“Ready Player One”

In the year 2045, the world has become a dark and depressing place; thanks primarily to a deteriorating environment, and a population that has reached its breaking point. The world is in such a state of dystopian existence, that people prefer to live their lives immersed as avatars inside of virtual reality. The reality they’re living in, where they can be the people they want to be, and live the sort of lives they desire, is known as Oasis, which stands for Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. The co-creator of the world’s virtual refuge, eccentric, James Halliday, portrayed by Oscar and multiple BAFTA winner, Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), has died. He has left the rights to his creation to any individual who can win a three part quest, known as Anorak’s Quest. In order to win the quest, players need to hunt down three keys that are hidden inside of smaller quests. The player that can find the three keys, will discover Halliday’s final Easter egg, and ultimately win control of Oasis. Oasis is not only worth a tremendous amount in terms of its monetary value, but also the political power that is garnered by controlling it. (As an aside: The co-creator of Oasis, Ogden Morrow is played by BAFTA nominee, Simon Pegg (Star Trek: Beyond).

The action-packed, imaginative, and well-paced, “Ready Player One” is based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling science-fiction novel of the same name, which was published on August 16, 2011 by Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House. Furthermore, Cline co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Zak Penn (The Avengers). Firstly, for fans of the novel, who haven’t yet seen the movie, the film should be a pleasant surprise. The film does deviate from the novel in certain respects by leaving some of its heavier themes out, but it also adds scenes that were not in the novel, but should, nonetheless, entertain.

The main star of the film, who is vying for control of Oasis, is orphaned teenager, Wade Watts. He lives in a trailer park, in Columbus, Ohio, with his aunt Alice (Susan Lynch), and her boyfriend, Rick (Ralph Ineson). The likeable and talented, Wade, A.K.A. Parzival, is played by Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse). He believes he has the knowledge and the knowhow to win the game, and is the only player, thus far, to have captured even one of Halliday’s three keys. Wade is joined by the astute Art3Mis, portrayed by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) and the strong, Aech, played by Emmy winner, Lena Waithe (Master of None). Additional members of the ‘High Five,’ the name of Wade’s group, are brothers’ Daito (Win Morisaki) and Sho (Philip Zhao). The ‘High Five’ members will have to compete against the likes of the villainous, CEO of Innovative Online Industries, Sorrento, a role acted by Emmy winner Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), and his main henchman, I-ROk (T.J. Miller). The battle between the different groups might be taking place in cyber space, but the end result of who wins, will have lasting implications.

There are a wealth of pop culture references in “Ready Player One,” two examples, are, the DeLorean from the film “Back to the Future,” and the T-Rex from “Jurassic Park.” The two that I mentioned, don’t even scratch the surface of the well known, numerous references that the viewer will see throughout the film. In fact, the film’s detractors, have taken issue with what they feel was an overabundance of pop culture references. The visual effects are nothing short of stunning. Credit must also be paid to the outstanding work done by two-time, Oscar winning cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan); one example, amongst several that stood out, was the race scene which takes place in the first part of the film. In addition to the score composed by Emmy winner, Alan Silvestri (Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey), which synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen, the soundtrack to the film features a number of pop songs, for example, “Faith” by George Michael, and “Hungry Like the Wolf”  by Duran Duran.

“Ready Player One” premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival on March 11, 2018. The film was directed by two-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg (Schindler’s List). Spielberg hasn’t directed a film of this type in quite some time, opting instead to utilize his talents to work on dramatic themed films such as “Lincoln” and “The Post,” so it was nice to see him return to his roots of well made, escapist fun. Parts action, adventure, and sci-fi, the film has a runtime of 140 minutes. While not everyone will like the film, that is clear based on several reviews I’ve read, for fans of Spielberg that were hungering for the director to make another highly entertaining, blockbuster film, this is a must see.

 

 

 

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“Final Girls by Riley Sager”

A decade has passed since Quincy Carpenter, on who the book “Final Girls” is centered, became the only survivor of killer, Joe Hannen’s deadly rampage. The incident, in which five of her college friends perished, was dubbed the ‘Pine Cottage Murders.’ Ten years later, Quincy lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend, Jeff. He is a lawyer in the public defender’s office, and she spends her days working on her successful blog, where she provides her readers recipes and photographs of baked desserts she makes. She has claimed, since the traumatic events of Pine Cottage occurred, that she can’t remember much of what took place, and she has steadfastly stuck to that story. In order to cope with anxiety, and any uncomfortable thoughts that begin to enter her mind, she takes Xanax. The only bad behavior she seems to engage in, at least at the start of the novel, is that she steals. For example, she takes a woman’s iPhone off of a table at a diner because she likes how shiny it looks. Quincy has a locked drawer in her kitchen, filled with other stolen objects that she has taken. Furthermore, she relies on the friendship of Coop, the police officer who came to her rescue the evening of the massacre. He is seemingly willing to forgo whatever he is doing at any given time, and come to visit Quincy in person, or speak to her on the phone, if she needs his advice.

In addition to the ‘Pine Cottage Massacre’ being the event Quincy is best known for, the media have dubbed her a ‘final girl.’ The name is taken from movies such as “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street,” where final girls, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), are the only female survivors of the onslaught that has taken the lives of their friends. In Riley Sager’s novel, there is not one, but three final girls, that he writes about; the other two were involved in equally horrific events.

The catalyst for Sager’s psychological thriller is the death of final girl, Lisa Milner, who years earlier had survived knife wielding madman, Stephen Leibman, who cut up nine of Lisa’s fellow sorority sisters at the college she was attending in Indiana.  She has been found in her bathtub, the apparent cause of death is suicide. Prior to taking her own life, Lisa had become an author and child psychologist. Additionally, she was always available to help other women that were dealing with trauma. The incident prompts Samantha Boyd, the other surviving final girl, who thwarted the plans of Calvin Whitmer – The Sack Man – while working the evening shift at the Nightlight Inn located in Tampa, Florida. She has been a recluse for years, but has come out of hiding to seek out Quincy in New York City. The two make for, at times, a combustible duo. In addition, Sam seems fixated on having Quincy open up about her past regarding what took place at Pine Cottage. (As an aside: This is Sager’s first novel published under the name Riley Sager, a pseudonym for author, Todd Ritter, a fact which the author confirmed on Twitter in 2017)

One of the aspects of the novel that I found the most appealing was, that rather than focusing the narrative on the abhorrent crimes, Sager opts to concern himself with the aftermath of the events. He is more interested in exploring where his characters are post tragedy, especially Quincy, and how the women are dealing with, or trying to forget the past. I am not suggesting that if you read the book, you won’t learn what took place for each of the final girls – you will; but that is not the main premise of the novel.

Does Quincy really have repressed memories about what happened at Pine Cottage? Is she an unreliable narrator, who is purposely keeping something secret to protect herself, or someone else? Why is Samantha Boyd insistent that Quincy remember her past? What purpose would it serve? Did Lisa Milner commit suicide, or was she the victim of murder? Those questions and more will be answered by the novel’s conclusion.

“Final Girls” was published on July 11, 2017  by Dutton, which is part of Penguin Random House.  Sager’s 352 page novel is well paced and contains a good deal of suspense. There were several times when I thought the story was headed toward a particular reveal, only to have Sager write a twist, that changed my thinking. The ending, for instance, was one that I didn’t see coming, and I was glad not to have figured it out before the last pages. The interactions between Quincy and Sam helped to keep me guessing until the end. I will stop the review here because I don’t want to give any more specific plot reveals, they would only serve to ruin the novel for those of you who want to read it. In addition to holding my interest throughout, I’ll reiterate, that I thought “Final Girls” offered an interesting premise to a genre, that can at times, be saturated with too many formulaic offerings.

 

 

 

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“Horror at the Cecil Hotel”

The Cecil Hotel, located at 640 S. Main Street in central Los Angeles, first opened its doors in 1924. The hotel, at the time, primarily catered to business people, and it is generally regarded by historians as having been a fine establishment that served the needs of the business community. These days, the Cecil Hotel is the last place a respectable business person would want to stay, and is about as far removed as an individual can get from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. The 700 room hotel has approximately 100 permanent residents. The remainder of the rooms are rented out by the week, day, and often by the hour. The denizens that populate the hotel, or make use of its rooms, for the most part, consist of prostitutes, drug users and sellers, and the downtrodden. The Cecil Hotel is a place where questions are not asked, as people go about their business. In addition, it has also been described by some as a magnet for evil; a topic which ID (Investigative Discovery) television examines during its three part special on the Cecil Hotel, and several of its guests and mysterious deaths.

The first episode deals with two occupants that lived for a period of time in room 1402 of the hotel. The first was notorious serial killer, Richard Ramirez, A.K.A. “The Night Stalker.” Ramirez was a remorseless murderer, rapist, and avowed Satanist, who would, through his series of brutal crimes, cause widespread panic and fear in the greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas from April 10, 1984 until his capture on August 31, 1985. After a lengthy trial, that concluded in 1989, Ramirez was convicted of 13 murders, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary. He was sentenced to death, and sent to San Quentin Prison, but due to his legal appeals, lived for years on death row, before dying of B-cell lymphoma on June 7, 2013.

Austrian writer and journalist, Jack Unterweger became obsessed with Richard Ramirez and the extremely repugnant life he had lived. He convinced a magazine that he did work for, to send him to California, to write a freelance piece on crime and Ramirez, and the magazine agreed to the assignment. Unterweger reserved room 1402, a month in advance of his trip. In fact, he wouldn’t agree to stay in any other room in the hotel; he needed to feel that he was in the presence of Ramirez.

While in Los Angeles, Unterweger arranges to ride along with LAPD Detective Leary, who shows him the seedier side of Los Angeles, as well as introduces him to some members of its criminal element; he’s even taken to the crime scene of a murdered prostitute. Furthermore, Unterweger talks to whoever will give him the time of day, that was living at the Cecil during the time Ramirez rented a room there. During a conversation with long-time resident Billy Flynn, the man tells Unterweger about how very strange things happened at the hotel. For example, Flynn talks about the mysterious and sudden murder of a sweet woman, which took place in 1982.  According to Flynn, everyone liked the woman; she was the type of person who wouldn’t harm anyone. Unterweger follows up on Flynn’s statement, by asking him what year he (Flynn) moved into the hotel – Flynn’s answer – 1982.

During his time in Los Angeles, Unterweger reads every article that was published about Ramirez during his reign of terror; everything he is doing, he claims, is under the guise of writing an article that will be as authentic as can be. Does Unterweger, however, have a more sinister agenda in mind? How far is he willing to take things in order to feel as close to his subject as possible?

The second episode, “The Girl in the Water Tank,” in my opinion, was the most interesting of the three episodes, because it presents a mystery that has still not been solved – perhaps never will be – and has ignited a number of conspiracy theories as to what actually took place. The episode centers on first generation, Canadian, Elisa Lam, the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong. The twenty-one year old, Lam, arrived in Los Angeles on January 28, 2013 – it was her first ever trip alone. As soon as she checked into the Cecil Hotel, she realized she had made a mistake. Low on funds, and wanting to make the best of her time in California, where she didn’t know anyone, she decided to grin and bear it. When her parents, whom she spoke to everyday on the phone, asked her about her accommodations, in order to assuage their concerns, she lied and told them that where she was staying was safe. The fact that Lam talked to her parents everyday was one of the ways they knew something was wrong, after not hearing from her for a several days. She also wrote a daily travel blog, that also hadn’t been worked on, which was not the norm for Lam. The last time Lam was known to be alive was on January 31, 2013.

Upon entering Lam’s room, investigating detectives, Brooks and Ryan, discovered no signs of foul play. Additionally, Lam’s computer, purse, and watch were all in the room; the only thing of note that was missing was her cell phone. In an attempt to find her, the detectives began to search all fifteen floors of the hotel, and questioned everyone they could; no one was able to provide answers. On February 19, 2013, the search for Lam came to an end, when her naked body was discovered floating in one of the hotel’s water tanks. The fact that she was on the roof of the hotel, dead in one of the water tanks, immediately landed suspicion on hotel employees. Access to the door to the roof was alarmed, and a key card was needed to open it. Detectives asked for, and received, all of the surveillance video from the hotel cameras, from the time of Lam’s stay at the hotel. The detectives were informed, however, by a member of staff, that a number of the cameras didn’t work, and were merely kept in place as a deterrent to crime. The footage detectives were able to view, that captured Lam on what was possibly the last evening of her life, only served to help deepen the mystery as to how she died.

The third and final episode, “Intertwined,revolves around an event that occurred outside of the hotel on October 12, 1962. A delivery driver, on his regular route, discovers two dead bodies: The body of married, twenty-seven year old, Pauline Otten, who was on top of the body of sixty-five year old, widower, George Gianinni; a great deal of blood was present near the bodies. The coroner would state in his report that Pauline died from broken bones, internal injuries and a skull fracture, while George died from a broken neck.

At first, it appears to veteran Detective Salazar, and his rookie partner, Detective Duffy, as if both individuals had fallen or had been pushed out of a ninth floor window, but by who? Naturally, the focus of the detectives’ investigation begins with Pauline’s husband, Dewey. He admits that he had gone to her room at the hotel to confront Pauline about their marital difficulties, but insists that when he left her, she was fine, and that he had nothing to do with her or George’s death.

During their investigation, detectives can’t find any evidence linking Pauline and George, as having had anything to do with one another prior to their deaths. In the end, the most unlikely piece of evidence solves the crime, and it had to have been a major relief to Detective Salazar. As it turns out, when Salazar was a rookie detective, the first case he was ever assigned to took place on January 15, 1947. On that date, the murdered and mutilated body of Elizabeth Short, who is more commonly referred to as The Black Dahlia,’ was discovered. Though numerous leads as to the identity of her killer were brought to the attention of investigators, no one was ever arrested or charged with the crime. The decades old mystery, as to who killed and dismembered her, remains unsolved. In an eerie turn of events, historical research has confirmed that Elizabeth Short was a frequent visitor to the bar at the Cecil Hotel, and in fact, it was the last place she was ever seen alive.

For those of you who are fans of the FX show “American Horror Story,” you most likely know that the Hotel Cortez, the main location used in season five of the series, took its inspiration from the Cecil Hotel. Commenting, amongst others, throughout the three episodes, are: true crime author and journalist, Frank C. Girardot Jr; author and former LA Times editor, Larry Harnisch; LAPD Detective Supervisor, Sal LaBarbera; LA Weekly writer and crime historian, Hadley Meares; FBI special agent and profiler, Gregg McCrary; and author and crime historian, Joan Renner. The three episodes held my interest throughout, and prompted me to go on-line, to look further into certain pieces of information that were mentioned during the series. For those of you who are interested in true crime, as well as the implausibility of how crimes are sometimes solved, you will more than likely find watching the three episodes to be interesting viewing.

 

 

 

 

 

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“A Quiet Place”

The tension filled, suspenseful film, “A Quiet Place,” centers on the Abbott family: the father, Lee, portrayed by three time Emmy nominee, John Krasinski (The Office); Lee’s wife, Evelyn, played by Golden Globe winner, Emily Blunt (Gideon’s Daughter), and their two children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), and Marcus (Noah Jupe). The family is living in a farmhouse, in a secluded area, in the woods of New York. Lacking any expositional back-story – other than a title card which reads ‘day 89’ –  the reason for the Abbott family’s behavior is that the human population has seemingly been decimated, thanks to sharp jawed, alien-type creatures, who while not having the ability to see, have powerful claws, move exceptionally fast, and can hunt very effectively due to their extraordinary hearing. (As an aside: Millicent Simmonds communicates through sign-language, since a medication overdose left her deaf from the time of her infancy. In addition to playing a married couple on screen, Blunt and Krasinski are a real-life married couple. They wed in Como, Italy on July 10, 2010).   

The aforementioned, regarding the creatures, is made known to the viewer through the use of newspaper clippings that are shown throughout the film’s 90 minute runtime. Further making the point of just how deadly the creatures are, and the imperative need for silence, is the opening scene of the film, where the family is gathering provisions at an abandoned supermarket. The Abbott family originally consisted of five members, but their son, Beau (Cade Woodward), thanks to noise made by a toy, incurs the wrath of the creatures during the opening minutes of the film. Beau had played with the toy at the store, only to have it removed from his grasp. He manages, however, to sneak it out of the store, but on the way home, while crossing a bridge, the toy makes noise, leading to his demise. After the tragedy with Beau ensues, the film moves ahead to over a year later, where a pregnant, Evelyn, is a short time away from giving birth.

As a viewer, knowing a bit about what the movie dealt with before watching it, I became more consumed with listening for sounds, than actually paying attention to what was being shown on the screen. For example, items that make noise, that no one would ever think could cause enough sound to become problematic, like pieces for the Monopoly board game have to be replaced by stitched together pieces, so the game can be played. The slightest noise, in the world the Abbott’s now live in, can be, as shown with the scene involving Beau, the difference between life and death. The family’s communication is relegated to mainly sign language and whispering, and their movements find them walking around barefoot, and on top of purposely placed trails of sand.

The newspaper clippings serve a dual purpose, they are there for more than just imparting a bit of knowledge to the viewer. Lee is using them as a means of trying to find out what can cause the creatures harm. He is a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his family, and that includes his newborn, as he goes about constructing a soundproof bunker for Evelyn to give birth in. Additionally, the family is making efforts to contact other survivors of the creatures, by, for example, sending out S.O.S. messages using Morse code.

Despite being a box-office success, the film was made for an estimated budget of seventeen million dollars and has already grossed over one-hundred million, the movie does have its detractors. There are those who point to the film’s faulty logic. For example, the creatures have exceptional hearing abilities, but can’t for some reason, make out sounds made near a crashing waterfall. Additional critics of the film weren’t impressed by the use of what they felt were standard, horror jump scares brought to cinematic life by loud noise. The fact that viewers never learn where the creatures originated from – by what means they arrived on the planet – and why they have decided to wipe out humanity in the first place, also didn’t sit well with certain viewers; and that’s fine, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This film, in my opinion, is better enjoyed when it is just taken as it is. I know that the lack of explanation and the plot holes are present but to my way of thinking, this is not the sort of film that needs to be overanalyzed. The movie does, however, raise a few interesting questions for a viewer to ponder upon its conclusion: What would you do if placed in a similar predicament? How long do you think you could survive in a world where sound needs to become virtually non-existent in order to keep living?

“A Quiet Place” had its premier on March 9, 2018 at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. In addition to co-starring in the film, John Krasinski, wrote the screenplay for the movie with Scott Beck (Haunt) and Bryan Woods (Her Summer), based on a story written by Beck and Woods. The movie is parts drama – horror – Sci-Fi and thriller. The film, while containing minimal gore, does have its fair share of intense moments that are bolstered by the score composed by two time Oscar nominee, Marco Beltrami (3:10 to Yuma). Due to the lack of a great deal of dialogue, the cast had to rely on displaying their emotions through what they convey with their eyes and facial gestures, and as a collective whole they more than delivered. Furthermore, the screenwriters created characters that weren’t merely fodder for the creatures to destroy, but people, that viewers could get invested in, and want to see survive.

 

 

 

 

                                     

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“The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille”

When someone is hesitant to get involved in something they believe could be risky, in terms of physical well-being, very often, the allure of money can be a powerful motivator. Thirty-five year old Daniel MacCormick, better known as Mac, is a decorated, U.S. Army combat veteran, who is living a relatively drama free life in Key West, Florida. Instead of facing down enemy combatants in hostile war zones, he captains ‘The Maine,’ a 42 foot charter boat that takes individuals deep sea fishing. After a day’s work, Mac can often be found at ‘The Green Parrot Bar’ escaping into drink, but, financial problems have been cutting into the serene lifestyle he has built up for himself. He’s in debt and needs a considerable amount of money to get out of the red. A possible solution to his financial troubles presents itself in the person of Carlos Macia, a powerful, lawyer, who is based out of Miami, Florida, and is involved with organizations with strong, anti-Castro leanings.

Under the guise of being hired for the ‘Pescando Por la Paz,’ a fishing tournament in Cuba, if Mac agrees to the daring mission put forth to him, and he can successfully pull it off, he will be paid the sum of two million dollars. On the mission, Mac will be joined by the attractive and intelligent, Cuban-American, Sara Ortega. Sara asserts, that she knows, and is the only one who does, thanks to a map she is in possession of, the location of where her grandfather, a former Cuban banker, stashed sixty millions dollars worth of assets and cash, before escaping from Cuba during the revolution. The reason for the urgency to return to Cuba, is that relations between the United States and Cuba have begun to strengthen, and Eduardo Valazquez, a Cuban exile, who is intricately involved in facilitating the mission, is worried that someone else might discover where the treasure is hidden. Before Mac, can set sail for the prospect of financial freedom, he must discuss things with his first mate, Jack Colby. Colby, like Mac, is a war veteran, although, his service took place during the Vietnam War, and he is three plus decades older than Mac. When Jack, despite reservations, agrees to become part of the mission, and an important one at that, things are set into motion.

Mac and Sara’s cover, is their joining of the Yale Group, an educational tour group, led by the knowledgeable, Alison and Tad. The tour group is restricted by a number of rules and regulations put forth from the Cuban government; one of which is, that in order for Americans to be able to keep being permitted to come to Cuba, in pursuit of learning, all members of the group must attend all scheduled events. At the same time Mac and Sara are supposed to be learning about Cuban culture, Jack, will captain the ‘The Maine,’ newly dubbed ‘Fishy Business’ in the tournament. The boat will be vital for getting Mac and Sara, as well as the purported buried treasure out of Cuba, if all goes according to plan. Mac and Sara have already been informed, that they will pretend, for the purposes of the mission, to become romantically involved while on the tour. This will be done, in order to throw off suspicion, if and when, they go off to take care of things of importance for the mission, as well as their eventual disappearance, in order to buy themselves as much time as possible, if the mission can be carried out to fruition.

Throughout the novel, DeMille, who visited Cuba before he began writing the “The Cuban Affair, gives the reader wonderful insight into a world many Americans haven’t seen in decades, or have never been privy to. For example, he paints a picture, in the mind of the reader, by the way in which he describes the nightlife, as well as the old-world, charm of the hotels and restaurants. DeMille, doesn’t romanticize, however, the entire Cuban experience. He incorporates into his work, the palpable tension that the average Cuban citizen lives under, in a, for all intents and purposes, military state, run by a dictator. Life is hard for the average Cuban citizen, worried, that if it appears they have a bit extra, that their neighbor, will inform the police, who will soon be knocking on their door to inquire, why and how they have more than their monthly, government stipend. Additionally, he informs the reader, that negative talk about Fidel Castro, is something that is not tolerated under any circumstances, and is an offense for which a person can be arrested. For that matter, Mac and Sara, are under surveillance from the moment they arrive in Cuba, making their mission even more perilous. The two of them, in particular, have attracted the attention of Antonio, their ‘on-the-take’, Cuban tour guide, who is willing to ignore his communist ideals, whenever the situation will benefit him.

Will Mac and Sara make it out of Cuba, with the money, their lives, or both? Is Jack able to successfully keep up the ruse of being a competitor in the ‘Pescando Por la Paz,’ tournament? Does a mysterious stowaway aboard the ship, whose presence is only discovered after the boat has reached Cuban waters, put everyone’s safety in jeopardy? Is the mission completely about the sixty million dollars in assets, or is there an ulterior motive at work, for those who planned it? All of those questions and more will be answered by the novel’s end.

In closing, I felt “The Cuban Affair” to be engaging, suspenseful, well-written, and for me at least, a real page turner. The novel kept me awake at night, wanting to find out what would happen next, even as the clock on my iPhone, kept letting me know, that the next work day was rapidly approaching. I, not only, enjoyed the clever twists and turns that DeMille weaved into the story, but I also appreciated the authenticity that DeMille injected into the book, as well as his wit and humor, which on occasion broke up the pulse-pounding pace of what was transpiring.

 

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“The Brothers McMullen”

“The Brothers McMullen” focuses on the lives of three Irish-American brothers, and the struggles they have in their respective relationships with the women in their lives. The brothers were born and raised on Long Island, New York, and all three find themselves, toward the start of the film, living in their married brother Jack’s house. The sarcastic Barry, portrayed by Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan), is a screenwriter, who, as of late, has been lacking the inspiration to write, much to the chagrin of his agent, Marty (Peter Johansen). The youngest of the three brothers, the earnest Patrick, played by Michael McGlone (Person of Interest), is afraid of having to confront the realities of the real world, now that he has graduated from college. As he tells Barry, he never even gave any thought to having to move out of his dorm room. Adding extra pressure on the recent college grad, is his relationship to his Jewish girlfriend Susan (Shari Albert). From all outward appearances, life seems to be looking up for Patrick. Susan’s father has purchased the couple a Manhattan apartment in a good neighborhood, and has guaranteed Patrick a job at his company, but Patrick feels conflicted regarding his relationship with Susan, and the generosity of her father; not knowing if she, and the job, is what he wants for the rest of his life. Complicating matters is that Patrick has been talking with his high school crush, and friend, Leslie (Jennifer Jostyn). She plans to save up enough money to buy a vintage car she’s had her eyes on, and drive to California. The eldest brother Jack, played by Jack Mulcahy (Porky’s), seemingly, has it all together. He and his wife Molly, whom, he has been married to for five years, both work as educators. In addition, Jack coaches the high school basketball team, and has been attending sports management classes at the NYU School of Professional Studies. However, when Molly reminds Jack, near the beginning of the film, that he promised her they would begin to try and have children when she turned thirty, which she has recently done, Jack isn’t thrilled with the prospect of becoming a father. In fact, he comes up with numerous reasons why now is not the right time for them to start a family.

The film, initially introduces the viewer to the majority of the films’ characters at a birthday party for Molly. She is an intelligent and understanding woman, portrayed, in her film debut, by 4-time, Emmy nominee Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights). An additional character, Ann (Elizabeth McKay), is also in attendance at the party. She is a woman that Barry invited, but whom he has no interest in getting involved in a relationship with. At first, what could be merely a filler character, for one scene in the film, winds up playing a more important part, than a viewer might first expect.

Time and again, the brothers’ Catholic roots are brought up, and are interjected into what is transpiring on screen. Patrick, especially, comes across as a staunch believer, but yet he has been giving in to his primal urges with Susan for years, albeit with a good helping of guilt. Jack, who is very much in love with Molly, can’t help wanting to know what it would be like to sleep with Ann. When Ann lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that he is welcome to act on whatever he’s thinking, he struggles to resist, but will he be able to keep his desires in check? Barry, while out apartment shopping, meets an aspiring actress, Audrey (Maxine Bahns) and instantaneously is attracted to her. In addition to not getting the apartment in his price range that he was after, Audrey rejects Barry’s attempts to get her to join him for a drink, by lying to him that she’s married. The two will cross paths again in the movie. The question is, if Audrey is willing to give Barry a chance, will he be ready to commit to one person? Could his burgeoning career, that has recently attracted the interest of Hollywood, deter him from fully investing himself in his relationship with Audrey?

In addition to his role as Barry, which was his film debut, “The Brothers McMullen” was written for the screen, and also marked the directorial debut of Edward Burns. Premiering on January 21, 1995 at the Sundance Film Festival, the film would go on to co-win the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature, sharing the award with “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook,” directed by Emmy nominee Benjamin Ross (RKO 281). The majority of the film’s 98 minute runtime was shot during  weekends, over the course of an eight month period, at Edward Burns’ mother’s house. In addition, Burns’ father, who is credited as an executive producer on the film, and rightly so, gave his son $10,000 toward the film’s estimated $25,000 budget. (As an aside: Edward Burns, who back in 1995 worked as a PA at Entertainment Tonight, was able to give Oscar winner Robert Redford (Ordinary People) a copy of the film, while the two men were riding in an elevator, after Redford had made an appearance on the show.  After some very convincing begging on Burns’ part, Redford took the tape, and watched it, and after viewing and liking the film, he entered into  Sundance).

Parts comedy, drama, and romance, at its center, the film doesn’t hit any false notes in regard to its characters. The brothers and the women in their lives are real individuals, who Burns allows to express themselves in believable, everyday dialogue. I appreciated the fact that he kept the characters’ flaws, circumstances, and the conflicts they dealt with, grounded in reality. Burns doesn’t linger on any one storyline for too long, allowing all three brothers to get their time on screen, as they’re working through their individual issues. The film, at its core, is a morality play, and as previously mentioned, is very grounded in the reality of most everyday relationships, and the choices people must make to keep their current relationship; or for their betterment, or the betterment of the person they are involved with, move on to  someone else. I hadn’t seen the film in a number of years, and was glad I decided to give it a re-watch.

 

 

 

 

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“Annihilation”

The intricate and thought-provoking film, “Annihilation, centers on Lena, portrayed in a versatile manner by Oscar winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan). She is a professor, biologist, and former seven year veteran of the armed forces. While in-route to get Kane, her husband, played by Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac (Show Me a Hero) much needed medical attention, the ambulance they are riding in is chased off the road by several SUVs. The ambulance is approached by people dressed in military garb, who grab Lena, and one of whom gives her an injection in her neck, rendering her unconscious. When she wakes up, she finds that she has been placed in quarantine by the mysterious Dr. Ventress, a psychologist who is in charge of what is known as Area X; in the role of Ventress is, Oscar nominee, Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight).   

In time Lena, will learn that where she is, is only a short distance from an electromagnetic field, which has been named the ‘shimmering.’ The shimmering is a phenomenon that was first created when a meteorite stuck a lighthouse along America’s southern coastline, and it has been steadily growing for the past three years. Kane, who had returned to her, after he had been gone for over a year, had been part of an expedition, one of several, that had gone in to discover what exactly the shimmering is. He was the only one of his unit to return. In fact, he was the only person of any expedition team to come back. Only theories exist as to what the expedition teams encounter once they travel into the shimmering; due to scrambling interference, all communication with the previous teams was lost once they had traveled inside.

In an effort to discover what has made Kane so ill, so she can perhaps save her husband, Lena volunteers to be a part of the next expedition team that will venture into the shimmering. She will be joined by: Dr. Ventress; anthropologist and surveyor, Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny); emotionally driven, paramedic, Anya Thorensen, played by Golden Globe winner Gina Rodrigues (Jane the Virgin); and physicist, the highly intelligent, but depressed and self-harming, Josie Radek, in a role acted by BAFTA nominee Tessa Thompson (Creed). What took place once the women journeyed inside the shimmering, and what their fates were, are told via flashback. From the outset of the film, Portman’s Lena, is being interrogated by a man named Lomax (Benedict Wong), who, along with everyone else listening to Lena’s story, is wearing a bio-hazard suit. Through Lena’s memories, viewers learn that the further the team traveled into the shimmering, the more perilous danger they were placed in. For example, the team is confronted by creatures such as a bear, that has had its DNA altered beyond its normal genetic code. Furthermore, the women experience time and memory loss.

“Annihilation” was written for the screen and directed by Oscar nominee Alex Garland (Ex Machina). The film is based, in part, on the first novel of the same name, written by Jeff VanderMeer for his “Southern Reach” trilogy. The movie was released simultaneously in the US and Canada on February 23, 2018. BAFTA winner, Cinematographer, Tom Hardy’s (Boy A) vibrant visuals are a standout of the film, and in essence, serve as an another character. Additionally, amongst the numerous people that helped Garland bring his cinematic vision to life, is the well-executed work of  production designer, BAFTA nominee, Mark Digby (Slumdog Millionaire). Furthermore, the, at times, eerie sounding score, composed by Geoff Barrow (Ex Machina) and Ben Salisbury (Black Mirror), synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen.

Viewers who want a clear cut explanation of the reason for the existence of the shimmering before the conclusion of the film’s 115 minute runtime will be disappointed.  During the course of the film, all of the reasons behind why particular things happen are not given absolute clarity, thereby allowing viewers to speculate as to the reason behind the appearance of the mysterious electromagnetic field which, according to Dr. Ventress, if not stopped, will continue to grow until it overtakes everything. Certain viewers might be put off by the film’s slow pace, expecting more of an action packed, science-fiction based movie. While it certainly won’t be a film enjoyed by all, I found, the world Garland constructed inside the shimmering, and the overall film in general, to be intriguing and mysterious, and something which held my interest from start to finish.

 

 

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