“I Am Your Father – Documentary About Darth Vader Actor David Prowse”

One evening, while eating dinner, Toni Bestard and Marcos Cabota, two fanatical, Star Wars fans from Spain, who also happen to be filmmakers, formulated a plan. They came to a mutual determination that despite their deep love for everything that pertains to a galaxy far, far, away, something about the third of the original films in the trilogy, “Return of the Jedi, directed by Richard Marquand, didn’t sit right with them. They were disappointed that actor David Prowse, whose physically imposing presence was used as the body of iconic villain, Darth Vader (James Earl Jones provided the Sith Lord’s voice), was not used when it came time to take Vader’s helmet and mask off. Instead of seeing Proswe’s face, Marquand opted to use actor Sebastian Shaw (The Spy in Black). The two decided that evening that, for their next project, they would make a documentary about Prowse. A short time later, Bestard and Cabota travelled to London to meet with Prowse. Wanting to turn a slight into a positive, the filmmakers set out to not only make a documentary about the actor, but to get him to agree to reshoot the scene he never got to be in. (As an aside: Prowse won the British heavyweight weightlifting championship for three consecutive years starting in 1962. Additionally, he represented England in weightlifting at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, which were held in Perth, Australia).

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At first Prowse was hesitant to take part in the reshoot. He had no interest in catching the ire of Lucasfilm Ltd, or getting Bestard, Cabota, and the crew that worked for them in trouble. The filmmakers assured Prowse that as much as they wanted to, the scene would never be shown to the general public. They let Prowse know that they didn’t have the money to fight Lucasfilm Ltd  if, and more than likely when, they would be sued for copyright violation.

One of the more interesting stories, that was discussed from various points-of-view, was that Prowse had allegedly leaked to a journalist at the Daily Mail newspaper in 1977, the then, secret information, that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. As the film proves, the rumors turned out to be false. The filmmakers went to the original reporter, who stated point blank, that Prowse never said anything to him.

For those unfamiliar with David Prowse, the documentary talks about his other career highlights. In addition to appearing in the three films that comprise the original Star Wars trilogy: Episode IV: A New Hope –  Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, as of the writing of this post, Prowse has sixty-nine credits to his name. Prowse’s more notable roles include the Hammer horror films “The Horror of Frankenstein” and “Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.” He worked with BAFTA winning director, Stanley Kubrick in the film “A Clockwork Orange,” as well as having appeared in two episodes of the long running British science-fiction television series “Doctor Who.” Prowse also spent fourteen years portraying a character called the Green Cross Code Man, in a series of road safety informational films produced by the UK Department of the Environment that were shown on television between 1975 and 1990. Additionally, he visited schools as the character, in order to help teach children the importance of road safety. In 2014, Prowse revised his role as the Green Cross Code Man for two short films. This time the safety campaign was aimed at adults, and the dangers of using cell phones and other electronic devices, instead of paying attention to traffic. (As an aside: Prowse originally auditioned for the part of Superman in the 1978 film of the same name, directed by Richard Donner. While he didn’t get the role, he was hired to work as Christopher Reeve’s personal trainer).

“I am Your Father” premiered on October 10, 2015 at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Those providing commentary throughout the duration of the film’s 83 minutes includes, amongst others: actor Kenny Baker, who played the beloved droid R2-D2 in the first six “Star Wars” films, as well the Star Wars holiday television special, and also appeared as R2-D2 on “The Muppet Show;” Jeremy Bulloch, who portrayed Boba Fett, the bounty hunting thorn in Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo’s side, until Fett met a very unflattering end; former competitive bodybuilder, and television’s Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno; as well as two time Academy Award nominee, producer and assistant director, Gary Kurtz (Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back). In closing, while those who don’t have an affinity for Star Wars might find some of what is discussed to be of interest, the documentary will appeal particularly to those of you, who can’t get enough of the universe George Lucas created.

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“The Witch”

“So much has been made of the authenticity…and of course that’s important to me, but authenticity for the sake of authenticity doesn’t really matter. To understand why the witch archetype was important and interesting and powerful—and how was I going to make that scary and alive again—we had to go back in time to the early modern period when the witch was a reality. And the only way I was going to do that, I decided, was by having it be insanely accurate.”

                                                          Dave Eggers

The impressive and tension filled debut film “The Witch, written and directed by Dave Eggers, centers on the struggles and supernatural incidents that happen to a Puritan family in New England in 1630. The opening of the film finds the family having been brought in front of a tribunal. The reason for this, the patriarch of the family, has a staunch difference of opinion regarding how the members of the community are adhering to religious doctrine; he finds it to be lax. Unwilling to change his mindset, he and his family are ordered by the Governor (Julian Richings) to leave the relative safety of the community, and venture out on their own.

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The family consists of the parents, William, a stubborn and prideful farmer played by Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones), and his emotionally, fragile wife, Katherine, who is portrayed by BAFTA winner, Kate Dickie  (Red Road). The couple’s youngest child is the baby, Samuel (Axtun Henry Dube & Athan Conrad Dube); their oldest son is the pre-teen, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw). In addition, there are the mischievous twins, Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson), as well as the couple’s oldest child, and the main protagonist of the film, the misunderstood, Thomasin. The part of Thomasin is acted in a very effective manner by Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan). Even though she is on the cusp of  becoming a full grown woman, her role in life, for all intents and purposes, is marginalized; a byproduct of the time period. She is expected to fervently pray, help raise her siblings, and work tirelessly at her chores. She can count on being married off in the near future, and begin bearing her own children soon thereafter.

The majority of the film’s 92 minute duration is confined to one isolated location – the family’s cabin and farm – which is situated on the edge of a foreboding woods. An incident involving Thomasin, is the catalyst, which propels the film from the everyday mundane of the family’s existence, into the eerie occurrences that transpire during the remainder of the movie. While playing a game of peek-a-boo near the edge of the woods, Thomasin shuts her eyes for what amounts to no more than a second. When she opens them, Samuel has vanished, leaving her with no indication of who or what might have taken him. The viewer soon learns he has been taken by an elderly lady. From this one incident, and throughout the film, Thomasin will be the family’s scapegoat for all their ills. In between not sleeping, wanting William to take the family back to the community they’ve left, and reciting countless prayers for her missing child, Katherine lashes out at her daughter. Additionally, her twin siblings accuse her of having made a deal with the devil, after she facetiously told them she had, when she was angry with them. If anyone is keeping company with the devil, it would appear to be the twins, who enjoy spending time with Black Phillip, a creepy looking goat. William doesn’t chastise Thomasin to the same degree Katharine does, but he also offers her little in the way of comfort; opting instead to chop what appears to be an endless supply of firewood. The only member of the family who is seemingly on her side is Caleb. His hormones, however, are starting to awaken certain desires within his mind and body, and, due to the fact that there is no one around for miles, except his family, he appears to be developing an unnatural attraction for Thomasin.

The barren land, which is unable to produce sustainable crops for the family to eat, William’s inability to hunt sizeable game, and Samuel’s disappearance, are not immediately attributed to a witch who lives and dwells in the woods. The reason for the hesitancy, especially on William’s part, to accept that a witch is the cause of the family’s misfortune, is that people during the time period the film takes place, absolutely believed in the validity of the existence of such a being, and the witches power to cause harm. If a witch is the cause of the family’s problems, William knows that he, his wife, and his children are in grave danger. As the film progresses it becomes clear that the witch, while tormenting the entire family, is focusing its energy on Thomasin. The questions is: Is the family’s eldest daughter being targeted because the witch wants to do her a special sort of harm, or does she want to free Thomasin from the oppressive life she is currently living and seems destined to continue to have to endure?

Will William decide he has made a serious error in judgment? Does he ask the members of the community to have mercy on his family and allow them to rejoin the community? Is Samuel ever found? Do other members of the family get abducted by the witch, or worse, die at her hands? Will Thomasin be seduced by the power of the witch or will she opt to side with her family despite their mistreatment of her? I wouldn’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t yet the seen the film, and want to, by answering those questions. Suffice it to say, all of the answers and more will be provided by the film’s conclusion.

“The Witch” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2015. Robert Eggers won the Directing Award at the festival, and the movie was also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.  The score by Mark Korven (The Border) works perfectly with what is transpiring on screen. Credit must also be given to cinematographer, Jarin Blaschke (Fray), who frames the film in a style that mirrors the desperation and isolation that the family is going through. The film is not going to appeal to everyone. Eggers opted to focus on atmosphere, mood and dread, as opposed to jump scares and gore. Furthermore, Eggers took much of the dialogue of the film straight from historical accounts. For those of you who like the genres of horror and mystery, especially when a less is more approach is taken, you will more than likely find the film to be thought-provoking and entertaining.

 

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“Sing Street – A Gem From Ireland”

Set in Dublin, Ireland in 1985, “Sing Street” is a coming of age film which comprises the genres of comedy, drama, music and romance. At the start of the movie, the life of the main protagonist of the film, fifteen year old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), seemingly changes overnight. Conor’s parents Robert and Penny, who are played by BAFTA nominee Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones) and Maria Doyle Kennedy (Orphan Black), are struggling financially, and are on the cusp of separating. In order to help alleviate their burden, Conor’s parents make the decision to take him out of private school. He will now be attending the Synge Street Boys School run by the Christian Brothers. Conor soon learns that his new classmates are a bit more of the rough and tumble variety, and the oppressive headmaster, Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), doesn’t have a high tolerance for much of anything. For example, the school has a policy, in which students are only permitted to wear black dress shoes. Conor, not knowing the rule in advance, purchased a different color, and doesn’t have the money to buy a new pair of shoes. Baxter instructs Connor to remove his shoes before leaving his office, and proceeds to have him walk around in his socks for the entire school day, including outside, where puddles have formed from the rain. Adding insult to injury, Connor is almost immediately harassed and assaulted by the school bully, Barry (Ian Kenny).

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All, as it turns out, is not somber for Conor. While standing outside the entrance to the school, across the street, he spots a teenage girl smoking a cigarette. He feels an instant attraction to the mysterious girl with the hoop earrings and teased up hair. Her name is Raphina (Lucy Boynton). The viewer will learn that she has aspirations of moving to London to become a model. At the start of the film, the sixteen year old is living at a home for girls because her father has been killed in an accident, and her mother is frequently in-and-out of mental institutions. Not knowing a thing about her, Conor is determined to win Raphina over. He crosses the street, and musters up the courage to ask her if she will be in his band’s music video, in which he is the singer. After a bit of back and forth banter, during which Raphina makes Conor sing a small portion of the song “Take On Me” by the band A-ha, she writes down her phone number in his book. It would seem that things are improving for Conor. The main problem he has after his conversation with Raphina, is, that in actuality, he’s not part of a band.

Conor sets out with his new school friend, the diminutive, Darren (Ben Carolan), who appoints himself manager of the non-existent band, to get the needed members. The first person they go to, to inquire if he is interested, is the rabbit loving, Eamon (Mark McKenna), who turns out to be the perfect choice. Eamon, whose father is in a cover band, has learned to play a variety of musical instruments, which he has easy access to in his house. Furthermore, he likes to write songs, so it doesn’t take much convincing to get him to join. Provided he doesn’t give up his Saturday job stocking shelves, a non-negotiable as far as his mother (Marcella Plunkett) is concerned, the band can practice at his house. Rounding out the rest of the members of the band is the keyboard player Ngig (Percy Chamburuka), the bass player Larry (Conor Hamilton) and the drummer Garry (Karl Rice). At first, the group which names themselves “Sing Street, mimic the sounds of bands they collectively admire, for instance Duran Duran and The Cure. As the film progresses, however, and Conor and Eamon work on original songs, the sound of the band changes to become more their own distinct style. Conor manages to follow through on his plans to have Raphina star in his band’s music video. The day of the video shoot, the five band members are dressed in an eclectic assortment of garb, which includes the bassist Larry, outfitted as a cowboy replete with a pair of prop vampire fangs. After Raphina applies makeup to their faces, the video for the band’s original song “The Riddle of the Model” is shot by Darren on a large VHS camera.

While Connor’s sister Ann (Kelly Thornton), who the viewer learns is studying to be an architect, doesn’t get much screen time; his older brother Brendan (Jack Reynor) does. Brendan is a college dropout, who for the most part stays home, smokes hash, listens to music, and contemplates what might have been if he hadn’t given up on his dreams. He is a music aficionado, who has a large LP collection, certain records of which, he has Conor listen to, in order to help his younger brother expand his musical horizons. He also critiques the  band’s first music video, and while he thinks it’s pretty bad, he sees the potential for them to get better. Additionally, he advises that Raphina remain the model for all future videos they shoot. Brendan sees in Conor someone who has raw talent, that molded in the right way, could take his younger brother to heights he could never reach; not the least of which means leaving Ireland for London, and beyond.

How far will Conor and his band be able to pursue their musical ambitions? Will Raphina leave for London to achieve her dream of becoming a model? Will she stay because she has wound up falling in love with Conor? What will happen to Brendon? Does he wind up joining Conor, and chasing his own musical dreams? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film’s 106 minute runtime.

“Sing Street” was written and directed by John Carney (Begin Again).  The film premiered on January 24, 2016 at the Sundance Film Festival. I had read a number of wonderful reviews of the film, so when I learned that it had recently been made available for streaming on Netflix, I sat down to watch it a few nights ago. In addition to the cast members, who were all spot on, the soundtrack drives the movie forward at a brisk pace. The character of Conor makes for an identifiable protagonist, especially for anyone who can remember what it was like to be a teenager, and have dreams that never seemed unobtainable, no matter how grandiose. In general, at its center, “Sing Street” is a movie with a great deal of heart, that should appeal to a diverse group of film viewers.

 

 

 

 

 

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“Scream”

There are three sounds a viewer hears when watching the opening scene to the film “Scream:” a heartbeat – a ringing telephone – and the screams of an unknown woman. The telephone is answered by Casey Becker, who is played by Golden Globe winner, Drew Barrymore (Grey Gardens). Her initial exchange, which follows, with the person on the other end of the line is harmless:

Casey: Hello.

Caller: Hello.

Casey: Yes.

Caller: Who is this?

Casey: Who are you trying to reach?

Caller: What number is this?

Casey: Well, what number are you trying to reach?

Caller: I don’t know.

Casey: I think you have the wrong number.

Caller: Do I?

Casey: It happens. Take it easy.

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No sooner does Casey hang up the phone, then it rings again. The same mysterious caller is on the other end of the line. Casey hangs up after some playful banter, and walks to the kitchen to make herself popcorn on the stove, in preparation of sitting down to watch a movie. The phone rings once more, the same caller’s voice can be heard. The conversation of the phone call is innocent enough, revolving around what Casey is doing, and talking about horror movies, but when the following exchange takes place between Casey and the caller, it scares her:

Casey: Why do you want to know my name?

Caller: Because I want to know who I am looking at.

Casey: What did you say?

Caller: I want to know who I am talking to.

Casey: That’s not what you said.

The conversation from that point forward takes a sinister turn, and in the end will result in the grisly murders of Casey, and her boyfriend Steve (Kevin Patrick Walls), who had the misfortune of deciding to come spend time with her that evening. The knife wielding killer’s face is not revealed; he or she, is dressed in a black robe, and opts to hide behind a mask that is a takeoff of the face in Norwegian painter and printmaker, Edvard Munch’s expressionist painting “The Scream.”  The killer, in time, will come to be known as “Ghostface.” The opener, in my opinion, provides a well executed, tension filled scene, that should capture a viewer’s attention for the duration of the 111 minute movie which combines the genres of horror and mystery. (As an aside: It is the  actor, Roger Jackson (Scream 2), who provided the voice of the person whom Barrymore is speaking to during the scene – Jackson is not the person who will later be revealed as the killer).

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Casey and Steve are, in fact, not the main target, that unwanted honor goes to Sydney Prescott. She is a high school girl, portrayed by Neve Campbell (The Craft), who has already had tragedy strike her young life, due to the rape and murder of her mother. The next day at school, Principal Arthur Himbry, played by Henry Winkler (unaccredited) is attempting to soothe the worry of the student body. Sydney finds herself dwelling on everything; the death of Casey and Steve has taken place almost a year to the day since her mother was killed by Cotton Weary, who is played by Emmy & Golden Globe nominee, Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan). Weary has maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest through his conviction and sentencing. (As an aside: Two other actresses were offered the role of Sydney Prescott. Golden Globe nominee Molly Ringwald (The Tempest), a favorite of the screenwriter, turned the part down because she was 27 and didn’t want to play, at her age, a character that was in high school. In addition,  Oscar winner, Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line) turned down the role after it was offered to her. Neve Campbell was not a sure thing to receive the part, even with Ringwald and Witherspoon passing on the role.  Melinda Clarke, Melissa Joan Hart, Melanie Lynskey, Brittany Murphy and Alicia Witt all auditioned for the role before Campbell secured the part).

Sadly for Sydney, it doesn’t take long before someone tries to snuff out her life. Fortunately, luck is on her side, and she manages to keep the killer at bay long enough for the authorities to arrive. Among the members of the Woodsboro Sheriff’s Department is Deputy Dewey (David Arquette). He is the older brother of Sydney’s best friend Tatum, a role acted by Rose McGowan (Charmed). Making matters exponentially worse, Sydney’s boyfriend, Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich), even though he professes his innocence to Sydney claiming that he could never hurt her, is ruled by the Sheriff’s office to be the prime suspect, and has been arrested for attempted murder. In addition, adding to the already overwhelming emotional situation Sydney is contending with is the arrival of Golden Globe nominee Courteney Cox’s (Cougar Town) character, tabloid reporter, Gale Weathers. She had already cashed in on Sydney’s tragedy by writing a tell all book pertaining to the murder of Sydney’s mother, and is the last person Sydney wants to deal with at the moment. A point Sydney drives home, after Gale asks too many questions, and she turns around and punches her in the face.

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Due to a lack of evidence, Billy is let go, and will eventually reunite with Sydney. The murders of Casey and Steve, and the attempted killing of Sydney, are just the beginning. Ghostface strikes a number of times, and despite efforts on the part of the Sheriff’s Department to determine things such as where the mask the killer wears was purchased (every local variety store in the state sells it), and going through phone records, nothing is leading them closer to the killer or killers. In addition to several others who had brief moments of screen time, rounding out the cast of the film is: Joseph Whipp, who played Woodsboro, Sheriff Burke; Matthew Lillard (Scooby-Doo), portraying Billy’s best friend Stu; and video store clerk and move trivia master, Randy, who is played by Jamie Kennedy.

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Trivia buffs take note: In the interest of full disclosure, an entire post could be written on all the trivia pertaining to the “Scream” film. The following are pieces of information I thought the horror film lovers might find the most interesting. The special effects team that worked on “Scream” estimates that they used approximately fifty gallons of corn syrup as a blood substitute during the production. “Scream” is the only film series – four at the writing of this post – that belong to the slasher sub-genre of horror, that has been directed by the same person, Wes Craven. Sadly, since Craven passed away on August 30, 2015, the streak will have to stay at four if a fifth film in the series is produced. Two cameos should be of particular interest to horror film fans: Wes Craven has a brief moment of screen time, playing a janitor named Fred, who is wearing a fedora, as well as a red and green sweater. Linda Blair, known the world over for the classic horror film “The Exorcist,” worked with Wes Craven on the 1978 television film “Stranger in Our House.” She has a few moments of screen time in “Scream” as a reporter who says to Sydney, “People want to know, they have a right to know.”

Who will turn out to be the killer? Is there more than just one? What is the motivation behind the killings? Will the killer triumph in the end or will Sydney and some of her friends get to live on? All of those questions and more, will be answered by the conclusion of the first film in a series that has so far produced three sequels, as well as a television series on MTV.

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“Scream” first arrived in movie theaters almost twenty years ago, after premiering on December 18, 1996 in Los Angeles, California. The film was directed by Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes) and written for the screen by Kevin Williamson (The Following), and it came along at the perfect time. Slasher films had become too over-the-top or cerebral for their own good; Craven and Williamson revitalized the genre by bringing it back to basics. Their decision, in the long run, paid huge dividends financially, and in terms of longevity of the franchise. Pop culture references are mentioned throughout “Scream.” For example, everything from modern day horror classics such as the films “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Halloween” (1978); to BAFTA & Golden Globe winning actress Jaime Lee Curtis’s involvement in genre films; as well as the line where someone confuses directors Wes Craven and John Carpenter by combining their names. I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe and very Happy Halloween.

 

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“The Halloween Girl – A Well Made Short Film With A Twist”

The film opens with three young boys playing a game of catch with a football. Luke (Nicholas Zoto), puts up with some taunting from Billy (Liam Barnett), regarding the lack of his athletic prowess. The other boy, Dom (Michael Dostillio), seems a bit easier going. After Billy and Dom leave the playground, Luke, feeling dejected, walks over to the swing sets, sits down on a swing, and begins to eat candy corns. While sitting, he looks down at the ground and notices in the sand, what appears to be, a partially obscured jacko‘-lantern. No sooner does that happen, then a mysterious, older girl, who has seemingly come out of nowhere, begins speaking to him. She lets Luke know that Billy is nothing special, and that he shouldn’t concern himself with his rude comments.

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Luke remarks that he likes the colors the girl is dressed in, that orange and black are Halloween colors. The two exchange names. The girl Luke is talking to is named Charlotte (Catherine Kustra). He offers her some of his candy corns, which she happily accepts. During their conversation, Luke lets Charlotte know, that one time, he, Billy, and Dom took some candy corn to a graveyard. The reason they did it was  because Billy said that he read in a book that dead people like to eat that type of candy. Billy furthered his fabrication by telling Luke and Dom, that if they left candy corns on the graves of the deceased, that their ghosts might come out and talk to them. Of course, the whole thing was a practical joke arranged by Billy, who was aided by his sister. When Luke expresses to Charlotte that he feels that the dead can probably hear when people speak to them, she replies that the dead probably can hear all kinds of things. The statement seems to disturb Luke a bit, so he tells her he has to go.

Luke arrives home, where he lives with his stressed-out, single mother, Marie (Christie Parker). She informs Luke that he is late. When he apologizes, and tells her he was talking to a girl named Charlotte, who he’s dubbed ‘The Halloween Girl,’ Luke’s mother seems visibly shaken, and almost drops the dinner she was cooking onto the kitchen floor. Marie hastens to change the subject, and instructs Luke to eat his dinner. The scene next shifts to Marie watching television. She is drinking a glass of liquor, and before too long, she falls asleep and has a nightmare. During her unpleasant dream, Luke is calling out to her, to come save him. He goes so far as to say to Marie that she is the only person who can save him. Marie searches for Luke, and while doing so Charlotte appears. The friendly voice she had been talking to Luke in at the playground, is now altered and sounds borderline demonic. Charlotte demands that Marie tell Luke the truth. The truth about what, however, is not specified. Afterward, when Luke and Marie speak, they find that Charlotte appeared in both of their dreams.

The next day a conversation Marie has with her friend Karen (Carol Anne Raffa) during lunch sets up the remainder of the film. Marie confides in Karen, letting her know that Luke once had an older sister. The girl, whose name was Charlotte, was killed by a drunk driver a short time after Luke was born. The date of the accident which claimed her life took place on Halloween. Karen, attempting to be a good friend, tries to assure Marie, that she’s reading into things too much because she’s stressed out about not having a job. While Marie wants to believe that to be the cause of her perpetual anxiety, and tries to move forward with her life, she finds it increasingly difficult. Charlotte is not about to relent, and is haunting Marie at her every turn.

What is the hidden truth that Charlotte wants Marie to tell Luke? Is she Luke’s sister? Is she a sister he never had an opportunity to spend time with and get to know? Is Charlotte angry that Marie hasn’t even told Luke that he once had a sister? Does Marie want to keep Charlotte’s life a secret from Luke, so she doesn’t have to confront the reality of what took place years earlier on Halloween? Why is Charlotte nice to Luke?

“The Halloween Girl” was written and directed by Emmy winner, Richard T. Wilson (Maple Ave). The film had its video premiere on October 1, 2015. The short film is well paced, and comprises the genres of drama and horror. The acting comes across as genuine. Furthermore, the dialogue is not forced, nor riddled with exposition. For me, the best part of the short film, was that it took itself in a direction that I don’t think a great many other films of its kind would have taken. In my opinion, the direction Richard T. Wilson took the film was interesting, entertaining, and didn’t adhere to convention. If you enjoy well made short films, in the horror genre, that are psychological as opposed to offering outright scares, I would suggest investing the under twenty minutes it takes to view the film.

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“Ghost Adventures: Season 13 – Episode 5: Dorothea Puente Murder House”

On October 17, 2008, the long running Travel Channel show “Ghost Adventures” first aired. The reality based show which combines history, Sci-Fi, and thrilling moments was created by Zak Bagans and Nick Groff. Bagans, initially a non-believer in ghosts, changed his mind after his own supposed encounter with one. The ordeal gave him such a fright that it prompted him to team up with Groff to set out to prove that ghosts aren’t a figment of the imagination brought to convincing light by novelists and Hollywood. Bagans is joined on his adventures by fellow investigator Aaron Goodwin, and audio / visual technicians Billy Tolley and Jay Wasley. During each hour long episode, the members of the paranormal investigative team travel to a notoriously haunted locale within the continental United States, or they journey to a foreign country, to document places where repeated sightings of ghosts, or tragic events that are said to be linked to demonic activity have occurred. (As an aside: Nick Groff is no longer part of the show, he left in 2014).  

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The episode begins with “Ghost Adventures” team leader, Zak Bagans walking down a street in Sacramento, California. He is giving background information on Dorothea Puente. He asks the question: “Who would suspect a sweet, little old lady of being a serial killer?” The answer – nobody – until it was already too late. Puente was small in stature, and fifty-eight years of age at the time of her arrest, but she was anything but sweet. Instead, she was a lifelong criminal, who before being charged with multiple murders, had years earlier, among other times she was incarcerated, served three years of a five year prison sentence for drugging a seventy-four year old man, Malcolm McKenzie, and stealing his pension.

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After Puente was released from prison for the crimes she committed against McKenzie, she returned to her pale blue, Victorian home at 1426 F Street in Sacramento. Her house is located just several blocks away from California’s state capitol building. Puente opened up a boarding house for elderly and disabled tenants. Before drugging them with the prescription medication  Dalmane (flurazepam), which was her ‘weapon’ of choice, she read their mail, removed any checks or cash they received from family, and had them sign over their social security checks to her, so she could cash them on their behalf. Puente, who was making upwards of $5,000 a month off her tenants, used the stolen money to, amongst other things, have a plastic surgeon give her a facelift, use a taxi service everywhere she went, buy expensive perfume and dresses, and to create a well stocked bar with top shelf liquor.

Parole agents came to check up on Puente over a dozen times in the two years leading up to her arrest. Despite her being in clear violation of the terms of her release, which stated that she was not allowed to live with elderly and infirm people, or handle government issued checks, she was never taken into custody. The death of Alvaro ‘Bert’ Montoya is what led to her downfall. Montoya was a developmentally disabled and schizophrenic individual, who had a social worker that truly cared about his well being. After Puente paid someone to pretend to be Montoya’s brother-in-law, call the social worker, and leave a message stating he had taken Montoya to live with him out of state, the ruse was up. The man, who Puente paid to fabricate the story, left his real name on the social worker’s answering machine. The social worker, worried and very suspicious, alerted authorities, who after they arrived at Puente’s home and began searching the property, saw that the soil in her yard had been recently moved. Police eventually unearthed the remains of seven bodies. Puente would be charged with the murders of nine people in total. Puente was found guilty of three of the nine murders she was prosecuted for, and sentenced to two life sentences with no possibility of parole. She served her time at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla until her death in 2011; she was 82 years old. (As an aside: The side effects of Dalmane, can cause people to have trouble standing or walking, feel dizzy or tired, and when combined with alcohol, which Puente always gave to her tenants before killing them, it causes a person to have severe problems breathing; a large enough dose can prove to be fatal, especially when taken by an elderly person. The drug enabled Puente to kill without having to contend with too much of a struggle).

The ghost adventures team has been called to the Puente house, where supposed paranormal activity has taken place. The first person that Bagans speaks to is Lead Homicide Detective (Retired), Sgt. John Cabrera. He talks about the bodies that he and his fellow officers dug up in Puente’s yard and how, when he initially struck something with his shovel he mistook it for a tree root, only to discover, upon pulling the obstruction out with his hands, that it was a human femur bone. Next, Cabrera has the cameras follow him to a room in Puente’s house that he has dubbed the ‘death room.’ The room, he informs Bagans, was where Puente would take the bodies’ of her victims in order to get them ready for burial. Years earlier, when he first investigated Puente as a murder suspect, he recalls pulling back the carpeting, and finding the floor boards underneath stained with blood. He speculates that some victims might have remained in the room for several weeks before Puente buried them. This led to neighbors complaining about a rancid smell emanating from Puente’s home, but still the police weren’t alerted to anything until years after the fact. Peggy Holmes, the current occupant, who resides on the first floor of the Puente house, claims to have seen the ghost of Dorothea Puente, which caused her nephew to reach out to the team on her behalf. Holmes, claims she has seen an older woman, with a blood stained nightgown, who also smells of blood, in her room. She says that the woman has a smile on her face, but lacks any kind of warmth in her eyes. Holmes states that recently, the ghostly spirit of Puente was so close to her while she was in her bed, that it could’ve reached out to touch her. Bagans asks Holmes what questions she would like to ask Puente if she is listening. Holmes wants to know the following:

What do you want?

Why are you here?

Using enhanced audio, responses come through for each of the questions, on the device Bagans is holding. In answer to the first question, the response is: “to die.” As to the second question, the reply that comes through the device is: “you’re dead.”

Next, the ghost adventures team is joined by a husband and wife team, who go by the names Michael and Marty. They have been flown in, and are transported to the house while blindfolded. The two are not told where they are being taken, and any sign that the house belonged to Puente has been removed. Michael’s talent, is supposedly being able to communicate with sprits, while his wife, who is able to see the ghost that he is talking to, sketches how the ghost appears. One thing I did find interesting, and of course I have no way of knowing if Michael was tipped off, is that while he claimed to be communicating with the ghost of a man Puente murdered, he reveals information that the police never released to the public. In one portion of the house, there used to be a wall, separating two of the downstairs rooms that has since been removed by the new owner. The ghost claims to be confused because the wall is no longer where he remembers it. Furthermore, when Holmes is shown the sketch that Marty has drawn of the other ghost Michael is trying to communicate with, that of an uncooperative woman, Holmes states that it is who she saw in her bedroom. The sketch is that of Puente, and when taken and superimposed over a picture of Puente from 1985 it lines up.

The remainder of the episode is spent by the team attempting to capture voices of the deceased victims and Puente, using state of the art technology. The equipment includes a microphone which can hear up to 40Hz, which the team had never used prior to the episode. Additionally,  a device – which supposedly allows spirits to select words from a database – is used, as well as an SLS Camera (Structured Light Sensor Camera) which uses an infrared laser grid to visually detect apparitions.

What voice or imagery does the team capture with its equipment? Do the questions they ask the ghosts, line up with the responses they receive? Has the team perhaps discovered that Puente, in fact, murdered more than nine people? Could the true number be as high as fifteen? Are the grisly remains of more poor people yet to be unearthed on the property? (As an aside: In addition to the seven people whose remains were discovered by police on Puente’s property, two of the nine, were dumped elsewhere, including the body of Everson Gillmouth, who was discovered in a wooden coffin, that Puente and a handyman, she was paying off to keep quiet, had placed alongside the Sacramento river).

I have watched a number of “Ghost Adventures” episodes over the years, and I can’t say I ever found any of their shows to be boring. This particular episode was no exception, and held my interest from start to finish.

 


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“The Shallows”

The taut, tension filled, and well-paced film “The Shallows” was written for the screen by Anthony Jaswinski (Kristy), and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Run All Night). The movie centers around a straightforward plot that in no way, at least for me, hampered my enjoyment of the film. Nancy is a medical school dropout, portrayed by Blake Lively (Gossip Girl). She has traveled from her home in Texas with a friend, to spend time at a beach in Mexico that is primarily known only to the locals. The beach holds significance for Nancy, and is not just an exotic spot for her to go surf boarding. Instead, it is a place her mother (Janelle Bailey), who has passed away from cancer, was fond of. Nancy shows pictures, that are on her iPhone, to Carlos (Óscar Jaenada),  a man who is driving her to the location. The pictures are of her mother, standing on the same beach, taken years earlier, when she was pregnant with  Nancy. The aforementioned friend, who accompanied Nancy on her trip, drank too much the evening before, and via text message, the viewer learns she will not be joining her at the beach; opting, instead, to hook up with one of the guys she met the previous evening. She also lets Nancy know that she shouldn’t wait up once she gets back from the beach. (As an aside: While the movie is supposed to take place in Mexico, parts of it were filmed off the Gold Coast of Australia, and the rest of it was completed in a swimming pool and water tank).  

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At first everything is serene as Nancy is surfing the waves. She strikes up a brief, but friendly conversation, with her limited Spanish, with two guys who are surfing and even gets to watch as a small group of dolphins swim peacefully past her out into the deeper part of the ocean. She comes back on shore after a while, and during the calm before the storm, talks to her father (Brett Cullen) and younger sister, Chloe (Sedona Legge) via video chat.

Nancy opts to go back into the water, for a bit more surfing. She is warned by the two guys, that it is getting late, and she should watch out for the tides, but she tells them she’s only going to be a little while longer. Nancy will  soon regret her decision, and realize she should have heeded the advice she was offered. The catalyst, which sets the remainder of the film in motion, is the arrival of a large, dead, whale carcass, which has floated into her vicinity. The open, festering and bloody wounds on the whale’s body, attract a number of birds, as well as a great white, female shark. (As an aside: Jaume Collet Serra wanted the great white shark to be a female because they are a bit larger than male great whites. He also felt that the look of the female great white was scarier because it has scars from mating, and they are also more protective of their territory).  

Nancy’s leg is badly injured, after an initial terrifying brush with the shark, although fortunately for her, her surfboard saved her from possibly being killed. She has one of only two recourses: to make it to a buoy, which given her distance and the shark’s proximity to her, she never would; or to situate herself on a small rock formation surrounded by coral and sharp edges. Nancy chooses the rock formation. Thanks to her medical school training, she is able, given the circumstances, to suture her wounds, using one of her earrings as the needle, and a piece of the material of her clothing as the stitching. She even talks her way through the process as if she were a doctor treating a patient. From that moment forward, Nancy must rely on her ingenuity and intelligence to survive her harrowing ordeal. The only company she has, which can’t help her to think up a plan of survival, is an injured seagull, that has a dislocated wing.

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At one point, a drunken man (Diego Espejel), wakes up on the beach after hearing Nancy’s screams. Trusting in the good of people, she points him in the direction of her backpack. The man stumbles over to the backpack, and while rifling through it, discovers her money and cell-phone. Instead of helping Nancy, he proceeds to rob her. When he gets greedy and decides to go into the water to retrieve her surfboard, he gets more than he bargained for.

Was the drunkard Nancy’s last shot at being rescued? Will she somehow be able to make it back to shore before the carnivorous shark can make her its next victim? When Nancy’s friend returns to the hotel room the next morning and discovers she’s not there, does she alert the authorities? Will Nancy get rescued by an unexpected person? Does the shark eventually give up, and head back out to a deeper part of the sea? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film, which comprises the genres of drama, horror and thriller.

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“The Shallows,” premiered on June 21, 2016 in New York City, New York. A good portion of the film is free of dialogue, which is replaced by sound effects, and the music composed by two time Oscar nominee Marco Beltrami. His score helps to advance the 86 minute film at a fairly brisk pace. Credit must also be given to cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano (Non-Stop), who does an excellent job of capturing the picturesque Australian locale, as well as giving a sense of isolation once Nancy is struggling to survive against the shark. I’ve read a number of reviews of the film that have compared and contrasted “The Shallows” with Oscar winner, Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws;” I had no interest in doing that. “Jaws” is the mold for the shark attack films, and as such, anything that comes after it, at least up until the moment I am writing this review, is not going to be able to overtake it. I think Lively gave her all to the role and comes across as a believable character. Furthermore, I was never for one moment bored with “The Shallows,” and, for at least a one-time viewing, found it entertaining, considering I didn’t know how it would unfold.

 

 

 

 

 

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