“Logan – A Sad, Albeit Excellent Cinematic End To An Iconic Character”

The year is 2029, a world once populated with mutants, is now a vastly different place. There are few mutants left, and those that are, have become, for all intents and purposes, shells of their former selves. According to information imparted to the viewer, no new mutants have been born in twenty-five years. Logan, completely embodied by Golden Globe winner, Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables), no longer embraces his Wolverine persona. The regenerative powers that once allowed him to heal at a rapid pace, have slowed down considerably, additionally, he needs to wear reading glasses. The aforementioned, coupled with the adamantium poisoning from the metal coursing through his bloodstream, as well as the length of his life, leaves the former fearless member of the X-Men, in bad shape. The irascible and grizzled Logan, now going by his birth name of James Howlett, spends his days earning a living as a limousine driver. In his spare time, he attempts to drink away his demons and the painful regrets from his past. He does, however, care for the aged and infirmed Charles Xavier, played in a vulnerable and often times witty manner by three time, Golden Globe nominee, Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation). The former head of the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, has been suffering from violent seizures, that not only put himself at risk, but because of his exceptional mental powers, anyone in his proximity. (As an aside: In order to make his appearance more sickly, before filming began, Patrick Stewart deliberately lost over twenty-one pounds).

In order to quell Xavier’s seizures, Logan purchases illegal prescription drugs from crooked, hospital employees. In addition, he is keeping the professor hidden inside of a windowless structure at an abandoned smelting mill, south of the border. Assisting as best he can with Xavier’s care, is fellow mutant, the albino Caliban, a role acted by BAFTA and Emmy winner, Stephen Merchant (The Office). Logan is attempting to save enough money to buy a boat to take Xavier away from the prison type atmosphere he’s forced to keep him in, and live a life far out on the ocean. Complicating matters, is the arrival of Gabriela, a former nurse of a shadowy, scientific organization called Transigen, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, (Orange Is the New Black). Transigen is responsible for the elimination of the majority of the world’s mutant population, but also is creating new mutants, in the form of children, under the guise of research to help the human race, when in actuality, it is attempting to create more destructive weapons for military use.

Gabriela secretly filmed the experiments that Transigen had been conducting involving the young mutants. Along with the help of other employees, she helped to set the children free. One young girl, Laura, portrayed by Dafne Keen, in her feature film debut, is taken by Gabriela. Laura is known to X-Men fans as X-23, and has the same powers as Logan, as well as adamantium claws. Keen gives a strong willed, mostly silent performance as the young mutant.

Gabriela, seeks Wolverine out because she wants him to escort her and Laura to a place called Eden, where all of the mutant children are going to rendezvous before crossing the border into Canada. Logan is at first reluctant to take the job, but reconsiders when Gabriela offers him a substantial amount of money, which will get him much closer to being able to purchase the boat. Standing in the way of that plan is a man named Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Pierce, along with a team of hired guns, is hunting Laura, and the other escaped mutant children, for Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), the head of Transigen. Once Gabriela is murdered by Pierce and his cohorts, they come looking for Logan, Professor Xavier, and Laura. The arrival of Pierce and his men, set up an action packed escape sequence that showcases, to the viewer, how powerful X-23 is, and why she is being hunted. (As an aside: Emmy nominee, Millie Bobby Brown who portrays Eleven on the Netflix hit series ‘Stranger Things’ auditioned for the role of X-23).

Can Logan successfully see to it that Laura finds her way to Eden? Does Eden even exist? Could Eden merely be the wishful thinking on the part of Gabriela, who saw the location in an X-Men comic book? If Eden is real are other mutant children there, or is Laura the lone survivor? Will Professor Xavier, in his diminished condition, be able to endure a journey fraught with danger? Does Logan have one last fight in him, or do the ravages of age and injury prove to be just too much? All of those questions and more will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

The gritty, nuanced, and at times poignant film Logan,” was directed by James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted). The movie is the third solo Wolverine film, as well as the final installment featuring Hugh Jackman as the iconic character. Mangold conceived the story, drawing inspiration from Mark Millar’s graphic novel “Old Man Logan,” as well as a number of films, including, but not limited to “Shane” (1953), “Paper Moon” (1973), and “The Gauntlet” (1977). Mangold co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Oscar nominee, Scott Frank (Out of Sight), and Emmy nominee, Michael Green (Heroes). “Logan” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on February 17, 2017. Parts action, drama, sci-fi, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 137 minutes.

Those sitting down to watch the film for the first time, expecting or wanting to see epic CGI battles, will be disappointed. The film is more mature in its approach and tone, relying more on emotion and story, than special effects, however, it still maintains enough mayhem to satisfy those seeking visceral thrills. In my opinion, I feel this is the quintessential best of the Wolverine movies, which not only met, but exceeded my expectations.

 

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

“In Search of The Angel of Death”

The movie “The Boys from Brazil” was directed by Oscar winner Franklin J. Schaffner (Patton). The compelling and riveting film premiered on October 5, 1978, in New York City, New York. Parts drama, sci-fi, and thriller, it has a runtime of 125 minutes. The movie was based on the novel of the same name, written by best-selling author, Ira Levin, who had his work adapted for the screen by Heywood Gould (Trial by Jury).  The film centers on a Machiavellian plan organized and implemented by Dr. Josef Mengele, who was a German SS officer and physician, stationed at Auschwitz concentration camp, who was dubbed the “The Angel of Death; ” a title that was appropriate, due to the atrocious experiments Mengele performed on innocent prisoners. He was particularly interested in operating on twins. To his warped way of thinking, he thought by doing so, he would be able to discover a way of tracing the origins of a wide array of genetic diseases.

The role of Mengele in the film is completely embodied by Oscar and Golden Globe winner, Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird). The project Mengele wants to see come to fruition, has taken millions of dollars, and two decades of work, and it involves the following scenario: Over a period of two years, ninety-four men, that worked as minor civil servants, have reached the age of sixty-five, and are married to women considerably younger, are to be assassinated. Mengele wants to replicate the conditions of Adolf Hitler’s life, in hopes that one of the children of the ninety-four, will grow up to become the next Hitler, and bring about the Fourth Reich. Attempting to prevent Mengele from realizing his dream, is Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman, portrayed by Oscar winner, Sir Laurence Olivier (Rebecca). The Lieberman character was based on Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal; a man, who at the conclusion of World War II, forgoes his formal training as an architect, and dedicates his life to bringing perpetrators of the Nazi genocide to justice. Wiesenthal founded and ran the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, Austria, and over the course of his lifetime, helped to aid in the capture and conviction, of approximately 1100 Nazi war criminals, chief among them, Adolf Eichmann, who was one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. While the “Boys From Brazil” is a work of fiction, the ‘In Search’ of episode “The Angel of Death,” presents the true story of Simon Wiesenthal’s three decade pursuit to apprehend, and have Mengele stand trial for the crimes he committed.

“World War II is not just a memory in the coastal mountains of Brazil. The date is April 22, 1978. The place a small hotel outside Rio de Janeiro. A noisy party at the ‘Hotel Tyll’ is broken up by police, who discover the people are celebrating something odd, the 89th anniversary of the birthday of Adolph Hitler. The raid resulted in the capture of a wanted Nazi named Gustav Wagner. The capture was made possible by Simon Wiesenthal, who is known as ‘the hunter, for he has brought more than 1100 Nazi criminals to justice.”

While the voice over narration that begins the episode is spoken, viewers are shown images of the hotel, party, and the wanted Nazi that was captured, as well as, video footage of Simon Wiesenthal. The episode premiered on February 1, 1979, and was one of the 144 episodes in the series, which ran from September of 1976 through March of 1982. Each of the series’ eclectic episodes, examined, among other subjects, the historical, mythical and supernatural. The episodes were hosted by Leonard Nimoy, (Star Trek), who also added the voice over narration to what was being shown on screen. The episode pertaining to the hunt for Mengele left me, as so many of the offerings of the show did, with questions that I was curious enough to look up on the internet after it concluded. In addition, I watched other shows that dealt with the subject of the hunt for Mengele, for example, an episode of “Nazi Fugitives,” that aired this past June, on the AHC channel.

During the episode, while Mengele’s crimes are addressed, it primarily concerns itself with his life post, World War II, which began, ten days, before the Russian Red Army liberated Auschwitz. Mengele, knowing that the Germans were on the verge of defeat, left the camp by way of his chauffeured car, which took him back to his hometown of Günzburg in Bavaria. The Mengele family, and the factory they owned, which produced farm equipment, was the largest employer in the town. As the camera shows footage of the town, Nimoy mentions that the ‘In Search’ of crew experienced outright hostility from its residents while trying to film, and no one from Günzburg speaks on camera. Afterward, the episode deals with Mengele’s life on the run outside of Germany.

Simon Wiesenthal, The National Intelligence Agency of Israel (The Mossad), and other governments, as well as freelance Nazi hunters, pursued Mengele across the continents of Africa, Europe, and South America. Time and again, the infamous war criminal proved to be, not only illusive, but lucky. In one instance, in 1964, at the Hotel Tirol, in Paraguay, he avoided capture by a group of Holocaust survivors by a mere ten minutes. According to sources, Mengele was tipped off, and fled in such a hurry, that all he had with him were the pajamas he was wearing. After the capture and execution of Adolf Eichmann, Mengele’s paranoia and desperation to avoid being brought to justice forced him to live in remote parts of the South American jungle. The areas, according to Nimoy, are places where few outsiders ever venture, and those that did go to try and hunt down Mengele, did so at great risk to themselves.

Speaking on camera during the episode are: Simon Wiesenthal; Dr. Ella Lingens, an Austrian woman, who because she saved Jews from the Nazi’s, was sent to Auschwitz, and forced to work in the hospital as one of Dr. Mengele’s assistants; Berndt von Staden, who was the West German Ambassador to the United States from 1973 until 1979, as well as a former minister of the embassy of Israel to the United States. Furthermore, the episode contains archival footage and reenactments that are shown to the viewer. The informative episode held my interest throughout its runtime. As of the writing of this post, it is available, in its entirety, on youtube.com. For those of you interested in World War II history, especially its aftermath, and the efforts made by those who sought to bring war criminals to justice, this is an episode which should hold your interest.

Posted in TV Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“GLOW”

The Netflix series, “GLOW,” takes place in Los Angeles, California, in the mid 1980s. At the start, Alison Brie, (Community) who portrays Ruth Wilder, a determined and serious minded actress, is auditioning for yet another mediocre role; a part she winds up not getting. Frustrated, Ruth confronts Mallory, (Amy Farrington) the casting director, in, of all places, the ladies room, to find out why she has been called in to read on multiple occasions, but never gets a role in anything. Mallory informs Ruth, that she is the type of actress that directors say they have in mind when they’re seeking someone real, but after seeing her, they always change their minds. When Ruth returns home later that evening, there is a message from Mallory on her answering machine. The only information Ruth receives is that there is a casting call, one that Mallory herself is not running, that is seeking unconventional women; needless to say, Ruth is intrigued. The next day, when Ruth arrives at the audition, it is the opposite of what she expected. Instead of taking place at an office, Ruth finds herself in a rundown gym, sitting on bleachers, opposite a wrestling ring. As it turns out, the opportunity she is trying out for, is to be cast as a female wrestler on a show called GLOW, an acronym for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. (As an aside: The inspiration and the characters for Netflix’s GLOW, were taken from the women’s professional wrestling promotion, of the same name, which was founded in 1986 by David McLane. The wrestling show was filmed in Las Vegas, Nevada, and although it would survive in other incarnations, finished its television run in 1989.)

Marc Maron (Harvey Beaks) plays the character of washed-up, B-movie, writer and director, Sam Sylvia. It’s his job to cast the right ensemble, as well as script and direct the pilot episode of GLOW, in the hopes that it will get picked up by a network. His interest in the job extends beyond just monetary gain for himself. What he desires most of all, is to have Bash, (Chris Lowell) the executive producer, finance his next film. Firstly, however, he has to pick the ladies to make up the show’s cast. Ironically, it appears, at least at the outset, that Ruth might not be one of the ladies that makes the cast.

Despite her acting experience and strong work ethic, try as she may, Ruth has a difficult time impressing on Sam that she is the right fit for the show. Sam’s mindset doesn’t change until Betty Gilpin’s, (Nurse Jackie) character, former soap-opera actress, Debbie Eagan, who left her television career to raise her child, enters the gym. Debbie is incensed when she learns that Ruth, whom she considered a close friend, slept with her husband, Mark (Rich Sommer). Debbie gets into a confrontation with Ruth, and in front of everyone, slaps Ruth across the face, and proceeds to drag her around the ring. Sam witnesses the event, and his imagination goes into overdrive. He pictures Debbie as his production’s hero squaring off against Ruth, her evil nemesis, as the two women compete in a main event match, in front of a sold out audience that is soaking up every moment of the mayhem. While it takes some convincing on Sam’s part, he doesn’t give up until Debbie agrees to join the cast. Rules that apply to the other ladies, for example, all of them having to live together at the same motel, doesn’t apply to her.

The success of “GLOW, in addition to being credited to Brie, Gilpin, and Maron, is due in large part to its overall ensemble cast. The numerous characters they portray come from all different walks of life. For the sake of brevity, I will only mention some of them. There is the no-nonsense, professional stunt-woman, Cherry (Sydelle Noel), who Sam leans on to help get the ladies into wrestling shape. Carmen (Britney Young), wants to follow in the footsteps of her professional wrestling family members, her father, (Winston James Francis), and her brothers, who are played by real life wrestlers, Carlos Colón Jr. and George Murdoch. In addition, there is British singer-song writer Kate Nash, who plays Rhonda Richardson, as well as “American Idol” contestant Jackie Tohn, in the role of party-girl, Melanie. Lastly, playing Tameé, is Kia Stevens. She is a real life professional wrestler, known to fans as ‘Awesome Kong,’ ‘Amazing Kong,’ and ‘Kharma.’ There are other wrestlers who have cameos and small parts throughout season one that wrestling fans should recognize.

GLOW” was created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. Premiering on Netflix on June 23, 2017, the series is an often times humorous and heartfelt show. In the interest of full disclosure, the show does, at times, delve into offensive stereotypes, that wouldn’t be welcomed or well-received on a current television show, but should be viewed in the context of the time period in which the series takes place. The ten episodes of the first season, were, overall, well written, and the members of the ensemble cast nailed their respective roles. The chemistry between Wilder and Eagan’s characters is enjoyable to watch, as they journey to become in-ring foes. Ruth playing the character of the villain, the American hating Russian, ‘Zoya the Destroyer,’ while Debbie, is her polar opposite, the all American good girl, dubbed ‘Liberty Belle.’ I don’t think a viewer has to be a fan of professional wrestling to enjoy the series, and I, for one, am interested to see where the creators will take season two.

Posted in TV Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

“Netflix Film – You Get Me – Quasi Fatal Attraction For Teens”

The opening narration of the film “You Get Me,” begins with the character Tyler (Taylor John Smith), a California teenager, talking about how “it’s crazy how one person can change your life.” The summer is winding down, and he is on the cusp of starting his senior year of high school. Throughout the summer, Tyler has been working bussing tables at a restaurant on the beach, and taking care of his younger sister Tiffany (Farrah Mackenzie), but the majority of his free time, he has spent with his girlfriend, Alison (Halston Sage). All seems right with the young couple, until they attend a party at their friend Lydia’s (Anna Akana) house. There, Tyler meets Chase, (Rhys Wakefield), who knew Alison when she lived in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles.

Tyler is distraught, to say the least, when he learns from Chase, that Alison, someone with whom he has forgone physical intimacy, used to be an intoxicated, promiscuous party girl. After getting Alison a soda, he leaves to go to the bathroom, where, while on line, he meets Holly (Bella Thorne). They engage in mild flirtation, but it doesn’t last long. When he returns from the bathroom, Tyler berates Alison for having the audacity, to have slept with Chase, but not him. Not once, does he verify with the girl, whom the viewer is supposed to believe he purportedly loves, that what Chase is saying is the truth. In the ensuing moments, Tyler takes things a step further, when he tries to engage Chase in a confrontation, but Chase merely laughs it off with his friends, and tells Tyler to calm down. Alison, embarrassed by the scene he’s making, lets Tyler know their relationship is over. Dejected, Tyler leaves the party, however, he spots Holly outside the house, sitting in her convertible sports car.

A viewer might wonder if Holly, witnessed the argument between Tyler and Alison, and purposely waited for him outside. After some banter, she tells him to get in, which he does without hesitation.  When Holly notices Tyler texting his friend, Gil, (Nash Grier) even though she has only just met him, she takes his cell phone away, which Tyler, for some unknown reason doesn’t see as a red flag. Tyler inquires as to where they’re going, but instead of an answer, Holly merely offers him a coy smile. Their destination winds up being a club. While dancing, Holly moves in on Tyler for what appears to be a kiss, but instead tries to get him to swallow a pill. He’s reluctant, but after she lets him know exactly what she’ll do if he acquiesces, he doesn’t give the matter a second thought. True to her word, Holly goes through with her promise, and a great deal more. The next day Tyler wakes up in Holly’s bed, in an ostentatious home that belonged to her deceased father, but now is owned by her step-mother (Brigid Brannagh).

Tyler stays with Holly throughout all of the next day, but eventually realizes he needs to return home. Before leaving, he thanks her for a great time, stating that it was – stuck on a word to end his sentence – Holly finishes it for him with the response – special. Once home, Tyler charges his drained cell phone, and there are several text messages from Gil, as well as one from Alison. If he would like to talk, he can come over to her house the next day. He does indeed, and when the two see each other, Alison not only confesses to her past transgressions, but promises him that she won’t keep any more secrets. The two, are back together, as if nothing happened. What Tyler doesn’t know, and what the viewer will come to learn, is that Holly can put up an impressive facade to hide her true nature, that of an unhinged individual with a history of obsessive behavior. Furthermore, she needs to take medication, and meet with a psychiatrist on a weekly basis, in order to keep her emotions in check; something, which as of late, she hasn’t been doing.

Tyler begins his senior year of high school, but if he thinks he’s just going to coast, he is in for a rude awakening, when – surprise – Holly has transferred to his school. She doesn’t waste time insinuating herself into Tyler and his friends’ lives, including Alison. For example, she becomes Tyler’s lab partner in science class, and offers free tickets to  Alison and Lydia to come join her at the Roxy Theater in Hollywood to see a band. Holly’s plan is working, however, after spending time together, Lydia begins to question why Holly has no social media presence. Holly’s answer is that she deleted her account a year earlier because she wanted to do a cleanse, and that the people who need to reach her, know where to find her. Lydia, who doesn’t believe Holly, and is not dropping the issue, for her efforts, receives a smoothie, which has been tainted with something that causes her to wind up in the hospital after having a violent allergic reaction.

After the incident with Lydia, does Tyler let Alison know what happened between him and Holly? If he doesn’t who will be Holly’s next victim? Will someone else find out the truth Tyler’s been hiding and expose him to Alison? To what lengths will Holly go to win Tyler? Is she capable of murder?

“You Get Me” was directed by Brent Bonacorso (The Narrow World) and written by Ben Epstein (Happyland). The film, which is currently streaming on Netflix, was released on June 23, 2017. If you haven’t seen it, there is no rush. The soundtrack, for the most part, lines up with what is transpiring on screen, and the cinematography by Magdalena Gorka (An Ordinary Man), is excellent, but beyond that, there is not much to recommend it. As a whole, the cast, especially Bella Thorne, did their best with a screenplay that was rife with clichéd dialogue, and a predictable, tensionless plot. If executed better, the movie, perhaps, could’ve been categorized as guilty pleasure viewing, but there is simply nothing enticing about it, that would make me want to give it another watch.

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Gwendy’s Button Box By Stephen King & Richard Chizmar”

“There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day this summer – yes, even on Sundays – twelve-year old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside. She walks the first hundred, jogs the second hundred, and forces herself to run up the last hundred and five, pelting-as her father would say-hellbent for election. At the top she bends over, red-faced, clutching her knees, hair in sweaty clumps against her cheeks (it always escapes her ponytail on that last sprint, no matter how tight she ties it), and puffing like an old carthorse. Yet there has been some improvement. When she straightens up and looks down the length of her body, she can see the tips of her sneakers. She couldn’t do that in June, on the last day of school, which also happened to be her last day in Castle Rock Elementary.”

The above is the opening paragraph from the well-paced, and thought provoking, Gwendy’s Button Box written by world-renowned author, Stephen King, and co-authored by Richard Chizmar. In addition to being a writer, Chizmar is the publisher and editor of Cemetery Dance Magazine, and the owner of Cemetery Dance Publications. The 175 page novella was published on May 16, 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications, and takes place in the fictional setting of Castle Rock, Maine, which King has used in a number of his other works. King had been working on Gwendy’ story, but hadn’t, come up with a satisfactory way to end the work. During an exchange of e-mails, he told Chizmar, a long time friend, what was happening. Chizmar told King, he would love to read the story, but didn’t expect it to go further than that. The next evening, he received an e-mail with an attachment of what King had written, and the two began collaborating, and expanding the story. In an interview Chizmar gave to Entertainment Weekly, he speaks about how he and King collaborated:

“Within three days, I added 10,000 words. I sent those to Steve. He added a few thousand, sent it back, and then we did that until we were finished. Played ping-pong with emails. Neither one of us ever told the other where we wanted it to go or where we thought it might go. We left that up to the other writer.”

The date is August 22, 1974, and overweight, twelve-year-old, Gwendy Peterson, is desperately trying to shed her unwanted pounds, as she is tired of her peers referring to her by the unflattering nickname of ‘Goodyear,’ as in the blimp. For the past week, when she has reached the top of the suicide stairs, she observes a mysterious, blue-eyed stranger sitting on the bench located near the entranceway to the Castle View Recreational Park. He is dressed in a white buttoned down shirt, open at the collar, black jeans, and a black sports jacket; atop his head is a black hat, and from what Gwendy can tell, he’s always reading the same book, “Gravity’s Rainbow.” One day, he calls to her. She’s hesitant to engage him in conversation, telling him she’s not supposed to talk to strangers. As Gwendy will soon learn, the man’s name is Richard Farris, and he agrees with her about not talking to strangers, but eventually, she warms up to him, and they begin conversing.

At first, the conversation between Farris and Gwendy consists of getting to know you questions. He asks her about her name, and she asks him if he’s on vacation, to which he responds that he travels all across the country, and refers to himself as a ‘rambling man.’ While talking, Farris lets Gwendy know he keeps his eye on certain people, and she is such a person because she’s special; he tells her he felt her presence long before he saw her. Furthermore, he theorizes about Gwendy’s inner thoughts, and she finds herself opening up to him about things she wouldn’t even discuss with her parents. When Gwendy gets up to leave, Farris tells her she can’t leave because he has something for her. Reverting back to her mindset on strangers, she tells him she can’t accept a gift from him. Once again, however, even though she’s fearful that Farris might try something, he convinces her to stay.

Farris reaches under the bench, they’re sitting on, and brings out a drawstring, canvas bag. When he opens up the bag, he takes out a mahogany box, that Gwendy considers beautiful. A feeling overtakes Gwendy; the box is something she immediately wants. Gwendy views the box as something valuable that belonged to her in a previous life, that was lost, and has now been returned. The gift Farris gives her is not just a finely polished box, but – as he refers to it – a ‘button box.’

The box is adorned with eight buttons, all different colors, six of them represent continents, Antarctica is excluded. Farris imparts instructions about the buttons to Gwendy. Firstly, the buttons pertaining to the continents can be used only once. The same goes for the black button, which Gwendy will come to refer to as the ‘cancer button.’ Farris never gets into precise detail about what would happen if its pushed, but, in an oblique way, he intimates that it would usher in the end of the world. Conversely, the red button can be used by the box’s owner multiple times, and gives the person, anything he or she wants. Additionally, there is a slot in the middle, and two small levers on each end of the box. The one on the left produces chocolate, while the one on the right dispenses mint condition, Morgan silver dollars. Farris gets up to leave. He doesn’t let Gwendy know where he is going, or when he’ll be back. He does, however, warn Gwendy of the following:

“Take care of the box. It gives gifts, but they’re small recompense for the responsibility…I advise you not to let anyone find it, not just your parents, because people are curious. When they see a lever, they want to pull it. And when they see a button, they want to push it.”

The remainder of the novella centers, in essence, on Gwendy’s guardianship of the box. Farris has left her, not so much a gift, but a test. The chocolates that she eats, that are produced by the box, aid her in magnificent ways; each one is no bigger, as Farris states, than a jelly bean. Although small in size, the chocolates leave Gwendy euphorically satisfied, and quells her appetite, so that only one a day is enough. The box, as the reader will discover, changes Gwendy in profound ways. She begins to transform herself from an overweight, introverted, child into a teenager and young woman, who is confident, attractive, and seemingly excels at anything she puts her mind to. Temptation, however, regarding the other powers that the box offers begins to consume her thoughts. Furthermore, she wonders if the gifts she has received are directly proportional to terrible events that have taken place throughout the world.

Who is Richard Farris? What is his agenda? Why would he give a school aged girl the same type of power normally reserved for heads of state? What price does the world at large pay every time Gwendy utilizes the power of the box? Will Gwendy give in to temptation and push one of the buttons, thereby causing the destruction of an entire continent?           What sorts of things, if any, will she use the red button for? While not all of those questions will be directly answered by the conclusion of the novella, a good many of them, as well as several more, will be. King and Chizmar, however, do leave certain parts up to the reader’s imagination to discern, and while that might frustrate some, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this King-Chizmar novella.

Posted in Literature | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

“Wonder Woman”

All Star Comics # 8, published in October, 1941, marked the debut of the character, Wonder Woman; three months later, in January, 1942, Sensation Comics # 1, was the first to put the superhero on a comic book cover. The Harvard educated, William Moulton Marston, PhD,  who is credited with the invention of the polygraph machine, systolic blood-pressure test, and an early staunch advocate for women’s rights, amongst other attributes and accomplishments, was the creator of the Wonder Woman character. Sadly, Marston only had a few short years to work on Wonder Woman, before passing away from skin cancer in 1947 at the age of 53. In 2006, at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, for his work with the iconic character.

The first actress to portray Wonder Woman, was Cathy Lee Crosby (Coach), in the 73 minute television movie, “Wonder Woman, which premiered on ABC on March 12, 1974. Directed by Vincent McEveety (Murder, She Wrote), and written by Emmy nominee, John D.F. Black (Mr. Novak), the ratings for the production were decent, but not enough to prompt ABC television to order a pilot for a potential series. In 1975, a second television movie, “The New Original Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter (Supergirl), aired on ABC on November 7th of that year. The two time, Emmy nominated show, was picked up by ABC where it was aired for the first year of its run, before moving to CBS television for seasons two and three, where it was re-titled “The New Adventures of Wonder Woman.” The final episode of the series would air in September of 1979. It would take over thirty-seven years before the character would make her standalone, big screen debut at the premier of the film, on May 15, 2017, in Shanghai, China.

Shown via flashback, Wonder Woman primarily takes place during World War I; the film, however, opens in modern day Paris. An item, delivered by Wayne Industries, arrives via courier at the office of Diana Prince, portrayed by Gal Gadot (Keeping Up with the Joneses). When Diana opens the package, there is a note from Bruce Wayne, along with a picture of Diana as Wonder Woman, with the men who went to battle with her decades earlier. Diana begins to recall her life, and the events that led up to her becoming a combatant during the first World War.

The mythical island of Themyscira, home to a tribe of amazons, is a society devoid of both men and children, with the exception of Diana. She is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, played by Connie Nielsen (The Good Wife), and niece to the tribe’s greatest warrior, Antiope, who is portrayed by Golden Globe winner, Robin Wright (House of Cards). As she grows up, Diana wants to train as a warrior, something her mother forbids. In secret, she is trained by Antiope, something which Hippolyta eventually discovers. The Queen instructs Antiope, that if she is going to train Diana, she is to be trained harder than any other warrior before her.  Life passes unchanged on the island until World War I pilot, Steve Trevor, a role acted by Emmy nominee, Chris Pine (Star Trek Beyond) crashes his plane into the waters off the coast of  Themyscira. Unfortunately, Steve was being pursued by the German army, who arrive mere moments after Diana, rescues him, and posits the question, as to whether or not, he is one of the good guys. The viewer will come to learn he is in fact not only a good man, but earnest, someone who will stop at nothing to complete his mission. A battle ensues between the Germans and the Amazons, and although the Germans use modern weapons such as guns, versus the bows and arrows used by the amazons, the latter are victorious; a price, however, has been paid. Concerned that the Germans may return to finish what they started, defying Hippolyta’s wishes, Diana wants to join the conflict in the outside world. She is of the belief that Ares, the God of War, is the cause of  the bloodshed. Diana feels if she can vanquish him, that peace will be restored to the world. She accompanies Steve back to England, where he has been working as a spy against Germany for the British government.

When they arrive in London, Diana and Steve are updated on the current state of the war in Europe. Diana is steadfast in her determination that she must be the one to find and destroy Ares. Armed with her shield, bullet deflecting bracelets, a magical lasso which compels anyone who she wraps it around to be truthful, and a sword named the God Killer, combined with her extensive training, she sets out to do just that.

In addition to the aforementioned, there are other noteworthy members in the cast. Golden Globe, nominee, Danny Huston (Magic City), plays the German General, Ludendorff, who craves power and victory at any cost. He is aided by the psychotic, Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), nicknamed Dr. Poison, who has been working to complete a poison gas. Working with, and alongside, Diana and Steve are Steve’s secretary, Etta (Lucy Davis), who brings some comic relief to the film, as does Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui). Sir Patrick, a role acted by BAFTA nominee David Thewlis (Fargo), advocates for peace, but the viewer will learn, he has a secret agenda. Rounding out the cast is the intoxicated marksman, Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and Eugene Brave Rock’s character, The Chief.

“Wonder Woman” was directed by Emmy nominee, Patty Jenkins (The Killing), and written for the screen by two-time, Emmy nominee, Allan Heinberg (The Catch). Additionally, Heinberg came up with the story for the film, with Zach Snyder (300) and Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift). Jenkins gets a well-executed performance out of her lead star, Gadot, who is strong when she needs to be on both an emotional and physical level, but also optimistically naive, when it comes to viewing the good and evil in the world as an all or nothing concept. The thing I enjoyed most about the film was that – at least in my opinion – it not only had a story, not just one continuous CGI enhanced battle after another, but at its center, it has heart. I consider it, thus far, to be the best entry into the movies that comprise the DC Extended Universe. The movie, while not for everyone, has garnered a great deal of critical praise and box-office success, and has finally, after decades, given a pop-culture icon, the debut film she deserves.

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

“They Call Us Monsters”

The question at the center of the thought provoking documentary film, “They Call Us Monsters,” is whether or not violent juvenile offenders, between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, should be given life in prison without the possibility of parole. At the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall, located in Sylmar, California, high-risk, juvenile offenders facing the possibility of lengthy prison terms, or incarceration until their dying day, are housed while they await sentencing. Directed by Benjamin Lear (The Ordinary World), the documentary which premiered on June 6, 2016 at the Los Angeles Film Festival, focuses on three specific individuals awaiting sentencing: Antonio, who is fourteen, has been charged with two attempted murders; Seventeen year old, Jared, is accused of the attempted murders of four individuals whom he fired upon during a drive by shooting, which resulted in the paralysis of one female victim, who speaks on camera during the documentary; Sixteen year old Juan, a former honor roll student, is incarcerated for murdering a rival gang member by shooting him at point blank range. If he eventually does gain his freedom, he will be immediately deported to El Salvador, leaving behind the son, he has fathered. Instead of spending their time day dreaming, watching television or sleeping in their cells, the trio of inmates enroll in a ten week, screenwriting class, given by producer / director, Gabriel Cowan (Just Before I Go). Cowan’s goal for the teens is to write a screenplay for a short film, using their collective experiences as a basis for the story. (As an aside: There were originally four offenders who wanted to take part in the classes, but one was sentenced, and transferred to prison, shortly after the classes began. Additionally, the screenplay that the teenagers worked on with Cowan was turned into the twenty-five minute, short, crime drama “Los,” which came out in 2015.)

Lear’s original objective was to spend time at the high security compound in Sylmar, in order to gather information for a screenplay he was working on. He wanted his writing to be as authentic as possible. After spending time with the incarcerated youth, Lear felt he could do more than just create another fictional film. Lear teamed up with InsideOUT Writers, a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles, that was founded in 1996. The non-profit’s goal is to reduce the recidivism rate of juvenile offenders. Part of what they do, is offer classes, which allow the offenders to channel creative energy through writing. If participants in the program are released from prison, InsideOut Writers has an alumni association that will help to support them to aid them in staying on a positive life track.

Throughout the documentary’s 82 minute runtime, the candid footage presented to the viewer offers insight into the teen participants. During the classes, they engage in self-reflection, as the film delves into the factors which led them to a life of a crime, such as the influences, or lack thereof, that each of them had growing up. Jared’s step-father blames his attempted suicide for putting his step-son on a dark path. The step-father relays the story of  how when Jared was a child, he  witnessed his attempt to end his life as he was stabbing himself in the chest. Juan regrets not telling a female classmate, who he used to be very close with, about his true feelings. He admits that he was afraid of opening himself up to making himself vulnerable, and facing rejection, as he felt that she would not reciprocate. While working on the screenplay, Juan plays with the idea of what might have happened had he expressed himself to his friend. The emotions that he feels while writing, gives him the courage to call his childhood friend, and open up to her, even though chances are nothing will ever come of it; nevertheless, it is a cathartic moment for him. While filming, Antonio is unexpectedly set free, with a chance to start over. Will he make the most of the opportunity? Was the time he spent incarcerated a wakeup call as to what life will be like for him for decades to come if he reverts back to his old ways?

There is a secondary story to the film that Lear focuses on, and that is the debate that was taking place at the time, in the California Legislature, over Senate Bill 260. Summarizing: The bill holds juvenile offenders responsible for their crimes. It does, however, recognize that young offenders are not yet adults, therefore it allows them to  demonstrate that they have been rehabilitated, by offering them an opportunity to eventually be paroled, after serving a minimum of fifteen years.

Recent Supreme Court cases, such as Graham v. Florida and Miller v. Alabama, have ruled that juveniles who are given life sentences without the possibility of parole is a violation of the constitution. Additionally, in California, Senate Bill 260 was passed; the law went into effect on January 1, 2014. Furthermore, in 2015, Senate Bill 261 was passed by the California state legislature, which expanded the age range of youthful offenders from seventeen years of age to twenty-two years of age. The questions that some of you might be asking are: What about the victims’ families? Are they not entitled to make sure, especially in the case of murder, that the person who took the life of their loved one, be denied their freedom?

The documentary never sugarcoats what the three offenders did, and the lasting damage their actions caused the victims, and the victims’ families, as well as the emotional turmoil they brought upon their own loved ones. In “They Call Us Monsters,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, Lear never tells the viewer how they should feel about the issue. In my opinion, at no time did the film appear to suggest that there were easy answers as to how the law should deal with such an emotionally charged issue. What Lear does, is present the facts, so that each individual can come to his or her own conclusion.

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments