“Night Gallery Series Launches Spielberg’s Career”

“Good evening. And welcome to a private showing of three paintings displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way; not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare. Our initial offering: a small gothic item of blacks and grays. A piece of the past known as the family crypt. This one we call simply “The Cemetery.” Offered to you now, six feet of earth and all that it contains. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Night Gallery.”

The above words were spoken to the viewer by Six-time Emmy winner Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone),  as he introduced the pilot episode of the “Night Gallery.”  The anthology series aired on NBC television from 1969 through 1973, and was nominated for two Emmys during its run. The 98 minute pilot episode, which premiered on November 8, 1969, consisted of three stories: “The Cemetery, directed by four-time Emmy nominee Boris Sagal (Masada), stars Emmy winner Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes). McDowall’s character, Jeremy Evans, is the unscrupulous nephew of wealthy artist William Hendricks (George Macready). He is not only counting the minutes until his uncle’s passing, but attempting to help expedite it. Once Hendricks dies, his fortune passes to Evans as his sole beneficiary. Evan’s actions are found utterly contemptible by Mr. Hendricks’ long serving butler, Osmond Portifoy, played by Emmy and Grammy winner Ossie Davis (Finding Buck McHenry). Portifoy’s contempt, however, for Evans, isn’t as genuine as it seems, and at the conclusion of the episode, both men get more than they bargained for. The third episode, “The Escape Route,” directed by Barry Shear (Across 110th Street), deals with life on the run for a former Nazi, SS-Gruppenführer, Josef Strobe, portrayed by two-time Golden Globe winner Richard Kiley (A Year in the Life). He is living in Argentina under the name Helmut Arndt, and is constantly plagued by nightmares. Desperate for peace, he thinks he might have discovered a way out of our world, and having to constantly be on the lookout for the Mossad, but his desire to escape punishment for his crimes leads him to make a fatal mistake. While I was entertained by both episodes, and appreciated the Rod Serling brand of justice that was doled out to the characters, this post is about the second episode of the pilot, “Eyes.”  (As an aside: “Eyes” and “The Escape Route” are based upon stories in Rod Serling’s novella “The Season to Be Wary,” published in 1967).

In the episode “Eyes,” there exists the culmination of one career, that of Oscar winner Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce), and the burgeoning start of another, Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan),  who went on to win, so far, among a multitude of other awards, three Oscars, and is known the world over for creating some of the most beloved films of all time. For her work on the episode Crawford was compensated $50,000 for her time, compared to Spielberg who earned $275 dollars. I don’t have any idea what Spielberg’s financial situation was at the time, but I would think the money on that particular job was secondary, because he was being paid to direct for the first time ever. As it turns out, after Spielberg was hired, Crawford almost derailed his dreams. She contacted the then studio chief of Universal Pictures, Sid Sheinberg, and stated that if Spielberg wasn’t removed and replaced by a veteran director, she was quitting. Sheinberg informed Crawford, that the studio planned to stick with Spielberg, and if she left, they weren’t going to stop her. Crawford relented, and wound up becoming friends with Spielberg, a friendship that lasted until she passed away on May 10, 1977.  (As an aside: Two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis (Dangerous) was the first choice to play the role of Claudia Menlo, but she turned the part down).  

 In the episode, Crawford portrays the heartless, elderly, wealthy, Miss Claudia Menlo, a woman who has been blind since birth. She has arranged for Dr. Frank Heatherton, played by Emmy nominee Barry Sullivan, to come to her penthouse on Fifth Avenue, because she wants to discuss something of great importance with him in person. From the exchange of dialogue between the two, it is made clear to the viewer, that Miss Menlo and Dr. Heatherton have already discussed the matter on the phone. What Miss Menlo wants is for the doctor to perform an experimental eye surgery on her. The catch is, the procedure, which has only been performed on animals, restores the vision for no more than twelve hours. Heatherton logically points out, that even if he were willing to perform the operation, he can’t think of anyone who would be a willing donor for the procedure. Miss Menlo dismisses him outright, insisting that everyone has a price, and that she has already found herself a donor. The news is something which stuns Dr. Heatherton.

The donor Miss Menlo is referring to is habitual gambler Sidney Resnick, a role acted by Emmy nominee Tom Bosley (Happy Days). He’s in debt to a loan shark for $9,000 and has no possible way to pay the money back before harm comes to him. Miss Menlo doesn’t just take Resnick on his word that he’ll show up for the operation, she makes her lawyer draw up papers, making the entire procedure legal; after Resnick signs, he will receive his money. As the viewer will soon learn, neither Dr. Heatherton, nor Miss Menlo’s lawyer, want any part of the ghastly deed, but both men are being blackmailed with information that could end their respected careers. As to what she has on the lawyer, it is never revealed. In regard to Dr. Heatherton, however, we learn that if he doesn’t perform the procedure, Miss Menlo will release information about his involvement in a butchered abortion, resulting in the death of a young girl.

Miss Menlo gets her surgical procedure. Before leaving, Dr. Heatherton gives her instructions about removing the bandages, explaining that they should be removed slowly, and that the lights in the room should be dimmed, to give her eyes a chance to gradually adjust to light. Miss Menlo waits for Dr. Heatherton to leave, and she can’t unwrap the bandages quickly enough, the lights have also not been dimmed. Once she unwraps the last bandage, she opens her eyes, and then….

Spielberg’s work, on the episode, did not look like that of a first time director, but rather the creation of someone who had worked in television for a number of years, and knew what they were doing. He experiments with the conventions of the way television was filmed at the time; and utilizes several interesting angles for certain shots. For example, at one point, he films Joan Crawford by showing her through the reflection of a crystal chandelier. Crawford was able to summon up an excellent performance, and Bosley and Sullivan gave very competent performances. Spielberg would return to “Night Gallery” to direct the episode “Make Me Laugh,” which premiered on January 6, 1971. For fans of the director, or merely film in general, who want to see the professional beginning for an icon of the entertainment industry, all of the seasons of “Night Gallery” are available on DVD. The episode “Eyes,” as of the writing of this post, can also be found on-line.

 

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“He Knows You’re Alone”

Two-time Oscar winner, and four-time Golden Globe winner, is just a snippet of the accolades that Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump) has received during his illustrious career in film. Hanks, like everyone who has gone on to achieve greatness in their profession, had to start somewhere. Hanks made his film debut in “He Knows Your Alone.” The character he portrayed was Elliot, a college freshman, who is majoring in psychology, and has been running the same trail for some time. He is attempting to work up the courage to ask Nancy (Elizabeth Kemp), who he sees running the same path, on a regular basis, out on a date.

“He Knows You’re Alone” begins with a man (Russell Todd), and his girlfriend (Debbie Novak), fooling around inside a car. A noise is heard by the girl, who believes her ex-boyfriend might have followed the couple to where they have parked. The man gets out to investigate and is subsequently killed. As it turns out, while it is the beginning of the film, it really isn’t the beginning of the storyline, because when the camera pulls back, it is revealed to the viewer, that what is being shown, is a movie within the movie. Marie (Robin Tilghman) is not a fan of horror films, so she leaves to use the restroom. When she returns, she asks her friend Ruthie (Robin Lamont) if they can leave, but Ruthie is into the movie, so she wants to stay until the end. Ruthie’s decision will wind up costing Marie her life. Sitting directly behind her is a man, whose identity the viewer will soon learn. He waits for the very moment when the audience screams to stick a knife in Marie’s back. This is not merely a filler scene designed to open the movie, but instead, does a good job of setting in motion what is to come.

The plot for “He Knows You’re Alone,” which is parts horror and thriller, is rather straightforward. Ray (Tom Rolfing) is a jilted lover who was left on his wedding day by his bride-to-be. The incident doesn’t sit well with him, so much so, that he begins to kill brides before their nuptials. One particular bride that he murders, was the fiancée of Detective Len Gamble (Lew Arlt). Detective Gamble tracks Ray for months, as his body count of would-be brides rises exponentially, but Gamble doesn’t manage to catch the serial killer. Amy (Caitlin O’Heaney), soon to be married to Phil (James Carroll) who has gone away for a weekend of bachelor fun with his friends, has caught the killer’s attention. Amy begins to suspect that someone is following her, but her friends believe it is just pre-wedding nerves. Complicating matters, is that Amy is seemingly still interested in her ex-boyfriend, Marvin, played by two-time Emmy winner Don Scardino (30 Rock). He lets it be known that he’s still interested in her, and that it is not too late to back out of her wedding and run away with him. (As an aside: Gamble’s partner, Detective, Frank Daley, is played by Paul Gleason, who is most known for playing the unlikable, assistant principal, Mr. Vernon, in the 1985 film “The Breakfast Club” which was written and directed by John Hughes. Furthermore, fans of the soap-opera, “Days of our lives” might recognize the character of Joyce, played by Emmy nominee Patsy Pease, who portrayed Kimberly Brady on the series).

Will Ray eventually be caught by Detective Gamble? Does Amy make it to her wedding day with Phil? Can Marvin convince Amy that Phil is not the right man for her? How many people will fall victim to Ray before he is stopped? Will he be stopped? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“He Knows You’re Alone” was directed by Armand Mastroianni (The Clairvoyant), with a script written by Scott Parker (Die Laughing). The film premiered in America on August 29, 1980. In addition to Tom Hanks, Emmy winner Dana Barron made her screen debut in the film. For those of you, who may not be familiar with the name, she played Audrey Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”  Furthermore, in the original script, Hanks’ character Elliot, was supposed to be killed, but he was so well liked on the set, that the writers and producers agreed to remove his death from the film. The music composed by brothers Alexander and Mark Peskanov which is heard throughout the film is “Halloween” inspired. There were moments while watching, that I thought I was going to hear the full iconic John Carpenter theme music from his 1978 horror classic. Filmed for fifteen days on Staten Island, New York, with an approximate budget of $250,000, the film went on to gross approximately five million dollars.

For a film with a body count that approaches double digits, it isn’t gory. Instead it relies on character development, back-story, and suspense, which elevates it above a standard slasher movie. From a cinematic historical perspective, I wanted to see the film because it was Tom Hanks’ screen debut. In the interest of full disclosure, for those of you who might want to watch the film for the same reason, Hank’s screen time is limited, and he doesn’t make an appearance until approximately one hour into the film, which has a runtime of 94 minutes. I am not going to claim that “He Knows You’re Alone” is  a great film, because it is not, but it isn’t a bad film either. I primarily watched it to see Hanks’ debut, small as the role was, but the overall film did hold my interest from start to finish.

 

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“Black Christmas (1974) – A Horror Gem From Canada”

Several days prior to Christmas, a man, who will become known as Billy, enters a sorority house through the open window of the attic. Moments later the phone begins to ring. The viewer is made aware that this is not the first time the sorority sisters have received an obscene phone call from what they think is a sick prankster. Barb, who is outspoken, and seemingly always has been drinking, is portrayed by Emmy winner Margot Kidder (Superman); she takes the phone call. Huddled near her, is the more timid, Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin); the strong-willed Jess, played by Golden Globe winner Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet); and the studious Phyl, a role acted by two-time Emmy winner Andrea Martin (SCTV). Barb thinks nothing of the phone call, until the end of the call, when the caller states clearly, that he is going to kill her.

Clare leaves the party moments later to pack. She is scheduled to meet her father (James Edmond) the next day. He is picking her up to bring her home for the holidays. Clare is also debating how she will break the news to her parents, that her boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), will be joining them for their Christmas celebration. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have to struggle with her thoughts for very long, because she becomes the first victim of the deranged Billy. While she is packing, he suffocates her with a plastic bag, and then proceeds to place her body in a rocking chair, that sits directly adjacent to the attic window; there it will remain for the film’s 98 minute duration. There has been fan speculation, that Billy, based on what he utters during his phone calls, and his knowledge of the house, had perhaps previously grown up in the house, where it’s  alluded to that a terrible incident took place.

The next day, after waiting for 30 minutes, and with no sign of Clare, Mr. Harrison makes his way to the sorority house Once there, he begins to inquire as to where he might be able to find his daughter. As the hours pass, and Clare has not been found or heard from, Mr. Harrison, accompanied by the sorority housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), and Barb, go to the police station to file a missing person’s report. Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath) listens, but doesn’t think it is anything to worry about; he states that she’s probably off at a ski lodge. We already know that Nash is wrong, because, as it turns out, Clare is not the only girl missing. A local teenage girl has also gone missing, prompting Lt. Fuller, portrayed by Golden Globe winner John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street), to organize a search party for the two missing girls. (As an aside: The role of Lt. Fuller was originally supposed to be played by Oscar winner, Edmond O’Brien (The Barefoot Contessa), but sadly due to his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, he had to be replaced). 

While the search for Clare and the missing girl is being conducted, Jess is dealing with her own problems. She is pregnant by her boyfriend, Peter, played by Golden Globe winner Keir Dullea (David and Lisa). When he is informed of the news, he tells Jess that he wants to marry her. She, however, intends to get an abortion, and does not want to marry Peter, because, as she states, she has many things she still wants to do in life before she settles down. The news of her decision, as well as her stating she doesn’t wish to marry Peter, doesn’t sit well with him. He is a classical pianist who has been studying at a music conservatory for the past eight years, and he has an important audition which he messes up. Afterward, he destroys his piano. Adding further intrigue, is that when Jess arrives home later that evening, Billy calls again. The phone calls features multiple voices, and is increasingly more disturbing, particularly to Jess. Billy repeats, verbatim, parts of the conversation that she had with Peter which unnerves her. Jess begins to wonder if the person calling the house, has been Peter all that time. In the interim, the dead body of the teenage girl has been discovered. Armed with that knowledge, Lt. Fuller, after examining what Peter has done to the piano, not only wants to speak with him, but has stationed a uniformed officer outside of the sorority house, and has also had the phone company put a trace on the line, in order to pinpoint where the calls are coming from. (As an aside: The voices heard during the phone calls were done by actor Nick Mancuso (Regression), an unnamed actress, and the film’s director).   

Will it be revealed that Peter is the killer? Has he been calling up the sorority house all that time, and saying vile things to the girls? Does Jess turning down is interest in marrying her send him over the edge? Is the killer someone else known to the sorority sisters? While some of those questions will be answered by the film’s conclusion, not all of them will be. This is the sort of film where a viewer has to come to their own conclusions on certain things.

“Black Christmas” premiered in Canada on October 11, 1974. The film was directed by Bob Clark (A Christmas Story), with a screenplay written by Roy Moore (The Last Chase). The film was originally titled “Stop Me,” but Clark asked Moore to change the name because he thought it would be an ironic title considering the happiness that the Christmas holiday is normally associated with. Furthermore, the film was the first among the holiday themed horror films. “Black Christmas” certainly has a body count, but it is low on gore, and concerned more with atmosphere and the lives of its characters. For those of you who like horror films that are more psychological than terrifying, this is worth investing your time in.

 

 

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“Alligator” (1980)

Years ago, before I lived in the state of Florida, I came down one winter vacation from school to visit my grandparents. One day, during our visit, my mother told me we were going on a boat ride. For a child, who had already had his fair share of spending hours at a wide array of south Florida shopping malls, I was thrilled. I didn’t realize, however, until after we arrived at the dock, that a large group of people would be joining my family and me. I can’t remember too much of what took place during the ride. I know the glorified captain of the boat was not much more than a tour guide, as he dispensed information to the passengers as to which celebrity lived in this or that house as the boat passed them. The part of the trip I distinctly remember, is when the boat stopped at a small island. While on the island, a show was put on for the boat’s passengers. The entertainment consisted of a man wrestling an alligator; albeit the alligator looked and moved like he was old enough to be a member of AARP, nevertheless, it was still an exciting outing for a little kid.

After the show was finished, my family and I walked around the island, which, minus the show, mainly consisted of people selling food and souvenirs at various stands. There was one particular stand, however, where baby alligators were being sold. Of course, not applying logic or forethought, I asked my mother if I could have one. I figured I would have the coolest pet in elementary school, when I returned home to Long Island. Needless to say, my mother put a decisive end to that line of thinking. Why am I taking you on this trip down memory lane? Well, the reason is, that the film “Alligator” opens in the exact same manner, with a family, watching a man (Jim Brockett) wrestle an alligator. When the show concludes, Marisa (Leslie Brown), a young girl, asks her mother, Madeline (Patti Jerome), to buy her a baby alligator; foolishly, unlike mine, the girl’s mother purchases the baby alligator which Marisa names Ramon. (As an aside: The main plot for the film was taken from the urban legend of how tourists would purchase baby alligators on trips to Florida, and once home, after the alligator began getting bigger, would flush it down the toilet. This legend still persists to this day, especially in New York City, where alligator sightings by city sewer workers have been reported. There is no telling, however, how the random gators got into the sewer, or how long they’ve been there).     

The film opens in 1968. Once at home, in Missouri, with her new pet, it doesn’t take the young girl’s father Bill (Robert Doyle) long before he decides to flush the baby alligator down the toilet. From that scene, the film moves forward in time twelve years. An old part of the city sewer system has recently been worked on, and soon afterward, parts of human bodies, as well as the mangled body of an over-sized dog turns up at the sewage treatment plant. Assigned to the case, is Homicide Detective, David Madison, portrayed by Oscar nominee Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). Madison is haunted by the death of his former partner when he was a member of the St. Louis police force; a death he feels personally responsible for, and about which a reporter named Kemp (Bart Braverman) is constantly asking him questions. Madison is also, to a degree, kept at arm’s length by his fellow officers, who are hesitant to work with him. Forster brings just the right amount of seriousness to the role, but also injects humor into the implausibility of the overall task of attempting to destroy a dinosaur sized alligator.

Madison has recently purchased a new dog from pet shop owner Luke Gutchel (Sydney Lassick) who has gone missing, and who, Madison feels might have been killed in the sewer. As his investigation unfolds, Madison links Gutchel to Slade Pharmaceutical. Gutchel, it seems, was illegally selling captured dogs to the company so they could conduct their experiments. The lead researcher, Dr. Helms (James Ingersoll), has been paying Gutchel cash from a slush fund, and as part of their deal, he made Gutchel dispose of the dogs’ bodies after they had been experimented on. Gutchel was using the sewers to get rid of the evidence of his involvement in the crimes. When questioned by Madison, Dr. Helms admits that dogs are used in their experimentation, but that everything is above board and done according to proper procedure. Helms doesn’t admit, however, that part of the experimentation being conducted is the use of growth hormones to see how large they can grow the dogs.

The press, not getting the answers they want from the police, are speculating as to all sorts of reasons as to what is taking place in the sewers. Desperately wanting to get to the truth of the matter, Madison decides to go down into the sewers to look for answers. When he seeks volunteers, the only officer who will go with him is Kelly (Perry Lang), a rookie cop. The two search through the cavernous, poorly mapped sewers, dressed in waterproof leggings, and carrying gas masks, to put on, so as not to breathe in pockets of methane that is present in certain sections of the sewer. Madison and Kelly agree that they need more help searching, and should return with a crew, but while attempting to exit the sewers, they encounter the alligator. Turning around and running as fast as they can, Madison heads up a manhole cover ladder, but the opening at the top is stuck. As he is trying to push it open, Kelly who is located toward the bottom of the ladder, is carried away by the alligator to his death. When Madison wakes up in the hospital, he screams that he’s seen alligators in the sewers, something which no one believes.

Furthermore, Madison is taken to Dr. Marisa Kendall (surprise: she is the same character that was seen as a young girl at the start of the film), portrayed by Robin Riker (Brothers). Riker’s character is a herpetologist, a person who specializes in the study of reptiles and amphibians. She informs Madison that no alligator living in the sewer could grow to such lengths. The gator would need a considerable food source, but also have to become immune to the toxins, and that alligators need sunlight in order to function properly. After Madison leaves the hospital, Kemp begins questioning the staff and learns that Madison believes that there are alligators in the sewers; always looking for a story, Kemp ventures into the sewers looking for the alligator. He unfortunately finds what he’s looking for. The good thing, however, for Madison is that Kemp’s camera kept clicking as he was being devoured, and once it is recovered the images captured on the film validate Madison’s story. The question now is, how to deal with such a creature?

In addition to Forster and Riker, and the aforementioned actors, additional  members of the cast include: Oscar nominee Michael V. Gazzo (The Godfather: Part II) as Police Chief Clark; also, veteran character actor Henry Silva (The Manchurian Candidate) who plays the character, Colonel Brock, a big game hunter who has been brought in to track and kill the alligator. The film also marks the last on screen appearance for Oscar winner Dean Jagger (Twelve O’ Clock High) as the unscrupulous, greedy businessman, and CEO of Slade Pharmaceutical. Additionally, in her, last acting role to date, Golden Globe winner Sue Lyon (Lolita) has a cameo appearance as an ABC news reporter.

“Alligator” was directed by Lewis Teague (Cujo); the job was originally offered to director Joe Dante (The Howling).The screenplay was written by two-time, Oscar nominee John Sayles (Eight Men Out), based on a story written by Sayles and Frank Ray Perilli (The Doberman Gang).The film premiered on July 2, 1980, and is parts horror – sci-fi, and thriller. Furthermore, years before portraying the iconic, Walter White on “Breaking Bad,” Golden Globe winner Bryan Cranston worked as a production assistant on “Alligator” for the special effects department.

In closing, the gore in “Alligator,” compared to what would probably be shown today, is not plentiful, but more implied by the aftermath of the alligator’s attack. The acting, especially by the leads, is competent. The film moves along at good pace during its 91 minute runtime, and with the exception of one scene, that takes place at the police station involving a would be bomber (John Lisbon Wood), there is no filler in the movie that doesn’t help to move the story forward. In addition, the music provided by Emmy winner Craig Huxley (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), synchs up well with what was taking place in the film. As long as a viewer takes “Alligator” in the spirit in which it was made and meant to be seen, it is a fun film to watch, and one that doesn’t require a lot of thought.

 

 

                                                                                                  

 

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“American Animals”

At the beginning of “American Animals,” the viewer is informed via title information, that the film is not based on a true story, but is in fact, a true story. The film is not a documentary, it is comprised of the genres of crime and drama, however, the actual people, who are being portrayed by the actors, are juxtaposed and comment throughout the film’s 116 minute runtime. The four men add insight, question, and at times, contradict one another, as to what took place in 2004 in Lexington, Kentucky, involving the theft of approximately twelve million dollars in rare books. Included among the books was a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species”  which was originally published on November 24, 1859, as well as an original copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” first published in 1838. (As an aside: Providing further commentary are family members and teachers of the four men).

The four individuals involved in the crime were Chas Allen, Eric Borsuk, Warren Lipka, and Spencer Reinhard. The talented artist and introverted Spencer played by Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), and the athletically gifted, but on-the-edge and irresponsible, Warren, portrayed by Evan Peters (American Horror Story), have been friends since childhood; they are the ring leaders of what they will refer to as the heist. As the narrative advances, Spencer and Warren need to bring in additional people to successfully pull off the robbery. The two are joined by the intelligent and organized Eric (Jared Abrahamson), and the fitness minded and money driven, Chas (Blake Jenner). (As an aside: The actors were not allowed to meet with the people they were portraying until after filming was completed). 

While on a tour for new students at his college library, at Transylvania University, Spencer learns of the books, and their incredible value. The information is imparted to him when librarian, Betty Jean ‘BJ’ Gooch, acted by Emmy winner Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale), takes a group of students into the special collections room. She prefaces the students’ entrance into the room by letting the tour group know, that from that moment forward, they will always have to schedule an appointment to be in the room, and will be accompanied, at all times, by a member of the library’s staff. (As an aside: Prolific German actor, Udo Kier (Blade) appears in a scene in the film as Mr. Van Der Hoek, a Dutch fence, who is interested in purchasing the stolen items).    

Spencer, in what I believe, at the start, was merely an idea in jest, mentions to Warren about the books and their value, as well as, conceivably, how easy it would be to steal them. Warren takes hold of the idea, and begins to meticulously plan the job with Spencer, who again, I feel, was merely involved at the beginning for a way to break the monotony of what he felt was his ordinary life, and in an odd way, inspire his next piece of art work. From the outset, the plan seems doomed to fail, as Warren is shown to the viewer, searching Google as to how to pull off a bank robbery. Furthermore, he rents every heist film from the video store: For example, “The Killing,” and “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

A majority of the planning centers around how to subdue the middle-aged librarian, a task that none of the four participants are seemingly willing to engage in; eventually Warren steps up and agrees to take care of her. Additionally, the logistical problem of getting into and out of the library unrecognized, as well as undetected with the books is, of course, of paramount concern in the planning. A comical fantasy of the crime going off without a glitch is shown to the viewer, and while entertaining, in the end, as I am sure you can guess, the going off without a glitch part, remained just that, a fantasy.

The well executed and tension filled  “American Animals” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2018. The film was written and directed by BAFTA winner, Bart Layton (The Imposter).  I enjoyed “American Animals,” and I think Evan Peters is an excellent young actor, who will only keep getting better. I’ve been particularly impressed with his performances on “American Horror Story, especially seasons five and seven. What do the four teens have to do in order to successfully carry out the job? How far are they willing to take things for thrills and financial gain? What will their punishment be when and if any, or all, of them are caught? Those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

 

 

 

 

                                                                                           

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“Operation Finale”

Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac (Show Me a Hero) portrays Israeli Mossad agent Peter Malkin, in the film “Operation Finale.” Throughout the movie, Malkin is haunted by flashbacks which take place in Lublin, Poland, involving a woman and her children who have been captured by the Nazis. The relationship Malkin had to the woman and the children, as well as what became of them, will be revealed in full by the film’s conclusion. For Malkin, like so many other Jews of the time period, bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, while helping to bring closure to the many, is also deeply personal.

On May 11, 1960, Malkin was working as a member of a team of Mossad agents responsible for apprehending wanted Nazi war criminal, Adolph Eichmann in Argentina, where he was living under the assumed name, Ricardo Klement. Capturing the former German-Austrian Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer, who was known as the architect of the diabolical, Final Solution, was not an easy task. The apprehension took meticulous planning, and along the way faced numerous hurdles that could have potentially derailed the plan to transport Eichmann to Israel to stand trial to answer for his crimes. Malkin, while not the team leader, was the person who physically restrained Eichmann, while he was walking to his house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The team had tracked Eichmann’s moves. They knew that he worked as a foreman at a Mercedes-Benz factory, and that every evening he  took the same bus to return home to his wife Vera, played by Emmy winner Greta Scacchi (Rasputin), and his sons. They deemed this the perfect time to try to capture him. The cover of darkness, and lack of both foot traffic and other cars in the remote area made it the ideal time to attempt to carry out the mission.

Directed by Oscar nominee Chris Weitz (About a Boy), and written for the screen by Matthew Orton (Battle of Britain), the film “Operation Finale” tells the harrowing true story of the lengths the Israeli’s went to in order to capture a high priority war criminal, who had escaped the death sentences, and harsh prison terms given to his criminal cohorts at the Nuremberg trials. The trials were a series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces between November 20, 1945 and October 1, 1946.

The way the Israeli authorities were made aware of Eichmann’s whereabouts, and the fact that he was still alive (it had long been stated that he had killed himself to avoid capture), came from an unlikely occurrence. While at the movies, teenager, Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson), meets Klaus (Joe Alwyn). What Sylvia doesn’t know is that Klaus is the son of Eichmann, a man who he states is his uncle. Conversely, Klaus, a person who has been brought up to despise Jews, is unaware that Sylvia is a Jewish woman, who was raised Catholic, in order to protect her from the Nazis during the war. As their relationship progresses, Klaus takes Sylvia to an unofficial Nazi gathering, where vehement, anti-Semitic rhetoric is spoken. Sylvia informs her father, Lothar, played by Emmy winner Peter Strauss (The Jericho Mile). A trap is set, and Sylvia invites Klaus over for dinner. While talking with Klaus, Lothar believes he has figured out, that the man who Klaus calls uncle, is really his father, Adolph Eichmann. He contacts Tel Aviv, where the Director of the Mossad, Isser Harel, portrayed by Lior Raz (Fauda), at first dismisses the need to follow what could be a case of mistaken identity, and take resources away from other pressing security needs. Mossad agent, Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll), however, states that if the reports of Eichmann’s location are true, there is no way they could live with the regret of passing up the chance to bring such a heinous war criminal to justice.

BAFTA and Oscar winner, Sir Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), gives a compelling performance as the remorseless Eichmann, who states, time and again, that he did what he did out of love for his country and flag, and that he was merely following orders. Flashbacks show that Eichmann was more than just someone who arranged the transportation of Jews to death camps. He also stood by and watched as thousands were shot to death inside of pits. Eichmann’s only concern seemed to be covering his mouth so he wouldn’t have to breathe in the stench of death.

Once Eichmann was captured, and for many years prior to the Mossad getting a hold of him, he had been stripped of his power, and was for all intents and purposes a nobody. While waiting to be taken to Israel, Eichmann is blindfolded, instructed to only speak when spoken to, and chained to a bed in a hidden room in a safe house that serves as the base of operations for the agents. Dealing with Eichmann, who has been viewed by many, and rightly so, to be the embodiment of cold, calculating evil; a man devoid of moral conscious, was a necessary thing, in order to bring him to trial. In the film, Israeli airline El Al, refuses to transport Eichmann on its aircraft, unless he signs a statement indicating that he is willing to be flown to Israel to stand trial for his crimes. There might be some of you, asking the question, why not just forge his signature – who would know? The problem with that, and it is brought up during the movie, is that the agents didn’t have a document with Eichmann’s signature on it, so they had no way of knowing how to forge it, to make it look authentic if the signature had to stand up to scrutiny, which Eichmann’s legal team, most certainly would have insisted on.

Agents take turns guarding Eichmann, when he’s not being interrogated and asked for his signature. Every time the piece of paper is put in front of him, he refuses to sign, offering a variety of reasons. For example, he demands to be tried in a German or Polish court where, according to him, his alleged crimes took place. Tony award winning actor Michael Aronov (The Blacklist), plays interrogator, Zvi Aharoni, who does his best to persuade Eichmann to sign, but is getting nowhere. Peter Malkin takes a different tack with Eichmann, and begins to appeal to his ego. He also removes his blindfold, shaves his beard off, and offers him cigarettes, in an attempt to get him to cooperate.

What happened to Eichmann is well documented historical fact, but for those of you who are interested and might not know what became of him and the Mossad’s mission to bring him to justice, you might want to stop reading now. Once removed to Israel, Eichmann went on trial, protected by a bulletproof glass booth, and two armed guards who accompanied him everywhere he went. During the course of the trial which lasted 56 days, 112 witnesses, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, testified and hundreds of incriminating documents were entered into evidence. On December 15, 1961 Eichmann was found guilty on 15 counts of crimes against humanity, and sentenced to hang. On June 1, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging. His body was cremated and his ashes were poured into the Mediterranean Sea, in order to prevent Nazi sympathizers from setting up a memorial to his memory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I’m Keith Hernandez: A Memoir”

Two-time World Series Champion, 1982, 1986.

Five-time All-Star, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1987.

Eleven Gold Gloves at first base – A Major League Baseball record.

1979 National League Most Valuable Player Award, as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, shared with Pittsburgh Pirates player, Willie Stargell.

1980 Silver Slugger Award winner – The first St. Louis Cardinals first baseman to achieve the honor.

1984 Silver Slugger Award winner – The first New York Mets first baseman to win the award.

Yes, Keith Hernandez accomplished a great deal during his sixteen year Major League Baseball career, but as he states in the opening pages of I’m Keith Hernandez: A Memoir,” his book, is not going to be another clichéd sports memoir. Hernandez opts not to follow a formulaic structure, and I think his decision served him well. Right from the outset, fans of the St. Louis Cardinals, yearning to learn behind the scenes information from Hernandez about the 1982 World Series championship team will be disappointed; so too, will New York Mets fans, and their desire to vicariously relive, through Hernandez, former days of baseball glory that took place during the Mets 1986 World Series championship season, because the book ends in 1980. The memoir delves into the player Hernandez was at the outset of his quest to become a professional baseball player, and what transpired during the years it took for him to achieve his ultimate goal. I learned, much to my surprise, that when Hernandez was younger, even though he demonstrated tremendous ability for playing baseball, he was plagued by insecurities and a lack of confidence. I had never known Hernandez, through his public persona, to be anything but a confident individual, and a person who is not afraid to speak his mind.

Hernandez always impressed me as someone who was highly intelligent, and the memoir confirmed that for me. Furthermore, while I never questioned his obvious love of baseball, I knew from things that he had said, and the book further elaborates on those points, that his entire existence was not consumed with the game he played so well. Hernandez’s interests extend into other areas. For example, he collects both art and books, and is an ardent student of history, especially the history pertaining to the American Civil War.

In his candid, insightful, and entertaining memoir, which seamlessly shifts back and forth from past to present, Hernandez touches on how his father drilled the importance of baseball fundamentals into him at an early age, as well as his relationship with his brother, Gary. In general, the twice married, father of three daughters, does not provide a great deal of information regarding his private life outside of baseball. Readers looking for that sort of tell all book will be left wanting more. Instead, Hernandez delves into areas such as the good and bad he experienced in the minor leagues, everything from the inordinately long bus trips from one ballpark to the next, coping with life away from home for the first time, and cutting loose at the end of a day or evening of playing his hardest. He also spends a portion of the memoir discussing his chase, during the 1979 season, for the National League batting title, where he bested the all-time hits leader, and perennial All-Star, Pete Rose. Additionally, amongst numerous other subjects, Hernandez details how his approach to hitting evolved over the years, from his earliest sessions with his father, John, ( a good baseball player in his own right, although he never made it to the major leagues), to the critical advice he received in the minor and major leagues from veterans of the game, which wound up both helping him, but also, at one point, had an adverse affect on his swing. (As an aside, Pete Rose, the player Hernandez beat for the batting title in 1979 finished his career with 4,256 hits).

Hernandez intersperses the chapters of his playing career with his current job as a member of the on-air, SNY (Sportsnet New York) television team, where he offers viewers his analysis and commentary. He works alongside former major league baseball pitcher, Ron Darling, who in 1989, became the first Mets pitcher to be awarded a Gold Glove; and play by play, announcer, Gary Cohen, who had previously spent seventeen years on the Mets radio team. Hernandez has nothing but praise and respect for his broadcast partners, as well as the individuals, off camera, who keep the production running smoothly. Included in those chapters, are Hernandez’s feelings regarding the current state of baseball. He talks about his views on the impact of expansion; his belief that saber metrics are relied on too much, as opposed to the gut feelings of a team’s manager and coaches, and how the use of such enhanced data extends the length of the games, which dulls their enjoyment for the fans.

Overall, I don’t think a reader needs to have been a fan of either The St. Louis Cardinals, or The New York Mets – nor for that matter did they have to have seen Hernandez play – in order to enjoy the memoir. I think this is the sort of well written, against standard type sports memoir that baseball fans can really enjoy, and lose track of time reading. I know I did on a few occasions, paying for it at work the next day, but I was just so interested in reading what Hernandez had to say, that I kept pushing myself to read a few more pages.

 

 

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