“Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town”

“Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town” is the second official novel, which delves deeper, into the immensely popular Netflix series, “Stranger Things.” The novel explores the life that Hawkins Police Chief, Jim Hooper, lived while working as a homicide detective in New York City. The year is 1977, Hopper, having served several tours in Vietnam, is married to Diane, a school teacher, and is a father to a six year old, daughter, Sara. Once he returned from war, the slow town pace of Hawkins, Indiana, no longer fulfilled him. Seeking a new challenge, Hopper uprooted his family, and moved to New York; eventually, he settles in as a member of the NYPD. (As an aside: In the series “Stranger Things,” Jim Hopper is played by David Harbour, who has received one Golden Globe nomination, and two Emmy nominations, for his portrayal of the character).   

The novel is written by Adam Christopher (Empire State), and it begins in 1984. Hopper’s adopted daughter, Eleven, is bored, because, it is Christmastime, and her friends, especially Mike, are off visiting family. She discovers a box of Hopper’s old case files, pertaining to his work in New York. Hopper’s hesitant, at first, to tell her about his life as a homicide detective, but ultimately relents. The narrative from that moment forward, primarily focuses on the sweltering summer of 1977, but does, occasionally, return to 1984, as Hopper interacts with Eleven. The chapters that take place in 1984, are mostly based off of questions Eleven asks, or comments she makes, about whatever part of the story Hooper has so far relayed to her. (As an aside: The character of Eleven is portrayed in the series “Stranger Things” by Millie Bobby Brown, who has twice been nominated for an Emmy for her work on the show).  

Hopper and his partner, detective Rosario Delgado, are on the trail of a suspected serial killer. The killer leaves behind cards with odd designs on them, at the site of each murder. The detectives are hard pressed to decipher their meanings. As Hopper and Delgado delve further into their investigation, they begin to suspect that the killer has help, not just from some who are willing to follow his lead, but many individuals, who take orders from him. The suspicion is generated by a police informant named Leroy Washington; he claims to have information that is pertinent to the case. Further complicating the investigation is the involvement of a federal agency, that wants to take over the case, and remove Hopper and Delgado from having anything to do with solving the murders. The agency even goes so far as to seize all of the evidence that has been collected in the process. The strong arming tactics of the agency doesn’t sit well with the detectives, who decide to circumvent the direct order they are given by their captain, to drop the case.

The central figure of Hopper and Delgado’s investigation, is a man who goes by the name ‘Saint John.’ He is supposedly the leader of a vast army of gang members who used to belong to different warring factions, but are now united as a gang known as The Vipers. The rumor is, that ‘Saint John’ is planning something horrid to occur in New York City, but other than that, not much else is known. Hooper decides that the only way to get to the truth of what ‘Saint John’ and The Vipers are planning, is if he fully immerses himself in the gang lifestyle, while working undercover.

Who is ‘Saint John?’ Is he really an all powerful gang leader or a delusional person, who has convinced others to go along with his plans? What catastrophe does he want to unleash on New York City? Does Hopper find out in time to stop ‘Saint John’ and his followers from carrying out their mission? If New York City is really in danger, what lengths will Hopper have to go to, in order to protect it?

“Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town” was published on May 28, 2019, by Del Rey, a branch of Ballantine Books, which is owned by Random House. The novel is parts fantasy, suspenseful crime thriller, and science fiction. It also includes a touch of the paranormal. Christopher does an excellent job of capturing the overall demeanor of the character of Jim Hopper. There was nothing that Hopper does in the book in 1977, that I couldn’t see him taking part in during the 1980s, in order to solve a crime, or help Eleven and her friends, defeat the latest enemy of Hawkins, Indiana. The 432 page novel was well-written and well-paced. For fans of the series, especially those who enjoyed the first novel, “Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds,” as well as those of you wanting to learn more about the past of one of the show’s integral characters, you will more than likely, find the novel a worthwhile read.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Literature | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crawl – An Homage to Creature Features of Old”

The plot for the film “Crawl” is rather straightforward. At its core, it is an entertaining, tension filled, creature feature, that is the perfect summer movie for those seeking some good jump scares. There are no life lessons embedded in its 87 minute runtime. The filmmakers aren’t trying to advance an agenda, or foster a point-of-view on any current political or social issue, and that was more than fine with me; I was merely watching the movie for its entertainment value. Instead, the film concerns itself with the age old story of survival against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Haley (Kaya Scodelario) is a college student, attending Florida State University, on an athletic scholarship for swimming. After practice concludes for the day, she receives a phone call from her sister, Beth (Morfydd Clark). Beth is worried because the entire state of Florida has been placed under a hurricane evacuation warning. Speculation is, that the state could be hit with a Category 5 hurricane, which would have the most impact, because 5 is the deadliest category, and if it did hit Florida, it would cause unimaginable devastation. The reason for Beth’s concern, is that she has not been able to get in touch with their father, Dave, played by Emmy winner Barry Pepper (The Kennedys). Haley assures Beth that she’ll check up on their father. In addition to being her dad, he is also her former swim coach, but he is also someone she’s been estranged from for quite some time.

Haley drives to his apartment, but Dave is not there. Haley figures that the only other place he could be is her childhood home, which has recently been put up for sale on the real estate market. Haley, determined to get her father to safety, despite their less than stellar relationship, ignores the oncoming warnings on the news of the destructive weather, and continues onward. She even circumvents a police roadblock, as she heads in the opposite direction of where everyone else is fleeing in terror.

When Haley arrives, she finds her father, in the crawl space, underneath the house. He had gone down into the crawl space to fix something, and in the process, got a lot more than he bargained for. Dave is not only unconscious, but has been badly bitten by an alligator. Haley’s discovery of Dave, in that condition, is merely the beginning of their problems. Dragging Dave behind a set of pipes, that the gator can’t navigate through, is the only thing, that momentarily, will keep them safe. Additionally, Haley soon learns, after she attempts to get help, that there is more than one gator already present in the crawl space. The flood waters steadily rise, and the overflow pipe, which Dave had opened and had been working on, which runs directly into the crawlspace, makes an easy entry point for more gators to gain access to the house.

In order to survive, Haley will have to use all her wits, put aside her differences with her father, and use her athleticism, if she’s to have any sort of chance of saving herself, Dave, and the poor family dog, Sugar. Conversely, even if Haley is successful in getting the three of them to safety, out of harm’s way of the snapping grasps of the hungry reptiles, mother nature’s fury is still bearing down on Florida at an alarming rate.

What lengths will Haley go to in order to get herself, Dave, and Sugar to safety? Can Haley and Dave put their differences aside, and work together to figure a way out of the nightmarish predicament? Who, if anyone, will live? Who, if anyone, will die? Can help reach the stranded family in enough time to save them? Is the arrival of help even possible under the circumstances?

“Crawl” premiered on July 10, 2019 in Indonesia. Co-written for the screen by brothers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, the film is parts action – drama – horror and thriller. The movie was directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension). Fans of the director’s other films, might be let down if they were craving to see a good deal of gore on the screen. Aja is more restrained and audience friendly with this film than he has been in his previous work. In “Crawl,” he opts to keep the focus on the story of survival, while simultaneously building the suspense and ratcheting up the tension.

I enjoyed “Crawl” because it was exactly what I expected it to be based upon its trailers and the few things I had read about it prior to its release. I wanted a well paced, efficient film, that packed a number of thrills, and it didn’t disappoint. Furthermore, it kept me guessing as to not only where the next gator attack would come from, but if the humans, whom I of course wanted to see survive the impending doom, would actually be able to do so.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Fatal Attraction”

Over the years, the film “Fatal Attraction” would occasionally come up in conversation, while I was talking with someone about movies. One of those instances happened just recently. I was easily able to recall the three main stars of the film, as well as the plot, but then it dawned on me – I haven’t actually seen the movie, since I was a teenager, when I watched it on HBO. I realized that meant that it had been over two decades since I last saw the film. I decided, over the past few weeks, to search my local library, Netflix, Amazon, and the various cable television stations, for films that, like “Fatal Attraction,” I haven’t seen in many years. I can say, at the outset, that thanks to the excellent acting, I wasn’t disappointed to revisit a film, which received six Academy Award nominations at the 1988 Oscars.

The plot is rather straightforward, and as previously mentioned, if not driven by the acting talents of two time Oscar winner Michael Douglas (Wall Street), and three time Golden Globe winner Glenn Close (Damages), could’ve wound up being rather mediocre. In the film, Douglas portrays Dan Gallagher. He is a lawyer, who is a devoted father to his six year old daughter Ellen (Ellen Latzen), and a seemingly happily married man to his wife Beth, played by two time Golden Globe winner Anne Archer (Short Cuts). At the start of the film, Dan and Beth are preparing to attend a party in honor of the launch of a new book by the publishing house Dan’s law firm represents. During a brief exchange at the party, Dan meets publishing executive, the engaging, frizzy-haired blonde, Alex Forrest, who is portrayed by Glenn Close. Even though his wife, is nowhere near him, during their conversation, Dan, to his credit, perhaps the only credit due him in the film, admits that he’s married. (As an aside: while filming “Fatal Attraction,” Michael Dogulas was simultaneously filming “Wall Street,” he would alternate days between the two film sets).

While Dan and Alex’s encounter at the book launch party could’ve been a one and done deal, it was not. The two are soon brought back together, because of pending litigation against the publishing house Alex works for. After a meeting regarding the lawsuit, Alex spots Dan outside on a Manhattan street, struggling with his umbrella, which fails to work in a heavy rain storm. She hurries over to him, and covers him with her umbrella. Dan suggests the two of them get a drink, and ride out the storm, at a nearby restaurant. Once inside, as drinks are being imbibed, Alex makes no secret that she’s attracted to Dan, and is more than willing to cater to his sexual desires. The two are soon headed back to Alex’s place, where all manner of fornication, in various locations, takes place. Dan leaves to go home, content with the passionate, one night stand, that he has shared with Alex. Once back home, however, Alex soon calls him, inviting him back out for more fun. As luck would have it, Dan’s wife is out of town with their daughter and Dan, has already received a phone call from his wife, informing him, that she’ll be away for another evening, so he gladly accepts.

At the conclusion of their fun filled weekend, Dan states, he has to leave; his wife and child will be returning, and he has to go back to being the dutiful husband and father he had been prior to their encounter. Dan was under, as it turns out, the misguided impression, that what he and Alex shared was a wonderful weekend together, and that at its conclusion, things would return to normal. While that might have been Dan’s mindset about their time together, it certainly wasn’t what Alex was thinking. In order to keep her relationship with Dan from ending, Alex commits the first of a number of brazen acts, to ensure that he stays a part of her life. The more Dan rejects Alex, the more she escalates her involvement in his life in detrimental ways.

“Fatal Attraction” premiered on September 16, 1987 in New York City, New York. James Dearden wrote the screenplay for the film, based off of “Diversion,” a short film he had written and directed in 1980. Dearden received an Oscar nomination for “Fatal Attraction,” as did the film’s director Adrian Lyne (Flashdance). The film, which had a budget of $14,000,000, was a box office success, its worldwide gross totaling approximately $163,500,000.

Trivia buffs takes note: A number of different actors and actresses were considered to play the parts that Dogulas and Close ultimately wound up portraying. For the role of Alex Forrest, actresses that were considered, included, but weren’t limited to, the following: Golden Globe winner Kirstie Alley (Cheers); Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue, who was already committed to filming “Adventures in Babysitting” at the time; Emmy winner Gilda Radner (Saturday Night Live); and two time Oscar nominee Isabelle Adjani (Camille Claudel) who was offered the part outright, but turned it down. Conversely, BAFTA winner Christopher Reeve (Superman) was initially offered the role of Dan Gallagher, but passed on the part. Reeve was far from the only actor being considered, a few of the many that were in contention for the role included: Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness); two time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forest Gump); two time Golden Globe nominee Dennis Quaid (Everybody’s All American); and Oscar winner Jon Voight (Coming Home).

What lengths will Alex go to in order to keep Dan in her life? Is anything off limits in her quest to make him her man? If Alex is acting irrationally, isn’t Dan, at least, in part, to blame? If he hadn’t cheated on his wife, and had rejected her advances outright, she would have had no reason to obsess over him. Those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion, which is worth watching, as previously mentioned, if for no other reason, than the intense chemistry shared on screen by Douglas and Close.

The film is ambiguous, in a sense, because both Dan and Alex, can be viewed as the instigator, or in the wrong, based upon their actions. Dan, did admit to being married, but he could’ve refrained from cheating on his wife. Alex, knowing that Dan had been truthful with her from the outset, didn’t need to take things to the extreme that she did, with a man, who never promised her he would leave his wife and commit himself to her. Who is in the right, and who is in the wrong, or do both Dan and Alex, get what they deserve based on their actions? In the end, the audience is left to decide.                                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

“Stranger Things Season Three”

Warning: Minor Spoilers Throughout

The anticipation and excitement amongst fans of the Netflix series “Stranger Things” was palpable when season three premiered on July 4, 2019. For my own part, I wondered the following: What would take place over the course of the eight episodes of the new season? For instance, would The Upside Down, still feature prominently in the show, or would our group of Hawkins’ heroes have a new enemy to contend with? How would new characters fit into the series? Well, if you’ve seen the third season, you know I got my answers to those questions. From the opening credit score, composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, I was hooked, and eagerly waiting to find out what the creators of the series, Emmy nominees Matt and Ross Duffer, were going to delve into for the new season.

The third season begins during the summer of 1985. The town of Hawkins, Indiana is busy preparing for a Fourth of July celebration. The newly introduced character Mayor Larry Kline, played by Cary Elwes (Saw), wants the celebration to be the most entertaining event the residents of Hawkins have ever taken part in. Not giving much thought to the upcoming celebration, nor the new Starcourt Mall, which is helping to eradicate local businesses, are Mike Wheeler, a role acted by Finn Wolfhard (IT), and the powerful telekinetic, Eleven, portrayed by two time Emmy nominee Millie Bobby Brown (Godzilla: King of the Monsters). The two teens are spending a great deal of time together. Their relationship is something which irks, Eleven’s adoptive father, Hawkins Police Chief Jim Hopper, played by Golden Globe nominee David Harbour (Quantum of Solace). His unhappiness with the situation prompts him to seek advice from Joyce Byers, who is portrayed by Golden Globe winner Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence). She gives him good advice on how to handle Mike and Eleven’s teenage romance; whether Hopper takes it or not, I’ll let those of you who haven’t seen the show yet, find out for yourselves.

In addition to Mike and Eleven, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink), are an on again, off again, couple, according to Lucas, who lets it be known that Max has dumped him on five separate occasions, only to take him back when he’s apologized for the errors of his ways. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), who has been away for a month at science camp, also has begun a budding teenage romance with a girl named Suzie, who lives in Utah, or so he claims to his skeptical friends. Dustin’s relationship, if it does exist, leaves Will (Noah Schnapp), as the only member of the original quartet of friends, who is not involved in a relationship. Will still wants to sit in Mike’s basement and play marathon sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, replete with costumes and a musical accompaniment, his friends, however, seem less than enthusiastic about the idea.

The Mind Flayer has returned once again, thanks to the involvement of Cold War era Russian scientists, who have managed to open the gate to the Upside Down, that Eleven closed at the end of the second season. This time, however, the creature’s conduit for unleashing its destructive force, isn’t Will Byers, but rather, Billy Hargrove (Dacre Montgomery), Max’s step-brother. Billy, perhaps thought he was going to be able to have a relatively stress free summer. He’s working as a lifeguard at the Hawkins community swimming pool. Furthermore, he’s attempting to make his fantasies of having a relationship with the married, Karen Wheeler, played by Emmy nominee Cara Buono (Mad Men), a reality, but the Mind Flayer, has something else in store for him.

There are other characters working to oppose the malevolent force during season three, whether they know it’s in conjunction with fighting the Mind Flayer or not. For example, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and her boyfriend, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton), are interns at the Hawkins Post newspaper. One evening, Nancy, whose been relegated to menial tasks, and whose ideas for stories are continuously belittled and dismissed by Post staff members, such as Bruce (Jake Busey), who enjoys making fun of her by calling her Nancy Drew, receives a phone call. The woman she speaks to, a Mrs. Driscoll (Peggy Miley), relays a story about an unusual rat, that has eaten through multiple bags of fertilizer. Sensing an opportunity for a story, she enlists Jonathan’s help, and goes out to interview the woman. Unbeknownst to Nancy and Jonathan, the rat, and it won’t be the only one that will be shown, is all part of the Mind Flayer’s master plan.

Fans hoping to see the continuation of the friendship between Dustin and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), that began in season two, fear not, it does continue. While Steve was very popular in high school, he’s not such a big deal in the real world. His poor grades, have diminished any chance he had of getting into college, and his prospects, at least at the moment, are slim. He takes a job at Scoops Ahoy, a new ice cream shop, that has opened at the mall. Some of the best banter of the season takes place between Steve and his sarcastic co-worker Robin (Maya Hawke). Robin, however, is not just there for comic relief. After Dustin intercepts a coded Russian message on his high tech radio, Robin becomes entangled with Dustin and Steve, in attempting to decode it, and find out what the Russians are doing in Hawkins. Furthermore, they will need the help of the most unlikely person imaginable, Lucas’s sister, the self-described, nerd hater, Erica (Priah Ferguson). Additionally, working to uncover what is taking place in Hawkins, without getting into spoiler details, are Hopper and Joyce. They are joined by private investigator, Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), whose remarks provide comic relief, but whose skills, especially when it comes to translating the Russian being spoken by Dr. Alexei (Alec Utgoff), are very much in need.

Will the combined forces of the teenage protagonists, and the adults who love them, be able to stop both the Mind Flayer and the Russians? What exactly is the Mind Flayer trying to accomplish this time around? Why do the Russians want to unleash a literal hell on earth?

Netflix upped the ante on all levels for the series’ third season. The horror elements are more graphic and gory, the action more intense, and the realization for one character, in particular, that no matter how desperately an individual might want to cling to their childhood, and avoid the emotional angst that is a part of growing up, once that period of a person’s life has concluded, that’s it, sadly; there is no going back to start again. Please, don’t get the wrong idea, there are some good positives that take place during the season. For example, the friendship that forms between Eleven and Max, without the involvement of their respective boyfriends. Season three of “Stranger Things” held my interest from start to finish, and my only complaint was that there were only eight episode, which took me next to no time to watch. I will state, in closing, however, that I hope a certain someone, is the person, I think it is, sitting in the closed off Russian jail cell, in the very last scene of season three of the series.

 

 

                                                                                                  

Posted in TV Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Yesterday – Presents An Interesting What If Question”

In the film “Yesterday,” Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a musician whose career is at a standstill. He plays guitar and sings songs he’s written, in front of small crowds at coffee shops, and other local venues, where the only applause he receives are from his friends. One of those friends is his manager, Ellie, portrayed by Lily James (Downton Abbey). Ellie has been Jack’s friend since childhood. It was during their childhood, when Ellie first recognized something special in Jack, during a school talent show where he performed the song “Wonderwall” by the band “Oasis.”  

After ten years of struggling to make it in the music business, Jack is ready to quit music. He’s tired of working part time jobs, for little money, and is thinking that he will go back to teaching full time. The same night he informs Ellie that he’s giving up his musical ambitions, there is a global blackout that lasts for twelve seconds. During that time, while riding his bicycle home, Jack is hit by a bus. Upon waking up in the hospital, his ever loyal friend and manager, Lily, is there to greet him. When she gets up to leave, Jack makes reference to the song “When I’m Sixty-Four,” which was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and recorded for “The Beatles” 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”  Lily asks “why the number sixty-four?” Later on, Jack again makes reference to “The Beatles” in front of Lily, as well as their friends Carol (Sophia Di Martino) and Nick (Harry Michell), none of whom know what he is talking about. They are, however, all moved when he plays the song “Yesterday,” acting as if they’ve never heard it before. At first, Jack thinks it is all part of some prank they’re playing on him.

Later that evening, Jack searches on-line for references to “The Beatles,” but nothing he finds online makes mention of John, Paul, George and Ringo. He searches his record collection, and not one “Beatles” album is to be found. Somehow, the blackout changed history, at least musically, and “The Beatles” never existed. Jack is seemingly the only person, who remembers the group, and their music.

Sensing an incredible opportunity to become the world famous musician he’s always dreamed of becoming, Jack writes down the lyrics to as many Beatles songs as he can remember. He begins performing the songs, but the crowds reactions are still on the icy side. One person, however, Gavin (Alexander Arnold), loves what he’s hearing, and agrees to record Jack. The record leads to a television appearance, which further leads to Jack being contacted by four time Grammy winner Ed Sheeran (Divide). Sheeran, who plays himself in the film, asks Jack to accompany him to Moscow, to be his opening act, where Jack performs a rocking version of “The Beatles” song “Back in the U.S.S.R,” and the crowd goes crazy for it, because it’s all new, as far as the audience is concerned.

After the show, Jack is approached by Sheeran’s manager, Debra Hammer, played by two time Emmy winner Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live). She is a Los Angles based music executive, who is very interested in representing Jack, and makes no pretense that she is going to reap great financial reward from his success. In addition to the aforementioned actors, there are others worthy of mention. Joel Fry (Game of Thrones), plays Rocky, Jack’s roadie, who more often than not, provides comic relief. Furthermore, Meera Syal and Sanjeev Bhaskar, who both received BAFTA nominations for their roles on  “The Kumars at No. 42,” portray Jack’s parents Sheila and Jed. Additionally, late night talk show host and multiple Emmy winner James Corden (The Late Late Show with James Corden) has a cameo in the film. (As an aside: Ed Sheeran might not have been in the film, as his role was originally offered to Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, but  Martin couldn’t take the part due to scheduling conflicts).      

As I was watching the film, the following questions came to mind: Will Jack be exposed as a fraud? Are there other people out in the world, who remember “The Beatles?” Does Jack’s own conscious get the best of him? Does he admit, that his new found fame, is owed to a musical group, that only he remembers?

The film premiered on May 4, 2019 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), it comprises five different genres during its 116 minute runtime. The screenplay for the movie was written by three time BAFTA winner Richard Curtis (Love Actually) based on a story he wrote with Jack Barth (The Fabulous Picture Show). In addition to the seventeen “Beatles” songs that are included in the film’s soundtrack, the score, composed by two time Golden Globe nominee Daniel Pemberton (Gold), provided the right music for what was transpiring on screen. The film could be said to be a bit formulaic in its approach to the material; I wouldn’t argue against that. I also wouldn’t find fault with those that feel the characters, especially the romantic angle between Jack and Lily, needed to be fleshed out more, that’s a respectable point. This is the sort of film, however, where I didn’t much mind the two main critiques I’ve heard some people make about the movie. I went in to watch the film, wanting to see something fun, that featured music I knew I’d very much like, and that’s what it delivered.

 

 

 

 

 

                           

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Fighting With My Family”

The film “Fighting With My Family” centers on the story of former WWE superstar ‘Paige.’ Her character is believably portrayed by BAFTA nominee Florence Pugh (The Little Drummer Girl). Growing up in Norwich, England, Paige, whose real name is Saraya-Jade Bevis, dreamt of wrestling for the WWE. Those dreams were not discouraged by her family. Her father, Ricky Knight (Nick Frost), mother, Julia, played by Golden Globe nominee Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), and brother Zak, acted by BAFTA winner Jack Lowden (Calibre), were all wrestlers, working for Ricky’s independent, England based wrestling promotion the WAW (World Association of Wrestling). Additionally, Zak teaches children in the neighborhood how to wrestle in a class he runs at his father’s gym. He does so, for example, to give children a positive environment in which to socialize and learn, in order to keep them away from drugs and working for the neighborhood’s drug dealers.

In the interim, while performing wrestling shows and overseeing the running of the gym, Ricky would periodically send WWE talent scouts, tapes of Paige and Zak wrestling. One day, Hutch Morgan, played by Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers), calls and offers Paige and Zak an opportunity to come and tryout for WWE, at The O2 Arena in London. The two siblings couldn’t be more ecstatic. (As an aside: Saraya, who wrestled under the name Britani in England, had to change her name, because, at the time, the WWE already had a Britani. She chose the name Paige based off of a character played by Rose McGowan from her favorite television show “Charmed”).

At the conclusion of the tryout, the only person Hutch picks to come with him to America to NXT, the WWE’s developmental training center, located in Orlando, Florida, is Paige. Zak is devastated by not being chosen to advance his dream; especially since its recently been revealed to him that his girlfriend, Courtney, (Hannah Rae) is pregnant. He had hoped that his elevation to NXT, would be the beginning of a lucrative path to being able to provide for everyone in his life. Paige is as equally as distraught as Zak, and threatens to not travel to America, if he can’t go with her. While I certainly understand Zak’s disappointment, and Paige’s familial love for her brother, and wanting to stand up for him, Morgan’s response, rightly so, is that for every person like Paige, who gets an opportunity to perhaps become a part of the WWE, the pinnacle promotion in wrestling, there are a thousand other people, each week, who get told that they just don’t have what it takes. Paige relents at the behest of her brother, who reminds her that she’s not just doing it for herself, but most importantly her family’s possible financial welfare. Paige decides that for the betterment of her family, she’ll take the next step and move to Florida. (As an aside: Former WWE wrestling superstar turned actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Ballers), who served as a co-producer on the film, and has several cameos throughout the movie, played an instrumental role in getting the film made. During the filming of “Fast and Furious 6” in the UK, Johnson was watching television in his hotel room, when he came across the 2012 documentary called “The Wrestlers: Fighting With My Family” about the Knight family. Johnson loved the family’s fighting spirit, and reached out to his contacts in the film industry about turning the documentary into a feature length film).  

When Paige arrives in Florida to begin her training, she stands out in several ways. Firstly, her raven hair, dark eyeliner, and pale skin clashes with the predominately blonde and tanned females she will be competing with. Secondly, she is seemingly the only female, who has had wrestling experience. The backgrounds of the other ladies, who’ve been selected to tryout, were mainly in cheerleading, dancing and modeling. Paige doesn’t have much time to worry about trivialities because once she’s at the NXT development center, she, along with everyone else is put through a rigorous exercise and training program by Hutch Morgan.

Hutch walks around with a horn, and lets everyone know, that if they want out of the agony, all they need to do is squeeze the horn and they can go home. The horn is squeezed a number of times by different people. Those who don’t voluntarily quit, however, are not safe, cuts are made on a weekly basis, for those who’ve not shown enough promise to be future WWE wrestlers. Paige, for the first time in her life, begins to doubt her abilities. She misses her family. She misses her friends, having not connected with the other girls, and is not only in physical pain from the rigors of the training, but feels lonely and isolated. Furthermore, her in-ring persona, which she has had success with over the years, also comes into question. She is forced to make a choice, as to whether or not  to keep persevering with what got her to NXT in the first place, or to change her personality and take her chances.

“Fighting With My Family” premiered on January 28, 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was written and directed by three time BAFTA winner Stephen Merchant (The Office). Parts biography – comedy – drama and sport, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes. This is the sort of film that champions the underdog, which can be enjoyed by wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike. The story, in many ways, could be considered heartfelt. I am a wrestling fan, so I know what transpired in real life, but even with that knowledge, I found myself rooting for Paige to overcome the obstacles placed in front of her, and to achieve her dreams.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“MA”

During the opening scene of “MA,” Erica, played by Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear), and her teenage daughter, Maggie (Diana Silvers), have arrived from California at their new home. The small town they’ve moved to, in Ohio, is where Erica grew up. The reason for the move is that Erica, who is divorced, has been hired by a local casino. Erica’s new job requires her to be away for many hours, and even on a day where she and Maggie had plans to attend a music festival, she’s called in to cover someone’s shift. She has to go in, because as she states to Maggie, she’s the new employee and she can’t say no.

Maggie, is eating alone, on her first day at her new school, when she is approached by Haley (McKaley Miller), and Haley’s friends: Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Paolo), and Darrell (Dante Brown). Haley invites Maggie to come party with her and her friends, and due to her mother cancelling plans to attend the festival, it doesn’t take Maggie long to say yes. Unbeknownst to Maggie, the town’s teens version of partying, is getting an adult to buy them liquor, and then proceeding to get drunk out at the rock quarry. Maggie, on her first time out, is able to persuade lonely, veterinarian assistant, Sue Ann, portrayed by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help) to purchase alcohol for her and her friends. Sue Ann returns with the alcohol, and the teens are off to party. Sue Ann, at that moment in the film, seems like an easy going adult, who remembers what it was like to be that age, but she’s really not. In fact, later on that day, while at work, she calls Ben (Luke Evans), the father of one of the teens, and informs him of what his son, Chris, and his friends are doing, and where they are. The police are called, but fortunately for the teens they’re let go with a warning. Sue Ann’s motivation for her actions will soon become clear. (As an aside: The talents of Oscar winner Allison Janney (I, Tonya) are completely wasted in the throw away role of Sue Ann’s boss, Dr. Brooks). 

While at work, Sue Ann begins checking the teens’ social media accounts, learning their names, likes, dislikes, etc; She knows where they go to school, because she herself attended the same school when she was their age. Flashbacks show a teenage Sue Ann (Kyanna Simone Simpson) being used and abused by her more popular classmates. Sue Ann is still haunted by the traumatic experiences of her youth, which makes her, for a time, during the film, a sympathetic character.

The next time Sue Ann encounters the teens, she knows full well that they can’t return to the rock quarry to party, so she offers her basement as a safe place for them to spend time, and drink. She claims she would hate if anything were to happen to them, if they got behind the wheel drunk and got into an accident. Sue Ann, who Darrell nicknames ‘ma,’ a name which will stick, only has two rules: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and don’t venture upstairs where she lives. One of the teens remarks that if Sue Ann made some adjustments to the way the basement is set up, that it could be a great place to party. Sue Ann takes the cue from the teens, and does just that, transforming the basement. The next time there is a party at her place, the music is blasting, shot glasses are filled to the brim, and food is served. Soon afterward, it is no longer just Maggie and her friends who are spending time there, but lots of other high school students, who are thrilled to have a place where they know they can go to party, and won’t get into trouble. The teens’ dependence on Sue Ann seemingly gives her a sense of being needed, and as previously mentioned, she is popular for the first time in her life. Sue Ann, however, begins to revel too much in her new found popularity, and begins to go overboard. She craves the gratification of feeling wanted and needed, seemingly every night of the week, and having felt emotions that have always been foreign to her, she is extremely reluctant to take no for an answer. She begins constantly texting Maggie and her friends, and even shows up at their school to confront them, as to why they’re ignoring her.

What lengths will Sue Ann go to, in order to keep the teens in her life? Why does she care so much about Maggie and her friends, as opposed to all of the other teenagers who love partying at her house? What secret, if any, is Sue Ann trying to keep hidden from the teens, that has to do with her house? All of those questions and more will be answered during the film’s 99 minute runtime.

The parts horror and thriller “MA” premiered on May 30, 2019 in multiple countries. The film was directed by BAFTA nominee Tate Taylor (The Help), and the screenplay was written by Scotty Landes (Workaholics). Spencer does an excellent job with the material she’s given, but she can’t save the film from being a B movie. All of the cast, for that matter, do a competent job with their mostly underdeveloped characters. The pacing was also problematic, because nothing very interesting transpires during the first half of the film. When the film does begin to ramp up the thrills, they are, for the most part, predictable. I think the film had the potential to be much more than it turned out to be, and would’ve been with a stronger script and better execution of the pacing.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments