“Diggstown” (1992)

The film “Diggstown” begins in a prison in Georgia. Two prisoners are involved in a fight. The person who put the fight together as a distraction to divert the attention of the guards is Gabriel Caine. The character is portrayed by Golden Globe and two time Emmy winner James Woods (Promise). Caine organized the fight because he was paid a large sum of money to help break a prisoner out. Fortunately for Caine, even though Warden Bates (Marshall Bell) suspects he is up to no good, he can’t prove it. Caine is set to be released in less than a week’s time.

Upon his release, Caine travels to Diggstown. The town is named after local boxing legend Charles Macum Diggs (Wilhelm von Hamburg) who, thanks to foul play, is now relegated to using a wheelchair and can no longer speak. Caine chose the location because of his cellmate, Walt Forrester (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb). Walt came from the town and told Caine the town’s history. (As an aside: Cobb was a former Heavyweight boxing contender. Furthermore, fans of the movie Ghostbusters II might recognize Wilhelm von Hamburg as Vigo from the film).

Caine is a con man and he is in Diggstown to set up a big score, but he can’t do it alone. Fitz played by four time Emmy nominee Oliver Platt (Huff) is already in town. He has laid the groundwork for betting by hustling the locals. At the same time, Caine attempts to rope in the town’s largest landowner, the unscrupulous businessman John Gillon. The part of Gillon is acted by two time Oscar nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska).

Caine manages to get Gillon to commit to a seemingly outlandish bet. The wager is that Caine has a boxer, who will be able to beat ten men, who reside in the town and or county Diggstown is located in. His boxer will not only beat the men, but do so, within a twenty-four hour period. The wager is sizable and continues to increase as the film progresses.

Caine’s boxer Honey Ray Palmer portrayed by Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman), is a former powerhouse. The problem is, Palmer is forty-eight years of age and is not in fighting shape. Palmer is initially motivated to once again try and come out on top in the boxing ring. He is upset with his current financial situation. Palmer doesn’t like where he lives and he wants to be able to move himself and his wife (Cyndi James Gossett) to a nicer place. Secondly, he learned the truth about what happened to fellow boxer Charles Macum Diggs.

Will Caine be able to get one over on the duplicitous Gillon? Can Palmer get in fighting shape? What tricks does Caine use to attempt to ensure victory? Likewise, what underhanded tactics will Gillon utilize to try and win the bet? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film.

“Diggstown” was directed by Emmy nominee Michael Ritchie (The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader Murdering Mom). The screenplay was written by Steven McKay (Hard to Kill) based on the novel “The Diggstown Ringers” written by Leonard Wise. The book was published by Doubleday on January 1, 1978. Parts drama and sport, the film has a runtime of 98 minutes. The original title for the film, which was released on August 14, 1992, was “Midnight Sting.” In addition to the aforementioned cast members, Heather Graham (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) plays Emily Forrester, Walt’s sister. Furthermore, Jim Caviezel (Person of Interest) has a small part in the film as boxer Billy Hargrove.

I’ve known about this film for many years, but until recently I never watched it. When it was made available for streaming on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago, I added it to my list and sat down to watch it several nights ago. The cast alone was intriguing enough to get me to invest my time in the movie. The film was well executed. The story held my interest. The cast as a whole played their parts well, without a false performance among them. I’d recommend this film to fans of the cast, for viewers who like sports films that contain boxing, and movies that keep a viewer guessing as to if the con can be pulled off.

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“Nobody” (2021)

In the film “Nobody” Hutch Mansell, portrayed by two time Emmy winner Bob Oddnkirk (Better Call Saul), is seemingly going through the motions of life. The film begins by showing the viewer a typical week in Hutch’s life. He jogs, takes the bus back and forth to work, crunches numbers at his job, spends a bit of time with his family, and repeats the process again. The only deviation to the routine, is when he visits his father David, at the assisted living facility where he resides. The role of David is acted by three time Emmy winner Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future). Hutch is married to Becca played by Connie Nielsen (Wonder Woman). The couple have two children, Blake (Gage Monroe), and Abby (Paisley Cadorath).

One evening, the Mansell home gets broken into by a man (Edsson Morales) and woman (Humberly Gonzalez). Blake tackles the man to the ground. Hutch, brandishing a golf club, sneaks up behind the woman, who is holding a gun. He is about to strike, when he notices something and decides not to hit her. Hutch lets the man and woman leave, without calling the police.

The next day at work, Hutch is told by his father-in-law, Eddie, played by Michael Ironside (Scanners), who owns the company Hutch works for, that he made the right decision. Hutch’s bother-in-law Charlie (Billy MacLellan) disagrees and makes Hutch take a gun for protection. Even though he doesn’t admit it, Hutch agrees with Charlie. Later that evening, after he makes a trip to his father’s apartment to retrieve a few items, he goes in search of the people who broke into his house. The only clue he has is a tattoo he noticed on the wrist of one of the robbers.

Hutch tracks down the couple, but his encounter with them leaves him less than satisfied. On his way home, a group of Russian mafia members crash their car and proceed to get on the bus Hutch is on. They are an unwelcome presence to the people on board. Hutch takes matters into his own hands and the results are surprising. Retaliation is taken by the mobsters’ boss Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov). He makes the mistake of sending a hit team to Hutch’s house. The action sends Hutch on a revenge filled mission. Unbeknownst to the mobsters, Hutch used to be one of the people the government’s three letter agencies, as Hutch puts it, would send to clean up internal agency problems.

“Nobody” was directed by llya Naishuller (Hardcore Henry). The screenplay was written by Derick Kolsted (John Wick). The film is based on an idea by Bob Odenkirk. Furthermore, it was Odenkirk who wanted to have Lloyd cast as his father. In addition, Odenkirk performed almost all of his own stunts. Parts action, crime, drama, and thriller, it has a runtime of 92 minutes. The film was first released in Russia on March 18, 2021. In addition to the aforementioned cast members Emmy nominee rapper RZA (Wu-Tang: An American Saga) played Harry Mansell, someone who helps Hutch on his journey to get revenge.

The film held my interest from start to finish. I didn’t expect it to be as action packed as it turned out to be. While I did think it would be a movie along the lines of “Death Wish,” and that Odenkirk’s character would, in essence, mirror Emmy nominee Charles Bronson’s character Paul Kersey from that movie, the filmmakers went in a different and welcomed direction. The cast was excellent in their respective roles, especially Odenkirk. Recommended for fans of the actor, who so brilliantly portrayed the character of Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad” and continues to do so on “Better Call Saul,” and action films where the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined.

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“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

On February 16, 1981, teenager Arne Johnson killed his forty year old landlord Alan Bono. Johnson stabbed Bono more than twenty times with a pocketknife. The killing took place in Brookline, Connecticut, it was the first such murder, in the town’s 193 year history. At his arraignment, citing two cases from the United Kingdom, Johnson’s attorney Martin Minella entered a plea of not-guilty by reason of demonic possession. Judge Robert Callahan didn’t permit that as a valid defense. He stated that the defense wouldn’t be able to produce scientific or objective evidence to prove their case. Minella re-entered a plea of not guilty and stated that his client was acting in self-defense. How did things get to that point in Johnson’s life?

In the film “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Johnson (Ruairi O’ Connor) and his girlfriend Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook) are in love. They have moved in together, and while all is well with the young couple, the same cannot be said pertaining to Debbie’s family. Strange incidents have been taking place with Debbie’s brother David (Julian Hilliard). There is an evil presence inside of him and the further it is allowed to fester, the worse things become. Seeking help, the Glatzel family reaches out to the church. Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) gets in touch with well known demonologists, the Warrens.

Ed and Lorraine Warren are portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner Patrick Wilson (Fargo) and Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air). The Warrens conclude that David is not faking his possession. They perform “four minor rites of exorcism.,” but the demon inside David is not giving up without a struggle. At one point, Johnson sensing that David might die if he has to fight for much longer, challenges the demon to enter him instead. Unbeknownst to everyone it is an offer that the demon accepts. (As an aside: The real life Glatzels had two other sons, Carl Jr. (15) and Alan (14). Carl Jr. has stated publicly that he feels that the Warrens were frauds, who were taking advantage of the situation with his brother David, who he said had mental illness).

A short time passes after the demon is exorcised from David. Johnson gets into, what at first, seems to be nothing more than an altercation with Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins), his landlord. While they argue, Bruno seems to transform into a beast like entity, prompting Johnson to attack the beast until it is dead. Johnson, who had no criminal record, is found dazed and wandering the road by a sheriff’s deputy. The Warrens will once more enter the Glatzel’s lives, this time in an attempt to save Johnson.

The Warrens are taken on twists and turns in their investigation to help prove Johnson was possessed. One of the people they seek help from is a retired priest named Kastner, an expert on the occult. The role is acted by John Noble (Fringe). Through their investigation, the Warrens have discovered that there is an occultist (Eugenie Bondurant) at work. The person has put in motion a sinister plan that has already claimed innocent lives and, in order for the ritual to be completed, more mayhem will need to be unleashed. Can the Warrens figure out who the occultist is and stop them before the person can finish the demonic ritual? (As an aside Noble won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work on Fringe, which ran from 2008-2013. The Saturn Award has been given annually since 1973 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films).

This is the second film to depict the story of Arne Johnson. The first was the television movie “The Demon Murder Case” (1983). William Hale (The Streets of San Francisco) directed the movie. The teleplay was written by Oscar winner William Kelley (Witness). The cast featured, but was not limited to: Golden Globe winner Kevin Bacon (Taking Chances); Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show); two time Oscar nominee Eddie Albert (Roman Holiday), and Emmy nominee Andy Griffith (Murder in Texas). Furthermore, the killing and the court case that followed was written about in the book “The Devil in Connecticut” written by Gerald Brittle. The book was published by Batnam Books on November 1, 1983.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” was directed by Michael Chaves (The Maiden). The screenplay was written by David Leslie Johnson McGoldrick (Aquaman), based on a story written by James Wan (Annabelle). Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, it has a runtime of 112 minutes. The film premiered in the United Kingdom on May 26, 2021. (As an aside: This is the first Conjuring film not directed by James Wan).

The roles of Ed and Lorraine Warren were perfectly cast with Wilson and Farmiga. I hope this film isn’t the end of their portrayal of their interesting real life counterparts. I would like to see more investigations that the Warrens were involved in turned into movies. For fans of the first two films in the series, as well as the other movies that are considered part of the Conjuring universe, this shouldn’t disappoint. As with the previous two Conjuring films, I was hooked from the start.

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“Cherry Falls”

Due to its fourteen million dollar budget, the film “Cherry Falls” has the distinction of being the most expensive television movie in history. Although made for the cinema, it never received a theatrical release. Instead, the film aired on the USA Network on October 20, 2000.

In the town of Cherry Falls, Virginia, two teenagers, Rod Harper (Jessie Bradford) and Stacy Twelfmann (Bre Blair), are kissing and caressing in a parked car. Moments later, another vehicle pulls up behind the car they’re in. The driver does not shut off their headlights. Rod gets out of the car to investigate. A few minutes later the teenagers will be dead. The killer, however, takes things a step further and carves the word ‘virgin’ into the flesh of both of the victims.

During the same evening as the murder, Jody Marken, portrayed by Brittany Murphy (8 Mile), and her boyfriend Kenny Ascott (Gabriel Mann) are having problems. Their issues have reached a point where Kenny breaks up with Jody. Before he has a chance to leave, Jody’s mother Marge played by Oscar nominee Candy Clark (American Graffiti) asks Kenny for a cigarette. She hides her smoking as well as sneaking drinks, so as not to incur the ire of her husband Brent, who happens to be the town’s sheriff. The part of Sheriff Marken is acted by Michael Bien (The Terminator).

Sheriff Marken gets called in to work. Alongside his deputy, Mina (Amand Anka), he begins to investigate the crime scene. The next day, the sheriff speaks during Mr. Marliston’s English class. In the role of the teacher is Emmy nominee Jay Mohr (Last Comic Standing). The investigation doesn’t get a chance to gain traction before another teenager, Annette Duwald, played by Golden Globe winner Clementine Ford (The L Word) is murdered.

After the third murder, Sheriff Marken arranges, with the help of the high school principal Mr. Sisler (Joe Inscoe), to hold a town meeting. During the meeting it is revealed that the killer seemingly targets virgins. The information of course leaks out, prompting the town’s teenage population to take measures to protect themselves. While the meeting takes place, the killer attacks Jody. She survives the ordeal. Working with the police sketch artist, the composite that is drawn disturbs her father, it reminds him of a woman he knew named Lora Lee Sherman. Unbeknownst to Jody, he and three other men, who live in the town, have been harboring a secret for over two decades.

What is the secret that Sheriff Marken and the other men are keeping from the town? Who is Lora Lee Sherman? Is she responsible for the spate of killings that have taken place? How many more teens will be murdered before the killer is caught. Will the killer be caught? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“Cherry Falls” was directed by Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper). The screenplay was written by Ken Selden (Cruel Justice). On July 29, 2000, the movie premiered at the Munchen Fantasy Filmfest in Germany. Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes. (As an aside: Cherry Falls is the only non-Australian film Geoffrey Wright has directed).

The film was accused of being a rip-off of “Scream.” There are similarities to be sure, but I didn’t find any blatant attempt on the part of the filmmakers to copy the Wes Craven smash hit. I also give those involved with “Cherry Falls” credit for attempting to inject a bit of originality into the plot. The established rule in horror movies is that the characters who have sex die. In this film, that is not the case. I enjoyed watching the movie. My only problem with it, is that I figured out, at least I thought I figured out, which was later confirmed, who the killer was – and too soon. I would have liked it if I had been kept guessing for a longer amount of time during the duration of the movie. Furthermore, it was both good and bittersweet seeing Brittany Murphy in the movie, knowing how young she was when she died in December 2009 at 32 years of age.

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“Smooth Talk” (1985)

The realistic coming of age film, “Smooth Talk” was based in part, on the short story “Where Are You Going, “Where Have You Been” written by Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Fiction and National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates (Them). The story was first published by Cornell University in 1966 in their literary magazine Epoch. Oates was inspired to write the story after she read the article “The Pied Piper of Tucson” by Don moser, which was published by Life Magazine on March 4, 1966. The article dealt with killer Charles Schmid, who murdered three people, two of whom, were his girlfriend and her sister.

The film open with three teenage girls on a deserted beach. As they relaxed throughout the day, each of them, at different times, fell asleep. The girls are worried. They weren’t given permission to go to the beach by their parents. One of the friend’s mothers is picking them up, and they need to get back to the mall in time, so that none of their parents find out that they snuck off. The three friends consist of fifteen year old Connie. portrayed by Oscar winner Laura Dern (Marriage Story); Laura (Margaret Welsh); and Jill (Sara Inglis).

The film centers on Connie. She lives at home, but considers it boring and yearns to be anywhere else. Her mother Katherine, played by Emmy winner Mary Kay Place (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), had asked Connie to pick up a few paint rollers from the mall. The self-centered Connie forgot to do so, but rather than offer a sincere apology, she points out that her mother has been engaged in the house painting for a long time and has gotten nowhere. Harry, Connie’s father, a role acted by three time Grammy winner Levon Helm (Ramble At The Ryman) is an easy going man, who seems to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Connie’s sister June (Elizabeth Berridge), comes across as a tattletale, all too pleased, when given a chance, to point out one of Connie’s indiscretions.

Connie and Laura are at an age where they are interested in boys. Jill is still a bit guarded around them. The film takes place in Northern California during the summertime. School is finished for the next few months and the girls have seemingly no responsibilities. While they sometimes go to the movies, more often than not, they sneak across the street to the local burger stand. It’s there that Connie and Laura can talk to guys. (As an aside: One of the guys that Connie talks to is Jeff, played by William Ragsdale, who should be familiar to fans of the horror movie “Fright Night’ and the television show “Herman Head’).

One evening, an attractive, mysterious stranger speaks with Connie. His name is Arnold Friend and he is portrayed by three time Golden Globe nominee Treat Williams (Prince of the City). Friend is smitten with Connie and he talks with her for a few moments, before she leaves. He lets her know, however, that it won’t be the last she’ll be seeing him.

One afternoon, while Connie’s parents and sister are away at a barbeque, Friend shows up at Connie’s house. He is insistent that she go for a ride with him, but she is reluctant. Connie makes up excuses. She lets him know that her parents will be home soon, but Friend seems to know exactly where he parents are and what they’re doing. What will or can Connie do to keep herself safe?

“Smooth Talk” was directed by Joyce Chopra (Music Lessons). The screenplay was written by Tom Cole (Streets of Gold). The movie premiered on September 10, 1985 at the Toronto International Film Festival. Furthermore, while on the festival circuit, “Smooth Talk” would win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Parts drama, romance, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes. Emmy winner James Glennon (Deadwood) served as the cinematographer on the film. The music was composed by six time Grammy winner James Taylor (American Standard).

The movie, like the short story, doesn’t present any clear cut answers, both are open to the reader and film watcher’s interpretation. For example, there has been speculation from both readers and film watchers, that Friend doesn’t exist. Instead, he is a manifestation from the mind of a young, vulnerable girl, who wants to be an adult and possess all of the privileges, in her mind, that being of a certain age entails. At the same time, however, she can’t abandon the last vestiges of her childhood innocence, where things, for the most part are relatively safe. In the end, each reader and film watcher can come to their own determination as to what was real, or what was no more than the daydreams of an overactive imagination.

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“The Amusement Park” (1973)

On October 1, 1968, the seminal zombie film, “Night of the Living Dead,” premiered at the Fulton Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The film was directed by George Romero. Furthermore, Romero co-wrote the screenplay with writer, director and actor John A. Russo. Unfortunately for Romero, due to his lack of business savvy at the time, he signed a one-sided contract with distributors. The contract he signed gave the bulk of the profits to the distributors, and during his lifetime, Romero made a minuscule amount of money from the movie. Five years later in 1973, Romero was in need of money, and was taking whatever jobs he could get. He was hired by The Lutheran Society for a specific project. The organization wanted Romero to film something which showcased the problem of elder abuse. In addition, they wanted his work to send a message to people that they should treat senior citizens with more respect. The film that Romero would produce for The Lutheran Society was called “The Amusement Park.”

There might be some of you, who are reading this, who are familiar with Romero’s work, thinking to yourself that you’ve never heard of the film. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that. The Lutheran Society found the film to be too shocking and wanted nothing to do with it, after it was made. “The Amusement Park” was thought to have been lost, but in 2018, author Daniel Kraus (The Living Dead) found a print and it was given a 4K restoration. In February of 2021, The Shudder streaming service announced that at some point in the future the film would be streamed on their service. On June 8, 2021, Shudder made the movie available to viewers.

Before the film begins, actor Lincoln Maazel, who would later appear in the Romero film “Martin,” directly addresses the audience. The day is overcast as Maazel walks through an empty West View Park in West View, Pennsylvania that serves as the location for the movie. (As an aside: The park in the film is no longer in operation. Furthermore, Lincoln Maazel, who was 72 at the time of filming, lived to the age of 106).

Maazel’s character is not given a name in the film. I’ll refer to him from this point forward as Maazel. When the movie begins he enters a room that is devoid of anything except for a few chairs. Maazel is well dressed and seems to have a friendly disposition. He attempts to speak to the room’s only occupant, a hunched over figure, who is short of breath and bleeding. The man is another version of Maazel’s character, but that fact is not acknowledged. When Maazel tries to talk to this other version of himself, he is for the most part ignored. Leaving the man to sit in the room, Maazel enters the park.

The park is populated by non-professional actors; many who are shown on screen or have minor speaking roles are people from the nearby senior center. Once Maazel enters the park, a series of nightmarish events unfold. The incidents, which grow increasingly more intense as the movie progresses, focus on specific problems faced by the elderly. The scenarios presented in the film are all too real for seniors, especially for those who don’t have people who care about them in their lives and are looking out for their best interests.

“The Amusement Park” as aforementioned was directed by George Romero. The screenplay was written by Wally Cook. Parts drama, horror, and thriller, the film has a runtime of 54 minutes.

At the end of the film, Maazel returns to address the audience once more. The line he leaves people with: “see you in the park, someday,” I am of the opinion, is meant to serve as a cautionary warning. Even the youngest person watching the film, if fortunate enough to live, will one day grow old. If we ignore the plight of the elderly and don’t address their needs, why do we think when we get to be of a certain age, it will be any different for us?

Overall it is an interesting cautionary tale. I did, however, find it to be a bit on the depressing side because of its realism. I imagine anyone who has older people in their lives, who they care about, might have similar feelings. Fans of Romero who are interested in seeing a film he made before he had a career resurgence with 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” should attempt to see the movie.

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“Willy’s Wonderland”

Toward the start of the film “Willy’s Wonderland” a no-name, mysterious loner’s car breaks down in an isolated town. The mystery man is portrayed by Oscar winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas). The damage to his car will cost $1,000. When Cage’s character attempts to pay by credit card, Jed (Chris Warner) the mechanic tells him that he only takes cash. Furthermore, there is no working ATM in the town, or for miles in any direction.

Jed might have an opportunity for the mystery man to get the money he needs for the repairs. ‘Willy’s, a family entertainment center that specialized in children’s birthday parties, has been closed for a long time. Once a successful business, after a number of accidents and deaths, the owner Ric (Tex Macadoo) shut the place down. The rumor is that the business’s seven animatronics, which include among them an alligator, gorilla, and turtle, were to blame for what had taken place.

The proposal Ric offers Cage’s character is as follows: If he agrees to clean Willy’s throughout the course of one evening, his car will be repaired. Unbeknownst to Cage’s character, other people have been given the same offer and not lived to see the next day. In fact Sheriff Lund (Beth Grant) informs her deputy Evan (David Sheftell) that they will not be answering any calls that may come from Willy’s that evening. The only problem with that is that the sheriff’s adopted daughter Liv (Emily Tosta) is on her way to Willy’s with her friends to burn the place down.

Cage’s character has been locked inside Willy’s. He is armed only with a supply of PUNCH energy drink, which he consumes on a timed schedule. Will he be able to survive the night? Are the rumors about the animatronics true? If so, how did they get that way? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

Trivia buff take note: The original title of the film was “Wally’s Wonderland.” The design for the alligator animatronic was inspired by the Russian cartoon “Cheburashka.” Despite rumors to the contrary, the film was not inspired by the 2014 video game “Five Nights at Freddy’s” which was created by video game developer Scott Cawthon. Nicolas Cage’s character does not speak a single word throughout the film.

“Willy’s Wonderland” was directed by Kevin Lewis (The Method). G.O. Parsons (Shark Week) wrote the screenplay. The film premiered in Brazil on February 12, 2021; the next day, it was released on the internet for worldwide streaming. Comprised of the genres of action, comedy, horror and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 88 minutes.

I was in the right mood for this kind of film when I sat down to watch it. This is the sort of movie that a viewer can sit back and get caught up in as it pertains to the over the top story and action. There is not much thinking that needs to be done and that’s fine for what the film is. Recommended for fans of Cage, those who like films that are a bit out there in terms of plot, as well as fans of the horror genre.  

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“Sidekicks” (1992)

Barry Gabrewski, played by Jonathan Brandis (SeaQuest 2032), is an asthmatic teenager. He is, for the most part, friendless, with the exception of Lauren, a role acted by Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years). She’s nice to him, but she draws the line at being his girlfriend. Barry lives with his father Jerry, a computer programmer, portrayed by three time Emmy winner Beau Bridges (The Second Civil War). He’s raising Barry alone ever since the untimely death of his wife, a decade prior to the start of the film.

Noreen Chan, played by Julia Nickson (Noble House), is Barry’s history teacher. She’s concerned because he frequently drifts off into elaborate dreams while in class. His fantasies always center on him being the heroic sidekick of his idol, martial artist champion Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger). (As an aside Norris holds a black belt in Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu and judo).

While Jerry is concerned about his son doing well in school, he also wants Barry to be able to defend himself against bullies. Randy Celini (John Buchanan), and his friends, constantly taunt Barry. They sometimes move past verbal put downs and get physical. Jerry agrees to pay for Barry to take karate lessons. The school they go to, run by Kelly Stone, played by two time Emmy nominee Joe Piscopo (Saturday Night Live), doesn’t work out. Stone has a terrible attitude and Barry and his father get a sense that he’s not much better than the bullies, several of whom take his classes.

Ms. Chan thinks she might have a solution to the problem. Her uncle, Mr. Lee, portrayed by Oscar nominee Mako (The Sand Pebbles), is coming to America to oversee her parent’s restaurant. He agrees to teach Barry. During their time together Mr. Lee not only teaches Barry Karate, but also how to be a more confident person, who believes in himself. (As an aside: Mako was considered for the role of Mr. Miagi in the “Karate Kid,” which was played by Oscar nominee Pat Morita).

Can Barry get good enough at karate to stop Randy and his friends from their harassment? Does he ever get to meet his hero Chuck Norris?

“Sidekicks” was directed by Aaron Norris (Top Dog). The screenplay was co-written by Lou Illar and Galen Thompson (The Hitman) based on a story written by Illar. The film premiered in Germany on December 17, 1992. Comprised of the genres of action, adventure, comedy, and drama, the movie has a runtime of 108 minutes. The soundtrack was composed by two time Emmy winner Alan Silvestri (Cosmos: A Space Odyssey). (As an aside: Aaron Norris is the brother of Chuck Norris, who agreed to take a role in the film as a favor to Aaron).

I watched the film a few times years earlier. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, prior to a couple of days ago. This is most definitely family entertainment. There is some violence throughout, but it’s presented in a way that’s not gratuitous and often times it comes across as comedic, purposely so. Overall entertaining, harmless fun, and getting Chuck Norris to participate in the film made all the difference, otherwise, it might have come and gone with little fanfare upon its initial release.

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“The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness”

David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, the .44 caliber killer, held the city of New York in gut wrenching fear from July 29, 1976 up until his capture on August 10, 1977. At the end of his reign of terror, six people were killed and another seven were injured. Avoiding trial, Berkowitz, who has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, pled guilty to second degree murder, attempted murder and assault. On June 12, 1978, he was sentenced to six 25-years-to-life sentences. The Omega task force, that had been assigned to bring him to justice, had gotten the heinous killer off of the streets. While the series never asserts that Berkowitz wasn’t responsible for death and mayhem, it posits the idea that perhaps there were others involved in the shootings. (As an aside: Prior to the shootings, Berkowitz was responsible for two stabbings. The first of which, that of fifteen year old, Michelle Forbes, took place on December 25, 1975).

The man responsible for raising the idea of others being involved in the murders was an award winning investigative journalist by the name of Maury Terry. His book, “The Ultimate Evil,” which detailed his painstaking investigation, was published by Doubleday Books on January 1, 1987. Throughout its 512 pages numerous assertions are made that the Son of Sam killings, while involving Berkowitz, were actually the work of a satanic cult.

In brief, at the time of his arrest, David Berkowitz was a twenty-four year old postal worker. According to the newspaper and broadcast stories, during the months that preceded his capture, he seemed to be targeting young women with long brown hair. This prompted women with that hair color, to cut it short, dye it blonde or purchase a wig. Furthermore, because of the randomness of the shootings, people starred refraining from going out at night. It’s been well documented that Berkowitz claimed that he got his orders to kill from his neighbor Sam Carr’s black Labrador retriever, Harvey, who he felt was possessed by a demon. Berkowitz has in the intervening years recanted that claim.

From the start, Maury Terry felt there was more to the story. He believed that the police rushed to judgment, because with Berkowitz behind bars, it allowed a city on edge to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Terry’s first suspicion that something wasn’t right stemmed from the eyewitness sketches. Each one of them was different and none of them resembled Berkowitz. From there, as previously stated, Terry spent countless hours following every lead, interviewing whomever he could, and documenting his every move.

Those interviewed throughout the series include, but are not limited to, the following: Members of law enforcement such as NYPD Ret. Lead Detective Joseph Borrelli, who was a leader on the Omega task force; Kevin Murphy, a retired detective who worked for the Yonkers police department. Yonkers is where Berkowitz was living when he committed his crimes and where Terry began his investigation into the satanic cult; Fellow journalist, producer and writer Wayne Darwen, who was a believer in the validity of Terry’s work. For personal context into the type of person Terry was, his lifelong friend Charlie Ott speaks throughout the series, as well as Terry’s ex-wife, Georgina Byrne. Furthermore, Carl Denaro, a Son of Sam victim, backs up Terry’s theory by stating that the person who shot him, was not David Berkowitz.

“The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness” was directed by Joshua Zeman (Cropsey). The four episodes are narrated by Emmy winner Paul Giamatti (John Adams). The documentary series contains the genres of crime, horror, and mystery. Each of the four episodes that comprise the series are approximately one hour. Netflix released the series for worldwide streaming on May 5, 2021.

For those interested in true crime, or even for those interested in mysteries, this should hold your interest. Terry presents a great deal of plausible evidence to prove his theories. So as not to be a spoiler, and give anything away, I will simply say that, viewers who stay with the series until the end of episode four will watch as one of Terry’s theories is proven to be true. This was an absorbing series that held my interest from start to finish.

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“The Legend of Billie Jean”

“The “Legend of Billie Jean” takes place in Texas. When the film opens it is a sweltering summer day in Corpus Christi. Siblings, Billie Jean, portrayed by Helen Slater (Supergirl), and Binx, played by three time Golden Globe nominee Christian Slater (Mr. Robot), are swimming. Moments later, Hubie (Barry Tubb) and his friends show up. They’re interested in Billie Jean. The feeling is not mutual. A bit later, when Billie Jean and Binx unintentionally encounter Hubie and his friends, while they are eating ice cream, Binx’s motor bike is taken. (As an aside: The film was Christian Slater’s first lead role. Furthermore, despite rumors to the contrary, Helen Slater and Christian Slater aren’t related).

The bike is eventually returned to Binx, but it is damaged. In an effort to keep her brother from doing something foolish, Billie Jean talks with Hubie’s father, Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford). He is amenable about paying for the damages his son has done to the bike. He asks Billie Jean to follow him upstairs to the room above the store he owns. Once there, he gives her some of the money, and lets her know she can earn the rest by spending time alone with him. Billie Jean isn’t accepting of his offer. A struggle ensues and Mr. Pyatt gets accidentally shot by his own gun which he keeps in the cash register.

Billie Jean and Binx return home, grab some things and go on the run. They are not alone; joining the siblings are Billie Jean’s friend Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and their precocious neighbor Putter, a role acted by Emmy winner Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons).

The teens are being pursued by law enforcement, led by Detective Ringwald, portrayed by Emmy winner Peter Coyote (The Roosevelts: An Intimate History). Putting pressure on Ringwald and his officers to bring a quick resolution to the situation is District Attorney Muldaur played by Oscar nominee Dean Stockwell (Married to the Mob). Since the shooting, Mr. Pyatt has been reaping the financial rewards of Billie Jean’s fugitive fame, while at the same time telling anyone who will listen, that he wants justice.

While on the run, Billie Jean is able to get the truth out to the public about what happened. She is able to do so, thanks to Lloyd, a technical wizard, played by actor turned director Keith Gordon (Homeland). Billie Jean becomes an instant folk hero.

“The Legend of Billie Jean” was directed by Matthew Robbins (Dragonslayer). The film was co-written by Emmy nominee Mark Rosenthal (Roots 2016) and three time Emmy nominee Lawrence Konner (The Sopranos). The first several drafts of the film were written by Oscar nominee Walter Bernstein (The Front), but he is not listed in the credits for the movie. Parts action, and drama, the film has a runtime of 96 minutes. The movie premiered in theaters in July of 1985. The original title of the film was “Fair is Fair,” the line is something that Billie Jean says during the film. “Invincible,” the theme song for the movie was performed by four time Grammy winner Pat Benatar (Love Is A Battlefield).

This film was on HBO five times a week, or so it seemed, when I was a teenager. I saw it a number of times, but hadn’t watched it in a little over a decade. I was reminded of the film a few weeks ago, but as of the writing of this post, when I went to look for it on Amazon Prime and Netflix, neither of them had the film for streaming. I wound up borrowing a DVD copy from a friend. Overall an entertaining film featuring a heroine at the heart of the story that’s easy to cheer for.

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