“Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made”

No matter what mood I happen to be in, if the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” is brought up in conversation, or I catch a portion of it on television, a part of me can’t help but feel a certain amount of happiness. I don’t believe that I am in the minority by counting the movie amongst my favorite films of all time. I have a strong feeling that it always will be. With that being said, while I have seen the movie countless times, originally on VHS tape, and thanks to my parents, who purchased for me as a birthday gift, the DVD box set which contains all of the Indiana Jones movies, that is the extent of my involvement with the film. As I soon learned, after I began to watch the documentary, “Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made,” directed by Jeremy Coon (Napoleon Dynamite) and Tim Skousen (The Sasquatch Gang), the extraordinary lengths to which some people’s fandom extends.

rff-pic-1

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” was directed by Oscar winner, Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan). It was written for the screen by Oscar nominee Lawrence Kasdan (The Accidental Tourist), and Star Wars creator – and the recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg  Memorial Award – George Lucas, who conceived the story for the film with BAFTA winner, Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness of Being).  From the beginning, the film, which premiered on June 12, 1981 in America, captivated not only the American movie going public, but went on to become a global box-office success. In the summer of 1982, two Mississippi youths, Chris Strompolos (Rewind This) and Eric Zala (Backyard Blockbusters), staunch admirers of the movie, decided to make a shot for shot remake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Their efforts would extend well beyond the one summer. In fact, their remarkable zeal and dedication to complete what they began would continue for the next seven years, and they would come close to finishing their undertaking, minus one scene. The scene they were missing was the airplane scene, in which Indiana Jones fights the muscular, bald headed, Nazi. After the fight comes to a gory end, Jones is victorious, in large part, thanks to the aid of one of the plane’s propellers, but there is also an explosion due to leaked gasoline that has spilled onto the ground. (As an aside, instead of asking, for example, a new bike or video game system for a birthday or holiday present, Strompolos and Zala would ask their parents for props they needed for the film, such as, a leather jacket that resembled the one Indiana Jones wore in Raiders. If they received money, they would use it to buy equipment to help build sets or costumes. Zala recalls one trip where he went to the Salvation Army store to purchase Boy Scout uniforms which were then turned into Nazi uniforms).

The documentary begins with an introduction by Emmy nominee, John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), he will appear several times during the movie. He portrayed Indiana Jones’ friend Sallah, in both “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade.” Next, viewers are introduced to Strompolos and Zala, who are attempting to raise money to complete their long dormant adaptation. Their plan is to shoot the airplane scene, and insert it into the existing footage. The film already had inconsistencies, due to it having been shot over such a lengthy duration of time, but none will be as obvious as the scene they need to shoot, especially considering that Strompolos, who played the role of Indiana Jones as a teenager, is now in his early forties. (As an aside, in addition to directing the adaptation, as well as numerous others tasks performed by  Zala during the production, he also played the role of Belloq, which was portrayed in “Raider of the Lost Ark” by British character actor Paul Freeman). 

The documentary alternates back and forth between 2014, and archival footage that features clips and outtakes from the adaptation. Additionally, there are interviews with Strompolos’ and Zala’s friends and families, many of whom contributed to turning the two friend’s dream into a reality. Further commentary is provided by Jayson Lamb, who worked as the cinematographer, editor, and special effects supervisor on the adaptation. The three friends had a falling out, during the original filming, over creative differences. In the documentary, Lamb is given ample time to discuss his take on what transpired.

On August 12, 1989, the teenagers staged a screening of their completed adaptation (minus the aforementioned scene) for friends and family at a factory in Gulfport, Mississippi. The screening was modeled after a Hollywood premiere, replete with limousines and a cocktail hour. Those who attended dressed in formal evening wear; and while a show such as Entertainment Tonight didn’t cover the event, the screening was featured on the local evening news. As time passed, Zala got a respectable job, and eventually married, and fathered two children with his current wife; the life of Chris Strompolos, however, took a different turn. He became addicted to crystal meth, and began associating with some very dangerous people. He has since turned his life around, and is married. His wife provides commentary during the documentary.

The film faded into obscurity, until writer and director Eli Roth (Cabin Fever), who had received a VHS copy, was enamored with what he saw. In 2002, Roth asked film critic Harry Knowles (Ain’t It Cool News) if he would show the adaptation at Knowles Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival, which takes place annually, in December, in Austin, Texas. Knowles informed Roth that the lineup, which features both vintage as well as premiere films, had already been scheduled for that year. The only time he could screen it was during a forty-five minute lunch break, which took place before an advanced screening of “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”  One couple, that was interviewed, recalled that they wanted the festival to delay the screening of Oscar winner, Peter Jackson’s blockbuster, in order to watch the rest of the adaptation, and they were not alone in that sentiment. When the festival was over, Roth went in search of the filmmakers, and that was the catalyst which sparked the interest in the long forgotten movie. In June of 2003, thanks to the efforts by Roth, the adaptation had its official premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas. Word of mouth soon spread, and the adaptation began to be shown at film festivals across America.

After a warm reception on the festival circuit, Strompolos and Zala decide to finish the project. The friends, return to their hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi to pick up where they left off. Surprisingly, many of the film’s original participants, including Angela Rodriguez, who portrayed Marion Ravenwood, in the adaptation agree to once again participate. Filming as adults, however, still proved to be a difficult endeavor. The $5,000 that had been raised from donations, and a Kickstarter campaign, only went so far. Furthermore, continuous days of  rainy weather hampered the scene from being shot, thereby extending the amount of time that Zala needed to take off from work. In fact, his employer was on the verge of firing Zala before relenting, and giving him two additional days, with the proviso, that Zala would receive no more time off for the remainder of the year.

Will Strompolos and Zala realize their dreams? Does a lack of finances or real life responsibilites put an end to their quest to complete the adaptation? If they are successful in finishing the production, what is the next step? Those questions, along with numerous other entertaining stories that are told throughout the documentary, which I haven’t written about in this review, will be answered by the conclusion.

If you’re a fan of “Raider’s of the Lost Ark,”  you will more than likely find this an entertaining and inspirational viewing experience. I for one, loved the fact that these guys had a vision in their youth – stuck with their dream as long as they could –  put their best efforts into the production, with, for what was for all intents and purposes, limited resources, but their driving ambition kept moving them forward. The documentary serves as a testament to all those who have a dream, no matter how ridiculous, or a waste of time it might seem to others, to keep striving to achieve it, no matter how long it might take.“Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made”  is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Stranger Things – An Entertaining Homage to the 1980s”

The character driven and well executed series, “Stranger Things,” was created by brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer (Hidden). Like the FX show “The Americans,” the series does not deal with the current time period, but takes place during the 1980s; 1983 to be exact.  The setting is a suburban Indiana town called Hawkins. Serious crimes are not part of normal life for the town’s residents, but that is all about to change for some who reside there.

st-pic1

The opening of the series features four close friends, who are a bit on the nerdy side. They are enthusiastic members of their middle school’s audio visual club, run by their teacher, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens). When the viewer first sees the friends they are involved in a marathon session of Dungeons & Dragons, a popular, role playing game, that was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, and was published by TSR, Inc. in 1974. The friends consist of: the ostensible leader of the quartet, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard); Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo); Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin); and Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). At the conclusion of the game, while riding his bike back home, twelve year old Will vanishes. The only thing that will be found, strongly indicating foul play, is his bike, which is discovered on the side of the road. The disappearance of Will is the catalyst which sets the Netflix original series in motion.

Schwinners and Losers: The cast of Netflix's Stranger Things.

The four boys aren’t the only child protagonists in the series. The arrival of Millie Brown’s character, who sports a shaved head, barely utters a word, and possesses unique abilities, parallels, Will’s disappearance. Brown completely embodies her character, displaying a gamut of emotions with her performance, while, as previously stated, not talking much.

Mike and the other boys discover Brown’s character while searching the woods for their missing friend. She doesn’t offer up her name to the boys, so Mike will give her the name Eleven because of a tattoo of the numbers 011, located underneath one of her wrists. The boys will refer to her as El for short, and she will play a central role in the series. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, Mike believes El is the key to helping find Will. Mike takes her to his house, and manages to hide her from his parent’s: Karen, played by Emmy nominee, Cara Buono (Mad Men) and Ted (Joe Chrest).  He is also keeping her hidden from the mysterious Dr. Brenner, portrayed by Emmy and Golden Globe, nominee, Matthew Modine (Memphis Belle). He is in charge of a research facility, on the outskirts of the town, which masquerades as a government entity. Dr. Brenner is desperate to locate El. His connection to her, and the reasons for his wanting her back, are shown via flashbacks throughout the first season.

st-pic-3

Stranger Things

Additional important members of the cast include, Golden Globe winner, Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence) in the role of Will Byers’ mother. Her character, who to begin with is already an overworked, single mother, and now, as a result of what happened to Will, is perpetually on edge. There are a number of scenes Ryder is in, where she is acting by herself, based on supernatural occurrences that are taking place in her home. Ryder plays her part with just the right amount of nuance, so those scenes don’t come across as exceptionally corny. Furthermore, David Harbour, is Hawkin’s worn-down, hard-drinking, Police Chief, Jim Hopper. He comes across, at the start of the series, as curt, depressed, and for the most part disinterested, and as a viewer will learn, for valid reasons. The Chief has not only had his marriage end in divorce, but is mourning a devastating loss in his life. As stated earlier, there is not an overwhelming amount of crime that takes place in Hawkins, so at first, Hopper isn’t sure how to go about his investigation into Will Byers disappearance.

st-pic-5

st-pic-6

The series also contains a storyline that involves Will’s older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), and Mike’s older sister, Nancy (Natalia Dyer), teaming up. Jonathan is acting out of a familial responsibility and love for his younger brother, while Nancy, blames herself for the disappearance of her best friend, Barbara Holland (Shannon Purser). She feels that if she didn’t bring Barbara to Steve Harrington’s (Joe Keery) house, a guy she likes, or if she had at least left when Barbara wanted to, then her friend wouldn’t have also been taken by the same supernatural force that took Will Byers. Jonathan and Nancy don’t have much to go on, but thanks to a photograph taken by Jonathan, they get a partial glimpse of what can only be described as a monster. Armed with the knowledge that they are up against a being that is not human, they set out in search of the two missing youngsters – Jonathan’s loved one and Nancy’s friend.  The plot line helped to add some of the more exciting scenes in the series.

st-pic-7

While I’m cognizant of the overall convenience that modern technology affords me, one of the things that I appreciated most about “Stranger Things” was the lack of technology as we know it today. There were no cell phones, computers, GPS devices, or video cameras on every corner. When the collective protagonists had a hunch, or needed to find out information, there was no Google they could open up on their IPAD or laptop and type their questions into, thereby receiving a wealth of answers on their desired subject within seconds. Instead, they had to look up information in books; or in the case of one scene involving the Chief and his deputy, Officer Powell (Rob Morgan), on the microfilm at the library. I think having the series take place before the advent of certain technological gadgets, added an extra dimension that enriched the show.

“Stranger Things” is, in every sense of the word, a worthy homage to the 1980s. In addition to the right style of hair and dress, the opening credit  score, composed by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, sets the perfect retro tone.  The Duffer brothers, inspired by Oscar winning director Steven Spielberg (E.T.), and prolific, bestselling author, Stephen King (Carrie), to name a few whose influences were on display throughout the season, don’t ever allow the show to become a direct imitation. Furthermore, I was glad that, for the most part,  the way that the boys, and the teenagers, comported themselves and conversed was age appropriate. The complete, eight episode, first season of “Stranger Things” was released by Netflix on July 15, 2016. On August 31, Netflix confirmed that there will be a second season.

 

Posted in TV Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“The Sunshine Blogger Award”

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to TheMarckoguy for nominating me for The Sunshine Blogger Award. If you are not already following his blog, I suggest when you have finished reading this post, that you click the link to his site and become a follower. In addition to reviewing films, both new and old, he posts movie trailers, song clips, and delves into other topics related to entertainment. In my opinion, everyone who loves the aforementioned can find something on his site that they will like. As with all of the blogging awards there are certain rules that govern them, and in this instance the first thing I need to do, is post the rules.

  1. Post the award nomination on your blog.
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  3. Answer the 11 questions assigned to you.
  4. Nominate 11 other bloggers for the award.
  5. Ask 11 questions to your nominees.

SBA Pic 1

The following are the 11 questions asked of me by the TheMarckoguy:

  1. Is there a movie that you like, but most other people dislike? If so, which movie is it?

The film that comes to mind is “The Company of Wolves.” I’ve always really enjoyed watching it, have seen it a number of times, and it is part of my DVD collection, but many people whom I’ve spoken to about the film, don’t particularly care for it.

  1. What was your favorite movie from the year 1997?

“The Devil’s Advocate.”

  1. What’s the best holiday present you have ever received?

The best present I ever received happened when I was a young child. I don’t believe I was more than seven or eight years old at the time. A few months prior to the start of the holiday season, June to be exact, my grandparents, were moving from New York to their new home in Florida. I was used to seeing them on a weekly basis, and when they were in the process of moving, my father told me, that I would only get to see them, from there on out, a few times a year. He took it a step further, letting me know that I probably wouldn’t see them again, until  the following year’s summer vacation from school. I remember it was Christmas day, my parents had invited friends and family over, and my father suddenly got up to leave. I asked him where he was going, and he said he had to pick someone up at the airport. He left, and I went back to playing with my cousins. A few hours later, the doorbell rang, and my mother asked me to get the door, when I opened it, there stood my grandparents. I was ecstatic.

  1. Which do you prefer drinking coffee or tea?

While I have nothing against tea, and usually drink it at night, I can’t function without coffee, especially in the morning. I need at least two cups to get moving.

  1. Is there a song that always gets you emotional?

None that specifically comes to mind.

  1. What is your favorite color?

Green

  1. Favorite space movie that is not in any way part of the “Star Wars” mythos?

“Planet of the Apes” (1968)

  1. If you could bring back any dead celebrity for a chat (or something), who would it be?

There are a number of people, who have sadly passed away, that I would be interested in talking with. One celebrity that comes to mind is Leonard Nimoy. I thought of him for several reasons: Firstly, Spock has always been my favorite character from “Star Trek.” Secondly, I really like watching “In Search Of,” which Nimoy hosted. In general, he had many talents, and interests, that he delved into during the course of his life, and I would have very much welcomed the opportunity to meet and converse with him while he was alive, but unfortunately that meeting never took place.

  1. What do you do to relax?

Watch movies and sports, read, binge watch whatever particular show I am into on Netflix, socialize with my friends.

  1. You’re stuck on a deserted island, what four movies have your brought with you to bide your time?

I am sorry, but I love so many movies, from various genres, that I can’t begin to answer that question.

  1. What canceled show would you want to see brought back from the dead?

Dexter: I would like to know what happened to him after he left Florida. How did he set up his new life? Does he still give in to his urges and take care of other killers? Did he ever reunite with Hannah and his son?

The following is always the hardest part for me, whenever I accept one of these awards. I read so many talented bloggers on wordpress.com, that the limited number I am allowed, always provides a challenge for me. I find it really difficult to come up with just the set number that the rules of the award dictate. If you’re among the bloggers who I’ve nominated, and don’t have the time to accept the award, I completely understand, and will not take any offense whatsoever. If you would like to accept, I of course would be very interested in reading your responses to the questions I’ve asked.

  1. peggyatthemovies…andTV
  2. writerchristophfischer
  3. jmount43
  4. MovieManJackson
  5. www.laliterati.com
  6. By Hook Or By Book
  7. le0pard13
  8. Sherlockian’s Blog
  9. The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger
  10. Books, Books and More Books!
  11. ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

The following are my 11 questions for those of you who I have nominated:

  1. Who are a few of your favorite authors?
  2. What if any shows are you currently binge watching?
  3. What film do you hope that Hollywood will never produce a re-make of?
  4. What film would you like to see be re-made?
  5. Are you a superstitious person?
  6. What is the best book you have recently read?
  7. If you could be a witness to any moment in history, what would it be and why?
  8. Who are a few of your favorite actors?
  9. Who are a few of your favorite actresses?
  10. What is your favorite kind of food?
  11. Do you collect anything?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 27 Comments

“Anthropoid”

For all intents and purposes, from March 15, 1939, until May 8, 1945, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) was under occupation by Nazi, German forces. The SS (Schutzstaffel), a paramilitary organization within the German army that, amongst other grisly tasks: controlled the police force; operated the concentration camps; and were at the forefront of capturing, demoralizing, and killing, any Czech citizen who was a member of the resistance. In England, a Czechoslovakian government in absentia, encouraged the remaining members of the resistance not to give up, that a plan was being worked on. In 1941, the catalyst of a daring mission, that would come to be known as ‘Operation Anthropoid,’ began.

full.1500-850x491

Jan Kubis, played by BAFTA nominated actor Jamie Dornan (The Fall), and Jozef Gabčík, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee Cillian Murphy (Breakfast on Pluto), are two exiled Czech resistance fighters. They were fortunate enough to be able to escape to England prior to German occupation. Tasked with carrying out a seemingly impossible mission, they parachute back into Czechoslovakia to put the plan in motion. The operation doesn’t get off to a good start, as Josef gets his foot cut up by tree branches, and needs medical attention; given the danger of their presence in the country, his foot will have to be attended to by a veterinarian, Dr. Eduard (Sean Mahon). Additionally, before their mission even gets a chance to commence, they are almost given up by two Czech traitors looking to curry favor with the Nazis. If not for some quick thinking on Josef’s part, the operation would’ve ended before it even had a chance to begin. The perilous mission Jan and Josef have been given, is the assassination of SS-Obergruppenführer, Reinhard Heydrich, who at that point in history, was the third highest ranking Nazi in the world. Heydrich was given the nick name ‘The Blonde Beast,’ by his fellow Nazis, and referred to as ‘The Butcher of Prague’ by the Czechoslovakian citizens. His most deplorable claim to fame, however, is that he was one of the main architects of the Final Solution.

Once Jan and Josef meet up with the remaining members of the resistance in Prague, and their mission is learned, the news is greeted with shock and cynicism. The resistance’s current leader, Ladislav Vanek (Marcin Dorocinski), goes as far as to mock Jan and Josef, asking them why they don’t continue on to Germany to assassinate Hitler. There are others in the resistance who, like Ladislav, that feel extraordinarily reluctant. Those members feel moving ahead with such a bold action would only serve to unleash further devastating consequences of brutality on their fellow countrymen. All hope is not lost. There are members of the resistance who believe the time for taking small steps in the fight against savage tyranny is no longer an option.

One such person, who feels that way, is Czech resistance member, Uncle Hajský, in a role acted by three time BAFTA nominee Toby Jones (The Girl). He  begins to set things in motion that will help the two Czech exiles blend in while they wait for further instructions from England. Hajský arranges for Jan and Josef to stay with the Moravec family. The family consists of the kind-hearted, Mrs. Moravec (Alena Mihulova) who is aware of why the two men are there; Mr. Moravec (Pavel Reznicek), who mainly sits and reads the newspapers, while occasionally belittling his son At’a Moravec’s (Bill Milner), ambition to be a violin player, an instrument the boy never seems to be without. At first, Hajský insists that Jan and Josef must stay in the apartment and wait. He needs to get them medical clearance papers, which they can present if they are stopped and asked during the day by the Gestapo, or just a regular German soldier, as to why they are not working. He also instructs the men, that if they do venture out, not to go out together; that it would only arouse suspicion if anyone were to spot them.

The waiting is not something that sits well with either man. Jan, is often amenable, but is given to occasional bouts of anxiety. Josef’s personality comes across as abrasive; when he is not brooding on the state of the mission, he has little time, patience, or temperament for anything else. All of that inner turmoil begins to lessen, to a degree, when he meets Lenka, a role acted by acclaimed, Czech born actress, Anna Geislerová (Fair Play). Josef has met his match in Lenka; who like himself, has the deepest contempt and hatred for the Nazis. She desires nothing more than to see them all forcibly removed from her homeland, and for life to return to pre-war conditions. Jan, meanwhile, has taken up a courtship with Marie (Charlotte Le Bon), an attractive woman with a pleasing disposition, who works for the Moravec family; it doesn’t take long for genuine feelings to escalate between Jan and Marie. The two women were originally brought into the mission to give Jan and Josef a realistic cover, allowing them to move about in public more freely, while planning and plotting how best to assassinate Heydrich.

With each successive day, Heydrich’s routine is meticulously documented. The resistance knows when he leaves for work in the morning, and arrives home at night. They have become keenly aware that he prefers to travel in an open top car, accompanied only by his driver, although, on certain days, he does receive a military security detail in the form of a tank that follows closely behind his car.  The home Heydrich lives in with his family is too heavily guarded for a successful attempt, and the same security risks are present where he works. There is, however, during one portion of his route, a moment where his car must slow down while taking a curve; that is the spot which offers the would-be assassins their best opportunity to strike.

A date is planned to carry out the assassination, but must be abandoned. Through their contacts, the resistance has learned that Heydrich is being recalled to Berlin. The time table for everything has to be moved up. Everyone directly involved with the mission and the resistance is given a cyanide tablet to bite into in case of capture. The tablet offers those involved their only true escape from the Nazis, whether the intended target is killed or not.

Does Heydrich survive the assassination attempt on his life? What will the Nazi reprisals be against the Czech people for trying to kill one of their leaders? Is there a way out of Czechoslovakia, especially for the young lovers? Students of history, will already know the answers to those questions – for the rest of you, I can recommend this movie with the following proviso: Nothing very exciting happens during the first hour of the film, perhaps even a bit longer. This is not an action packed movie, although the last half hour offers plenty of carnage, as a David versus Goliath struggle, within the confines of a church no less, takes place. I found the movie to be worth my time, but in the interest of full disclosure, World War II history has always held an interest for me.

The film, which is devoid of revisionist history, which would have certainly upped its excitement factor, was a labor of love for BAFTA & Oscar nominated director, Sean Ellis (Metro Manila). After watching a documentary on ‘Operation Anthropoid’ in the early 2000s, he proceeded to spend the next fifteen years bringing the story of the assassination to the screen. Aiding Ellis in his cinematic journey was his co-screenwriter, Anthony Frewin (Color Me Kubrick). The film has a runtime of 120 minutes, and is comprised of the genres of biography, history, thriller and war. The movie premiered in the Czech Republic on July 1, 2016 at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The film is currently playing in theaters, and should hold special appeal to those interested in history, especially an interesting aspect of World War II history, which has not been extensively showcased, as so many other significant events of the time period have.

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“Car Nex: Skin Job By Michael Thomas-Knight”

I was recently contacted by Michael Thomas-Knight from Parlor of Horror, which is a blog I follow on wordpress.com. He e-mailed me to inquire if I would be interested in writing a review of his novella, “Car Nex: Skin Job,” which was published on June 17, 2016 by Pleasant Storm Entertainment, Inc, in “The Car Nex Story Series Book 7.”  I was more than happy to oblige. Additionally, I would like to mention that Michael didn’t ask me to hold off my review if my opinion of his work wasn’t positive, as with several other blogger’s who have reviewed his novella, he was seeking, nothing more, than honest feedback.

CNSJ Pic 1

What if you were struggling financially? What are the lengths you would go to in order to rectify the situation? I am not talking about the common problems that most of us, during the course of our lives, have  experienced, at one time or another. For example, a missed credit card payment, or being late with the phone bill. I mean serious hardship? Let’s now take it a step further, as the author did in his story. If thanks to the actions of an unscrupulous individual, the chances of your being able to become financially solvent once more, were radically altered, to the point where it was near next to impossible – what would you do then? Would you turn, out of sheer desperation, to a life of crime? Perhaps you would ask to borrow money from friends and loved ones, or hope to get a loan from the bank. Would you engage in outside the box thinking, and take part in actions, that under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t give more than a passing thought to? Lastly, if there was a book that you could use, that you felt would serve as a panacea to your problems, by performing rituals that would release a supernatural creature – a Car Nex demon in this instance – would you take that step?  What dire consequences might result from taking such an action?

Those are some of the type of questions that plague the mind of Michael’s main protagonist, Alex. He is a talented tattoo artist residing in Queens, New York, who owns his own business. For how much longer, he doesn’t know. His livelihood is being threatened by a legendary ink artist who goes by the name of Johnny Needles, a man who has strong ties to dangerous members of society’s underbelly. Needles has opened up his own tattoo parlor on the same block as Alex’s business, for the sole and whole purpose of forcing Alex to close up shop. Further hindering Alex’s situation is his addiction to meth, and he finds himself spending what little money he does have on the crystal to feed his addiction. One of the few positive forces in Alex’s life is the Chinese take-out owner, Mrs. Sing. She is really Korean, a secret which Alex is privy to. The reason for her hiding her true ethnic background, as she states to Alex in the story, is that no one buys Korean food. Mrs. Sing, not only returns the favor by keeping Alex’s secret, that his real name is Alfonso (which he felt would be bad for business), but she frequently gives him free food from her take-out place, and is a good hearted person in his life.

Michael demonstrates an enthusiasm and passion for writing which is clearly evident on every page of his work. The novella initially begins at a slow pace, but doesn’t take long to escalate into all out chaos, which is proper given the purpose and length of a novella. Michael writes well conceived descriptions, making it a pleasure for me, as a reader, to continue from one page to the next, without having to stop to ask myself the author’s purpose, or fill in missing details in order to have the story make sense. The parts of the novella after the arrival of the Car-Nex demon, its description and actions, will be better served by taking the time to read Michael’s worthwhile story, as opposed to me describing what unfolds.

In closing, there was nothing in the story that I considered filler. Everything Michael wrote helped to advance the narrative. One thing that I genuinely appreciated about Michael’s prose is that he clearly understands the fact that not every character shares the same patterns of speech, or has similar points-of-view as all the other characters. I’ve read numerous creative works written by my students over-the-years, and one of the frequent comments I’ve written on their papers is that the majority of their characters lack an authentic voice. I’ll receive thirty papers, and in many of them, all of the fictional characters will be speaking and responding to one another in the same manner, which given numerous factors, for instance the age and level of education of a given character, is simply not real life.

Below is a link to where the story can be purchased on Amazon. Please help support a writer, who has crafted an entertaining story. There is no need to have read the other stories in the series in order to enjoy Michael’s work. Furthermore, for those of you interested in various aspects of horror and science fiction, I have included a link to Michael’s blog; please check it out and give it a follow.

Skin Job for kindle only  $.99

https://parlorofhorror.wordpress.com

 

 

Posted in Literature | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

“The Night Stalker”

When I first learned that a movie was being made called “The Night Stalker,” I wondered if it was based on a book I had read several years earlier. The book I am referring to, which shares the same title as the movie, was written by, journalist and bestselling author, Philip Carlo, and was published by the Kensington Publishing Corporation in 1997. Due to its critical praise, and the way readers touted it throughout the years as one of the best works of true crime ever written, I  eventually checked out a copy from the library.

Upon completion, I found myself agreeing with those who had lauded the amount of research and detail oriented work that went into Carlo’s, well over, five hundred page book. A non-fiction work that deals with the life and crimes of serial killer Richard Ramirez, who, due to the heinous nature of his crimes, created an atmosphere of unrelenting fear in Southern California during the year 1985. Furthermore, I admired Carlo’s writing style. He was able to take material that could have easily come across as if it were written as an academic textbook for use in a criminology class, and instead he imbues it with creative descriptions and sharp-wit, as well as an ability to make even the most factual of information seem interesting in the larger context of his work.

TNS Pic 1

“The Night Stalker” film, written and directed by Megan Griffiths (Eden), bases itself on parts of Carlo’s book, but doesn’t do the non-fiction piece justice. There was no way, the under two hour movie, which originally premiered on June 4, 2016, at the Seattle International Film Festival, could have hoped to have achieved that result. There simply wasn’t enough time, during the film, which comprises the crime and thriller genres, to cover everything that Carlo spent three years of his life researching. What the viewer does get, is a passable movie, which is primarily bolstered by its two leads, especially Golden Globe nominee, Lou Diamond Phillips (Stand and Deliver). He gives a commendable performance, portraying the remorseless murderer, rapist, and avowed Satanist, Richard Ramirez. Philips conveys a needed sense of dread in order for his character to be effective, but not once during the film’s 89 minute runtime, did he allow his portrayal of Ramirez to dissolve into a one-dimensional representation of an evil man.

TNS Pic 2

The film centers on the character of Kit, a fictional, defense attorney, played by Bellamy Young (Scandal). She has recently traveled to California, after convincing her employer, Jed (Louis Herthum), that she might be able to get a confession that will help grant a stay of execution in the case of Texas Death Row inmate Harrison Johnson (Hawthorne James). Johnson falls into the category of wrong place, wrong time, when his actions during a bar fight lead to the death of a politician’s son; even though eyewitnesses state it was self-defense on Johnson’s part, the authorities go digging into his past, and connect him to a cold case. Johnson’s life hinges on a confession of guilt, that would need to be offered up by Richard Ramirez, whose own time left, despite his legal appeals, is no certainty, due to his battling B-cell lymphoma.

TNS Pic 3

TNS Pic 4

Kit, who has had a macabre fascination with Ramirez since her teenage years, and has watched and read everything about him, thinks that he is the person who murdered a mother and child in an El Paso hotel that he had worked in thirty years earlier. Kit feels that way because the method used to carry out the killings is too eerily similar for her to pass up the possibility that the crime was perpetrated by Ramirez. Jed arranges time for Kit to talk with Ramirez at San Quentin State Prison, where he has been held on Death Row since 1989 for multiple crimes of murder, attempted murder, sexual assault and burglary.

Scenes featuring a teenage version of Kit (Chelle Sherrill) living in Los Angeles during the time of the Night Stalker attacks, showcases to the viewer, the young girl’s obsession with the killer. She is making a scrap book of newspaper clippings about The Night Stalker, and alienating her friends by wanting to talk about nothing other than his latest exploits. Kit learns that The Night Stalker targets beige houses, and purposely leaves the window to her bedroom open. If that weren’t bad enough, she walks the streets alone at night. On one particular outing, she heads to a dance club, which is empty of patrons. When she asks the bouncer why no one is inside, he replies that everybody is too scared to be out while the Night Stalker is on the loose. The bouncer at least has the common sense to bring Kit inside, and make her wait with him, until the cab he has called for her arrives.

TNS Pic 5

While I mentioned earlier, that the film does not concentrate on Ramirez’s life as a whole, it does offer clues as to why he grew up to embrace a lifestyle of such unmitigated evil. One person, that was shown in flashback sequences as having had tremendous influence over Richard was his older cousin, Mike (Eddie Martinez). While overseas, fighting in the Vietnam War, Mike takes photographs of those he has killed, as well as pictures of women who he took prisoner, and forced to perform sexual acts on him before killing them. In addition to other untoward behavior, during another flashback, a younger version of Richard (Andrew Ruiz), watches as Mike pulls out a gun and kills his wife for insulting him.  (As an aside, Mike Ramirez was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was confined at the Texas State Mental Hospital for four years.)

Will Richard Ramirez confess to the motel killing from years earlier? Does he have it in him to do the right thing, and help spare an innocent man’s life? What will the verbal exchanges between Kit and Ramirez be like? After obsessing over him from afar for so many years, will she play into his mental games or, knowing so much about him, does she see right through any type of facade he constructs to deceive her? If Ramirez does agree to help save Johnson’s life, what will he expect in return from Kit? All of those questions and more will be answered by film’s end.

As I stated earlier, the film as a whole was decent. I didn’t sit down to watch it thinking I was going to see something that was worthy of accolades and considerations come award season. With that being said, I think Lou Diamond Phillips did an excellent job conveying menace without being over-the-top, and Bellamy Young had enough to do with her character, that she also didn’t succumb to giving a one-note performance. The acting, for that matter, by the entire cast was well done, and I wasn’t at anytime while watching the film, bored with it. I just would have preferred if it had been turned into a two part miniseries, or something similar to,  the ten part, limited series, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,”  which never once failed to hold my interest.

 

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

“Thirteen – A Well Executed Miniseries From The BBC”

The compelling, five-part miniseries, “Thirteen, opens up with an aerial view of a residential neighborhood. When the camera stops panning, it focuses in on a house with a red door. Within seconds, the door opens, and out steps a bewildered looking, unkempt, scrawny, twenty-six year old woman with a pallid complexion. The woman’s name is Ivy Moxam, the protagonist of the series, who is completely embodied by actress Jodie Comer (Doctor Foster). After taking a few moments to get her bearings, Ivy’s survival instincts kick in. She runs down the street, distancing herself from the house in Bristol, England, where she has been kept a prisoner in a cellar for the past thirteen years. She turns and runs down an alleyway, coming out on another street, which she hurries across, narrowly avoiding getting hit by a car, before she steps into a phone booth and dials the number for the police.

T Pic 1

Upon their initial questioning of Ivy, which is closely monitored by Chief Superintendant, Burridge (Ariyon Bakare), Detective Inspectors Crane (Richard Rankin) and Merchant (Valene Kane), seem skeptical that Ivy is really the person she says she is. They have had girls pretending to be Ivy show up in the past, who through DNA tests, and family identification, have proved to be ruled as frauds. “Thirteen,” however, doesn’t linger with the ‘is she or isn’t she’ question for very long. A DNA test does, in fact, determine that Ivy is telling the truth as to who she claims to be.

Ivy is allowed to return home to her family who, collectively,  never truly expected that they would see her again given the lengthy duration of time since her disappearance. Ivy’s family is comprised of: her mother Christina, portrayed by BAFTA nominated actress, Natasha Little (The Night Manager);  father, Angus (Stuart Graham); and sister, Emma (Katherine Rose Morley), who is engaged to be married, and lives in the Moxam home with her Fiancé Craig (Joe Layton). Christina attempts to make everything appear as it was when Ivy first went missing, including having Angus, who she is separated from, and who is living with another woman, Sofia (Melina Matthews), move back into the family’s home. Furthermore, Christina wants to keep the fact of their separation, as well as a breakdown Angus had suffered over Ivy’s kidnapping, hidden from Ivy.

Additional recurring characters that appear throughout the series in varying amounts of screen time, include, but are not limited to Ivy’s teenage boyfriend, Tim (Aneurin Barnard). He can’t believe it when he hears the news that Ivy has been found, and it doesn’t take long for him to arrive at the Moxam home, to see her. As they spend time together, he makes sure to remove his wedding ring, as well as not mention to Ivy that he is married to Yazz (Kemi-Bo Jacobs). He never tries to take advantage of Ivy, nor does he promise her a future with him, knowing that he can’t deliver on such a claim. He does, however, do nice things for her, such as make her an IPod mix of music from each of the years she has been missing. Another member of Ivy’s past, who has come back into her life, is her best friend from school, Eloise (Eleanor Wyld).

As Crane and Merchant attempt to track down Ivy’s abductor, things are not as cut and dry as they first appeared. Ivy, for her part, can’t or won’t, give the detective inspectors much to work with, other than that she was kidnapped by a man, who said his name was Leonard, and she knows from her time with him, that he liked eating fish. The other details she provides as to her captivity, over time, begin to contradict the police investigation, especially, when they examine the house where Ivy was held prisoner. For starters, the inspectors find a passport photo of Ivy, who had stated to them during questioning that she never once left the house before her escape. Additionally, they find her clothing hanging in an upstairs bedroom closet, as well as discover several strands of her hair on a pillow on a bed in the same room. Is Ivy purposely misleading the authorities? Did Ivy over time become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome? Crane and Merchant barely have time to explore those questions before they are thrust into a new kidnapping, of a little girl named Phoebe (Isabel Shanahan), which is perpetrated by Ivy’s abductor, whose identity, the authorities have learned in the interim.

Will Ivy reveal what, if anything, she is hiding about her former captor? Does she have information that can assist the police in finding Phoebe, so that another girl, as well as the girl’s family doesn’t have to go through the same tragic ordeal that she and her family endured? Does Ivy put herself in the path of her former captor as a way of luring him out from hiding?

The miniseries was created, and the episodes written, by Marnie Dickens (Hollyoaks). The first three episodes were directed by Vanessa Caswill (My Mad Fat Diary), and episodes four and five were helmed by China Moo-Young (Call the Midwife). The episodes comprise the crime, drama, mystery and thriller genres. The show premiered on BBC Three on February 28, 2016 in the U.K. I didn’t get a chance to see it until it was shown on BBC America on June 23rd. Unlike many shows or films that have dealt with the sort of subject matter “Thirteen” delves into, the series takes place entirely in the present, and is devoid of flashbacks. Instead of concentrating on Ivy’s kidnapper, revealing possible triggers in his past which led to his heinous behavior, or the reason he chose to take Ivy in the first place, it deals with the aspects and after effects of the crime from the victim’s point-of-view. For those of you who enjoy strong, character-driven drama, “Thirteen” should be worth investing the approximately 60 minutes of your time it takes to view each of the five well written and well paced episodes.

Posted in TV Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments