“The Girls By Emma Cline”

During the summer of 1967, having recently been released from prison, a human predator prowled the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. There was nothing that particularly stood out about him in a physical sense that made the man unique. He had unkempt hair, was short of stature, lean, but not muscular, and his face was nothing remarkable; the type of ordinary visage that could blend in and get lost among a throng of humanity. Underneath the physical veneer, however, when he spoke, he exuded an unexplainable magnetism, especially when conversing with young, wayward adults, and impressionable teenagers. His appeal to those who yearned for freedom from the watchful eyes and restrictive constraints of parents, guardians, and the school system, and those who desired someone to listen to their concerns, and not be judgmental, was unparalleled. His talent for drawing people in, was in large part, thanks to his ability to know exactly what someone wanted to hear, which would, in the minds of those who followed him, lead them to believe that they had come upon a savior. He listened to the youth, who he was fifteen to twenty years older than, but it was feigned listening; he never truly cared about what they had to say. He didn’t judge them, no matter the views they expressed, or the past actions they had taken. How could he? The man was, for all intents and purposes, a career criminal by that point in his life. In regard to love, that was a foreign emotion to him, something which he could pretend to give to others, to suit his purposes, but had never been present in Charles Manson’s own life.

Books, films, television specials, documentaries, newspaper and magazine articles over the past four decades have covered at length, Charles Manson, his followers, and the depraved, Tate-LaBianca murders, which took place in Los Angles, on August 9th and 10th, 1969. I am not in the habit of making assumptions, but given the notoriety of Manson and the murders, I’ll assume most of you who are reading this, have a familiarity, not only with who Manson is, but the details regarding the horrific crimes that were perpetrated by members of his so called ‘family,’ therefore, I am not going to write about the specifics of the crimes. While “Girls,” the well-written and thought provoking debut novel by Emma Cline, incorporates the murders into her narrative – as well as a stand-in character for Manson, in the guise of Russell Hadrick – the murders are not the central focus of the book.

TG Pic 1

Cline’s main protagonist is Evie Boyd. When the novel begins, she is  middle-aged, living alone in her friend’s guest house, in an attempt to get her life back on track after getting out of another failed romantic relationship. One evening, she receives unwelcomed company – her friend’s son, the pot smoking, drug dealing Julian, and his docile girlfriend Sasha. After Evie introduces herself to the couple, Julian, who is familiar with Evie’s past, is in awe that he is in her company. His fascination with Evie’s long dormant past, is the catalyst which sets in motion a series of flashbacks, where Evie remembers what transpired during the summer of 1969, when she was fourteen years old, living in Petaluma, California.

A reader will soon learn, that teenage Evie was exceptionally bored with the direction of her life during that time period. Cline, taking the reader back to that time, shows Evie in a constant state of waiting, and drifting through lazy summer days. Once the summer reaches its end, she knows that her divorced parents – her mother, Jean, a woman who keeps experimenting with the various self-improvement methods of the time period, while searching for male companionship, and her father, who she sees little of, and who is living with his girlfriend, are sending her to boarding school. In addition to seeking love and admiration, Evie is in some desperate need of excitement in her life, which primarily consists of her socializing with her best friend, Connie. Day after day, the two have been engaging in the same activities of lounging by the pool, reading magazines, listening to records, and spending time with Connie’s older brother, and his friends, which was more watching, and hoping to be noticed, on the part of the two girls, than social interaction. The only break in the monotony comes when the girls lick a battery, because they have heard that the metallic buzz they will feel on their tongues after doing so, is equivalent to an orgasm.

One day, Evie, spots three girls, several years older than she is, walking through a park in her hometown. The trio are not modest when it comes to their attire, and they display an almost unfettered freedom in the way they conduct themselves, which immediately sparks a curiosity in Evie. The girl to whom Evie is magnetically drawn is Suzanne, the girl walking between the other two. In Evie’s mind, Suzanne projects a mysterious quality that Evie desires to find out more about. On that day, however, she doesn’t approach the girls, she merely observes them like many others in the park are doing, before the three get into a black bus and leave, but not through the same lens of awe as Evie does. (As an aside: The character of Suzanne is modeled after notorious Manson family member, Susan Atkins.)

Eventually, Evie will come to befriend Suzanne and the other girls, although it is Suzanne’s acceptance which she craves the most. One day, while riding her bicycle on a dirt road, the chain breaks. While momentarily stranded, the black bus containing Suzanne and the others pulls up, and they offer to help her. Befriending Evie, the girls bring her back to their rundown ranch where their commune is located. While someone else might be turned off by the lack of cleanliness, the squalid sleeping conditions, the mostly inedible food, and the fact that everything, including clothing is shared, Evie embraces it. She becomes a frequent visitor to the ranch, always with the goal of remaining by Suzanne’s side. In fact, Evie’s need to be accepted by Suzanne leads her to making immoral choices, which include, but are not limited to shoplifting, breaking into people’s homes, and giving her body to different men, to whom she is not attracted, for sex, one of them is the leader of the commune, Russell Hadrick.

Like Manson, Hardick is the unquestioned leader of a group of directionless people at the ranch. His mostly female followers run errands for him. Those tasks include breaking into homes to steal money and goods, rummaging through garbage dumpsters looking for food, attracting men to the group, to act as the muscle, since he can’t provide that himself, and to indulge his every sexual proclivity. Furthermore, like Manson, he is a failed musician. Hardick has befriended someone in the music business with connections, who has promised him a record deal, but has not yet delivered. (As an aside: Charles Manson, for a time, had a relationship with The Beach Boys, drummer, Dennis Wilson. Wilson thought Manson had interesting musical insight. The two wrote the song “Cease To Exist,” which The Beach Boys later adapted into a song titled “Never Learn Not To Love,” which was released on February 3, 1969 on their album 20/20. Additionally, Wilson introduced Manson to instrumental record producer, Terry Melcher, who listened to Manson’s music, but never gave him any sort of commitment to record him, although according to Manson, Melcher had made promises to him, which he failed to deliver on. Real or perceived, Melcher, had occupied the home at 10050 Cielo Drive, before director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate lived there. When Manson sent his followers out to cause havoc he thought he was sending them to Melcher’s home, an unmitigated tragedy for Tate, her unborn child, and the others who were brutally murdered.)

How far will Evie go to please Suzanne? Does she flee after learning of Russell’s plan for bloodshed? Did her admiration and love for Suzanne, make her abandon her moral compass, and accompany Suzanne and the other participants on the night of the murders? Did someone put a stop to Evie’s participation in the murders before there was no going back for her? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of Cline’s detail rich, novel. I don’t want to delve any further into specific plot points, and ruin the reading experience for those of you who have had this on your ‘to read’ list, but haven’t yet had the chance to. This was a page-turner that I had trouble putting down.

 

Posted in Literature | Tagged , | 1 Comment

“Mustang”

The first thought I had after watching Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s poignant debut film “Mustang,” which she co-wrote for the screen with Alice Winocour, (Augustine) was that the title should have been changed to “Repression.” The 97 minute runtime of the character driven drama centers on the lives of five orphaned sisters living in a countryside town located in Turkey. The movie’s narrative is told from the point-of-view of the youngest sister, Lale (Günes Sensoy). Lale, along with her four siblings, Nur (Doga Zeynep Doguslu), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan), and Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), at the start of the film, are under the guardianship of their grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas). After the grandmother is told lies by her neighbor, that the girls were engaging in lascivious actions at the beach with male members of their school, she proceeds to throttle them around individually, when they arrive home, and then contacts their uncle, Erol (Ayberk Pekcan).

Mustang Pic 1

When the uncle arrives, he gives the grandmother a piece of his mind for her apparent unwillingness to correctly discipline the girls. Erol comes to live with them, and is there for the purpose of instilling, what he feels, is a much needed structure of rules and regulations. The confrontation between the siblings who yearn for freedom, and their puritanical and ill- tempered uncle who wants to treat them as second class citizens, sets up the remainder of the film. Throughout the narrative, the underlying psychological dread of what is taking place is given a chance to grow before it reaches its crescendo during the closing minutes of the movie.

Erol’s first action is to drive the girls to a medical center, so that a doctor can examine them individually to determine if they are still virgins. Even though the doctor states after his examination that the girls have not had sex, Erol, and in part, the grandmother, begin to take strict measures to ensure that the chastity of the sisters remains so until they are married. As if the sisters were dangerous criminals, who were sentenced to prison, iron bars are installed on the windows to make sure they can’t leave the house, and to insure that no one, especially boys, sneak in.

The new law and order vibe of the girls’ home life, however, doesn’t stop with the bars on the windows. The sisters must be chaperoned if they want to leave the house, and can only do so if their outing is approved. Additionally, they must dress in traditional Turkish garb when in public, or when company comes to visit. The telephones and computers have been removed from throughout the house, so the sisters will not be able to have any unapproved contact with the outside world. Furthermore, the sisters no longer even have the escape from their restrictive environment that school would offer them. Erol has forbidden them to return to school, and instead, has the girls spend their days learning from their female elders, among other things, how to cook and clean for their future husbands. Additionally, the grandmother, with an almost frantic zeal, begins to arrange marriages for the sisters. She gives no heed to their consent, and with the exception of one sister, who she acquiesces to let marry her boyfriend, she gives no regard to love when it comes to attempting to entice suitors to marry her granddaughters.

Through all of the bad times, as much as they can, the girls take comfort in one another. They are portrayed as a tight knit group, whether laying together, all in one bed, while whispering secrets and telling jokes, or enjoying bubble gum that their aunt teaches them to make. In one wonderful act of defiance, led by Lale, who loves soccer, the girls go to great lengths to sneak out in order to watch a game played at the national stadium. During those scenes, the siblings are shown having a wonderful time, a rare instance during the film where they are free to behave and express their emotions in the manner they wish to.

The movie premiered on May 19, 2015 at the Cannes Film Festival. Critical praise was strong for the movie, which among various other awards was nominated for both the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. Highlights of the film include the entire cast, especially the sisters, who collectively, I felt, didn’t present a false note in their performances. In addition, Warren Ellis’ score, which is subtle, helps to advance the narrative by keying in at the right moments  with music that is emotionally relevant to what is taking place in a given scene.

“Mustang” showcases that there are still a number of places throughout the world where the patriarchy clings to the absurd notion that women are meant to lead a subjugated life, where all of their decisions are determined by their husbands, or the male head of the household. Ergüven and Winocour, do convey to a viewer that they feel the punishments inflicted upon the sisters are extreme, but avoided being overwhelmingly preachy about the subject matter. I concluded, that instead, they left it up to the viewer to pass the final judgment on the adults in the girls’ lives, and how their actions toward them impacted each of the siblings, collectively and individually.

 

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is a short story written by prolific author, Joyce Carol Oates (A Garden of Earthly Delights), which was first published by Cornell University in the Fall 1966 issue of their literary magazine, Epoch. The work of fiction was based on the article “The Pied Piper of Tucson” written by Don Moser, which was published in Life Magazine on March 4, 1966. Moser’s article dealt with the murders of three teenage girls in Tucson, Arizona committed by Charles Schmid; a man who was so self-conscious about his looks, that he would stuff crushed beer cans into his boots to make himself appear taller. After murdering his first victim, Alleen Rowe, and getting away with it, Schmid killed his girlfriend Gretchen Fritz and her sister, Wendy. The braggadocios Schmid, showed his friend, Richard Bruns, the location in the Tucson desert where the bodies were buried. Bruns kept quiet until he felt his girlfriend was the next person Schmid intended to kill, prompting him to tell the authorities everything.

JCO Pic 1

The main protagonist of the story, set in the 1960s, is Connie, a fifteen year old girl, who comes across as self-absorbed and vain.  She compares and contrasts her looks with those of both her twenty-four year old sister June, and her mother. Connie admits, her mother used to be attractive, as evidenced by the pictures she has seen of her in old photos, but her looks have faded. Connie’s main drive seems to be wanting to escape the dullness of her home life. She is tired of her mother who is always on her case, for example, wanting her to clean up her room, and to stop using odorous hair spray; as well as the comparisons to her mature, responsible sister June, who her mother wants Connie to emulate. Conversely, her father, who is almost an afterthought in the story, is described by Connie as someone who works a great deal, comes home and reads the newspaper while eating, goes to bed, and then repeats the cycle the next day.

JCO Pic 2

JCO Pic 3

One way Connie experiences freedom, in the story, is by going to the mall and the movies in the evenings, at least that is what she and her friends do some of the time. On other nights, as soon as they were dropped off, they would sneak across the highway to the drive-in restaurant, which is described as being shaped like a big bottle, only squatter, where the older kids, especially older guys, were socializing. As Oates describes in the story, everything about Connie had two sides to it – the way she dressed –  the makeup she wore, or didn’t wear – the way she walked – even her laugh, which was cynical at home, but nervous sounding when she was in the company of others.

One evening at the restaurant, while spending time with a boy named Eddie, Connie attracts the attention of another boy, a man actually. The following is the way Oates writes the brief encounter with the man, which sets up the second half of the story:

“A boy named Eddie came in to talk with them. He sat backwards on his stool, turning himself jerkily around in semicircles and then stopping and turning back again, and after a while he asked Connie if she would like something to eat. She said she would and so she tapped her friend’s arm on her way out—her friend pulled her face up into a brave, droll look—and Connie said she would meet her at eleven, across the way. “I just hate to leave her like that,” Connie said earnestly, but the boy said that she wouldn’t be alone for long. So they went out to his car, and on the way Connie couldn’t help but let her eyes wander over the windshields and faces all around her, her face gleaming with a joy that had nothing to do with Eddie or even this place; it might have been the music. She drew her shoulders up and sucked in her breath with the pure pleasure of being alive, and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin. Connie slit her eyes at him and turned away, but she couldn’t help glancing back and there he was, still watching her. He wagged a finger and laughed and said, “Gonna get you, baby,” and Connie turned away again without Eddie noticing anything.”

The reader will learn that the man’s name is Arnold Friend. He and his pal Ellie show up at Connie’s house the day after he sees her at the drive-in. Opting not to go to a barbecue at her aunt’s house, she is home alone, outside sunbathing. While listening to music on the radio, she hears a car coming up the gravel drive, and knows that it is too early for her family to be returning home. When Connie opens the door, she sees Arnold and Ellie. Arnold lets her know that he has come to take her for a ride. He tries hard at first to put Connie at ease, but the more they talk, the more she notices things about him that increasingly make her feel uncomfortable.

“She could see then that he wasn’t a kid, he was much older—thirty, maybe more. At this knowledge her heart began to pound fast.”

In addition to Friend’s age, which he told her was eighteen, he appears to be wearing a wig, and there is something off about his style of dress. He is wearing jeans stuffed into his boots, like the teenage guys Connie knows, but he walks funny, making her think that he has put something in his boots to compensate for his height. After back and forth conversation, with Arnold trying to get Connie to come with him willingly, she refuses. When she tells him this, any pretense he had at charm, which she saw through anyway, is gone, replaced by a conversational tone that is forceful. Arnold lets Connie know that she can stay in the house, as long as she doesn’t use the telephone to call anyone for help. The second she picks up the phone and begins dialing, he is coming in. He also lets her know, several different times, that if she decides to stay in the house, waiting for her family to arrive and save the day, that once they do return home, he is going to hurt them.

Will Connie leave with Arnold? Does she take her chances and ignore his threats by waiting for her family to return home, or calling for help? If she does get into Arnold’s car will that be the last anyone sees of her? Perhaps none of those questions matter. Since the story was first published, literary critics, and those who read Oates’ work have speculated that Arnold Friend was nothing more than a product of Connie’s imagination. The story does contain a good deal of ambiguity, especially in the second part of the narrative. The following is a passage, that people who believe that the later portion of the story is dream, speaks to the fact that Connie never woke up, after she falls asleep sunbathing:

“Connie sat with her eyes closed in the sun, dreaming and dazed with the warmth about her as if this were a kind of love, the caresses of love, and her mind slipped over onto thoughts of the boy she had been with the night before and how nice he had been, how sweet it always was, not the way someone like June would suppose but sweet, gentle, the way it was in movies and promised in songs; and when she opened her eyes she hardly knew where she was, the back yard ran off into weeds and a fence-like line of trees and behind it the sky was perfectly blue and still. The asbestos ranch house that was now three years old startled her—it looked small. She shook her head as if to get awake.”

Furthermore, while struggling about whether to get into Arnold’s car, in order to spare her family from getting hurt, those who speculate that the encounter with Friend is a dream, use this passage among others to make their point.

“The kitchen looked like a place she had never seen before, some room she had run inside but that wasn’t good enough, wasn’t going to help her. The kitchen window had never had a curtain, after three years, and there were dishes in the sink for her to do—probably—and if you ran your hand across the table you’d probably feel something sticky there.”

Oates, who is a five time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and winner of two O. Henry Awards, and a National Book Award, dedicated the story to Bob Dylan. She had been interested in exploring the evil nature of Charles Schmid, after reading about him, and his deplorable actions in the Life Magazine article, but it was Dylan’s song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,”  which inspired Oates to sit down and write what has become one of her most read and discussed pieces. I have not seen it, so I can’t offer my opinion as to whether it is good, bad or mediocre, but the 1985 movie “Smooth Talk”  directed by Joyce Chopra, which stars Golden Globe and Emmy nominee, Treat Williams (Everwood) and four time, Golden Globe winner, Laura Dern (Enlightened) was adapted from Oates story.

JCO Pic 4

 

Posted in Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Janis: Little Girl Blue”

On October 4, 1970, in Los Angeles, California, Janis Joplin died of a heroin overdose at the age of twenty-seven. At the time, she was in her prime, creatively and professionally, and had just finished recording the album, “Pearl.”  The record would reach, and maintain, the number one spot on the Billboard chart for over two months, and went on to be certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The well researched, 103 minute documentary, “Janis: Little Girl Blue,” from director Amy Berg (Franca), presents an all encompassing study of blues singer Joplin’s life.

JLGB Pic 1

The film originally premiered on September 6, 2015 at the Venice Film Festival, and contains a number of interviews. Offering insight on Joplin is her sister, Laura, and her brother, Michael, who speak about their relationship with their older sister, and about their parents, who loved Janis, but weren’t enamored with her life choices. Additional commentary is derived from, amongst others; childhood friends; and former musician’s Joplin worked with, such as members of Big Brother and The Holding Company – the band she joined in 1966, which helped launch her career. Everyone who was interviewed, not only discussed their association with the singer, but  provided their honest take on why they believed Joplin behaved the way she did. Furthermore, the documentary contains archival interviews, as well as extensive concert footage, however, the narrative of the film is primarily advanced by Joplin herself. Self reflective letters which outlined her fears, needs, and also her ambitions, which she wrote to family, friends, and lovers, prior to her stardom, as well as during, are read via voice-over by singer and songwriter, Cat Power (Chan Marshall). (As an aside: During the film, Dave Niehaus is both discussed and interviewed. Janis met him while sunbathing on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The two instantly hit it off, and she traveled around with him for a period of time, but the relationship didn’t last. Many people have speculated that the pain Janis felt from losing Dave, was one she was never able to fully recover from.)

The film follows a chronological structure. The early part of the documentary discusses how Joplin was bullied and socially ostracized by her classmates at the Port Arthur, Texas high school she attended. When she returned for her ten year high school reunion, she still acted as if she were an outsider. Her singing had brought her worldwide acclaim and a legion of fans, but at no time did she embrace her celebrity and rub it in her former tormenters’ faces. The camera crew that documented the event, shows an almost shy, tight lipped, Joplin. When asked about how she felt about being back at the school, or how she was treated when she was a teenager, she deflects the questions. Joplin would rather the interviewer ask her former peers how they perceived the events of the past. (As an aside: Berg’s film doesn’t mix in a tremendous amount of nostalgia or history for the time period of the 1960s. There are certain things mentioned, like how Joplin was a vocal supporter of Civil Rights, at a time when most in her town, were not standing up to support those sorts of initiatives).

As with most people, there were two sides to Janis Joplin. She was often times, when not on stage, drunk or high on drugs. There was a needy quality to her that craved attention, even after she would leave a concert venue, where people had been vociferously applauding. Additionally, she was depressed, haunted by memories of her pre-fame days, and was suffering from low self-esteem when it came to how she viewed herself, especially her looks. Conversely, she demonstrated, time and again, that she had exceptional vocal talent as a singer, was very ambitious, and had a driving determination to turn her musical dreams into reality. When she was composed, she could articulate things in a clear, concise way, that showed she was a highly intelligent person. Furthermore, she also had a strong sensitive side to her personality, which proved in various instances to be both an asset and a detriment.

From her first interest in singing, which had an inauspicious start, to her post-high school days and her arrival in San Francisco – where for the first time, Joplin truly felt she belonged – the film delves into all aspects of her life. Berg showcases the singer’s time with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the short lived solo career that took place after she left the band. I feel to get into more specifics about each part of the documentary would do a disservice to those of you who are interested in seeing the film, which is currently on Netflix.

This will be a film that will probably appeal more to people who were fans of Janis Joplin at the time, or for those who have simply grown to become admirers of her music. For those who have no familiarity with Joplin and her music, you certainly will learn a great deal from investing your time in watching this. I think Berg made the right choice, in not sugar coating anything, and presenting a complete picture of the iconic singer.

 

 

 

 

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

“The Resurrection of Jake The Snake”

Alcoholic, drug addict, failure, a lost cause, those were just some of the words I had read in print and heard wrestling fans use to describe the twice-divorced, estranged father of eight, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. The unflattering descriptions were a far cry from how fans felt about the man on March 29, 1987. On that day, at Wrestlemania III, in front of an estimated 93,173 people at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, with his python, Damien, in a sack draped over his shoulder, accompanied by rocker Alice Cooper, made his way to the ring for his match against The Honky Tonk Man. In that moment, he was at the height of his wrestling career, receiving adulation and cheers from an appreciative public. Fast forward, twenty-five years later, Jake’s career wasn’t just bottoming out, but instead it was his entire life. The tragic ending, to one of the most creative and popular sports entertainers the industry had ever known, an outcome that had been predicated by countless wrestling fans, seemed to be a foregone conclusion. The only thing that kept Jake holding on was his love for his children. By his own admission, he had put them through so much misery, that he wanted to give changing his life around one more try. Like any comeback story, even when someone has the best of intentions, there are a tremendous number of ups and down along the way, and Robert’s path to not only getting clean and sober, but shedding the unhealthy weight off of his 300 pound frame, was not going to be an easy task. (As an aside: Jake “The Snake” Roberts real name is Aurelian Smith, Jr. In addition, Jake’s father Aurelian Smith was also a professional wrestler known as Grizzly Smith).

J Pic 1

 

J Pic 2

Fortunately for Jake, he had a friend in Diamond Dallas Page, a former wrestling star in his own right. Dallas, since retiring, has worked as a fitness instructor, and started a very successful yoga program, called DDP Yoga, which I have read not only helps individuals lose weight, and regain mobility, but also works toward helping people attempt to build a more positive outlook on life. Dallas travels to Jake’s home in Texas to assess the situation. When he gets there, he finds that his old friend, trainer, and mentor is a shell of his former self. In fact, the disheveled Roberts is barely mobile. Any hint of the once charismatic, compelling individual, who never felt the need to scream during his promos, but instead filled them with soft-spoken dread, while holding his reptilian companion, had all but vanished.

the-resurrection-of-jake-the-snake-is-as-real-as-wrestling-gets-1447178021

After putting Jake through some basic yoga exercises, talking with him, and seeing the condition he is in, Dallas knows that a lot of work needs to be done to get Jake back on track. He convinces Jake to move to his home in Atlanta; a place he has dubbed ‘the accountability crib,’ where he will work with him to not only get Jake healthy, and his body back into shape, but also, to try to help Roberts beat his addictions. Joining Jake and Dallas, on the former’s road to recovery, is first time director, Steve Yu.

Steve Yu doesn’t sugar coat the 93 minute film, which originally premiered on January 23, 2015 at the Slamdance Film Festival. Instead, he focuses his camera on the subject of his documentary, which was filmed over a period of two years, and captures a gamut of emotions emanating from the man. In one instance Jake can be angry and belligerent, only to become, a short while later, an apologetic, teary eyed person, who is sorry for his actions. (As an aside: Providing commentary throughout the film are wrestlers, such as: Steve Austin; Edge; Ted DiBiase; Chris Jericho; and Scott Hall, who, during the film, also moves into Dallas’s house in Atlanta to address his own substance abuse issues, as well as a crippling problem with his hip.)

While Jake is in his care, Diamond Dallas Page doesn’t hold back. While he gives Jake a clean slate, and doesn’t judge his friend on his past actions, he lets him know the road ahead isn’t going to be easy. Dallas puts Jake through a tough program that focuses on all facets of health. A daily exercise regimen is strictly adhered to, along with a restrictive diet, as well as mandatory yoga classes – regardless of how banged up Jake feels. Additionally, Jake will be required to attend AA meetings, and seek medical help for the lingering problems he has with his shoulder. Throughout their time together, Dallas maintains a positive, encouraging, but at the same time, no nonsense attitude, when it comes to Jake, which as a viewer will learn, is exactly the kind of support he needs.

J Pic 4

J Pic 5

Unfortunately, Jake relapses numerous times, spurred on in part, as the viewer will learn, by childhood demons. Through the course of the film, it is learned, that Jake was the victim of sexual abuse by his stepmother, who threatened to kill him if he told anyone. His relationship with his father was also anything but loving. Jake couldn’t recall a single time in his life where his father had told him he was proud of him, or offered him words of encouragement. For instance, when Jake told his father that he been accepted to college, he merely replied ‘good luck’ and walked away. (As an aside: Jake for all intents and purposes at the time of filming the documentary was financially broke. The shoulder surgery he required was going to cost $9,000 out of pocket. Jake didn’t have medical insurance, but once  his fans learned that he had started an Indiegogo campaign to raise the funds, within the first few hours, they contributed over $7,000 dollars, and in the end he got the full amount, and had his surgery).

Considering this is not a film that showcases Jake “The Snake” Roberts past glory days in sports entertainment, this is a documentary that can be appreciated by more than just wrestling fans. At the heart of the film is a story of one man’s determination to better himself. Jake Roberts is someone who openly admits his past transgressions. A person who desires, above all else, to repair the seemingly irreparable damage his actions have caused, especially when it comes to his children, who he attempts to reconcile with, in order to make amends. The journey Jake “The Snake” Roberts takes from the start of the film, up until its conclusion, is at times a sad one, but through his hard work, and the efforts of a group of people, who were willing to give him one last chance to turn his life around, it also winds up being a rewarding one.

v

v

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

“Emma Watson & Daniel Bruhl Co-Star In Suspense Film Colonia”

The film “Colonia” opens up in the Latin American country of Chile, in 1973. When the film begins, the country is governed by the 29th President of Chile, Socialist, Salvador Allende, but that quickly changes. A coup orchestrated by Augusto Pinochet, a man who Allende appointed as the Commander in Chief of the military, successfully overthrows the Allende government. The official story for many years stated that, as Pinochet’s soldiers attacked the presidential palace, Allende committed suicide. There has been a great deal of debate that suggests that Allende may not have killed himself, but was instead assassinated, so much so, that in 2011 at the behest of his family, his body was exhumed to determine the exact cause of death. Forensic expert, Francisco Exteberria confirmed after examining the body, that Allende did indeed commit suicide; he was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head.

C Pic 1

Daniel is a German graphic artist, photographer, and vociferous supporter of the Allende government, who is living in Santiago. Portrayed by BAFTA and Golden Globe nominee, Daniel Bruhl (Rush), he is also a man who is deeply in love. The woman who has his heart is a flight attendant, Lena, who is played by Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Thanks to her job, she is in Chile on a fairly regular basis. During a ride in a van to the hotel with the rest of the flight crew, Lena spots Daniel at a demonstration. She departs the van, and joins him. Afterward, except for one political meeting, things, for the most part, settle down for the couple, as they enjoy each other’s company over the course of several days and evenings.

One morning during breakfast, Daniel receives a phone call warning him that the world he knows has changed. The military has begun rounding up his associates and friends. While attempting to flee to safety, Daniel begins taking pictures of what is transpiring, so he can show the world at large the injustices being inflicted on the Chilean people. In a short amount of time, someone in the military spots what he is doing, and he and Lena are taken into custody. They are transported to an outdoor soccer stadium, where they are lined up with numerous other suspected, political dissidents. No sooner, are he and Lena lined up, than a hooded figure, who is being escorted by soldiers while walking in front of those assembled, points out several people, including Daniel, who is immediately taken away.

C Pic 2

C Pic 3

The location Daniel is removed to is known as Colonia Dignidad. To the world at large the camp is allegedly a charitable mission, but in actuality it is a place that houses members of a warped religious cult, and where prisoners are taken to be tortured. At first, Lena tries to enlist the help of Daniel’s fellow Allende supporters, to no avail. Determined to help Daniel, she devises a ruse to  infiltrate the camp. When she learns that those who live at the camp all appear to be devoutly religious, she thinks up a story as to why she wants to join the sect, and dresses in the manner of someone who perhaps wants to be, but has not yet become a nun. Lena travels to the camp and, surprisingly, is accepted into the order with little opposition or probing as to why she came there.

Once inside the camp, she learns that what is projected to the outside world is not what truly takes place there. Members of the camp are not only forced to take medication as a way of keeping them docile, and work long hours tending to the land, but they are routinely subjected to harsh punishments for the slightest infraction. Lena soon learns a lesson, when she asks the no-nonsense, whip wielding, Gisela (Richenda Carey), who runs the women’s camp, if she can have a water break. Gisela places a full bucket of water in front of Lena, but informs her that if one drop of the water is missing at the end of the workday, she will regret it.

C Pic 4

The men and women of the camp are kept apart, and expected to remain celibate at all times. There are two exceptions that permit men and women to be in the same place. One, is if a representative from the Chilean government comes to the camp for an official visit. The other, is when a female is taken for a barbaric ritual, where she is seated in front of the entire male population of the camp, and verbally abused and beaten upon. This is something that the sadistic, former Nazi who runs the camp, Paul Schafer, seems to take great pleasure in. Schafer who is a lay preacher that members of the camp refer to as Pious is acted by Michael Nyqvist (John Wick). He is a despicable man who likes to refer to women as sluts, regardless of their behavior, as well as get sexual gratification from engaging in deplorable acts of pedophilia with young boys. Schafer, for all intents and purposes, is left alone by the Pinochet government. He provides weapons, a secluded place for political prisoners to be tortured and imprisoned, and is in the process of conducting poison gas experiments for the regime. One of the downfalls of the film, is that none of what led to the relationship between Schafer and Pinochet’s government is explored in any detail.  Only at the end, during the post credits, will the viewer learn a bit about the relationship between Schafer and those in power.

C Pic 5

C Pic 7

After a short time, Lena begins to actively search for Daniel in the camp. Unbeknownst to her, he has been put through a series of rounds of electrocution torture, in an effort to get him to give up the names of his fellow Allende supporters. He withstands the pain, and at the same time feigns brain damage. His quick thinking keeps him from being closely watched, and gives him enough freedom, so he can not only plot his escape, but take photographic evidence with him, before he does, of what is truly going on at the camp.

Do Daniel and Lena find a way back to one another? If they do manage to reconnect will they be able to escape from the camp? Does one make it out, but not the other? If either of them makes it back to mainstream society, will they be given the opportunity to expose the camp for what it really is? The film doesn’t leave the viewer with any ambiguity, and all of those questions and more will receive answers by the rolling of the credits.

Oscar winner, Florian Gallenberger (Quiero ser), directed and co-wrote “Colonia” with debut screenwriter, Torsten Wenzel. The film, which has a runtime of 110 minutes, is a blending of the genres of drama, history, romance, and thriller. Originally premiering on September 13, 2015 at the Toronto International Film Festival, the movie can now be watched on on-demand. I give credit to Bruhl and Watson. They did the best they could with the material they had to work with, which included a great deal of cliché ridden and flat dialogue, not to mention numerous scenes that came across as forced due to too much coincidence being needed in order for the scene to maintain its believability. Furthermore, I felt that the same applies to Carey’s and Nyqvist’s roles. They both did what they could to up the evil quotient of their characters without going over the top, but I’m sure it wasn’t an easy task for either of them. The filmmakers had an opportunity to explore a dark and disturbing period of Chile’s history, and instead opted to bypass the life of terror that many in Chile were living with on a daily basis, in order to tell a story of a fictitious romance that makes for a mediocre suspense film.

 

 

 

 

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

“Green Room”

The young adult, east coast, punk band ‘The Ain’t Rights’ are struggling for money. Things are so bad, financially speaking, that they  all share the same cell phone, sleep in their tour van to avoid paying for motel rooms, and steal the gasoline they need by siphoning it from other cars. The quartet consists of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole), Sam (Alia Shawkat), and Tiger (Callum Turner).

GR Pic 2

The band’s most recent gig in the outskirts of Portland, Oregon doesn’t go well, in terms of audience or the money they make for the job; a paltry six dollars and change for each of them. Tad (David W. Thompson), the person who arranged the job for them, feels bad about how it went, so he lines up another paying performance for them; one in which the money will be worth their time. The catch is, the band will be playing at a club, located deep in the woods of rural Oregon, where white supremacists socialize. In desperate need of a way to get back home, and wanting to avoid being arrested by continuing to steal other motorists’ gas, they agree to play the show.

The band plays the gig, collects the money that’s owed to them, and are all set to leave, when Sam realizes she left her cell phone charging in the green room. Pat goes back to the room to retrieve it, but  instead of merely walking into the room and getting the phone, he comes upon a murder scene, where a young girl has been killed. Without hesitation, he calls 9-1-1 on the cell, only to have the phone taken away from him by the club’s manager, Gabe (Macon Blair). Gabe is heard to say to the operator that there has been a stabbing at the club. The band is told to wait in the green room until the police arrive.

After hanging up with the police, Gabe alerts the main antagonist of the film, club owner, Darcy, about what happened. Darcy is portrayed in a convincing and calculated manner by multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Darcy projects a calm demeanor as he communicates with the members of the band through the closed door to the green room, but he has already begun to formulate a plan on how to dispose of them. The police will in fact arrive, but they are easily fooled by two skinheads, who act as if things got out of hand between them while arguing, which led to one stabbing the other.

GR Pic 2

Before exiting the green room, Gabe leaves Justin (Eric Edelstein), a club bouncer, who has a loaded gun, to watch over the group. Additionally, Amber (Imogen Poots), a friend of the murdered girl is held captive in the room. It doesn’t take long for The Ain’t Rights’ to realize two things: One, the police would’ve shown up already if they were coming. Two, they aren’t being kept inside the green room for their safety.

GR Pic 3

Communicating through the green room door with Darcy, the band tries to talk their way out of their predicament, but it soon becomes apparent that they will have to fight their way out, in order to make it back to the safety of rational minded society. Amber, who has remained relatively calm throughout the ordeal, realizes she too must fight alongside the punk rockers if she is to have any hope of surviving. One particularly unnerving scene where she uses a box cutter demonstrates just how far she is willing to go to earn her freedom.

GR Pic 4

Do any of the band members, as well as Amber, survive or is Stewart’s character Darcy too much of a match for them? What means will Darcy, and his followers, utilize in an attempt to make sure there are no witnesses left to testify about the murder? What plan do ‘The Ain’t Rights’ and Amber concoct to escape their imprisonment? All of those questions and more will be answered by the completion of the film.

The tension filled, viscerally thrilling, and unsettling ” Green Room” was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin).  The 95 minute movie premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2015. The film is a blending of the crime – horror – and thriller genres. Credit must be given to Cinematographer, Sean Porter (Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter),  for the way he captures the settings, especially the claustrophobic green room, which helps to heighten the feelings of desperation that the main protagonists are enduring. Furthermore, the soundtrack provided by Brooke and Will Blair (Murder Party) helps to advance the narrative by building the right amount of dread throughout the film. “Green Room” contains gore, but it is germane to what is transpiring on screen, and not added just for the sake of having extreme scenes. Saulnier’s movie will not be for everyone, but should be a more than satisfying cinematic experience for viewers who have a bit of background before watching the movie, and have an idea of what to expect.

GR Pic 1

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments