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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skin Job for kindle only  $.99

https://parlorofhorror.wordpress.com

 

 

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“The Night Stalker”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Thirteen – A Well Executed Miniseries From The BBC”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The Girls By Emma Cline”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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“Mustang”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Posted in Movies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Janis: Little Girl Blue”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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