“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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“Molly’s Game”

The film “Molly’s Game” is based on a true story. It centers on the life of Molly Bloom, who is convincingly portrayed by two-time Oscar nominee, and Golden Globe winner, Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). Molly is a former Olympic caliber skier, coached by her father Larry, played by two time Oscar winner Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves). The viewer will learn, via flashback, that over the years, Molly and Larry have had a contentious relationship. During a competition, Molly suffers a career ending accident. Once Molly is forced to give up her dreams of Olympic glory, she initially plans on attending law school, but instead moves to Los Angeles.

When Molly arrives in California, she moves into her friend’s house, where she will sleep on the couch, and attempt to figure out her next move. Needing money, Molly’s next move turns out to become employed as an overworked, underpaid, assistant to a quasi-Hollywood producer, Dean Keith (Jeremy Strong). Dean runs a high stakes poker game at an establishment called the Cobra Lounge; a game that caters to celebrities and wealthy business men. While working the games, Molly listens and learns the intricacies of poker. When she hears poker terminology she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t wait to look it up later, but does so immediately on her laptop, as she sits and watches the game from the front of the room.

Molly ostensibly only attends the games to collect the $10,000 buy in money from the players, so they can enter the game, and keep track of the wins and losses for her boss, as money changes hands. From the outset, Molly receives money from the players, and begins to make more money in tips, than she does working for Dean. Dean, hasn’t treated Molly well from the start of her employment with him. He eventually becomes frustrated by what he feels is her poor attitude, and fires her. Instead of reverting back to her original plan of attending law school, Molly sets up her own game, at a luxury hotel suite, taking the players from Dean’s game, and recruiting new players.

Molly never cheats by taking money from the pot, and is doing her utmost to run as legal a game as possible. When she learns that Player X, portrayed by BAFTA nominee, Michael Cera (Juno), is up to something underhanded, she wants it to stop. Player X, not one to listen to what others tell him, in essence, ruins Molly’s Game in Los Angeles. Afterward, she moves to New York, and with the help of some former Playboy playmates, working for her as recruiters, she sets up a very profitable game, and is riding high. As time passes, however, she becomes more reliant on drugs in order to function. Furthermore, the success of her poker game attracts the attention of not only criminals who want in on her profits, and aren’t pleased to take no for an answer, but also the government, who thinks she is a willing participant in mob activity.   

Throughout the film, the story seamlessly moves back and forth in time, but always returns to Molly’s interactions with her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey, played by the always exceedingly competent, Golden Globe winner, Idris Elba (Luther). Charlie is initially at a loss as to how he is going to mount a defense against the charges the government has brought against Molly, accusations that pertain to her being in collusion with the Russian mafia. Adding insult to injury, the government has frozen all of Molly’s assets, and she has no way to pay her legal bills.  Molly did have an opportunity to become financially solvent by naming names in her book, which would have garnered her an advance of over one-million dollars, but she opted not to do so. Instead, she was paid the sum of $35,000 for her story; money, that by the time she seeks legal help from Charlie, has already been spent.

In addition to writing the screenplay for “Molly’s Game,” the film marks the directorial debut for Oscar winner, Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network). Sorkin based the film on the book “Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker,” published on June 24, 2014 by It Books.  Parts biography, crime, and drama, the film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2017. I love the way Sorkin writes dialogue, but the film’s runtime of 140 minutes was too long for the subject matter it dealt with, and to a certain degree, hampered my enjoyment of the overall film. I am not someone who has ever liked playing Texas hold ’em, or for that matter, any other card game for money. For those of you, like myself, who have never been enamored with playing cards, other than for fun, that shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment of the film. “Molly’s Game” in general, is not so much about poker, but as stated at the start of this post, about the rise, fall, and road to redemption of the film’s main protagonist.

 

 

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“You Were Never Really Here”

The bulky and grizzled protagonist, Joe, in the atmospheric, disquieting, and well acted film, “You Were Never Really Here,” is a hammer wielding, mercenary. When he is not caring for his elderly mother, (Judith Roberts), with whom he lives in a rundown, New York apartment, he searches for kidnapped girls.

Joe is a former military combat veteran, and FBI agent, whose character is completely embodied by three time Oscar nominee, and Golden Globe winner, Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line). He is not afraid to use violence but, at the same time, he is a broken man who suffers from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) and has suicidal tendencies. For example, on a number of occasions Joe appears to be asphyxiating himself, only to rip the bag off of his head before he loses consciousness. The disturbed feelings appear to be brought on from a combination of his years of military service, and the abuse he and his mother suffered at the hands of his violent father. The film, as a whole, features little in the way of exposition, and is not heavy on dialogue, so Joe’s past is revealed to the viewer through a series of tangential flashbacks, which are interspersed with what is taking place during the present. (As an aside: The majority of the violence that does take place in the film, is for the most part, implied; the viewer getting to the see the aftermath of the violence that has taken place, or quick snippets, for example, through the use of security camera footage).

The plot of the film, such as it is, which is a complaint a number of people have had with the movie, is primarily straightforward. Joe is given a mission by his handler, John McCleary (John Doman), to save Nina Votto (Ekaterina Samsonov). She is the thirteen year old daughter, of corrupt politician, New York State Senator, Albert Votto (Alex Manette). Nina has been abducted by a sex trafficking ring. Her abductors are holding her at a secret Manhattan brothel, where she and other young girls are forced to perform sexual acts for the sick minded, wealthy clientele. While tracking Nina down, Joe learns that the job he has taken, is more intricate than merely the safe return of a politician’s daughter, as his mission becomes entangled with conspiracy and murder. Joe must find and rescue Nina from her depraved captors before she meets a horrifying end. In order to do so, Joe does whatever it takes to make sure he completes his mission.

Will Joe be able to fight his demons long enough so he can successfully rescue Nina? What will happen if he can’t? Is she sold to the highest bidder, and shipped off to another part of the world never to be seen again? Will she be murdered in order to protect the secrets of those in power?

Written and directed by two time BAFTA winner, Scottish filmmaker, Lynne Ramsay (Swimmer), the film was based on the novella of the same name, written by Jonathan Ames. Parts drama, mystery and thriller, “You Were Never Really Here” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 27, 2017. In addition to being nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or, Phoenix won Best Actor, and Ramsay shared the award for Best Screenplay with Yorgos Lanthimos (The Killing of A Sacred Deer). The film’s 89 minute runtime moves along at a brisk pace, which is helped in great part thanks to the evocative score composed by Oscar nominee, Jonny Greenwood (Phantom Thread).   

I found “You Were Never Here” to be a captivating film. I am of the opinion, that most viewers, whether they like the film or not, will not soon forget what they have watched. In closing, this is the kind of movie where there is no clear cut resolution to what has just been shown, leaving it up to the individual viewer to determine the reality of what has taken place. This was certainly a film, which left me with more questions than answers.

                                     

 

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“Manson Revisited – An Interesting Approach To A Saturated Topic”

On the evening of August 9th, 1969, acts of depraved carnage were committed at 10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, located north of Beverly Hills, California. In total, five people: actress and model, Sharon Tate, who was pregnant with her husband, film director, Roman Polanski’s baby; Abigail Folger, the daughter of Peter Folger, and heiress to the Folger coffee fortune; her boyfriend, Wojciech Frykowski; Steven Parent, a teenager, who, had he left a few minutes earlier from visiting his friend, the property’s caretaker, William Garretson, wouldn’t have been killed; and celebrity, hair stylist, Jay Sebring were all savagely murdered. The perpetrators of these heinous acts were three members of the infamous Manson family: Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Charles “Tex” Watson, who before the murder and mayhem commenced, uttered the line “I am the Devil and I’m here to do the Devil’s business.” In attendance that evening, as well as the following night during the murders of supermarket chain owner, Leno LaBianca, and his wife, boutique owner, Rosemary, at their home on 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Angeles, was another family member, who served as a look out, but didn’t commit murder. Her name is Linda Kasabian; she was born Linda Drouin, on June 21, 1949 in Biddeford, Maine. In exchange for being granted immunity, Kasabian wound up becoming prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi’s star witness against the members of the Manson family, which also included, Leslie Van Houten, who participated in the LaBianca murders, and Manson who ordered the killings.

There have been an inordinate number of magazine and newspaper articles, books, television specials, and films, that have provided every detail imaginable when it comes to the life and crimes of Charles Manson and his followers. Since Manson’s death from a heart attack on November 19, 2017 in Bakersfield, California, at Kern County Hospital, there have been several new television specials about him and the murders that have aired, including “Charles Manson: The Final Words,” directed by James Buddy Day, and narrated by musician and director, Rob Zombie. The special premiered on television on the REELZ channel on December 3, 2017. Furthermore, two-time, Oscar winning writer and director, Quentin Tarantino’s (Pulp Fiction) next film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,”  set to be released on July 26, 2019, is based in large part on the Tate murders.

Several nights ago, I sat down to watch a re-airing of a television documentary that was first released in Canada under the name “Manson” on August 9, 2009. Unlike the prior Manson pieces I had watched or read, the program took a fresh approach to the topic because the documentary was told from Linda Kasabian’s perspective. From the beginning, it is made known to the viewer, that Kasabian, fearing for her life, has been in hiding for the past forty years, and is speaking publicly, for the first time since the trial, about the murders and her life with the family. In fact, the viewer is also made aware, that Kasabian will not be shown in full profile during the documentary, and even when it seems as if she’s speaking directly into the camera, her eyes are covered by dark sunglasses, and I suspect she’s wearing a wig.

The documentary was directed by Neil Rawles (Killer Instinct with Kris Hansen), and written by Matthew Broughton (Critical). Featured during its 90 minute runtime is archival footage, interviews, and reenactments. Additionally, there is an actual recording of one of Charles Manson’s songs. For those of you who might not know, Manson’s dream was to become a musician, and for a while, he was friends with “Beach Boys” drummer Dennis Wilson, who thought Manson had a great deal of talent and could become a rock star. Wilson introduced Manson to everyone he knew, and arranged for record producer, Terry Melcher – son of four time Golden Globe winner, and Oscar nominee, Doris Day (Pillow Talk) – to come and listen to Manson perform. Melcher made the fatal mistake of telling Manson that he would be in touch with him, after Manson inquired if he would be getting a record deal.

While I knew the aforementioned information from other pieces I had watched or read about Manson, what I only knew in part, or at least hadn’t fully remembered was as follows: Manson, feeling irate at the fact that Melcher didn’t come through with a record deal, goes to have it out with him at Melcher’s home, which, at the time that Manson was in contact with Melcher, was 10050 Cielo Drive. After Melcher moved out, the home was rented by Roman Polanski. When Manson goes to the Cielo Drive home on March 23, 1969, he enters through the backyard, where it just so happens that a photo shoot is taking place. Manson is stopped by Sharon Tate’s friend, famous Iranian photojournalist, Shahrokh Hatami. He informs Manson that Melcher no longer lives at the residence, and tells him to leave; before doing so, Manson turns and looks at the pool, where the photo shoot is taking place. According to Hatami, Manson and Tate locked eyes and stared at one another without uttering a word. Sharon Tate had no idea that she was staring into the eyes of the man, who five months later, would send members of his delusional clan out to her home on the evening of August 9, 1969, to murder her, her unborn child, and whomever else had the misfortune to be present at the home at the time.

Furthermore, it is revealed to the viewer, that Kasabian, although only the look out during the murders, had to have a series of events break her way in order to be in a position to receive immunity and avoid the fate of the other Manson family members. As of the writing of this post, Charles Manson and Susan Atkins have died while serving life in prison; Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson, are still incarcerated; and Leslie Van Houten, after having served forty years in prison has been recommend twice for parole by California state panels in 2016 and 2017, but in each instance, Governor Jerry Brown has denied granting Van Houten parole, a decision her legal team is currently fighting. Kasabian, to her credit, if she can be believed that is, states that she is remorseful for what happened, and feels she should have been punished. As of the writing of this post “Manson Revisited”  is available, in its entirety, on youtube.com. For those of you interested in the Manson Family and the murders, and are especially interested in hearing it from the prospective of someone who had remained silent on the subject for decades, the documentary will more than likely hold your interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“GLOW Season 2 – Now Streaming on Netflix”

The first season of “GLOW” premiered on Netflix on June 23, 2017. The series took its genesis from the “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” an all female televised wrestling show, which was founded in 1986 by David McLane, and filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada, until its cancellation in 1989. “GLOW” the series, created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, takes place in Los Angeles, California, and showcases a diverse group of women, who are all seeking something more out of life than their current situation offers. The ten episodes that comprised the first season were both heartfelt and comical.

A truncated recap of season one is as follows: In 1980s, Los Angeles, California, Ruth Wilder, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee,  Alison Brie (Mad Men), is a talented, but struggling actress, who is attempting to land a respectable role in a film or television series. After badgering casting director Mallory (Amy Farrington), for whom she has auditioned on multiple occasions, but has received no roles, Amy provides information about a casting call, that she herself is not in charge of. When Ruth arrives at the audition, which takes place in a gymnasium instead of an office, she learns that the part she is trying out for is that of a female wrestler, who, in time, will have to learn to actually wrestle if she wants to appear on television. The show’s director, Sam Sylvia, played by Marc Maron (Maron), is a former horror movie writer and director, whose best days are seemingly behind him. Sylvia’s job, in addition to directing and scripting the storylines for the pilot episode, is first and foremost to cast the right assemblage of talent to hopefully entice a network to pick up “GLOW” as a regular series. Sam has ulterior motives, because what he truly desires is for Bash Howard (Chris Lowell), the executive producer of “GLOW,” to provide the money that it will take to make his next movie. The other key member from the first season’s cast was Emmy nominee, Betty Gilpin’s, (Nurse Jackie) character, former soap-opera actress, Debbie Eagan. She had decided to take time off from her career in order to raise her child, and is now looking to get back in front of the camera. The combination of Debbie and Ruth working together is a combustible one because Ruth slept with Debbie’s husband, Mark (Rich Sommer); something Debbie has not forgiven, as evidenced from the slap she gives Ruth in front of everyone, including Sam, who senses he can use the ladies antagonism toward one another to great advantage for the show. Eventually, as the first season progresses, Ruth winds up embodying the character of the American-despising Russian, ‘Zoya the Destroyer,’ while Debbie,  captures the hearts of the “GLOW” fan base while playing the all American girl, ‘Liberty Belle.’ The rest of the ensemble cast is highlighted during different scenes, but it is season two where the other wrestlers will receive more screen time, and viewers will learn more about their lives outside of the ring.

The start of the second season finds the ladies of “GLOW” having had their show picked up by a network to air as a series. The time slot they’re given is awful, the contracts the ladies must each sign is one-sided to benefit the network, and there is also the arrival of a new cast member, Yolanda Rivas (Shakira Barrera). She has replaced stunt woman and wrestler, Cherry Bang (Sydelle Noel), who has left “GLOW” in order to pursue her first real acting role as a detective on a police procedural. The fact that Yolanda didn’t have to go through the initial trials and tribulations to help get “GLOW” on the air, doesn’t sit well with a majority of the wrestlers. Leaving that bit of negativity aside, as well as the fact that Ruth and Debbie are still not on the best of terms, “GLOW” begins to transform into what the show will become moving forward; it captures all of the kitsch that made 1980s wrestling such a fun time to become a fan of sports entertainment. The over-the-top storylines featuring whacky vignettes that include: dream sequences; a public service announcement pointing out the hardships of teenage pregnancy, that stars Sam’s daughter Justine (Britt Baron); music videos featuring a number of the wrestlers; and of course plenty of in-ring action.

“GLOW,” however, for as fun and carefree as it can be a good deal of the time, does incorporate serious toned material, meant to further flesh out the show’s characters. Topics that are dealt with during the duration of the ten episodes that make up season two, include: the responsibilities and hardships that single mothers have to deal with; the limited, at least at the time, opportunities for women to garner more of a controlling interest behind the scenes in entertainment; and long before the current era of the #Me too Movement, how women either went along with the sexual advances of men of power to advance their careers, or said no, and faced potential consequences because of their refusal.

In addition to Brie, Gilpin, and Maron continuing to believably embody their respective roles from season one, other performers get their deserved time to shine. For example, Kia Stevens portrays Tameé Dawson, whose in-ring moniker is that of  the fur coat wearing, Welfare Queen, who taunts the “GLOW” audience with the fact that they pay for her to not work. The reality of her life outside of the ring couldn’t be further from her character’s life. Tameé is a single mother, who is working as hard as she can, which includes selling her own, homemade, action figures. She is doing everything she can in order to help pay for her son, Earnest’s (Eli Goree), tuition at Stanford University. When Earnest comes to see his mother wrestle, he is emotionally distraught that she is playing a stereotype in order to help further his education, but Tameé, the proud mother, will hear none-of-it; she’s going to do whatever it takes to see that her son has the best opportunities in life. Professional wrestling fans will already have familiarity with Kia Stevens from her days in the ring when she wrestled under the names ‘Awesome Kong,’ ‘Amazing Kong,’ and ‘Kharma.’

In closing, I’ll re-state what I said when I reviewed season one, that while being a fan of professional wrestling, especially 1980’s wrestling, might give a viewer a deeper appreciation of what is being shown, it is not a necessity to enjoy the show. The second season of “GLOW”, did not, in my opinion, have a sophomore slump. The last episode reveals the location and situation of where season three will take place, something I won’t spoil for those of you who want to, and have yet to, watch the show. I’ll admit, it took me less than a week to finish all of season two, since at only 35 minutes an episode it was easy to watch a few episodes each evening. The only bad part about finishing it so quickly is I know I now have to wait at least a year before season three is streamed on Netflix, that is if, and hopefully when, it is renewed; as of the writing of this post, Netflix has not confirmed definite plans for the series.

 

 

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“Game Night”

Suburban married couple Max, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) and Annie, played by Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), are two very competitive individuals when it comes to playing games. The start of the film shows the two meeting at one such gaming competition, and over the years, a montage showcases the couple vanquishing their gaming opponents, until one day, Max proposes, and Annie happily accepts. The couple hosts game nights with their friends: husband and wife, Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who have, unbelievably, been together since middle school; single friend, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who brings an assortment of different, dim-witted, dates to game night. Max and Annie’s next door neighbor Gary Kingsbury, a police officer, who is seemingly always dressed in his uniform and accompanied by his dog, Bastian, is a former participant at game night. He has been kept away from the get-togethers since his divorce from Debbie (Jessica Lee), who the friends admit they liked more. He makes it known that he very much would like to be included in any game night plans. In the role of Kingsbury is Emmy nominee Jesse Plemons (Fargo).

Breaking up the friends’ standard game night outings, is the arrival, from out-of-town, of Max’s older brother, Brooks, portrayed by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights). He is an arrogant, successful and highly competitive individual, who always seems to be able to one up Max in whatever he sets his mind to. He also, it’s alluded to, might be psychologically hampering Max and Annie from conceiving the baby they’ve been trying for. Brooks has decided to host his own game night, but instead of just friendly camaraderie, the winner will get a 1976 Corvette Stingray, which just so happens to be Max’s dream car.

When the assemblage of friends arrive at the mansion Brooks is renting, it is soon learned that board games will not be played that evening. Instead, Brooks has made arrangements with a gaming company that employs actors and actresses, to host a murder mystery party. The person who pieces together the clues and is the first to find him, will win the Corvette.

Entering the home, a short while after Brooks explains what is taking place, is Golden Globe winner Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America), portraying an employee of the gaming company; his role for that night, is that of a faux, F.B.I. agent. He begins speaking about a dangerous element that has been spotted in the area, and distributes folders to the participants. Moments later, two men break through Brook’s front door, beat up Wright’s character, and drag Brooks kicking and screaming from the house. The friends are in awe of how realistic everything seems. The catch is that Brooks, as it will later be revealed, is not all he claims to be, and instead of being captured by actors, unbeknownst to everyone, he is taken by real criminals, who want to retrieve something of value he has stolen from them.

Afterward, the couples split up, and begin to attempt to piece together the clues that will lead them to Brooks, and winning the car. Max and Annie track down Brooks, who is being held in a room at a dive bar. Thinking the criminals are actors brandishing toy guns, Max and Annie confront the dangerous element in the spirit of the game; it won’t take long for them to realize that the guns aren’t toys and the criminals aren’t pretending. Brooks’ life is imminent danger, and amid chaos, Max and Annie rescue him. During an ensuing car chase, Brooks admits who he really is, and in order to save his brother and sister-in-law, he jumps from the car, so they can get away. The intentions of the criminals are made known, that if a stolen Fabergé egg is not safely returned to them, Brooks will be killed. Will Max and Annie, with the help of their friends, be able to win at the highest stakes game they’ve ever played?

In addition to the aforementioned members of the cast, accompanying the friends is Sarah, Ryan’s date for the evening, played by three time BAFTA nominee Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe); unlike most of his dates, she is highly intelligent and will be of much needed help to him throughout the evening. Additional actors of note that appear in the film, are: Golden Globe nominee, Danny Huston (Magic City), as a wealthy party host named Donald Anderton; and Golden Globe winner Michael C. Hall (Dexter) as a high level, criminal known as ‘The Bulgarian.’

“Game Night” premiered in New Zealand on February 15, 2018. The film was written for the screen by Mark Perez (Accepted), and co-directed by BAFTA nominees, John Francis Daley (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses). “Game Night” is parts action – comedy – crime – mystery and thriller. The film, is mostly a fun ride that doesn’t require the viewers to tax their brains in order to keep up with what is taking place on screen. The members of the cast do a good job with their respective roles, especially Bateman and McAdams, who have believable on screen chemistry. The standout of the film, however, is Plemon’s Kingsbury with his deadpan delivery and the general creepy vibe his character gives off.  For the most part the ensemble cast kept the laughs coming and the film moving at a good pace. The movie, however, might have benefitted from trimming at least ten minutes from its 100 minute runtime, as the ending did seem to stretch a bit too long, and included some action sequences that weren’t that impactful. In closing, while I didn’t love “Game Night,” I certainly liked it enough to recommend it for at least a one-time viewing.

 

 

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