noon), all turned down the opportunity to direct the film.

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The movie, which is parts biography, drama, history, and war, also took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Writing, and Film Editing, among other Oscars. Surprisingly, George C. Scott (The Hospital), who was nominated for, and won, Best Actor, for his electrifying portrayal of the famous, military general, turned down the award. Scott’s actions marked the first time in the history of the Oscars that someone refused the Academy’s recognition of their work. According to Scott, he simply felt that he wasn’t in direct competition with the other actors he was competing against for the award, and he didn’t feel it would be right to accept it. The film’s producer, Frank McCarthy, did initially accept the award that evening, on Scott’s behalf, but apparently returned it to the Academy the next day, due to Scott’s insistence on not wanting it.

The 172 minute film was made for an estimated budget of twelve million dollars, half of which reportedly went to paying soldiers from the Spanish army to take part in battle sequences. Additionally, the equipment that was used in the parts of the film that depicted war, was also rented from the Spanish military. The opening of the movie, is the iconic image of General Patton, standing in front of an American flag that could easily cover the size of a movie screen. He is delivering a lecture to a group of soldiers, none of whom are ever shown on camera, which, made me as a viewer, feel as if Scott, who completely embodies the role of Patton, was talking directly to me. Almost all of what is said during the opening scene of the film, were quotes taken directly from Patton, however – to be historically accurate – they were never all said at the same place and at the same time.

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The movie doesn’t just concern itself with Patton’s genius when it came to military strategy, but instead it deals with Patton’s personality. Schaffner’s film paints a visual portrait of a nuanced and complex individual. Patton is a man who believes in divine destiny and prays daily. He also believes in reincarnation, and makes mention of the different lives he has lived as a warrior, while speaking at the sites of various battlefields with vivid recollection. In addition, he writes poetry, and speaks French. The real life Patton was married, and did have three children, one son, and two daughters. The film made it seem as though he had little to no personal life – at least, in his on screen conversations, he didn’t speak of one.

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve seen the film at least a dozen times over the years. During this particular viewing, however, one aspect of Patton’s life kept occurring to me. I kept thinking, that if General George S. Patton, or a person of his ilk, lived today, that individual’s 16th century mentality couldn’t survive in our modern, progressive society. His actions, would be viewed as too anti-politically correct; he would be lucky to stay in the army as a private, let alone rise to the rank of four star general. Patton simply didn’t care what anyone thought of him, which more often than not, got him into trouble. He frequently used foul language, would say anything that he wanted to, including making bigoted or disparaging remarks when describing America’s enemies, and, at least in one documented case, resorted to physically assaulting a soldier rather than issuing a verbal reprimand. The soldier in question is someone, who, according to his own words, couldn’t stand the shelling anymore. The scene, based on a true life incident, according to eyewitness, went down exactly as depicted in the film, and is as follows:

Patton is visiting a field hospital, where men who have been wounded in combat are being treated. These are men who have lost limbs, have had their bodies pumped full of lead, are dealing with gaping chest wounds, broken legs, and other visible wounds. One soldier, however, appears to be in seemingly perfect health. When Patton, who has shaken the hands of, and made conversation with, other wounded soldiers, asks the soldier in question what his problem is, the man responds, as aforementioned, that he can’t stand the shelling, he just can’t take it anymore. Patton becomes enraged at what he hears, and proceeds to smack the soldier hard across the face, while at the same time, letting loose with a verbal tirade, that lets the soldier know exactly how he feels about him. Patton, cannot for a second abide the actions of a coward, and will not, under any circumstances, permit the frightened soldier to stay inside the tent with – as Patton puts it – other brave men, who have been wounded in battle. Not only does he kick the soldier out of the tent, but he instructs that the man be sent to the front lines. I am no expert on military discipline, especially having never served a day in the armed forces, but I would be willing to bet money, if a general in this day and age, conducted himself in the manner in which Patton did, with the ‘shell shocked’ soldier, that general would most likely be court-martialed, and at the very least be stripped of rank.

The only other actor of importance in the film is Academy Award winner, Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire). He portrays General Omar N. Bradley, who was an outstanding military tactician, but didn’t have Patton’s apparent thirst for blood. His role in the film, just as it was during the war, was to serve as the voice of reason. The film takes place in chronological order, no flashbacks are used to set up particular scenes. While I have spoken about certain character traits that Patton exuded and that Scott brings to cinematic life, as well as the slapping incident, to provide a scene by scene breakdown of the film would do a disservice to those of you who have not yet seen the movie. Credit for bringing “Patton” to the screen came from several different sources. Academy Award winner, Francis Ford Coppola (The Conversation), shared story credit and co-wrote the screenplay along with Edmund H. North (The Day the Earth Stood Still), who along with Coppola, would go on to win the Oscar for writing “Patton.” Additionally, source material came from Ladislas Farago (The Last Days of Patton), and material taken from General Bradley’s book “A Soldier’s Story.” For anyone, who enjoys engrossing biographical films about larger than life characters, or for those of you who are students of history, especially as it pertains to key players during the second World War, “Patton,” is a must see film.

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“Milius: Interesting Documentary about the Writer and Director”

“I try to maintain a certain innocence toward my material. I like to say that I do what I do because I like it and that it’s not preachy. When I try to put my finger on what I have to say, it’s very vague. It’s just an attitude. As Herman Melville put it in “Moby Dick”: ‘a free and easy desperado geniality.’ That’s my attitude. Melville was talking about men rowing into the mouth of a whale with their backs to it. I suppose that’s what life is like.”

John Milius

Co-directors, Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson, spent five years of their lives, travelled throughout America to over a dozen states, and conducted sixty-five interviews to complete their documentary on screenwriter and director, John Milius. The film premiered at the SXSW(South by Southwest) festival on March 9, 2013. The 103 minute documentary, features commentary from a who’s who of Hollywood heavyweights, such as Harrison Ford, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg, among many others. Those interviewed all offer insight, some anecdotally and fondly, others reverentially, about a larger than life figure, that for the most part, has faded into obscurity the past twenty years.

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The self proclaimed “Zen anarchist” was born John Frederick Milius on April 11, 1944, in St. Louis, Missouri. He would grow up there until he was seven, when his family moved to California. Interestingly enough, when Milius came of age, he actually wanted to be a member of the United States Army, instead of having a career in Hollywood. Due to his asthma, he was not allowed to enlist during the Vietnam war. In an earlier interview conducted with Milius, he states, in a matter of fact manner, that he viewed filmmaking as the next best alternative to a life in the armed services. He would go on to study filmmaking at USC (University of Southern California), which along with NYU (New York University) and UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) were the only three film schools in existence in the 1960s. One commentator mentions that today, it is harder to get into the film school at USC than it is the medical school.


Initially breaking into Hollywood as a screenwriter, Milius would go onto write and direct some of the most well known films of the 1970s and early 1980s. Milius wrote both “Magnum Force,” the sequel to “Dirty Harry,” and the screenplay for the first “Dirty Harry” film, although he was not officially credited for his work. He also is responsible for writing the speech delivered by Robert Shaw’s character of Quint, about the U.S.S. Indianapolis, in Steven Spielberg’s iconic film “Jaws.” He created Robert Duvall’s napalm loving, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now,” while co-writing the screenplay for the film with Francis Ford Coppola. A fact that I had never known before watching the documentary, is that George Lucas almost directed the film before Coppola took over. Milius wrote and directed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sword wielding barbarian in “Conan the Barbarian,” which was based on the stories written by Robert E. Howard. His body of work also includes the first film he ever directed which was about the life of legendary gangster, John Dillinger, simply titled “Dillinger.” He scribed “Jeremiah Johnson,” which was directed by Oscar winner Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa) and starred fellow Academy Award winner, Robert Redford (The Natural). Additionally, he wrote: an episode of the popular 80s series “Miami Vice;” the screenplay for the Harrison Ford starring “Clear and Present Danger;” and created the HBO series “Rome;” among numerous other works. (As an aside, at the 52nd Annual Academy Awards, Milius and Coppola were nominated for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “Apocalypse Now,” having adapted the script from the Joseph Conrad novel “Heart of Darkness.” They lost out to Robert Benton for “Kramer vs. Kramer.”)

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The documentary doesn’t just focus on Milius’ successes, it gives a complete picture of his career. The film explores critical and commercial flops such as “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.” According to Milius, BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar winning actor, Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen), was originally supposed to play the lead role. Marvin fell asleep, while reading the screenplay, after drinking too much, and fellow Oscar winner, Paul Newman, picked it up, read it, loved it, and eventually wound up getting the part. While Milius states that he has absolutely nothing against Newman as a person, and that he views him as a great guy, he feels that Newman was completely wrong for the role. Additionally, the documentary, spends time discussing the critically panned “Big Wednesday,” which was Milius’ homage to his love of surfing, as the film follows the lives of a trio of surfers from the 1960′s through the 1970s. The one film, however, that Milius blames for a serious decline in offers coming his way, is the original “Red Dawn,” which was apparently viewed, at the time, with universal condemnation.

Milius is often painted as an extreme right winger, who apparently has a thirst for violence and war, that seems to know no bounds. “Red Dawn’s” portrayal of an America that is under siege by Russian forces and their allies, being challenged by a group of gun wielding teenagers, who call themselves ‘The Wolverines,’ pushed all the wrong buttons at a time when a nuclear war between America and the Soviet Union was a very real possibility. Dismissing the theory that Milius was undone by “Red Dawn” are Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The two Hollywood icons have never shied away from letting it be known that they are Republicans. Schwarzenegger ran and won election twice, as a Republican governor in a state that consistently votes democratic. Both Eastwood and Schwarzenegger are quick to point out that it doesn’t matter what your politics are, all that matters in Hollywood, is if you make money.

Twice divorced, Milius has been with his current wife Elan Oberon, since 1992. He has two grown children from his first marriage to Renee Fabri – a son, Ethan, and a daughter, Amanda – both of whom provide commentary for the documentary. In addition to his creative endeavors, he collects guns, was one of the original founders of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was an avid surfer in his younger years, and has been consumed with learning everything he can about America’s twenty-sixth President, Theodore Roosevelt. In fact, Milius, who has never written or directed a straight biographical film on Roosevelt, helped to earn the former President a posthumous, Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at the battle of San Juan Hill. This was accomplished thanks to the television movie Milius wrote and directed, 1997′s “Rough Riders.” In addition to the award, Milius was made an honorary member of the Sioux Nation, after filming on “Rough Riders” was complete.

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Sadly, toward the end of the documentary, the viewer learns that perhaps one of the reasons that Milius hasn’t had much output in recent years is due to the stroke he suffered. For a long time, even though he wasn’t creating his own stuff, Milius was very much in demand to work on re-writes for other screenwriters and directors. The stroke, temporarily took his voice from him, and although he is able to communicate somewhat now, thanks to intense therapy, he is still not one hundred percent. Steven Spielberg, who is a very close friend of Milius’ since they met in film school, states that the loss of Milius’s voice, to him, is the worst thing that has ever happened to a friend of his, other than death.

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I watched the well researched documentary on Netflix instant streaming a few nights ago. As I watched, I kept wanting to learn more about a man I scarcely knew before watching Figueroa and Knutson’s film, and I certainly did just that. Featuring interesting commentary, intercut with clips from Milius films, as well as archival footage, the documentary is a must watch for cinema lovers.

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