“Kolchak Episode – The Inspiration for Chase’s Sopranos”

Created by Jeff Rice, and starring Darren McGavin, (A Christmas Story) “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” aired on ABC Television from September 13, 1974 through March 28, 1975. Unfortunately, the momentum generated from two popular and successful television movies, The Night Stalker in 1972 and The Night Strangler in 1973, which preceded the series, wasn’t enough to maintain the show beyond one season. Sadly, all that fans of the series, and of veteran character actor McGavin who passed away in 2006, are left with is the two television movies and twenty episodes of a show, which I could imagine, might be a ratings success today if tweaked properly for modern viewers on networks such as the CW.

The introduction to the show always began with Chicago newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak walking into the offices of the INS (Independent News Service) accompanied by composer, Gil Melle’s  (Embryo) theme music, which was written a mere twenty minutes prior to the opening being filmed. Kolchak would toss his straw hat, sit down at his desk and begin pounding the keys of his typewriter, diligently working on his latest article. He was always armed with his camera and tape recorder, while driving around the windy city in his Ford Mustang convertible, investigating a crime that was, inevitably, the antithesis of run-of-the mill. No store robberies, muggings, or auto-thefts for Kolchak; no, his reports always contained aspects of the macabre, supernatural, and science-fiction. Sadly for the seersucker suit wearing Carl, the evidence he gathered to support his claims that creatures from the beyond, exist, was usually destroyed, which in turn would lead to him catching the ire of his argumentative editor, Tony Vincenzo, played by former concert violinist turned character actor Simon Oakland (Psycho). Trivia buffs take note: The episode “Chopper” was the first script that writer, director and producer Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and his co-writing collaborator Bob Gale (Used Cars) ever sold in Hollywood.

Loosely based on real-life journalist Charles Fort, the series while short in length was long on impact, most notably, is the praise given to it by two individuals: The first is X-Files creator Chris Carter, who strongly credits it as being a major inspiration in developing the concept for his own X-Files series. Carter didn’t just pay verbal praise to the show. Author and screenwriter Richard Matheson, who wrote the teleplay for The Night Stalker movie and was the writer of The Night Strangler television film, is the name of a character who appears in several episodes of the series. In addition, Carter wanted McGavin to appear on the X-Files as the character of Kolchak. That exact scenario didn’t transpire, but McGavin did appear in several episodes as the character of Arthur Dales, who is a retired FBI agent who was known as the “father of the X-Files.”

In addition to Chris Carter, six-time Emmy winner, David Chase, the creator of the iconic “The Sopranos,” originally came up with the idea for his fictionalized crime family, as a writer on the Kolchak series. In the episode, “The Zombie” directed by three time Oscar nominee Alexander Grasshoff (Journey to the Outer Limits), Chase, who would contribute to writing seven additional episodes of the series, first began to incorporate, into his writing, characters inspired by people in the syndicate. The teleplay for “The Zombie” was co-written by David Chase and Zekial Marko (The Rockford Files) based on a story idea by Marko, but it was Chase that would hold onto the idea, and eventually parlay it into a mega-hit HBO series. Interestingly enough, Chase didn’t want Tony Soprano and his associates to be part of a series, but instead the subject of a film. The episode, the second in the series, originally aired on September 20, 1974. The following opening voice-over by Kolchak sets the episode, which has a runtime of approximately 51 minutes, into motion:

“Popular folklore would have us believe that there exist in the underworld ruthless men who fear nothing. This story should debunk that myth. August 14th, 2:00am. While the upper strata of the syndicate were accustomed to dealing in millions, the foundation of their fortunes was here in their counting houses, in the small change of the numbers racket. Mr. Albert Berg, head collections man; a graduate of an Ivy League business school, he was an incompetent even by syndicate standards. About the only smart thing he’d ever done was marry the boss’s sister. Willie Pike – he’d never been convicted of anything, by anybody, except by the boxing commission. Willie took a dive into the canvass, and on through into the bulletproof car set. Willie was making a bundle; a bundle he would never get to spend.”

The episode places at odds, members of the Mafia versus a Chicago street gang. Former professional football player, and the Rookie of the Year for 1961, defensive lineman Earl Faison, plays Francois Edmonds, a numbers runner, who is murdered. As retaliation for his death, his mother, Marie Juliette Edmonds known as Mamalois Edmonds (Paulene Myers), who practices voodoo, resurrects Faison as a zombie. She sets the zombie out to kill everyone that had anything to do with his murder. Captain Leo Winwood, a corrupt cop, portrayed by Emmy nominee Charles Aidman, is working with the Mafia. He is having a hard time protecting the interests of the crime family run by  Benjamin Sposato (Joseph Sirola), and underboss, Victor Friese (Val Bisoglio). Their men are being killed, and he is worried that his ties to organized crime will be detected. Kolchak’s investigation, thanks to the paid help of morgue attendant Gordon ‘Gordy the Ghoul’ Spangler, a role acted by John Fiedler (12 Angry Men), and a mysterious character, known as ‘The Monk’ (Ben Frommer), finds that criminals are dying from more than just gunshots and cut throats. In addition to the aforementioned, the episode also features Grammy nominee, Scatman Crothers (The Shinning), and Antonio Fargas, who, among many other projects, would go on to achieve fame as the character of Huggy Bear on the television series “Starsky & Hutch.”

Acting on information given to him by ‘The Monk,’ Kolchak witnesses a meeting inside a garage between Sposato and Weldon. Threats and accusations are made from each of the warring sides; Sposato demanding retribution for the death of his men, Weldon dismissing it as bluster. Kolchak gets the meeting on tape, but he is discovered before he can get the evidence into the hands of the proper authorities. Sposato’s guys grab Kolchak and he is brought before the irate boss to learn his fate. In a last ditch effort to save himself, Kolchak informs Sposato, that he knows who is killing his crew. Sposato doesn’t believe it when he tells him that it is Francois Edmonds. He knows a hit was ordered and carried out on Edmonds. Kolchak begs Sposato for an opportunity to prove that what he’s saying is true;  at the cemetery, after Kolchak digs up Edmonds coffin, and they see, that as he said it would be, the body is gone.

Can the zombie be stopped? If it can, how? Does Kolchak prove its existence to the right people? What happens to the remaining members of the Sposato family? Will Captain Winwood’s association with organized crime be exposed? Everything will be answered by the end of the episode.

The distinct vintage aesthetic is what originally drew me to the series when I saw it while watching a marathon on television back in the early 2000’s. The special effects would be considered hokey by today’s standards, and perhaps a bit laughable even back in the early 1970s, but that is a small price to pay for a series that exuded such charm as it journeyed through mystery, noir, and urban legends and delivered, for the most part, entertaining stories. The show did, for its one and only season, use the ‘monster of the week’ formula to entertain the viewing audience, but I believe, like the first season of other shows of its genre, that would have changed had the series been allowed to continue. I sense that Kolchak eventually would have moved away from that type of storytelling and would have been geared towards more intricate scenarios, which in turn would have made the series vastly more interesting.

For those of you interested in watching the episode I covered, or the series, Netflix had the entire series available to stream instantly, but has since removed it. As of the writing of this blog, all of the episodes are available to watch on YouTube.com. While leaving much more to the imagination than is actually ever shown on the screen, Kolchak is vintage fun.

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“Black Water By Joyce Carol Oates”

The main protagonist of Joyce Carol Oates’, taut, thought-provoking, and suspenseful novella, “Black Water,is Kelly Kelleher. The intelligent, twenty-six year old, political journalist works for a magazine called the ‘Citizen Inquiry.’ During a festive Fourth of July celebration, located on Grayling Island, off of the coast of Maine, at her friend and former roommate at Brown University, Buffy St. John’s house, she meets a much older gentleman. The older man is a heavyweight in the world of politics, who is referred to throughout the novella, as simply ‘The Senator.’ Kelly is immediately drawn to the man’s magnetism and disarming charm. The Senator is a politician, who Kelly has been fascinated with for a number of years; she even wrote her senior thesis on him for college.

During the party, Kelly and the Senator become inseparable, as they talk, flirt, drink, and go for a long walk, which leads to some intimate contact. The Senator, sensing an opportunity for more than just a kiss, asks Kelly if she will join him for the evening at his hotel room. The only problem is, in order to arrive at that destination, they have to take a ferry from the island, back to Boothbay Harbor on the mainland. The Senator, has had more than a few libations throughout the day, and should not be driving a car, but Kelly’s euphoria at his choosing her to be by his side, even if for just one evening, keeps her from dissuading him from driving. She even holds an extra drink in her hand for him, while he is navigating the roads, while already knocking another drink back. Oates conveys to the reader, that Kelly is willing to overlook the Senator’s risk taking behavior, because, she has an inferiority complex that makes her feel she is not worthy of the Senator’s time and devotion. Kelly not only greatly admirers his progressive political views, but has become even more taken with the Senator since spending time with him at the party – What price in the end, will she have to pay for her infatuation?

While in route to the ferry, the Senator gets lost, and in a moment ripped from a real life historical incident, drives the car off of a bridge and into the murky waters. While the Senator manages to escape to dry land, Kelly is stuck inside the car. As times passes, her life flashes before her eyes, as she waits for this man, this political icon, to return and rescue her from what may wind up being her watery tomb. (As an aside: The incident in the book, for those of you, who might not be aware, was inspired by the car accident that took place on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts on July 18, 1969 involving U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, which resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Oates not only withheld the names, ages, and location from the real life incident, but also sets the time period of her novella in the late 1980s). 

Oates invites the reader in to learn Kelly’s back story, and writes the novella from her point-of-view, as she waits for her hero to return to save the day. The intricately woven narrative utilizes flashbacks –  moving effortlessly from Kelly’s childhood, to her time attending college, to the most recent incidents that took place at the Fourth of July party. The reader takes on the role of a reluctant witness, as we learn Kelly’s thoughts and emotions, the longer she is submerged in the water, while struggling for breath, as she drifts in and out of consciousness. Oates alludes to repeating Kelly’s death scene inside of the car, only to have the prose switch to another moment in time, purposely allowing ambiguity as to Kelly’s fate to linger until the final page.

Will fiction mirror history? Does Oates once again allow an innocent woman, who although highly intelligent, to get seduced by power, by the object of her desire, which in turn cuts her life short? Does the Senator return to save Kelly? Can Oates offer her protagonist a plausible way out of her deadly situation? The book is a fast paced read at approximately 154 pages, and, through Oates’ adroit storytelling, will provide the answers to the questions posed.

 

 

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“Shadow of Truth – Murder Mystery Documentary Series on Netflix”

At the start of the first episode of “Shadow of Truth,” Ilana Rada is talking about every parent’s worst nightmare, the disappearance of a child. In this instance, her daughter, Tair, had not returned home from school, even though classes had ended hours earlier. Additionally, neither she, nor her husband, nor, for that matter, any of Tair’s friends received a phone call or a text alerting them to her whereabouts. As day turned into night, the Rada’s neighbors banded together to form a search party to look for the teenage girl. Their ultimate discovery would contain no silver lining.

Hours earlier, when thirteen year old, Israeli, Tair Rada walked into the second floor bathroom of Nofey Golan High School, on December 6, 2006, she had not an inkling of the unmitigated terror that was about to befall her.  Why? How? – and by whose hands did that day’s horrific events unfold are still being debated. After the search party discovered Rada’s mutilated, and blood caked body in a locked bathroom stall, the impact was felt immediately by the residents of the peaceful town of Katzrin, located in the Golan Heights. Accusatorial accusations were strewn about with little forethought, and an unnerving sense of dread engulfed the community. What sort of depraved  monster, with a total disregard for the life he took, as well as the family he would subsequently destroy by his actions, could perpetrate such barbarity? That is the question “Shadow of Truth,” a four-part documentary series, each installment of which examines the murder and its aftermath from a different point-of-view; each segment attempts to answer while uncovering the truth of what happened, and why, during the heinous incident that claimed Tair Rada’s young life.

Ukrainian immigrant Roman Zadorov, a knife collector, who had a large collection of pictures of naked teenage girls on his computer, was ultimately arrested, and thoroughly interrogated by Israeli police. Furthermore, he was placed in a cell with a police informant, who over a period of time, was able to gain Zadorov’s trust, and get him to start talking. In the end, through continuous questioning by police, and the trickery employed by the informant, who kept attempting to convince Zadorov to confess, and make up a story, in order to receive a lighter prison sentence, Zadorov broke down and did offer up a confession.

There are several major problems with that, however, that discount Zadorov’s confession from an evidentiary perspective: Firstly, over sixty sets of fingerprints were found in the locked bathroom stall, where Rada’s body lay dead, not one of those fingerprints were linked to Zadorov. Secondly, the pathologist involved in the Rada case could not give a clear estimation as to the time of death. Thirdly, clutched in Rada’s hand were strands of hair, most likely taken from her attacker as she attempted to fight him off; the hair samples did not match hair taken from Zadorov. Lastly, the judge who twice held up Zodorov’s conviction on appeal, was found to be engaging in highly inappropriate behavior for a member of the judiciary. There was never any disputing, that Zadorov was working at Tair Rada’s school at the time she was killed, but even when the police, – who, foolishly on their part videotaped it – had Zadorov walk them through his actions on the day of the murder, he had to be turned around because he would walk in the wrong direction, and had to be given reminders as to where things were located; to me as a viewer, it all looked very suspicious. I got the sense that it was more important for the police to close a case, and send Zadorov to jail for the crime, as opposed to truly making sure justice for the Rada family, and most importantly Tair Rada, was being served.

In addition to members of the Rada family, throughout the series numerous witnesses appear to offer what they felt they heard and saw before and after she was murdered. The prosecution and the defense are interviewed, and allowed to once more, plead their respective cases. The pathologist offers his opinion, much to the dismay of the prosecution whose theories he casts serious doubts on. The series, like most of its kind, utilizes archival footage, current interviews, taped interrogations between the police and Zadorov, as well as speculative reenactments of what took place.

In the interest of full disclosure, the police state that they followed up every lead imaginable when it came to bringing Tair Rada’s killer to justice: They questioned her friends, family and school staff; they even went as far as checking into rumors that she was a sacrificial victim of a satanic ritual. The statements of psychics who were permitted  to offer their help, or lack thereof, were also taken. When all hope seemed lost for Zadorov ever being granted his freedom, a mystery man, whose face is covered in shadows, speaks on camera, claiming to know the real killer. He has intimate details of the crime scene, not released through the media to the public, and is willing to provide the name and location of the murderer. When asked to take a polygraph test to determine the validity of his story, he easily passed it.

Will the police ever acquiesce and re-open the investigation? As of the writing of this post, even with public pressure mounting for definitive proof as to the truth of who murdered Tair Rada, Israeli law enforcement are steadfast in their mindset that the right person is behind bars. What of the mystery man who came forward to identify the real killer? What are his motivations? Will the person he accused of being the murderer defend themselves, or does that person have good reason to want to stay far away from the authorities?

The critically acclaimed “Shadow of Truth,” was directed by Yotam Guendelman, Ari Pines, and Mika Timor. The series was released in Israel on March 27, 2016, under its original title “Tzel Shel Emet.”  On January 27, 2017, the documentary series was made available to American Netflix subscribers. The four-part series is spoken in Hebrew with English subtitles. For those of you, who like watching true crime documentaries, especially where nothing is as it first appears, you should find this to be an interesting series that offers a number of twists and turns.

 

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“The Woman in Cabin 10 By Ruth Ware”

The narrator of British author, Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, sophomore effort, “The Woman in Cabin 10,” is  Laura “Lo” Blacklock. Lo, as she prefers to be called, is a writer for Velocity magazine, a publication that specializes in high-end travel. Opportunity for career advancement presents itself to Lo, which comes in the guise of a new luxury cruise ship, The Aurora, especially, if Lo can conduct a successful interview with the Aurora’s owner, Lord Richard Bullmer. The cruise ship includes a spa, cocktail lounge, chandeliers, marble staircases, and staff members that always seem to have a glass of champagne at the ready for a guest, but it is no ordinary luxury liner. The Aurora was built for those who are both wealthy and have discerning taste, not to accommodate large numbers of travelers. Instead, there are only ten guest cabins on board; the passengers include a photographer, a model, journalists and prospective investors. In addition to the aforementioned passengers and staff, also on board are Lord Bullmer, his wife Anne – who is a sick woman who has been battling breast cancer; and Lo’s ex-boyfriend, Ben Howard. The Aurora is set to depart on its maiden voyage from a port in England, and is heading to Scandinavia for a tour of the Norwegian fjords.

Not wanting to risk losing her chance at covering a story that could turn out to be both professionally and financially rewarding, Lo boards the ship before it sets sail, even though things are far from right with her. Several days prior to the start of the assignment, her apartment was broken into by a man wearing latex gloves, whose face was covered by a bandana, although he didn’t harm Lo, she ends up being locked in her bedroom for several hours. The incident has left her emotionally distraught, causing her sleep, or lack thereof, to be erratic at best. Lo allows Ben to accompany her to her cabin, but due to her still fragile emotional state, when Ben places his hands on her in a manner that is a little too rough for her liking, she knees him in the groin. Afterwards, she confesses to Ben, that ever since the break-in, she feels paranoid. Making matters worse, she doesn’t know where she stands in regard to her relationship with her boyfriend, Judah; before leaving on her trip, she and Judah had some problems and when she left, their relationship was strained.

On her first evening at sea, Lo is in need of mascara. Thinking nothing of it, she knocks on the door of the cabin adjacent to her own. An attractive, young woman, with long dark hair, sporting a well-worn Pink Floyd t-shirt opens the door. Lo asks to borrow some mascara, and the woman gives it to her with little conversation before shutting the door. Not in the mood for networking, but knowing her livelihood depends on it, Lo attends the first night’s welcome reception, where she imbibes a lot, and eats little. Later that same evening, while just beginning to drift off into a much needed sleep, Lo is awakened by the sound of a splash, that was preceded  by a scream. She hurriedly makes her way onto her cabin’s balcony, and in her inebriated state thinks she spots a woman’s body sinking into the icy depths of the ocean. Furthermore, she observes blood on the outside railing of the adjacent cabin. Lo is confronted with the sobering realization, that whoever might have pushed the woman into the water, more than likely saw her face when she rushed onto the balcony.

After alerting ship security, the adjacent cabin – cabin 10 – is inspected, which as it turns out, was supposed to be occupied by a male passenger, who couldn’t make the trip. Nilsson, the head of security, informs Lo that the cabin is empty. What is even more disturbing, is that he finds no blood on the railing, or anywhere inside the cabin. Nilsson, doubts the validity of Lo’s story, even more so after he learns from Ben Howard about the burglary in Lo’s apartment, and that Lo takes anti-depressants. Nilsson does, however, take every conceivable measure to assuage any concerns Lo has, including confirming that all of the passengers and staff are accounted for. Nilsson takes things a step further by allowing Lo to meet and speak with all female members of the staff; none of whom resemble the woman in cabin 10 who gave Lo the mascara.

Undaunted, Lo is determined to get to the bottom of what she feels is a mystery that involves murder. She not only wants to identify the victim, but reveal the identity of the killer. Unmasking the murderer will not be an easy task. The more Lo investigates, the deeper resistance she is met with, including receiving threatening messages, as well as the destruction and disappearance of the little tangible evidence she does manage to gather. The cruise ship’s claustrophobic setting, and isolation of being out at sea, helped to amplify the ever present danger Lo faces at any given moment, not knowing who she can trust. Ware further isolates her main protagonist by including e-mails and Facebook postings from Lo’s friends, mother, and boyfriend. These are strategically placed before each new portion of the story and only the reader is privy to them because, as the reader learns, Lo can’t get an internet connection on board the ship.

What happened to the woman in cabin 10? Is she a real person or a figment of Lo’s imagination? Could she be a creation of Lo’s mind brought to life from her fragile emotional state, coupled with her drinking too much alcohol while mixing it with her medication? Are there sinister forces at work? If there are, who is behind them, and why? The Woman in Cabin 10″ is an intelligent and well paced thriller, with a good plot, that kept me guessing until the end.

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“Get Out”

The catalyst for the clever, suspenseful, and unsettling film “Get Out,” begins with an ordinary situation that doesn’t take long to escalate into something ominous. The camera focuses in on a man who is talking on his cell phone about being lost in a suburban neighborhood, where the names of the streets all have a similar sound to them. While on his cell, a car passes him, but immediately turns around and begins to follow him from a distance. There is no one else driving or walking on the quiet street, so he begins to get suspicious. Turning around, the man observes that the car has stopped, and the front door is open. Before he has time for much of a reaction, he is abducted; leaving a viewer to wonder – Why? It is a question, the answer to which will not be learned until much later in the film.

The next scene transitions to the introduction to the film’s main protagonist, Chris Washington, a professional photographer, who is effectively portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario). Chris is scanning through photos he has taken, before he begins to shave, while waiting for the arrival of his girlfriend, Rose Armitage, very well played, in a nuanced manner by Allison Williams (Girls), in her first feature film. She is out buying donuts and pastries for a weekend trip she and Chris will soon be leaving on. The couple have been dating for approximately five months, but the excursion out of the city, and into the country, is not a romantic getaway. In fact, already feeling apprehensive about going, Chris becomes more so, when he learns that Rose has not told her parents, who he will be meeting for the first time, that he is an African-American. Statements from Rose, such as that her parents aren’t the least bit racist, and that her father would have gladly cast his vote to keep President Obama in charge for a third term, help just a little toward quelling Chris’s anxiety. Conversely, thanks to both apathy and tragedy, Rose will never have to be on her best behavior when meeting Chris’s parents. He had an absentee father, and when he was eleven, his mother died from injuries she sustained during a hit and run. Against the advice of his best friend, TSA agent, Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery), whose character provides comic relief throughout the film’s 104 minute runtime, Chris decides to throw caution to the wind, and takes the trip with Rose.

When the couple arrives at the Armitage house, there is nothing outwardly sinister or untoward taking place. A short time after they get there, however, a viewer should get the sense that, leaving aside surface pleasantries, there is something disconcerting about the Armitage family. Rose’s father, Dean, a role acted by two time Emmy winner Bradley Whitford, is a neurosurgeon. Her mother, Missy, played by two time Oscar nominee Catherine Keener (Capote), is a hypnotherapist who is keenly interested in getting a chance to put Chris under hypnosis, in order to help him beat his addiction to nicotine; something which Chris is not interested in doing. Furthermore, Chris gets the sense that there is something not quite right with two African American staff members at the Armitage home. Their dispositions, mannerisms, and the way the groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson), and the housekeeper, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), converse, comes across as a bit unnatural. Chris, realizing that perhaps it is own preconceptions of what he was expecting before his arrival at Rose’s parents house, attempts to dismiss the behavior of the two staff members with plausible excuses. Additionally, the strange behavior by Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who says inappropriate things, and at one point during dinner attempts to put Chris in a headlock, after a discussion about Jujutsu, at least at first, defies explanation, other than that he is a jerk.

Chris and Rose’s visit to her parent’s home is poorly timed. Their arrival that weekend coincides with the Armitage’s annual party. Rose, who is seemingly dumbfounded by the news, is reminded by her parents that the party takes place on the same day every year. If Chris didn’t already feel out of place, the steady arrival of mostly white, senior-citizens, with the exception of one older Asian gentlemen, does nothing to help reduce the tension he feels. The guests at the party have no qualms about making comments about how they feel, that since Chris was born an African American man, that he is by nature genetically superior. Amongst other comments made with a complete lack of tact: a woman places her hands on Chris to get a sense of his muscle definition; and the Asian man goes as far as to ask Chris, in front of a group of people, if there are more advantages or disadvantages to being an African American in this world? The only friendly face, or one that Chris perceives to be a friendly face, is that of another black man, Andrew Logan King played by Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12). When Chris approaches him, however, he too, acts like Walter and Georgina.  He is there in a physical sense, and can reply when spoken to; but coupled with the fact that he is at the party with his date, an unattractive Caucasian woman nearly twice his age, something seems terribly wrong to Chris, not to mention the fact that Chris feels he has met Andrew before, however, he can’t remember where.

After the party guests have had an opportunity to meet and talk with Chris, a silent auction takes place. The winner of the auction, as you might have guessed wins, none other than Chris, but for what purpose? Are the members of the party descendants of slave owners, who wants to keep the vile practice going in modern day America? Is there a sexual component to their wickedness? Will Chris’s body be auctioned off to the highest bidder, so that person can engage in whatever depraved proclivities their mind can think up? Are they assembled organ harvesters, who are looking for prime, young body parts to sell on the black market? Will Chris learn in time what is happening, and be able to get away? Will Allison help Chris escape, or is she complicit in the reprehensible situation taking place? For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to ruin the twists and turns that transpire in the third act of the film. Nor, for that matter, did I want to write about a key scene involving Chris and Rose’s mother, Missy, because I felt that could also possibly diminish you deriving the maximum amount of thrills from the movie as it progresses toward its conclusion.

“Get Out” is the feature film directorial debut for Emmy winner, Jordan Peele (Key and Peele). In addition, Peele wrote the screen play for the movie which is parts horror and mystery. The film premiered on January 23, 2017 at the Sundance Film Festival, and has been the recipient of laudable critical praise and box office success. Made for an estimated budget of $5,000,000 dollars, the film’s opening weekend take was close to $34,000,000, and, as of the writing of this post, the film has since gone on to surpass the $130,000,000 box-office mark. A well rounded cast, timely jump scares, spot on cinematography by Toby Oliver (Miracles), which captures the underlying dread permeating the seemingly calm environment during the first half of the movie, and an effective score composed by Michael Abels, helps to make Peele’s first foray into directing a successful one. I’m interested in seeing what he will come up with next.

 

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“iBoy”

The Netflix original film “iboy” takes its source material from English writer Kevin Brook’s young-adult novel of the same name. Tom (Bill Milner) is a slightly awkward, high school teenager, who lives in modern day London with his grandmother, Nan, portrayed by BAFTA winner, Miranda Richardson (Damage). The catalyst for the film is Tom’s visit with his friend and love interest, Lucy, who is played by Emmy nominee, Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones). When he arrives at her apartment, he observes that her front door is open. When he walks inside he sees that her older brother is laying unconscious on the floor. If that weren’t enough of a jolt to his senses, Tom hears noises coming from Lucy’s bedroom; unbeknownst to him, she is being raped, as an act of revenge by a local gang, that is punishing her, for her brother’s refusal to join them. As Tom begins to head in the direction of Lucy’s room, two gun toting, hooded figures, wearing bandanas to disguise their faces step out of the room. They are not alone. Tom flees the scene, and while attempting to call the police, he is shot.

Approximately ten days after the shooting, Tom wakes up in the hospital. The incident results in him having a pronounced scar. Furthermore, pieces of his smartphone, that he was holding next to his ear, when he was shot, have become embedded in his brain. Dr. Bale (Christopher Colquhoun) informs Tom, that he feels it would be too dangerous to Tom’s life if he attempted to operate in order to remove the phone fragments. It doesn’t take Tom long to realize, that life, as he knows it, has changed beyond just his scar and medical issues. As a result of his shooting, Tom has acquired special abilities. Minus the violent act, there is no explanation as to how Tom’s powers come to manifest themselves. In a quasi-superhero themed movie of this nature, made strictly for entertainment, none is particularly needed.

Guilt stricken over what happened to Lucy, who spends the majority of the film bed-ridden, and understandably traumatized, Tom begins to exact revenge under the moniker ‘iBoy.’ He wants to bring Lucy’s rapists to justice; a positive by-product of his vigilantism is, in the process, he helps to eliminate members of the drug dealing gangs that wreak havoc in his neighborhood. Tom’s new special powers, allow him to hack into the memory of the cell phone of one of the thugs that was used to film Lucy’s attack. From that, Tom begins to identify who was responsible, some of whom turn out to be student’s in his school. Additional powers, amongst others that Tom demonstrates during the film, is his ability to: manipulate electronic devices in order to use police surveillance equipment to his benefit; control the locking systems of automobiles; and function like a computer, instantaneously downloading information. As time passes, Tom’s retribution against the gang members increases from simply exposing their private moments for all to see, to putting their freedom, and in certain instances, their very lives in jeopardy. None of it sits well with Ellman, the boss of the criminal enterprise, convincingly portrayed, during limited screen time, by BAFTA nominated actor Rory Kinnear (Southcliffe).

How far will Tom take his vigilantism? Will he be apprehended by the police for his actions? Does his true identity become exposed to the gang members? What will they do if they capture him? Will they kill him outright, or exploit his powers for their own gain? What will happen to Lucy? Does she help ‘iBoy’ bring her brutal assailants to justice?

iBoy” was directed by Adam Randall. The screenplay was by BAFTA nominated writer, Joe Barton (Our World War); additional writing credits for the film are listed for Mark Denton and Jonny Stockwood. Parts action – crime – Sci-Fi and thriller, the film was released internationally on January 27, 2017. “iBoy” doesn’t contain anything that audiences haven’t seen before. The tropes on display throughout the movie’s 90 minute duration are present in a number of other superhero themed films, albeit, on a much smaller scale. In the interest of full disclosure, I only watched the Netflix original because Williams is in it. Arya Stark is my favorite character on “Game of Thrones,” and I enjoy seeing Williams in other productions. In my opinion, she is a very talented actress, who I believe will only continue to get better, the more her career evolves. The film, in and of itself, was passable entertainment for one time viewing. It wasn’t a bad film, nor a great one, just something that, for me, primarily because Williams had a co-starring role, held my interest until the closing credits.

 

 

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“Train to Busan”

Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) loves his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim). He wants to be an integral part of her life, however, due to his very demanding, albeit financially rewarding occupation as a fund manager, he is seldom at home. In his stead, Soo-an is looked after by Seok’s mother. Soo-an loves her grandmother, but yearns to go live with her own mother, who Seok is estranged from. Seok, as the viewer learns from a phone conversation he has with Soo-an’s mother, wants sole custody of his daughter, for reasons that are never stated in the movie. Reluctant, however, wanting to please Soo-an because it is her birthday, Seok agrees to accompany her on an early morning train ride from Seoul, South Korea to the city of Busan, so she can visit her mother. Seconds before the high-speed KTX train is about to disembark the station, a woman (Eun-kyung Shim) stumbles on board. The woman’s presence will alter the lives of all of the passengers, turning a seemingly innocent train ride into a life and death struggle for survival. Unbeknownst to those on board, a viral zombie outbreak has begun. (As an aside: The animated film “Seoul Station” is a prequel to “Train to Busan”).

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The conventional zombie tropes are in place in the film: When a person is bitten by a zombie, soon afterward, they themselves will turn into a member of the undead, at which time they will lose all sense of self pertaining to the person they were. In addition to their deadly bite, the zombies in “Train to Busan,” as they were, for instance, in Oscar winning director Danny Boyle’s film “28 Days Later,” move at a quick pace. They do, however, have a weakness. They are only compelled to attack when they can see; it is something which the passengers discover early on in the film, prompting them to cover up the windows in-between train cars. Armed with that knowledge, when need be, passengers can move cautiously from one train car to the next, when the train goes through a tunnel.

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The narrative for the film extends beyond just Seok and Soo-an as the focal points of the story. There are other characters, that make their presence known during the harrowing train ride. Sang Hwa (Dong-seok Ma), who dotes on his pregnant wife Sung (Yu-mi Jung), who demonstrates he will fight with his last breath to protect those he loves, is one such character the viewer should wind up rooting for. Yong-Suk (Eui-sung Kim), a self-centered and duplicitous businessman, will garner the opposite reaction. Young Gook (Woo-sik Choi), the only member of his high school baseball team to survive after the initial outbreak, is fighting to keep both himself, and his friend from school, Jin-hee (Sohee), alive until they reach safety. Furthermore, there are two elderly sisters, Jong-gil (Myung-sin Park) and In-gil (Soo-jung Ye), who seemingly can’t exist without the other. Lastly, there is a homeless man (Gwi-hwa Choi), who is first discovered hiding in the bathroom, saying “they’re all dead.”

Once it is learned that a deadly outbreak has occurred, the KTX train conductor, (Seok-yong Jeong) attempts to contact headquarters to find out where it is safe to disembark passengers. The first stop he makes is very ill-advised, but provides for an action packed sequence at a train station, where the military is supposedly going to escort those survivors on the train to a safe location. As the passengers make their way through what appears to be an abandoned station to where the military is waiting, something appears very off. The large group of soldiers sent to establish law and order, and protect those who haven’t been infected, have themselves been turned into zombies. What takes place next, is all-out adrenaline fueled chaos. Those who just left one nightmarish situation, have to fight their way back to the train, which still contains a great many zombies trapped aboard. From an intensity standpoint, this was one of the scenes that really stood out, in a film that is packed with heart pounding moments.

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“Train to Busan” is a gripping, suspenseful and well paced film that offers a good balance between drama and horror. The movie was written for the screen and directed by Yeon Sang-Ho (Seoul Station). The movie is the director’s first live-action film; prior to “Train to Busan, he directed animated features. Parts action – drama – thriller – and horror, the film has a runtime of 118 minutes. “Train to Busan” premiered in France at the Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2016. The dialogue is in Korean, but has English sub-titles. The cinematography by Hyung-deok Lee (A Company Man), captures the perfect feeling of claustrophobia that the train setting reduces its passengers to, especially under the dire circumstances. Furthermore, there is no headache inducing shaky camera work on display. The film is further enhanced by mostly practical effects as opposed to overutilization of CGI, as well as a soundtrack composed by Jang Young-gyu that synchs perfectly with what is transpiring on screen.

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