“Rudy”

Recently, while randomly looking through the offerings on Amazon Prime, the sports documentary “Rudy Ruettiger: The Walk On” caught my eye and I  decided to watch it. The 2017 film was directed by Emmy winner Nick Nanton (A New Leash on Life: The K9s for Warriors Story), and written by Emmy winner Emily Hache (Return to Esperanza). During its 78 minute runtime, it told the true story of Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger, the inspiration for the 1993 film “Rudy.” I found it to be, not only entertaining, but inspirational and enlightening. I learned a number of things I was unaware of, because they were not in the 1993 movie. After watching the documentary, I was motivated to re-watch “Rudy,” because it had been a number of years since I’d last seen the film.

Rudy Ruettiger portrayed by Oscar nominee Sean Astin (Kangaroo Court) has an unyielding desire to play football for the University of Notre Dame. There are several factors which are hindering his chances of achieving his dream. Firstly, he doesn’t come from a family of financial means. Secondly, he has no chance of earning an academic scholarship, as his grades and his SAT scores are not up to par for a school of Notre Dame’s caliber.

Toward the beginning of the film, Rudy is engaged to his high school sweetheart, Sherry, played by Golden Globe winner Lili Taylor (Short Cuts). She has been looking at houses for the two of them, but Rudy seems reluctant. He still wants more out of life than merely getting married and working at the local steel mill. He works at the mill with his father Daniel, played by Oscar nominee Ned Beatty (Network), and his brother Frank (Scott Benjaminson), as well as his best friend Pete (Christopher Reed).

Pete is the one person, who seemingly believes Rudy has what it takes to play football for Notre Dame. Unfortunately, an accident takes Pete’s life. Rudy, motivated to turn tragedy into triumph, leaves for Notre Dame. When he arrives on campus, he’s not turned away or belittled. He soon learns, however, that determination aside, he’s going to have to do a great deal more than just show up and express his desires. He’s already well aware that not everyone gets to run out on the field, wearing a golden helmet as a member of the Fighting Irish football team of Notre Dame. He will have to work twice as hard to prove that he belongs.

Rudy befriends a priest, Father Cavanaugh, portrayed by Robert Prosky (Mrs. Doubtfire). He makes a deal with Rudy: If Rudy can achieve good grades at Holy Cross Junior College, Cavanaugh will do what he can to get  Rudy in to Notre Dame. Earning good grades at Holy Cross is only the fist of numerous obstacles Rudy will have to face, in order to turn his dream, into a reality.

The film  premiered on October 22, 1993. The parts biography – drama and sports film has a runtime of 114 minutes. “Rudy” was directed by Emmy winner David Anspaugh (Hill Street Blues) and written for the screen by Angelo Pizzo (Hoosiers). The score composed by Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith (Patton) helps to serve the story by matching the right music to what is being shown on screen. There are two other cast members of note, not previously mentioned. First is Emmy nominee Jon Favreau (Dinner for Five) as D-Bob. Rudy meets him at Holy Cross and he becomes Rudy’s friend and tutor. The other actor is Emmy winner Charles S. Dutton, who plays the role of Fortune, someone, whom Rudy works with. Fortune  acts as the voice of reason, pointing out to Rudy all of the wonderful things he’s achieved, even if he never gets to play football for the team.

In closing, I was glad I had decided to go back and re-watch “Rudy.” I found it to be a welcome respite from the craziness taking place in the world at this moment in time. I needed a feel good story to entertain me, even it if was just going to last a bit under two hours, and I am happy to write that Rudy didn’t disappoint. If you are seeking the same, and have never seen the film, or even if you have seen it, but, it has been a while, this is definitely the sort of film that can lift a person’s  spirits.

 

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“Dublin Murders”

The first season of Starz compelling “Dublin Murders” is based on a series of books of the same name, written by Tana French. The eight part mystery, that comprises season one, combines the first two books of French’s series, “Into the Woods” and “The Likeness.” Leading a very competent cast is Killian Scott, who portrays Detective Rob Reilly and Sarah Greene, who plays Detective Cassie Maddox. The two are part of the murder investigation division of the Garda (Irish Police).

Set in 2006, in Dublin, Ireland, at the start of the series, the detectives are investigating the killing of a convenience store employee. The duo work well together and the case is quickly solved, but the pair won’t be so fortunate with their next case. Superintendent O’Kelly, portrayed by Conleth Hill, who many viewers may know as Lord Varys from “Game of Thrones,” assigns the duo their next case, which is what the season centers on.

Katy Devlin, (Amy Macken) a thirteen year old, who had tremendous promise as a ballerina, has been found murdered. Her body has been discovered at the sight of an archaeological dig. There is significance as to where she was found. Twenty-one years earlier, in 1985, in the same location, three children had gone missing; of the three, only one boy, Adam (Michael D’Arcy) was found. The two other children, Peter (Niall Jordan) and Jamie (Ellie O’Halloran) were not only never found, but no evidence of foul play or clues as to their possible whereabouts has ever been discovered. For reasons I won’t disclose, for those of you who’d like to watch the series, the detectives know that they shouldn’t take the case. Rob and Cassie initially agree to take it as far as the Devlin family identifying Katy’s body, but that is soon forgotten, as the duo gets more invested in the case.

The Devlin family consists of the father, Jonathan (Peter McDonald); the mother, Margaret (Kathy Monahan); and two daughters, Katy’s twin sister Jessica (Amy Macken) and her older sister, Rosalind (Leah McNamara). There is something seemingly off about the family. The father has enemies, because he is attempting to impede the building of a motorway, that will bring jobs and money to the area. Margaret is mostly withdrawn, however on occasion, she’ll have an outburst. Jessica is autistic and because of that, occasionally says inappropriate things and Rosalind seems to be the family member who is holding everything together. What if anything, is the Devlin family hiding?

Rob and Cassie set out to capture Katy’s killer, but to also learn if there is any connection between what happened to Katy and what took place in 1985. O’Kelly has instructed the duo to look through the evidence from the incident in 1985, to see if there are any similarities. As the detectives delve into the murder investigation, their inquiries bring to the surface unpleasant memories and repressed trauma, for a number of individuals. Further complicating matters, is that a doppelgänger, who Cassie created as an imaginary friend during childhood, to deal with a tragic loss, has surfaced for real. The woman’s appearance prompts Cassie’s former boss, Frank Mackey (Tom Vaughn – Lawlor) to place Cassie undercover at the home of four students, whose leader, Daniel (Sam Keeley), is hiding something. Cassie’s assignment puts her life in real danger.

“Dublin Murders” was directed by John Hayes (The Girl); BAFTA nominee Saul Dibb (NW),  and Rebecca Gatward (Traces). Tana French’s writing was adapted for the series by Sarah Phelps (Great Expectations) and Chandni Lakhani (The Job Lot). Oscar nominee Volker Bertelmann (Lion), composed the soundtrack, which sets the right tone for what is being shown to the viewer. The atmospheric cinematography by James Mather (Prey Alone), Benjamin Kracun (Beast), and Tim Palmer (Breathless), helps to capture the dark mood that permeates the series.

I am not going to get into any more specific plot points, so as not to give too much away. I was engrossed from the start of the series until the closing moments of episode eight, and finished the series in a few watches. For those of you who like well done crime drama, that should keep many viewers guessing as to what happens until the end, this is one that you will more than likely find worth your time.

 

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“Under the Black Hat”

Over the years, there have been numerous wrestling announcers that I’ve enjoyed listening to. The reasons for my liking certain individuals varied: some announcers used humor, others were able to raise my excitement level, because their voice was infused with a tremendous amount of passion, and still others impressed me with their knowledge of the wrestling business. Jim Ross is that rare talent that can do all three. He is, and I know I’m not alone in thinking this, one of, if not the greatest to ever call the action inside, what is known in wrestling parlance as, the squared circle. The first time I sat down to read his book “Under the Black Hat: My Life in the WWE and Beyond,” I intended to read a few pages to get a feel for the book; sixty pages later, when I had to stop reading, to attend to other things, I knew I was hooked.

What some wrestling fans might find surprising, while reading Ross’ book, is that his career with the WWE didn’t commence and culminate with announcing. In fact, Ross was one of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon’s most utilized staff members. Ross, among other positions he held over the years with the company, was the head of talent relations from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. Furthermore, he was in charge of payroll.

“Under the Black Hat” starts directly after where Ross’s first book “Slobberknocker” leaves off, at Wrestlemania XV, which took place on March 28, 1999, at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While WrestleMania XV is the catalyst for the book, what follows delves into nearly two decades of the professional and personal life of Jim Ross.

For those wrestling fans, who perhaps thought life in the WWE was hassle free for Ross, as his book indicates, that was not the case. Ross is extraordinarily grateful to the wrestling business and WWE in general for the opportunities and financial security it has afforded him, but there was a downside. For example, the constant travel and long work days, that took him away from his family, especially his late wife Jan. From reading the book, I could tell that Ross loved her more than anyone else in the world. She was his biggest cheerleader. She knew how much the wrestling business meant to Ross and she stood by him, never once complaining about his time away from her. The only times, according to what was written in the book, that Jan did take issue with Ross’s profession, is when she felt he was being unfairly targeted and when he was disrespected on television. I’ll let those of you who are interested in reading the book learn about those incidents on your own.

For wrestling fans who enjoy learning the gossip of the business, Ross provides plenty of that as well. For example, the failed storyline of “Invasion” which took place after Vince McMahon beat and bought his major competitor, WCW (World Championship Wrestling). The idea was to have the WCW wrestlers start to invade WWE programming, and interrupt matches, create new feuds, and eventually become its own wrestling show, albeit controlled by WWE. The problem was that with the exception of one or two wrestlers, for example, Booker T, none of WCW’s major talent was available. The contracts of wrestlers such as Goldberg, Hogan, and Sting were cost prohibitive. WWE did eventually get all three of the aforementioned wrestlers to work for the company, but they had to wait until the contractual obligations owed to them by WCW were finished.

“Under the Black Hat” was published by Tiller Press on March 31, 2020. Co-written by Jim Ross and Paul O’Brian, it is 320 pages in length. The book is written in episodic style. For wrestling fans interested in gaining behind the scenes access, guided by an individual, who has spent four decades in the business, in my opinion, this is a must read.

 

 

 

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“Unorthodox”

Netflix’s four-part miniseries, “Unorthodox,” is partially based on the 2012, New York Times bestselling memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” written by Deborah Feldman. The compelling story, which was filmed in Yiddish and English, centers on Esther Shapiro (Shira Hass), nicknamed Esty, who at the start of the series, resides in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Esty feels trapped. She’s a nineteen year old girl, who is in a seemingly loveless marriage, that was arranged for her and she is also pregnant. In the opening scene, Esty exits her apartment building, where she lives, leaving everything she owns behind, except for what she can hide in her skirt. The religious reasons for this are imparted to the viewer.

Esty, at first, hoped her marriage to Yanky (Amit Rahav) would bring a positive change to her life, but that hasn’t happened. She is desperate to get away from the restrictive Satmar Hasidic community where she comes from, where women, by and large, are treated like second class citizens. The majority of them, however, willingly go along with the inordinate amount of rules that they must follow, and happily do so, but not Esty. She needs to break free from her metaphorical constraints and the one place she can run to is Berlin, Germany. The reason for the location, is that her mother, Leah (Alex Reid), who also separated herself from the religious community years earlier, lets Esty know that she is entitled to German citizenship. Prior to the Nazis taking power, and implementing oppressive laws against the Jews, Esther’s grandparents had been German citizens. Esty’s piano teacher, Vivian (Laura Becker) helps facilitate her escape, by getting her a passport. The events that helped shape Esty’s decision to flee to Berlin, are revealed to the viewer via flashbacks throughout the series.

Once in Berlin, Esty meets, and makes friends with, a group of students who attend a prestigious musical conservatory. Esty, who has always had a love of music, makes the decision to audition to become a member of the conservatory. Yanky and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch), however, have different plans for her, as they have been tasked by the rabbi (Eli Rosen) to find Esty and bring her back home. Yanky and Moishe, arrive in Berlin, and hour by hour, are closing in on Esty. As the tension builds, and as the two get closer to possibly confronting her, the story effortlessly shifts back and forth between past and present. Shira Hass is able to convey a wide range of emotions that let a viewer know exactly how Esty’s feeling at any given moment.

“Unorthodox” is a glimpse into a world, that for the most part, is not seen by outsiders, not even non-orthodox members of the Jewish faith. The viewer gets to see the closed off community through Esty’s perspective. For example, the sheer liberating power, Esty experiences, when in the first episode, she takes off her sheitel, which is a wig worn by female members of her orthodox community. She doesn’t care, that her real hair, which has been shaved down, is exposed, Esty, in that action, is taking one more step toward the life she wants to live, one where she determines the decisions that will shape her future.

“Unorthodox” premiered on Netflix on March 26, 2020. The dramatic mini-series was directed by Maria Schrader (Aimee & Jaguar). The series, adapted from Feldman’s memoir, was written by Anna Winger (Deutschland), Daniel Hendler (Margin Call) and Alexa Karolinski (Oma & Bella). The music composed by Antonio Gambale (Taken), helps to elevate significant scenes throughout the 213 minute runtime of the four episodes.

I watched “Unorthodox” in two sittings. I knew, next to nothing, about the world that was showcased to the viewer. Since I am originally from New York, I have seen members of the Hasidic community walking around, both men and women, but with the exception of one girl I met, when I was a teenager, who like Esty, had a rebellious steak in her, I had little to no interaction with them. For those interested in learning about religion, especially one, in regard to the ultra orthodox Jewish faith, that doesn’t have a habit of letting the outside world in, “Unorthodox” offers the viewer a fascinating insight, and, for a short duration of time, became for me, at least, binge worthy television.

 

 

 

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“The Way Back”

In the character driven film “The Way Back,” two time Oscar winner Ben Affleck (Argo) gives a solid performance portraying Jack Cunningham. Affleck’s character was an exceptionally talented basketball player, who more than likely would’ve played on a competitive college team and perhaps could’ve even made the transition to the NBA. The school Cunningham played for, Bishop Hayes High School, was once a Juggernaut that amassed victories and championships, but since Cunningham’s playing days in the 1990s, the school has been in a slump and is no longer considered an elite team.

At the start of the film, the current Bishop Hayes head coach has suffered a heart attack. In the interim, Dan (Al Madrigal), who teaches algebra at the school, has taken over as coach of the team. There are some athletes at the school, but Dan is not the right leader to focus them. The team is comprised of young men who are being taught to play fair, and, most importantly, that the results on the basketball court aren’t the end all, be all of their existence; but still, no one likes to lose, especially on a regular basis. The team has its cheerleaders and its chaplain, Father Mark (Jeremy Radin), but it’s lacking the guidance of a strong leader in order to take the first step back toward what it once was.

Cunningham’s life after high school hasn’t been the stuff dreams are made of. He works construction to support himself, is a heavy drinker, and lives alone, estranged from his wife Angela (Janina Gavankar), and isolated from family, like his sister Beth (Michela Watkins). The film will impart to the viewer, the reasons for Cunningham’s behavior.

As the film progresses, Cunningham receives a phone call from Father Divine (John Aylward), who is reaching out to Cunningham to see if he will take over as head coach. Cunningham is reluctant to take on that sort of responsibility, and attempts to come up with valid reasons as to why he’s not the right person for the job, but is unable to come up with something substantial. Cunningham shows up to a practice and in no time, he sets about the task of teaching the team the fundamentals that they’re lacking, as well as strengthening the players’ mental attitude toward the game. His methods weren’t exactly what the school bargained for, as Jack’s temper gets out of hand during games, and his language doesn’t make him the ideal role model for impressionable youth. Over time, the team takes to Jack’s teaching of the fundamentals and he, in turn, begins to open up and share with his players his experiences.

Cunningham’s ultimate goal, in regard to the team, is to coach the team to enough victories in order to earn the team a spot in the playoffs. If the team is successful, it will be the first time a Bishop Hayes High School team has been in the post season since Cunningham’s playing days.

“The Way Back” was released internationally on March 5, 2020. The film was directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior) and written for the screen by  Brad Ingelsby (Run All Night). Comprised of the genres of drama and sport, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes. The score by Rob Simonsen hits all the right chords and matches up well with what is being shown to the viewer on screen.

Those viewers expecting to see a film, where the basketball and the team’s quest to make the playoffs is the central focus of the movie, will be disappointed. While basketball is certainly shown throughout the film, it’s not the central focus of the movie. Instead, Cunningham’s problems and his journey toward possibly coming to terms with his inner conflict is at the center of the film. The film doesn’t reinvent the sports drama, it’s a bit formulaic to be sure, especially to someone like myself, who has watched many sports dramas, but I still found it entertaining.

 

 

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“Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”

Having watched the seven episodes that comprise Netflix’s hit series “The Tiger King,” the one word I would associate with the show above all others, would be addictive. The first time I sat down to watch it, I finished three episodes and wanted to watch more, but I had to get up early the next day for an on-line meeting for work. I had to wait until the following evening to continue following the often times absurd, as well as unpredictable, story of Joe Exotic, real name Joe Schreibvogel, and his feuds, business dealings, political aspirations and his polygamous relationships. I was curious to find out what the culmination of the series would be.

For those of you reading this who haven’t seen the show and are unfamiliar with the name Joe Exotic, he describes himself as follows: “A gay, gun carrying redneck with a mullet.” He was also, at one point, the owner of the Greater Wynnnewood Exotic Animal Park, in Oklahoma, which housed one of the largest wild cat collections in America. Joe is the type of person who craved fame. In addition to what I previously mentioned, he also produced his own country and western music, as well as his own music videos. He also twice ran for political office.

The series takes place during the years 2014-2020, and primarily concerns itself with the rise and fall of Joe Exotic from a successful zoo owner to a man who went into hiding and more. Joe Exotic, however, is not the only eccentric character the show focuses on; additionally there is Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who owns and operates The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Antle, who is married to several women, has his wives work, according to a former employee, sixteen hour days. In addition, there is also former Miami based drug dealer, Mario Tabraue, who claims he got into collecting exotic animals to go legit; Jeff Lowe, is a business man, who will factor prominently in Joe’s life. The reasons being … I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t watched the show yet and want to. Furthermore, featured throughout the series is Carole Baskin, the founder and owner of Big Cat Rescue, located in Citrus Park, Florida.

Baskin is Joe’s  number one nemesis. He despises her, and uses a webcast he hosts to urge that the case into the disappearance of her husband be reopened. Joe believes that Baskin murdered her first husband, Don Lewis, and fed his body to her tigers. The claim Joe makes about Baskin is pure speculation. There is, however, a mystery as to what happened to Lewis, who disappeared on August 18, 1997. Don Lewis’s body was never found, nor was there any tangible evidence discovered to help piece together clues as to what happened to him.

Leaving the disappearance of her first husband aside, Baskin, makes it clear that she wants to put Joe out of business. Even though she is running a rescue zoo, she is, in essence, doing the exact same thing with her animals. Baskin considers herself different, even though she takes in a financial fortune in ticket and merchandise sales. She, however, advocates to help get legislation passed that would make it illegal for people to own exotic animals.  Furthermore, unlike Joe, who pays his employees, Baskin has a large team of volunteers, who work for her.

“The Tiger King” was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020. The series was directed by Rebecca Chaiklin (Lockdown, USA) and Eric Goode. For those of you who like unusual stories, populated by eccentric characters, you will more than likely find “The Tiger King” to be worth your time. Those of you, like myself, who abhor animal cruelty, will have to cringe during certain scenes, but nothing ever gets too extreme. This review is only a small sampling of what you will see throughout the series. I intentionally tried to keep the information I imparted in this post down to a bare minimum, so as not to spoil it for anyone. I know, I was glad, that I had no prior knowledge of the story, before watching the Netflix show, because it made the twists and turns, that much more interesting for me as a viewer.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Nightingale”

The film “The Nightingale” stars Aisling Franciosi (Game of Thrones) as Clare. She is a maid and provides musical entertainment by singing for a group of British soldiers. Clare doesn’t do either willingly; she is forced to, because she committed a crime, and the work and entertainment she has been providing is part of her punishment. Clare has completed her time but, the self absorbed and despicable, Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Clafin) uses Clare for more than her maid services and singing voice, and refuses to give her the necessary letter which would grant Clare her freedom. Hawkins might view her as inferior, because he feels, that as a woman and an Irish woman at that, she is beneath him, but as long as he’s stationed at that particular military post, he wants to keep her around.

Aidan, (Michael Sheasby) Clare’s husband, implores Hawkins to let Clare go, but his pleas are met with rejection. Not too long into the film, Aidan and Clare’s situation goes from bad to worse. Clare lives through a horrific ordeal, which includes her being raped. The brutality is carried out by Hawkins and two of his troops, Ruse (Damon Harriman) and Jago (Harry Greenwood).

While a viewer might at first think that what is being presented is a simple revenge tale, that has been done numerous times before, it’s not. Clare first attempts to seek justice against those who wronged her, but those in power don’t want to hear accusations against so called respectable men from a criminal. Even as Clare sets about on her journey to relentlessly pursue Hawkins and his men for the atrocious acts they committed against her and her family, she feels guilt, that torments her.

The story takes place in 1825, in Van Diemen’s Land, which is modern day Tasmania, an island state of Australia. Historically, during the time the film deals with, there is a violent conflict between British colonists and Aboriginals. The conflict is known as the ‘Black Wars.’ Clare having been born and raised in Ireland, was sent to Van Diemen’s Land to serve out her punishment. Other than the area where she lives and works, she is not familiar with the island, and therefore must hire a tracker to safely lead her through the terrain to the town where Hawkins and his men have gone; the Lieutenant is seeking a promotion to captain. (As an aside: The language spoken by the Aboriginals is called Palawa Kani and is almost extinct. The movie is the first time that the language has been spoken in a mainstream film).      

Clare hires Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) an Aboriginal tracker. The on screen chemistry shared by Franciosi and Ganambarr is what propels the majority of the film forward. Ironically, Clare views Billy as someone she can order around and doesn’t feel he has the intellectual capacity to understand what she has gone through, and why she must continue with her quest, to make sure that Hawkins and her men get what they have coming to them. Viewers will notice, over time, Clare’s mindset regarding Billy will begin to change. For example, she begins to refrain from calling him boy and instead uses his name. Billy, views Clare in a different light, when he finds out she is Irish and he understands that the two of them both despise the British for the wrongs they have perpetrated against each of them individually.  

“The Nightingale” was written and directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook). The film had its premier on September 6, 2018 at the Venice Film Festival. Comprised of the genres of adventure, drama and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 136 minutes. The pace of the harrowing and powerful film is well executed. This is not the sort of movie where, every once in a while, I was checking my watch to see what time it was. I was invested in what I was watching.

Those interested in seeing the film should take note that there are several brutal scenes which are shown during the film. Although these scenes may be uncomfortable to watch, the violence is not gratuitous; each scene serves a purpose to the overall story, as they pertain to character motivation or presenting the true nature of certain individuals. For those seeking a different take on the standard revenge film, with the knowledge that certain scenes will be difficult to watch, this is the sort of film that should hold most viewers’ interest from start to finish.

 

 

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