“A Most Violent Year”

1981 is a year in which, statistically, the crime in New York City, was at its apex in regard to murder, rape, and other violent felonies. Abel Morales is an engrossing character portrayed by Golden Globe nominee, Oscar Isaac (Ex-Machina). He is a first generation immigrant and upwardly mobile businessman, who owns and operates the Standard Heating Oil company, a business which he took over from his father-in-law. Abel is not interested in taking criminal shortcuts to achieve his piece of the American dream. He is attempting to do everything by the book; that combined with his work ethic, ingenuity, and excellent business acumen, should be enough to reach his goals, but they are not. While Abel wants to play by the rules, numerous individuals around him are looking to thwart his efforts, and doing what they can in order to put him out of business.

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“A Most Violent Year,” written and directed by Oscar nominee J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), is a compelling, well acted, suspenseful, character driven film. Helping to enhance the movie throughout is the cinematography of Bradford Young (Selma) and the score from Golden Globe winning composer, Alex Ebert (All Is Lost).

At the start of the film, Abel and his attorney, Andrew Walsh played by Oscar nominee Albret Brooks (Drive) are meeting with a group of Hasidic Jewish business men, led by Joseph Mendelsohn (Jerry Adler), whose property Abel is interested in purchasing. If he can acquire the land by the waterfront, a piece of property that both he and his competitors desire, it could help to expand Abel’s business to a whole other level. The catch is, that even though a sizable down payment has been made, the owners of the land inform Abel that if he can’t come up with the rest of the money in one month’s time, the deal is off. Abel will not only lose the rights to buy the land, but he will forfeit the down payment as well. The major gamble Abel has undertaken sets the stage for the remainder of the movie, which originally premiered on November 6, 2014 at the AFI Festival.

During the film’s 125 minute runtime, Abel navigates through one conflict after another, in order to attempt to meet the deadline. His drivers, who, per Abel’s orders, are unarmed, leave themselves vulnerable to thieves. A number of Abel’s trucks, which each contain $6,000 worth of oil, have been high jacked and siphoned. The latest incident involves one of his young drivers, Julian (Elyes Gabel), who looks up to Abel, and wants to advance himself in the business by leaving driving and moving into sales. Julian, who thinks he is stopping the truck because a car in front of him has stalled, is a victim of a high jacking that is shown on screen; not only is the truck taken by two criminals, but they also beat him up. This latest incident prompts a visit from the truckers’ union representative, Bill O’Leary (Peter Gerety), who tries to get across to Abel the necessity of his men being armed. Abel is hesitant to do anything of the sort because he needs to secure the necessary bank loan in order to meet his obligation on the property by month’s end. It might not matter what Abel wants. Julian, who is allowed time to recuperate from his injuries, has been traumatized by the event, and ignores Abel’s edict about no guns. When he returns to work, he is armed and ready to defend himself if the same scenario should occur.

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In addition, to the stealing of his trucks, another source of contention for Abel, is the yearlong investigation of his company that is culminating in indictments. The probe into his business was launched by the reputation-conscious and politically ambitious, District Attorney, Lawrence played by Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo (Selma). Oyelowo’s character is investigating Abel’s business, as well as the entire city’s oil heating industry, for improprieties when it comes to business practices that are both corrupt and fraudulent.

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In the role of Abel’s wife, the obstinate, Brooklyn born Anna, who is the daughter of a gangster, is Golden Globe winner Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty). While She loves Abel, she doesn’t hold to his above board way of doing business. The following are two examples, which differentiate how she and Abel conduct themselves: In one instance, Anna keeps the books for Standard Heating Oil, but what Abel doesn’t know, until long after the fact, is that she keeps two sets of books. In the second illustration, while driving home from a business dinner, Abel accidentally hits a deer with his car. After removing a tire iron from the trunk of the car, he struggles with the thought of killing the deer, even though it will put it out of its misery. After allowing Abel the opportunity to kill the animal, Anna takes a gun from her purse and fires several bullets into the deer without a second’s hesitation.

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Anna is also not beneath getting on Abel’s case, when she feels he is not being tough enough when it comes to doing what is right not only for his business, but for their family. Her concerns are not without some merit. Soon after the couple move into their new home, their dog alerts them that something is not right. Abel gets up to investigate, and when he steps outside, he is attacked by a man. Abel, who is barefoot, does his best to chase the would-be-trespasser through the snow, but it is to no avail. After informing Anna of what happened, and that he is sure it was nothing more than a thief who figured their new house was an easy mark, he thinks that is the end of it. The next day, however, one of their young daughters is standing in front of the house holding a loaded gun she found in the snow. If not for Anna arriving home and taking the weapon away from the child, something terrible might have happened. Once Abel is told, his thinking switches from that of someone who feels his house was the target of a thief, to the mindset that one of his rivals is trying to get him to back down by threatening his family, or worse.

Will Abel abandon his principles and start fighting back on the same level as those who wish to ruin his business? Do the actions of his competitors keep him from meeting his deadline to the owners of the property, thereby costing him everything? Will Abel learn which one of his competitors is stealing from his company? Will it not matter what his business rivals do to him, thanks to the actions of the district attorney’s office? Does Anna’s fixing the books at the company lead to the downfall of the business? The answers to those questions and more will be seen through to their conclusion by the end of the film, which is parts action, crime, drama and thriller.

For those looking for a movie along the lines of “Goodfellas,” this is not the film for you. There is actually very little in the way of violence in a movie, the title of which contains the word violent. Chandor took the plot for the type of organized crime movie that has been filmed many times before. A movie in which the central figure is shown dealing with their loved ones, as well as their enemies, as they go about rising to the top of whatever underworld they are a part of. In “A Most Violent Year,” however, the main character isn’t trying to advance by criminal means, but instead by taking the opposite path. For those seeking a fresh approach to the genre this should be an enjoyable watch.

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“The Imitation Game”

Spoilers Contained Throughout:

Superb is a word I seldom use, but if I were to write nothing else about the movie “The Imitation Game,” while it wouldn’t be much of a post for my blog, it would encapsulate my feelings on the film. After watching it, I am at a loss to explain why it, or several of the other nominated films for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards, didn’t win, as opposed to “Birdman.” I know some blogger’s, whose work I read and respect, praised “Birdman” as a cinematic treasure to be re-watched, a-la “Citizen Kane,” in order to discover hidden meanings and parts not fully grasped even after repeat viewings, while others derided it as nothing more than ostentatious drivel. Although “Birdman” had a good cast, and some well executed scenes, from the nominated films that I have seen so far, I would have much preferred if “Whiplash” or “The Imitation Game” had won Best Picture.

“The Imitation Game” marked the English language debut for Norwegian director, Morten Tyldom, who was nominated for a multitude of awards for the film. The movie, which has a runtime of 114 minutes, premiered on August 29, 2014 at the Telluride Film Festival. In his screenwriting debut, Graham Moore based his script for the film on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” written by Andrew Hodges, and won the Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.

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The film is more than just a World War II thriller. Yes, it deals with a group of British individuals who, at the time, were amongst the most brilliant minds in the world. Those individuals were given the daunting task of breaking the secret military codes sent out by the Nazis on a machine called Enigma. “The Imitation Game,” however, primarily concerns itself with its main character, the exceptionally intelligent, socially awkward, mathematician, Alan Turing, in a role completely embodied by Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock). Not only did Turing help to defeat one of the most evil regimes in recorded history, but he was the catalyst for bringing to the world, for all intents and purposes, the first computer. (As an aside: Winston Churchill stated that the single greatest contribution made for Britain’s war effort was the work Turing did on Enigma).

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The film begins in 1951. Turing’s home has been broken into, his attitude, however, is that of a person who is not concerned. Could it be because as one of the policeman remarks, nothing of value seems to have been taken, or is there another reason? The story is framed by BAFTA nominated actor Rory Kinnear’s character of investigative Detective Robert Nock, who suspects that Turing is hiding something. He begins to research Turing’s past, but the more he does, the more questions he comes up with because Turing’s life is a mystery.

Turing is taken into police custody for something related to the break-in. During his interrogation, he narrates portions of his life for Detective Nock, who at first believes the reason he can’t find anything relating to Turing during the war years is because he was a Russian spy. The voice-over narration, while in police custody, is used as the framework for the film. Graham’s screenplay traverses through different significant parts of Turing’s life. A young Turing, during his formative years, is shown being bullied mercilessly by his classmates at the Sherborne Boarding School, a place where he has only one friend, Christopher Morcom; it is a relationship that will have an effect on Turing for the rest of his life. Most of the film, however, centers on the years during World War II, when he worked in secret for the British government, in a place called Bletchley Park. Located at Bletchley was an organization named the Government Code and Cypher School, which went about trying to decipher the codes transmitted by the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan.

Turing’s main focus while at Bletchley, was to build his own machine that would be able to break the Enigma codes. He first asks his superior, Commander Denniston, portrayed by Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) for the funding for the machine – a request which is denied. Not letting that stop him, he writes a letter to Winston Churchill, and gives it to Mark Strong’s character of MI6 agent Stewart Menzies, to personally deliver to the Prime Minister. Churchill not only authorizes the finances, which are considerable, but places Turing in charge of the code-breakers. His promotion is something that doesn’t sit well with his colleagues, especially the former head of the team, National Chess Champion, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). Additional members of the group include John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) and Keith Furman (Ilan Goodman).  The only person amongst the code-breakers who likes Turing, is two time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley’s (Pride and Prejudice) character of Joan Clarke, the lone female on the team.

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Knightley’s role provides the film some levity. For example, Turing has a crossword puzzle placed in the newspapers, which states that if a person can solve the puzzle in a set amount of time, they should mail it in to the address provided. Clarke is one of the people that solves the puzzle and is invited to take another test. She shows up a few minutes late, and is asked to leave because the man at the door thinks she is interested in becoming a secretary, and that she is on the wrong floor. She not only is on the right floor, but she solves the new puzzle quicker than anyone else in the room. Joan will grow to become one of Turing’s most trusted confidants, and for a period of time, because he is afraid of losing her, she becomes his fiancée. Her parents want her to return home because she is twenty-five years of age, and they feel she should be looking to find a husband to settle down with, not work with a bunch of men at a radio factory. The story of working at the factory is her cover for the vital work she is really doing.

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How do the code-breakers finally defeat the seemingly unbeatable Enigma machine? In what way will they use the information to help turn the tide of war in the allies favor? Does Turing eventually earn the respect and admiration of his colleagues, other than Joan? What is the significance of Turing’s childhood friend Christopher Morcom? Those are just a few of the questions that will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

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At forty-one years of age, Alan Turing committed suicide. Why did a brilliant man like Turing feel compelled to take his own life? The answer, while simplistic, is a sad one. It was because he was scorned for being gay. Due to intolerant times, he was not only publicly humiliated, but in order to avoid spending two years in jail, he was forced to take hormonal pills. His abhorrent punishment, would not only bring about the end of his life, but deny the world his genius for the many years that he might have lived on, and continued working for the betterment of society. (As an aside: Historians have estimated that the work Turing and his team did, during World War II, saved approximately fourteen million lives and shortened the duration of the war by two years).
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“The Dragon’s Loyalty Award”

As I have stated in the past, I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time out of their day to read, comment or press the like button on one of my blog posts. Today, I am honored to accept my third and fourth “Dragon’s Loyalty Awards.” I would like to express my genuine thanks to Alex from http://alexraphael.wordpress.com and Reut from
http://sweetarchiveblog.com. If you are not already following their blogs, after reading this post, you should click the links to their sites and become followers. Amongst other aspects of his blog, Alex posts quizzes for his followers to participate in, film reviews, and a daily feature called ‘Lines of the Day’ which offers quotes from various entertainers and films, as well as from historical figures. Reut offers a variety of well written, honest reviews on film, music and television.

The following rules apply when accepting the award:

1. Display the award on your blog.

2. Announce your win with a post and thank the blogger who nominated you.

3. Nominate 15 deserving bloggers for the award.

4. Let those bloggers know you have nominated them for the award.

5. Write seven things about yourself.

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As I have also previously stated, when I have accepted awards in the past, the aspect of receiving these awards that I like the best is getting to promote other bloggers whose work I enjoy reading. This is never an easy thing to do because there are so many talented people on wordpress.com. It goes without saying, that I value each and every one of you who follows robbinsrealm. The following are the 15 bloggers I nominate for “The Dragons Loyalty Award.”

1. http://heenarathorep.com

2. http://chandleur.wordpress.com

3. http://sherlockianblog.wordpress.com/

4. http://www.moviemovesme.com

5. http://greercn.wordpress.com

6. http://le0pard13.wordpress.com/

7. http://themoviereviewdude.wordpress.com

8. http://scifijubilee.wordpress.com

9. http://harrclin.wordpress.com

10. http://reninassancemusings.wordpress.com

11. http://mykindofmovie.wordpress.com

12. http://thecreativefoxden.wordpress.com

13. http://thetelltalemind.com

14. http://thatmomentin.wordpress.com

15. http://precinct1313.wordpress.com

 

The following are seven things about myself:

1. I love to read, and I especially like discovering new authors whose work I can get into.

2. My astrological sign is Scorpio.

3. The film I am most looking forward to seeing this year is “Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens.”

4. My favorite modern day director is Quentin Tarantino. My favorite classic director is Alfred Hitchcock.

5. One of my favorite female writers is Joyce Carol Oates; not that I need to say something that has been echoed through literary circles for years, but I think she is brilliant.

6. Two of my favorite foreign films, which are the antithesis of one another are “Battle Royale” directed by Kinji Fukasaku, and “Vivre Sa Vie” directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

7. I need to drink coffee when I wake up in the morning, otherwise my ability to function at my best for at least the first part of the day, will be very questionable.

Once again, my genuine gratitude to Alex from and http://alexraphael.wordpress.com and Reut from http://sweetarchiveblog.com for nominating me for the “Dragon’s Loyalty Award.” For the people whom I’ve nominated, I am well aware that time constraints might keep you from accepting and passing along the award to others. If that is the case, I will not take the least bit of offense to that. For those of you who can participate and pass along the award to other bloggers, you have my sincere thanks.

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“The Babadook”

If it’s in a word. Or it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of … The Babadook

“The Babadook” is the well executed, provocative and tension filled, debut film from director and writer, Jennifer Kent. At the start of the film, Amelia is dreaming of a car accident, which claimed the life of her husband, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear). At the time of the accident, Oskar was driving her to the hospital, to give birth to their son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia is convincingly portrayed by Essie Davis (The Matrix Revolutions), who embodies the character of the single parent attempting to do what is best for her son. The only reward she gets for her efforts is for her nerves to be constantly frayed. Amelia, who works days as a nurse at a retirement home, is still, almost seven years after the accident, grieving over the loss of her husband. She will not celebrate Samuel’s birthday on the actual day, nor does she want to talk about Oskar; not that she has many friends to vent to. Amelia’s social life, if it can be called one, consists of her sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney), a friendly co-worker Robbie (Daniel Henshall) and her kindly, next-door-neighbor Mrs. Roach (Barbara West).

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When it comes to her son Samuel, that is another matter. He is a troubled child, who always seems to be saying or doing the wrong thing at any given time. He is not only socially awkward, but has a very overactive imagination. Samuel constructs his own weapons to fight the monsters he fears are out to get him and his mother. His fear is at such a level that he takes to climbing into Amelia’s bed every night, so he doesn’t have to sleep alone in his room. This in turn, causes Amelia to have many sleepless nights. Samuel’s difficulties extend past his home life. The school he attends has had numerous problems with him, and has reached the point where a stern warning from Amelia to behave himself, will no longer be sufficient. Those in charge at the school wish to assign a monitor who will follow Samuel around throughout the day, not just as a way of preventing him from disrupting class, but also as a means to keep other students safe. Samuel has begun to bring his weapons to school. The suggestions on the part of the principal (Tony Mack) and Samuel’s teacher (Carmel Johnson), as to how best to help Samuel with his issues, results in Amelia withdrawing him from school.

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The film’s ninety-three minute runtime is a blending of the genres of drama, horror and thriller. “The Babadook,” which is based on Kent’s 2005 short film “Monster,” originally premiered on January 17, 2014 at the Sundance Film Festival. After watching it, William Friedkin, the director of “The Exorcist” stated: “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than “The Babadook.” (As an aside: The name Babadook was inspired by the word babaroga, which in the Serbian language means boogeyman).

One evening, before bed, Samuel wants his mother to read to him from one of his story books. A normal request, made by a child to a parent or guardian, however, the book he chooses, “Mister Babadook,” is anything, but a child’s normal pop-up book. In fact, neither Amelia nor Samuel, recall ever having seen the book before that evening. After a few pages, that don’t contain written words of menace, the book changes in tone, and informs the reader that the creature contained within its pages – Mister Babadook – once invited in, there is no escape from him. The book not only frightens Samuel, but also disturbs Amelia. Even though the Babadook is given minimal screen time, Kent makes excellent use of the book in order to help enhance a sense of anticipatory dread in the viewer’s imagination, as to when the creature will appear. (As an aside: Kent based the look of the Babadook on stills of the 1927 film “London After Midnight,” which starred Lon Chaney Sr., but remains a lost film).

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In an attempt to distract Samuel from the sense of dreariness that seems to loom over their lives, Amelia takes him to his cousin Ruby’s (Chloe Hurn) birthday party. Ruby takes to teasing Samuel about his belief in the non-existent Babadook, as well as his not having a father. Samuel, stung by the remarks, pushes his cousin out of the tree house they are in, causing the breaking of her nose. After the incident, Amelia promptly leaves with Samuel. A short while later, he suffers a seizure. At the conclusion of the pediatrician’s examination of Samuel, he reports that there is nothing wrong with the child. Amelia, who is at wits end, begs the doctor to give her some medication to help Samuel sleep, which he does, but only as a temporary stop gap.

One day Amelia hears knocking on the door, to her shock, she discovers that the “Mister Babadook” book that she ripped up and threw in the trash, has been pieced back together and returned to her. If that weren’t bad enough, what notches up the scare factor of the re-emergence of the book, is that the writing inside of it has changed. The book now foretells that Amelia is going to wind up not only killing her dog, but hating her son to the point where her anger will drive her to kill him, and afterward take her own life. From that moment forward, unpleasant incidents begin to escalate, that, combined with Samuel’s erratic behavior, begin to take a drastic toll on Amelia’s ability to cope with such an overwhelming amount of stress. She is as at the point where she has allowed the entity from the story book to get so ingrained in her mind, that she begins to see the creature places that it clearly isn’t.

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Those looking for a film with gore or jump scares will be disappointed. For those viewers who enjoy more of a psychological bent to their horror, then this is most definitely a film you will want to watch. Kent couldn’t have asked for better performances from her cast, especially Davis and Wiseman. She also makes excellent use of atmosphere and sound to help sell the scares.

Will the Babadook wind up destroying the lives of Amelia and Samuel? If he does, will the book pass on to the next unsuspecting child or parent and keep his vicious cycle going? Does Amelia preserve her maternal instinct despite overwhelming odds and protect Samuel against the creature? Will it be Samuel who saves the day, not only rescuing his mother, but vanquishing the evil presence from their lives? Can the Babadook be defeated? Kent provides the answers to those questions and more by the film’s conclusion.

 

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“The Lizzie Borden Chronicles”

The 2014 television film “Lizzie Borden Took An Ax” garnered well over four million viewers for the Lifetime Movie Channel. The success of the film prompted Lifetime to bring Borden’s exploits back to television, with a six episode mini-series; the order was later increased to eight. Original star, Emmy and Golden Globe nominee, Christina Ricci (Monster) signed on to reprise her role of the cold, manipulative, and not to be trifled with, Lizzie Borden. In addition, returning to the part of Lizzie’s older, good hearted, loving sister, Emma, is Clea DuVall (Argo). The television film centered on the murder of Lizzie Borden’s father Andrew and her stepmother Abby, at her hands, as well as the subsequent trial, where she was acquitted. Instead of retreading that storyline, the series picks up four months after those events.

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Although a free woman, Lizzie is an infamous celebrity. She is anything but beloved by the residents of Fall River, Massachusetts, where she lives, many of whom feel she got away with murder. She can’t walk down the street without people speaking in whispered tones. In one scene, a group of children are singing the unflattering nursery rhyme associated with Lizzie Borden. She gets hold of a fake hatchet, and scares all of them away, except for one girl (Gabrielle Trudel) who informs Lizzie that she’s not afraid of her. Lizzie replies: “Then you haven’t been paying attention.” Emma, for the most part, with the exception of a doting, love struck, police officer, Leslie Trotwood (Dylan Taylor) is also not looked upon favorably.

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At the beginning of the series, the sisters are still taking up residence in the house where the horrific murders occurred. Lizzie and Emma are also attempting to claim their father’s inheritance. The problem with that is, he owed a tremendous amount of debt to his business partner, the arrogant, Mr. Almy (John Heard). The money they owe Almy is going to leave the sister’s bankrupt. Further complicating matters, is the arrival of the Borden sisters’ shady, half-brother, William (Andrew Howard), who returns home wanting his share. As the initial episodes set up, anyone who becomes a problem to Lizzie is going to meet an untimely demise. Her half-brother and Mr. Almy, will not be exceptions to that; nor will others, throughout the series, who Lizzie will dispose of in a variety of ways. She has the ability to use against those who seek to do her harm, their own criminal activities, secrets, and human failings.

Members of the cast include, Cole Hauser (Good Will Hunting), who plays Charlie Siringo. He is a Pinkerton detective who can be charming or deadly, depending on a given situation, and he is not above breaking the law to see that justice has been served. John Ralston (Pound of Flesh) portrays hotel owner Ezekiel Danforth, who runs the establishment with his wife Isabel, played by Olivia Llewellyn (Enchantress). She will wind up becoming an unanticipated problem for Siringo, who takes an intense liking to her, and doesn’t care for the way her husband treats her. Siringo is in Fall River because he has been hired by someone to look into the Borden murders. He becomes a real thorn in Lizzie’s side, as he digs deeper than the initial investigators to find out the truth of what happened. Siringo is not the only law man of prominence in town. There is also Jeff Wincott’s character of Marshal Hilliard. On the opposite side of the law is Skipjack (Bradley Stryker) a criminal thug, and Chester Phi (Rhys Coiro), a photographer by trade, who unbeknownst to his family, not only works for criminals on occasion, but photographs and distributes pornographic photos. Jessy Schram plays attractive actress and dancer, Nancy O’Keefe, who upon meeting Lizzie, after the performance of one of her stage shows, is star struck by Borden. The two become fast friends. The actress informs Lizzie that she has read all about her and the trial in the papers, and tells Lizzie that she is more famous than the President. Through Jessy, Lizzie meets Broadway producer, Spencer Cavanaugh (Frank Chiesurin), who is interested in getting Lizzie to finance his latest production. The series also included guest stars such as “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul’s” Jonathan Banks, “Game of Thrones” Michelle Fairley, as well as “True Blood’s” Chris Bauer.

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LBC Pic 6Comprised of the genres of crime, drama, and horror, the mini-series features a modern soundtrack. Those looking for any sort of semblance to historical accuracy as to what happened to Lizzie Borden after she was found not guilty at her trial, this is not the show for you. While several of the characters that appear on the show existed in real life, such as Charlie Siringo and Bat Masterson (Matthew Le Nevez), most are fictional. The series, in my opinion, is meant to be viewed as a campy, guilty pleasure, nothing more. As a fan of Ricci, I enjoyed watching it. I found it to be the perfect number of episodes for what it was, and I will return to it, if it is renewed for a second season.

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“Whiplash”

The character of Andrew Neimann is a young, jazz drummer played by BAFTA nominated Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now), in a tour-de-force performance. Andrew idolizes musician Buddy Rich, and is pursuing his own musical dreams by attending school at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York City. The catalyst for the film is when he is overheard practicing one evening by Terrence Fletcher, portrayed by Golden Globe and Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons (The Closer). Fletcher, the conductor of Shaffer’s top tier band, is a mercurial character, and Simmons gives an indelible performance which, in the hands of a less talented actor, might have come across as a one-dimensional bully. After a short duration of time, Fletcher will have Andrew join his band as an alternate drummer. Thinking he has achieved the first big break in order to make his musical aspirations come true, Andrew has no idea what he is in store for. Fletcher’s personal mantra is that there are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job.’

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The compelling, exhilarating, and tension filled “Whiplash” was written and directed by Oscar nominated Damien Chazelle (Grand Piano). The 107 minute movie premiered on January 16, 2014 at the Sundance Film Festival. Chazelle’s initial attempts at securing financial backing for the project failed. Not deterred, he originally filmed “Whiplash” as a short, which he entered into Sundance in 2013. J.K Simmons played Fletcher in the short film, but another actor, Johnny Simmons, no relation to J.K., acted the role of Andrew. Chazelle’s decision turned out to be the right one, as the film went on to win the Short Film Jury Award, and afterward, he got the financing he needed. (As an aside: A portion of the movie was based on Chazelle’s own real life experience as a member of his high school band. He has stated in interviews that he felt intimidated by his instructor).

Not the first month, two weeks, or even a full day of class with Fletcher goes by without Andrew realizing what kind of hair-trigger temper Fletcher possesses. On the first day, Fletcher dismisses Metz (C.J. Vana), a member of the band, for simply being out of tune. The only thing is, the particular member he gets rid of, after insulting him, is not the musician who committed the error. Fletcher, however, feels that Metz deserved to get dismissed because he didn’t know he wasn’t out of tune. In time, Andrew falls victim to Fletcher’s intensity and expectations, which border on the psychotic: Slaps to the face for being off tempo, constant cursing and put downs, a chair thrown at him, bleeding from the blisters that have formed on his fingers, are all things Andrew deals with throughout the film.

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A brief ray of sunshine in Andrews life is his relationship with Nicole played by Melissa Benoist (Glee). She works the concession stand at the movie theater he goes to with his kind hearted father, Jim, who loves him unconditionally. In the role of Jim is Golden Globe nominee Paul Reiser (Mad About You). Any happiness he manages to achieve with Nicole, however, is ended soon after Andrew rises to be a core drummer in the band; music becomes Andrew’s sole focus, in essence, his very reason for existence. He informs Nicole that he can no longer be in a relationship with her because she would only serve as an impediment to his reaching his full potential. The scene where he ends their relationship, imparts to the viewer, that Andrew, while certainly not on the same maniacal level as Fletcher, can also be out of touch with reality at times when it comes to his pursuit of perfection.

Things escalate to a dangerous level for Andrew, not just mentally, but physically. Already pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion, while speeding to make a performance on time, after being threatened by Fletcher that he would lose his place in the band if he doesn’t arrive on time, Andrew gets into a car accident. Climbing out of the wreckage, and bleeding, Andrew runs the rest of the way to the competition. He attempts to play, but his wounds understandably affect his performance, and he can’t drum. For his efforts, Fletcher turns his threat into a reality, and kicks him out of the band. Andrew responds by attacking Fletcher. His actions cause him to be expelled from school, but also puts him in contact with a lawyer who is investigating Fletcher over his conduct; behavior which is believed to have caused one of his former students to commit suicide. Andrew, half-heartedly agrees to participate in the investigation. (As an aside: Teller wound up breaking two of Simmons ribs during the scene where he attacks him).

What will become of Andrew’s dreams of being a musician? Does he attend another school and continue with his studies under a more genteel professor? Does he just go for it and begin playing music anywhere someone will hire him? What happens to Fletcher? Does he continue teaching at Shaffer? Do the actions he has taken against a former student, whose death he is being blamed for, come back to haunt him? Will Andrew and Fletcher ever cross paths again? How will they act toward one another if they do? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the highly critically acclaimed film.

The movie which takes its title from a piece of music written by Hank Levy, might at first sound like it is going to be predictable, but winds up being the opposite. Skillful editing by BAFTA and Oscar winner Tom Cross (Two Lovers) and the spot on cinematography by Sharone Meir (Mean Creek) help serve to further enhance the film, making it worthy of all of the accolades it has received. In my view the film can be perceived in one of two ways. Firstly, as a cautionary tale, as to the dangers of an unyielding drive to achieve the zenith level of excellence in a chosen profession. Secondly, as a harsh truth to those who seek to occupy the number one spot in whatever they do, that an individual must often make sacrifices beyond anything they could have imagined in order to obtain greatness.

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”

Dressed in a traditional black chador, an alluring female vampire walks and skateboards the streets of the fictional Iranian town called ‘Bad City’. A great number of its unsavory residents have already met an unpleasant end, as evidenced by the ravine full of bodies that is shown at the start of the movie. “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night,” is the well executed, debut film from director and writer, Ana Lily Amirpour. The visually striking movie, which is spoken in Farsi with English subtitles, was shot in black and white. The most refreshing aspect of its 101 minute runtime, is that it offers the viewer a twist on the traditional vampire lore. (As an aside: The filming for the fictional Bad City was shot in Taft, California).

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The vampire, portrayed by Sheila Vand (Argo), speaks little throughout the film, and is listed only as ‘The Girl’ in the credits. Her actions in the movie, which is part horror, romance and thriller, can be likened to that of the character of Dexter Morgan in “Dexter.” Like all vampires, her need to feed is necessary, but she only feeds off men who are truly bad. In one scene, involving a male child (Milad Eghbali), she demonstrates restraint. Instead of killing an easy prey, she warns the adolescent boy, that if he is not good from that day forward, she will do something terrible to him as punishment.

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Her world, at least at the start of the film, is a lonely one. Her only companion seems to be the music she listens to. Throughout the course of the film, unlike, for example, the HBO series “True Blood,” there is no background information imparted to the viewer about ‘The Girl,’ explaining how she came to be a vampire, or for that matter, how long she has lived as one. ‘The Girl’ also doesn’t seek the refuge of a coffin, opting instead to sleep during the daylight hours in her bed inside her house; the walls of which are covered with posters. (As an aside: Not only is the the word vampire never spoken once during the film, but upon its release, the movie made cinematic history by becoming the first vampire themed film to be set in the Middle East).

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At the beginning of the movie, the viewer is introduced to Arash (Arash Marandi). The character is dealing with problems of both a financial and personal nature. He wants more out of life; not only to leave where he lives, but to improve his current station, that of working as a gardener. His pride and joy is a vintage automobile. A car that has been taken from him by the sleazy, misogynistic, drug dealing, pimp, Saeed (Dominic Rains). Even though Arash doesn’t owe him any money, the car is used toward the mounting payments owed by his widower father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh), a heroin addict. The only time the father leaves the house, is when he has enough money to pay to spend some time with Atti, who is a prostitute (Mozhan Marno). Atti is someone who ‘The Girl’ looks out for, which is demonstrated during several scenes in the film.

One evening, while coming home from a costume party that he went to dressed as Dracula, Arash encounters ‘The Girl’. High on ecstasy, he doesn’t get any sense that she could be dangerous. He begins to make small talk with her. After letting her know he is lost, and asking her where he is, it turns out, he finds, much to his disbelief, that he is still in ‘Bad City’. He tells her he is Dracula, but that she shouldn’t worry because he won’t hurt her. When he touches her hand, he remarks how cold she is, but again taking no fear in that, as others might, he wraps his cape around her. The lack of dread in his actions toward her, and his attempt at conversation, disarms her. Not only does Arash come back to her place, (she helps him by wheeling him on her skateboard) but he lives to tell about it. ‘The Girl’ has taken a liking to him, and the two alienated, lonely individuals, begin a subtle romance. In the scene where she takes Arash back to her place, it ends with her tilting his head up, exposing his neck. Instead of biting him, however, she rests her head on his chest, as she listens to the sound of his heartbeat, while music plays in the background.

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To write more about what transpires during the film, would be a disservice to those of you who have not seen it. This is the sort of movie, where the less that is known the better. The film is shaped and added to by its eclectic soundtrack, which helps to move the story along. The cast is very effective and the imagery captured by cinematographer Lyle Vincent stays with the viewer long after the film’s conclusion. Let me state that this film is definitely not going to be for everyone. The movie is slow moving, and those seeking a visceral visual experience, for the most part, are going to be disappointed. The vampire nature of ‘The Girl’ is used sparingly. There is only one instance where things get graphic. As of the writing of this blog, the film is currently available for instant streaming on Netflix.

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