“Black Panther – A Worthy Addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe”

In the film “Black Panther,” T’Challa, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, (42) has been crowned the king of the fictional, African nation of Wakanda. The confident and regal, albeit, conflicted, Prince T’Challa, first introduced in the 2016 film “Captain America: Civil War,”  has been elevated to the position of king, as a result of his father, King T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death, which was shown in the aforementioned film. The new king, makes it his mission to seek out, arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, played by two-time, BAFTA nominee, Andy Serkis (Longford). Klaue has been selling stolen vibranium, which is, an indestructible metal controlled by Wakanda, and one of the materials known to be used in the construction of Captain America’s shield. Furthermore, while in pursuit of Klaue, T’Challa must contend with the character that Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station) portrays, the villainous Erik Killmonger, who has aspirations of becoming king of Wakanda. Unlike, Klaue, however, Killmonger has an understandable motivation, and is guided by past transgressions. (As an aside: John Boyega (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) was considered for the role of T’Challa. In addition, Wesley Snipes (Blade) wanted to play the role of the Black Panther back in the 1990s. Marvel, however, decided to pass on Snipes and the Black Panther movie, because at the time, Snipes was busy with a number of other creative projects).    

There are several questions that the film concerns itself with that revolve around Wakanda’s technology. Does Wakanda have an obligation to come to the aid of neighboring countries that don’t have access to the same resources? Wakanda, throughout its history, has held an isolationist approach to other countries, and has been fortunate not to  have been damaged by colonialism. What duty does Wakanda have to welcome refugees to its country? Should Wakanda get embroiled in war in order to give justice to those who live under oppression? Those are questions that, as the new ruler, King T’Challa must decide. Does he continue the policies of the past? Will Wakanda embrace a different future under his leadership?

The notable cast of “Black Panther” features Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) in the role of Nakia, a spy and T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend. Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) appears as the formidable, General Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, a group that is tasked with protecting the Black Panther, and is comprised completely of women. Furthermore, Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) plays Commander W’Kabi.  Providing a bit of comic relief is Letitia Wright in the role of Princess Shuri, T’Challa’s tech-savvy, younger sister, who operates the lab that provides the Black Panther with all of the gadgets he utilizes in battle. BAFTA winner Martin Freeman (Sherlock) reprises his role as CIA agent, Everett K. Ross. Additional cast members include: Golden Globe winner Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do with it), who plays Ramonda, Queen Mother of Wakanda; Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) as Wakanda’s elder statesman, Zuri. In addition, the film features two-time Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (This is Us) as N’Jobu, a person from T’Challa’s past; as well as Winston Duke (Person of Interest),  in the role of M’Baku, the leader of The Jabari, a mountain tribe, that doesn’t believe in the use of vibranium.

“Black Panther” was directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed), who co-wrote the screenplay with Emmy nominee Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story), based on the Marvel Comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in July 1966. Throughout its history from comic book to screen, three other directors were considered to direct the film: Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay (13th); two-time Oscar nominee John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood; and F. Gary Gray (Set it Off).

Throughout its 134 minute runtime, “Black Panther” is a highly entertaining film, and is an excellent addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Parts action – adventure and Sci-Fi, the film premiered on January 29, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. While the questions the film raises are on the heavy side, the film has plenty of action and fight scenes, including an exciting car chase through the streets of South Korea. Furthermore, Grammy nominee Ludwig Göransson’s score, synchs up perfectly with what is transpiring on screen; as does the film’s soundtrack. The film is doing phenomenal business at the box-office, and with its crossover appeal, it is easy to see why. Coogler has not just directed and co-written a good superhero film, that offers a fresh approach to the genre, but a good film in general.

 

 

                             

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“The Florida Project”

Throughout the years, driving from New York to Florida and back again, I’ve passed exit signs advertising numerous motels and hotels located off of I95 (Interstate 95). As I sit and write this post, I can’t recall with certainty, the name of any of them, even the ones I’ve stayed the night at in North Carolina, going to, or coming back from, New York. If I had driven past an advertisement for a place called “The Magic Castle Inn,” and I was in the Orlando area where Disney World is located, that would’ve made me think about the name for more than a passing moment. After watching the poignant film “The Florida Project,” I wondered, in how many of the places that I did drive past advertisements for, are there people leading lives of quiet desperation. Are there individuals like Halley, portrayed by Bria Vinaite, and her six-year old, daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who are on the cusp of being evicted from the motel where they live, if they can’t come up with the rent money? Halley hustles by selling cologne and perfume outside of establishments she knows cater to the more affluent members of society. The surly and belligerent, tattooed, blue haired, single mother, has her good days and her bad, but regardless, it is a hard way to earn money.

The film begins with Moonee, and her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky  (Aiden Malik), running to The Futureland Inn, a neighboring motel, to spit on a car from the second floor balcony. Their gross, albeit, juvenile hijinks, are soon put to an end when the owner of the car, Stacy (Josie Olivo), catches them in the act and demands to speak to their parents. Afterward, punishment is doled out in the form of the children cleaning the car, but in the process they make a new friend, Jancey (Valeria Cotto), the granddaughter of the woman whose car they spat on. Episodic incidents like that, which shift from one moment of life to another, take up large amounts of time during the film’s 111 minute duration, but somehow, by film’s end, it all works.

The director of the movie, Sean Baker (Tangerine), who co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Chris Bergoch (Starlet), is not attempting to glorify poverty; at no point did I feel that Baker was exploiting or judging his characters. What Baker does do, is present viewers with an honest depiction of how those who have little money go about trying to make life bearable, as well as entertaining, especially in the case of the children.

As viewers, we see, day to day life, primarily through Moonee’s point-of-view. There is no talk of how she does in school, it being the summertime, but she comes across as a precocious child, and she’s definitely inquisitive. For example, she turns off the main circuit breaker that controls the power for the entire motel, which causes an uproar among guests, and long-term residents. The problem is soon handled by Bobby, the laconic, motel manager. He is played by Willem Dafoe (Platoon), who in addition to two other Oscar nominations, has been nominated for this year’s Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for his work in “The Florida Project.” Defoe’s character is a responsible motel employee – he gives the garish exterior of the motel a fresh coat of paint, attends to bed-bug infested mattresses, and deals with the monthly expense reports. Furthermore, when he needs to, he evicts people who can’t pay their bills, but at the same time, he shows empathy for those whose lives he comes in contact with. Bobby tries, when he can, to look out for the best interests of those who reside at the motel, and give breaks to people who are down on their luck. He even, in many ways, takes on the role of a surrogate parent, who is firm, but fair, and demonstrates a genuine caring for the children that occupy the motel. On occasion, his vigilance for their well-being, keeps them from harm; for example, when he thwarts the repulsive plans of a pedophile.

“The Florida Project” premiered on May 22, 2017 at the Cannes Film Festival. As he did with his previous film “Tangerine,” Baker populates the movie with an ensemble cast, that with the exception of Defoe, mainly consists of unknown actors. The cast is uniformly good, and give believable performances. One such cast member is the oddly named, Mela Murder, who plays Ashley, Scooty’s mother, and is good friends with Haley, until an incident involving the children lead them to having a falling out. As previously mentioned, the film is episodic, as opposed to a straightforward, dramatic narrative. This is the kind of film that needs to be seen in order to be fully appreciated.

 

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“Stranger Things Season 2 – A Return to the Upside Down”

Warning: Contains Spoilers 

The first season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” was a love letter to the 1980s, but before its debut, not much was known about what viewers could expect. The series arrived with little to no fanfare, when its first season was released on July 15, 2016. In a short period of time, however, the series created by BAFTA nominees, brothers, Matt and Ross Duffer (Hidden), proceeded to become a sensation. This past year it returned, as all Netflix’s series do, with the complete offering of its second season, released on October 27, 2017.

A year has passed in the lives of five friends: Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard); Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo); Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin); Will Byers (Noah Schnapp), and one extraordinarily powerful female, Eleven, El for short, portrayed by Emmy nominee, Millie Bobby Brown (Intruders). Her character hasn’t been seen or heard from since the events of the prior year, and this leaves Mike, in particular, at times irritable and despondent. Eleven is still an essential part of the show, but for the majority of the season, she has no interaction with the cast members, with the exception of Police Chief Jim Hooper, portrayed by Golden Globe nominee David Harbour. He is hiding Eleven in his family’s secluded cabin in order to keep her safe from those who wish to do her harm. Hooper attempts to make life for her at the cabin, where she spends the majority of her days on her own, as bearable as possible, including always having a supply of her favorite food, Eggo Waffles, for her to eat. As one would expect, Eleven has a yearning to leave the cabin, and especially to be reunited with Mike.

The pacing of the first few episodes takes time to develop, allowing a viewer to once more become fully invested in the fictional world of Hawkins, Indiana, and its denizens. The rescue and return of Will Byers from the Upside Down, which is what a good portion of season one focused on, is not without consequences. Will might be back in the loving arms of his over-protective mother, Joyce, played by Golden Globe winner, Winona Ryder (The Age of Innocence), and kept under the watchful eye of his older brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), but something is wrong with him, and it will only get progressively worse as the season moves forward. Schnapp, demonstrates through his acting, that he is up for the challenge of an expanded role. He brings a believable intensity to certain scenes, that left to a less talented child actor, could have come across as either corny or way over-the-top, but Schnapp brings a deftness to the portrayal of his character’s turmoil, that I was impressed with.

Additional storylines focus on Jonathan, Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), the three of whom are involved in an unspecified, teenage love triangle. Nancy is having a difficult time dealing with the truth about what happened to her best friend, Barb Holland, who had been played during the first season by Emmy nominee, Shannon Purser (Rise). Nancy feels especially guilty about having to keep the truth from Barb’s mother (Cynthia Barrett) and father (Aaron Munoz). She is made to feel even worse, when she learns that the Holland’s have hired investigative journalist, Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), to look into Barb’s disappearance, and have put their house on the market in order to be able to afford to pay him. Her feelings begin to cause a rift between herself and Steve, causing her once again, as she did during the first season, to team up with Jonathan. Nancy and Jonathan set out to expose what is really taking place at Hawkins Lab. The plus side of Nancy’s problems with Steve, is that it helps to form an unlikely alliance between him and Dustin that provides for some fun, comedic, as well as action packed scenes. Furthermore, Chief Hooper, like Jonathan and Nancy, doesn’t for a second trust the people at Hawkins Lab. His suspicions begin with a series of destroyed pumpkin patches on farms throughout Hawkins, and grow exponentially as the situation with Will Byers becomes increasingly more dire.

In addition to returning cast members, several of whom have not been mentioned, season two includes four time Golden Globe nominee, Paul Reiser’s (Mad About You) character, Dr. Sam Owens. His character’s motivations remain in doubt for most of the season. In one respect, he comes across as someone who genuinely cares about the well-being of others, and the safety of the town. Conversely, he works for Hawkins Lab, and is not being entirely truthful as to the activities that are taking place there. Oscar nominee Sean Astin’s (The Goonies) portrayal of Radio Shack employee, and Joyce Byer’s love interest Bob Newby, was a welcomed addition. He’s the type of person who always strives to do the right thing, no matter the peril to himself, and wants what is best for the people he loves and cares about. Additionally, there is the arrival of step-siblings Max, (Sadie Sink), and Billy (Dacre Montgomery). Max, is a skateboarder, and a proficient player of the video game “Dig Dug;” her presence catches the immediate interest of both Dustin and Lucas, each of whom vie for her attention. Max’s step-brother Billy, sports a mullet, has a perpetual bad-attitude, and when he’s not causing trouble for Steve Harrington, can be found driving his car at fast speeds while blasting music, such as Ted Nugent, on his tape deck. Lastly, there was the underutilized character, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). She is someone from Eleven’s past, as well as the leader of a gang that has a clear cut agenda. Kali, like Eleven, also possesses an extraordinary power.

Over the course of season 2 of “Stranger Things,” the Duffer Brothers did incorporate elements from season one, that made the series a commercial and critical success, however, they didn’t keep the story mired in stagnation. The well-written, character driven show, expanded viewers knowledge of existing characters, while also adding the aforementioned fresh faces to the series. What role, some of those characters will play in the confirmed third season is anyone’s guess, but I have a feeling viewers haven’t seen the last of Kali. As mentioned at the start of the post, the episodes take a bit of time to get going, but the second half of the season contains a great deal more action themed and suspense driven episodes, especially the final two. The second to last scene of the season, without getting into what is was, I’ll describe in a word I’ve never used in any of my posts before, at least I think I haven’t, and that word is charming. The second to last scene was charming, and remained so, until the final scene when…..

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Dating Game Killer”

On December 3, 2017, the Investigative Discovery Channel (ID), premiered its first scripted film, “The Dating Game Killer.”  The film centers on serial killer, Rodney Alcala. He is someone, who in mainstream circles, hasn’t received the infamous notoriety of, for example, a Ted Bundy or a John Wayne Gacy, but he is responsible for more murder and mayhem than the two of them put together. In fact, the number of victims that can be attributed to Alcala are estimated at 130. How did Alcala get away with so much destruction between the years 1971 and 1979? From many accounts, he had a disarming smile, a friendly disposition, was of above average intelligence, and because, he more often than not, carried a camera with him, holding himself out as a professional photographer, he had a ready to use ruse to lure his victims. (As an aside: While attending New York University Film School, one of Alcala’s instructors was Oscar winning director, Roman Polanski).

Alcala was eventually apprehended on July 24, 1979, shortly thereafter, thanks to information he let slip while talking to his sister who was visiting him in jail, law enforcement learned Alcala, a California resident, had a storage garage in Seattle, Washington. What was discovered, amongst other things, such as jewelry belonging to his victims, were over a thousand pictures that Alcala had taken over the years. Unfortunately, investigators were not able to identify a number of the people in the photographs. There are active websites that feature Alcala’s pictures, and people who had family members, especially women, who went missing prior to Alcala’s apprehension, are urged to look at the pictures on the websites. In 2013, Kathy Thornton, who never gave up searching for her missing sister Christine, learned, thanks to the pictures posted on-line by CBS News, (Columbia Broadcast System) that her sister, had been one of Alcala’s victims. He had murdered Christine during the summer of 1977 in Wyoming, and buried her body in the desert.

The film begins with Alcala’s first known crime which took place in 1968. A man, steps out of a phone booth, and is concerned when he sees a young girl accepting a ride from Alcala, while she is walking to school. The man gets the attention of a police officer, named Jim Hamell. The officer, who will later become a detective, has a recurring role throughout the film. Hamell is played by Robert Knepper (Prison Break). Based on the following incident he, in essence, makes it his life’s work to make sure Alcala is put in prison, and never set free to harm anyone again. Officer Hamell tracks Alcala, portrayed by Guillermo Díaz (Scandal), back to his apartment, and upon knocking down the door, discovers the bloodied, raped, and unconscious body of Tali Shapiro. Thankfully, even thought she had lost a tremendous amount of blood, she arrived at the hospital in time to be saved. In the interim, Alcala fled the scene before he could be arrested, and was able to avoid capture until 1971, when the FBI added him to their 10 most wanted list.

When, thanks to being identified from the FBI poster, he was discovered in New Hampshire working as a camp counselor, and extradited to California to face the charges, prosecutors were in a bind. Fortunately, as previously stated, Tali survived her ordeal with Alcala, but she was so traumatized by the incident, that her family moved away, and refused to let her testify in court against him. Faced with no other choice, prosecutors allowed Alcala to plead to assault. He was sentenced to a term of no less than one year in jail, but with the possibility that he could serve life imprison. Alcala acted as a model prisoner, and said all the right things to his psychiatrists. In the end, he served a year and five months for the horrific crime.

From that moment forward the film highlights several other crimes that Alcala committed, and also showcases an unlikely moment from his life, one that would lead to him being dubbed the ‘Dating Game Killer.’ On September 13, 1978, Alcala, appeared on the popular ABC (American Broadcasting Company) television show “The Dating Game,” which aired from 1965 through 1986. At the time, the show didn’t do background checks, so Alcala’s sordid history was not known by the series’ producers. Alcala competed against two other bachelors, who like himself, per the rules of the show, could be heard, but not seen by bachelorette, Cheryl Bradshaw, who is played in the film by Tanya van Graan (24 Hours to Live). Cheryl wound up choosing Alcala as the winner. Fortunately for her, after meeting Alcala and talking with him back stage, she got the sense that something was off about him. Off camera, she informed the show’s producers that she refused to go out with him. If Cheryl had gone out with Alcala what would have happened? Would he have been able to control his urges and not kill someone he was seen with on national television? Clips of Alcala and Cheryl’s interactions on the show can be seen on youtube.com.

In addition to the storylines involving Alcala and Detective Hamell, the movie deals with the determined drive of a grieving mother,  Carol Jensen, portrayed by Emmy winner Carrie Preston (The Good Wife). Preston’s character is based on Marianne Connelly, the mother of 12 year old Robin Samsoe, Alcala’s last known victim. Like the real life mother she is portraying, Jensen never wavers in her efforts to make sure Alcala pays for his crime. She is continually frustrated with the legal system, and at one point puts in motion a plan to be Alcala’s judge, jury and executioner.

Samsoe’s murder, did lead to the eventual conviction, and a sentence of death being imposed on Rodney Alcala. His story, however, didn’t end with him just waiting on death row until it was his time to be executed. On two separate occasions, Alcala had his conviction overturned. The first time was on August 23, 1984  by the California Supreme Court, due to improper information given to the jurors about Alcala’s prior sex crimes, during his first trial. The second time was on April 2, 2001 when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified Alcala’s conviction, after his second trial,  because, the park ranger who discovered Samsoe’s body, had been placed under hypnosis by police investigators, in order to jog her memory that she had seen Alcala in the park where Samsoe’s body was discovered; this was done before she testified in court. Ultimately, thanks to the advancement in DNA testing, Alcala was convicted during a re-trial in 2010, and this time, his conviction was upheld.

“The Dating Game Killer,” was directed by Peter Medak (Romeo is Bleeding), from a teleplay co-written by Emmy nominee Darrell Fetty (Hatfields & McCoys), and two-time Emmy nominee Leslie Greif (Brando). The film which is parts crime and thriller has a runtime of 86 minutes. The violence that takes place during the film is more implied than shown. Diaz does a competent job portraying Alcala, a human being who was the embodiment of evil. Furthermore, Preston and Knepper, two performers whose work I’ve liked in everything I’ve seen them in, execute their roles well. For those interested in true crime, the film moves along at a quick pace, and is entertaining enough for at least a one-time viewing.

 

 

 

 

 

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“I, Tonya”

I was into my third day of student teaching back in 2006, when my mentor teacher Mrs. Thomas, a twenty-five year veteran, approached me before the final period of the school day, and informed me I would be teaching the next class. Bewildered is the best word I can use to describe the mixture of emotions that had overtaken my mind and body. My immediate question to her, and I’m not sure how intelligible I sounded, especially with the nervous cadence to my voice, was – Why? Why would she be entrusting me to teach the theme of jealousy in Shakespeare’s “Othello”  to her senior, honors English class. She paused for a moment to consider my question, and then responded, as best I can remember, as follows: Jonathan, we can discuss educational philosophy. I can teach you how to differentiate instruction in order to effectively reach the maximum number of students in the class. I can, and I will, provide you with examples of, and have you practice, writing effective lesson plans that incorporate appropriate breakdowns of time to spend on each portion of your lesson, but the most important thing I can do, and the most important thing I can teach you to do as a future educator, is to encourage. I know you’re going to make mistakes, you would be a robot if you didn’t, but now is the time for you to make mistakes and learn from them.

Encourage me she did. Mrs. Thomas never got angry with me, when I stumbled. She never belittled me in front of the students if I failed to mention something of importance during a lesson. Instead, she spoke to me in private, pointed out areas I needed improvement in, and whatever information I failed to mention in the previous lesson, she would orchestrate a way for me to bring it up the next time I taught, so as not to embarrass myself in front of the students. Throughout my entire time student teaching, she helped to prepare me for the following year, when I would be the only teacher in the classroom, and making all of the decisions. I learned a tremendous amount from her, and I was exceptionally fortunate to have had such a wonderful person for a mentor, who did nothing but encourage me at every turn to be my best self.

The remembrance I just wrote about is what came to mind when I finished watching the film “I, Tonya.”  Leaving aside the ‘incident’ with Nancy Kerrigan, as it is referred to in the film, Harding, who despite the trajectory her life took, had a tremendous talent for figure skating, but from the moment she entered the world, she was seemingly abused both verbally and physically. The encouragement she did receive during her formative years by her chain-smoking, foul-mouthed mother, was more to make sure Tonya could serve the role as a future money earner, by becoming a performer in The Ice Capades, as opposed to encouraging Tonya’s abilities to their utmost potential. As the film showcases, for a while, Tonya did, in spite of the obstacles she had to deal with, strive to be her best self, but it was a hard fought battle the entire time.

The film begins in Portland, Oregon where Harding grew up. Two young actresses, Maizie Smith and Mckenna Grace (Gifted), portray Harding up until the movie moves to her teenage years. From the age of fifteen onward, BAFTA and Golden Globe, nominee, Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad), completely embodies the role of the former figure skater. From the outset, it was a struggle for Harding. Sadly, those who sat in judgment of her, awarded her lower scores because she didn’t fit the image they wanted her to project; even though she was able to perform a very difficult move, the triple axel, which prior to Harding performing it, had never been successfully executed by an American skater during a competition. That feat, however, was still not enough, as one judge even candidly admits to Harding during the film. No doubt, Harding was a bit of a rebel when it came to skating. She didn’t dress as other skaters did, and instead of performing to classical music like her contemporaries, she would opt to skate to songs such as “Sleeping Bag,” by ZZ Top.

While the ice offered Harding a wonderful escape, minus her treatment from the skating judges, her home life wasn’t good. Her mother, LaVona Golden, played by six-time, Emmy winner, Allison Janney (Mom) was the antithesis of a nurturer, typically berating Tonya, and on occasion as the movies showcases, engaging in physical violence against her. For example, one time she threw a knife at Tonya, which cut Harding’s arm. In addition to her scenes, throughout the film, Janney’s character is shown sitting on a couch, wearing a fur coat, her pet bird perched atop her shoulder, as she offers acerbic tongued commentary on her daughter and other key figures involved in Harding’s journey to reach the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, and its aftermath.

The film is shot in a faux-documentary style based on interviews conducted with Harding, and her former, abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly, played by Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Civil War). Unfortunately for Harding, Gillooly was the first man she met that showed an interest in her, and he was initially kind and supportive, but it didn’t take long before his behavior dissolved into a quick to anger, physically abusive, Neanderthal, who played games with Harding’s emotions, promising to never hurt again, only to inevitably wind up doing so, shortly thereafter. Furthermore, Gillooly’s friend, the heavyset, delusional, dim-witted Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), appears throughout the film. Originally, as mentioned in the movie, he was supposed to just mail threatening letters to one of Harding’s skating rivals, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). Instead, he took the money Gillooly gave him to do so, and paid two equally moronic individuals, Shane Stant (Ricky Russert), and Derrick Smith (Anthony Reynolds) to kneecap Kerrigan with a baton, with the plan of keeping her from competing; a plan, which failed. Kerrigan would go onto earn a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics while Harding finished eighth.

As the narrative shifts between Harding, Gillooly, and LaVona’s  alternating takes on the events that transpired over two-decades earlier, two other characters offer their perspectives: Harding’s former, skating coach, Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson); and “Hard Copy” reporter, Martin Maddox, portrayed by two-time, Emmy winner, Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire).   

“I, Tonya” premiered on September 8, 2017 at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was directed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm) and written for the screen by Steven Rogers (Love the Coopers). Parts biography, drama, and sports, the movie has a runtime of 119 minutes. Those seeking a film that deals primarily with the incident involving the attack on Nancy Kerrigan will be disappointed. The film showcases what happened, but it is only a small portion of its runtime. Primarily, “I, Tonya,” is about Harding’s journey to the infamous moment that altered her life. In the end, for her involvement in the crime, Harding received three years probation, had to perform five hundred hours of community service, was fined $160,000, and for someone who had been skating virtually from the time she began walking, she received the ultimate punishment, a lifetime banishment from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Plot details are not something I felt needed to be kept guarded in this review, because the story, and the outcome of what took place, are so well documented. From start to finish, even knowing the story and what the eventual outcome would be, I was never bored while watching the film. The 75th Golden Globe Awards air this Sunday, January 7th on NBC at 8:00pm; “I’ Tonya” has been nominated for three: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture for Allison Janney – Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture for Margot Robbie – and Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. I would not be surprised or displeased if either Janney or Robbie took home the gold.

 

                           

 

 

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“Better Watch Out”

Precocious twelve year old Luke Lerner (Levi Miller) has a crush on his babysitter, seventeen year old Ashley, portrayed by Olivia DeJonge (The Visit). Prior to Ashley coming over to babysit, Luke has been scheming with his best-friend, Garrett, (Ed Oxenbould), as to how he can win her affections. In a few days, Ashley will be moving to Pittsburgh, and Luke knows, this could be the last time he sees her. Once his mom, played by Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen (Sideways), and his dad, portrayed by Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld), leave for the evening, he puts his plans into action. Luke starts by drinking from a bottle of champagne, thinking it will impress her, and hoping that she will join him. In addition, he puts on a horror movie in the hopes that Ashley will be scared enough to want to get closer to him. Unfortunately for the would be Casanova, his plans, as the viewer would likely expect, don’t come to fruition, but there might be a greater problem that both he and Ashley have to immediately confront. (As an aside: DeJonge and Oxenbould, starred as siblings in the 2015 film “The Visit,” which was written and directed by two-time Oscar nominee, M. Night Shyamalan).

A pizza, that hadn’t been ordered by Ashley or Luke, is delivered by a person whose face is masked – The phone rings and no one speaks – a mysterious figure appears in the window – a back door, which had been closed, is once again open, and then a knock on the door, and no-one is there. Well, that is not entirely true. Garrett had been playing a trick on Ashley and Luke, but when noises are heard upstairs, Garrett, who is in plain sight of the two of them, can no longer be accused of playing games. Before too long, the trio receives a tangible threat, written in chalk on a brick that has crashed through the window, that reads: “U leave U die.” From the outset of the threat, Ashley takes on the role of a resilient protagonist. She is intelligent and willing to fight; no matter how dire the situation becomes, she never gives in.

The film from that moment, until a clever twist a short while later, comes across as a standard home-invasion thriller. A viewer can expect disconnected phone lines, mishaps with cell-phones, no internet service, as well as jump scares. During the course of the evening, both Ashley’s current boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic), and her ex-boyfriend Jeremy, played by Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things), get swept up in the mayhem, that unfolds on Christmas Eve. I am going to stop giving specific plot details at this point, because to provide more, would, in fact, ruin the reveal, which serves as the catalyst for the remainder of the film. Who has broken into the house? What are their motivations for wanting to keep Ashley, Luke, and Garrett inside the house? Why not take whatever money and valuables they came for and leave? Those questions and more will be answered by the end of the entertaining, albeit disturbing, film.

“Better Watch Out” premiered at the Fantastic Fest, in Austin, Texas, on September 26, 2016. The film was written and directed by Chris Peckover (Undocumented), who co-wrote the screenplay with Zack Kahn (Mad), based on a story written by Kahn. The runtime of the film is 89 minutes. Parts horror and thriller, the movie was originally titled “Safe Neighborhood.”  The film is well-paced, and provides enough tension and suspense to keep viewers interested from start to finish. This film, will not be for everyone. Furthermore, while the cast is uniformly good, and give believable performances, there are plot elements and scenes, where the viewer will have to be willing to suspend disbelief at what is being shown on screen.

 


 

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“Victoria” (2015)

At the start of the film “Victoria,” the viewer sees the title character, portrayed by BAFTA nominee Laia Costa, (Newness) dancing alone in a nightclub in Berlin, Germany. Throughout the film’s 138 minute runtime, the camera never deviates from showing Victoria’s point of view. When she is finished for the evening, on her way out of the club, she is approached by Sonne, played by Frederick Lau. He is there with three of his friends: Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit), and Fuss (Max Mauff). Victoria, a native of Madrid, Spain, has been living and working in a cafe in Berlin for the past three months. She hasn’t built up many friendships, and is yearning for some fun, so she opts to socialize with the four friends for a while, primarily Sonne.

The five talk on the roof top of a building, where they shouldn’t be in the first place. As they talk, they drink beers they had stolen a few minutes earlier from a convenience store, while the elderly cashier slept behind the counter. Victoria, has to leave her new friends, so she can go and get a few hours sleep at the cafe before opening it for business in the morning. Sonne accompanies her to the cafe, and through conversation, they learn more about one another, as Victoria demonstrates her skills while playing “Mephisto Waltz” by Franz Liszt on the piano. She tells Sonne that she wanted to become a classical pianist, but with few opportunities, and the intense competition she fell short, at least for the moment, of realizing her dream. The two agree to see one another again. Within seconds of confirming their mutual attraction, Victoria and Sonne, are joined by Boxer and the other friends; they need Sonne to leave with them immediately. The men get in a stolen car and drive away, only to return a short while later because Fuss is sick, and will be of no help for what the friends have planned.

Boxer, as it turns out, has spent time in jail, and while incarcerated he bartered for his protection with Andi, (André Hennicke) a well-connected crime boss. Boxer needs to pull a bank robbery for Andi, as repayment for keeping him safe while locked up. The job requires three men inside the bank, as well as a getaway driver. Fuss, having consumed too much alcohol is too sick to work. The job, however, can’t be done with less than four people. Sonne talks to Victoria, and it doesn’t take a lot of convincing on his part, before she winds up agreeing to drive the get-away-car.

Leaving Fuss at the cafe, the four leave to meet with Andi in a parking garage. While there, however, as Andi explains the particulars of the bank robbery in the presence of his gun-toting crew, Victoria realizes the exceptional danger she has willingly placed herself in. After the meeting, the slow-moving, character establishment faze of the first part of the film, gives way to a frenetic pace, for the remainder of its runtime. Instead of providing more plot details, I’ll leave it for you to experience if you decide to watch the movie.

“Victoria,” a German film with English subtitles, was directed by Sebastian Schipper (Run Lola Run). Schipper along with Olivia Neergaard-Holm (David Lynch: The Art Life), and Eike Frederik Schulz (Nachtwächter), are credited with the story, which roughly amounted to a twelve-page outline. The reason for that, is that there was no screenplay for the film. “Victoria” was shot over three consecutive nights in one single continuous take; the third take of the film, is what the viewer sees. The cast, which is uniformly good, did a fine job of improvising the majority of what is shown on screen, utilizing only the ideas of what needed to take place in the film from the outline. Schipper filmed without permits or permission, and his crew, would routinely ask people walking on the street to kindly take a different route, so as not to interfere with shooting. Overall, while I think portions of the film could’ve, and more than likely would’ve, been edited out, if it had been shot in a traditional manner, it was, for the most part, especially the scenes that take place after the meeting with the crime boss, an entertaining watch.

 

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