“Roma – Outstanding Film From Oscar Winner Cuarón”

“Roma is an attempt to capture the memory of events that I experienced almost fifty years ago. It is an exploration of Mexico’s social hierarchy, where class and ethnicity have been perversely interwoven to this date and, above all, it’s an intimate portrait of the women who raised me in a recognition of love as a mystery that transcends space, memory and time.”

                                                                                      Alfonso Cuarón

 

The pace of the engrossing, black and white film “Roma” is established during the opening scene, and may test some viewers patience. In the scene, the film’s credits are shown, superimposed above soapy water that is being used to wash a stone driveway. The scene lasts approximately four minutes. “Roma” takes place between the years 1970 and 1971, and centers, in part, around a financially secure Mexican family who live in a house in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. The family consists of: Sr. Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), who is a doctor; his wife Sra. Sofia (Marina de Tavira); their four children Tono (Diego Cortina Autrey); Paco (Carlos Peralta); Pepe (Marco Graf); Sofi (Daniela Demesa). Sra. Sofia’s mother, Sra. Teresa (Verónica García) lives with them as well. Additionally, there is Adela (Nancy García García) who works as a domestic for the family. The prime focus of the film, however, concerns itself with a year in the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).

Cleo is a hardworking, indigenous, maid, who in many respects, is the backbone of the family. She is a tireless worker, who keeps the house in order. She performs a variety of tasks for them – including everything from cleaning up after the family and the family dog, to serving meals. Her greatest attribute, however, is the attention and time she devotes to the children. Cleo treats them, seemingly, as if they were her own. For example, she helps to wake and dress the younger children in the morning, and furthermore, takes all four children to school, and picks them up again in the afternoon. (As an aside: Cleo’s character was inspired by Liboria “Libo” Rodríguez, a woman who helped to raise Cuarón as a child. She has appeared in cameos in two Cuarón  films’ Sólo con tu pareja” and “Y Tu Mamá También“).  

Within the first half hour of the film, Sr. Antonio is departing on a business trip to Quebec, Canada. What sort of business the doctor has abroad is not discussed. Sra. Sofia is agitated about his leaving; her actions imply, that she feels that Sr. Antonio will not be returning to his family. Sra. Sofia’s instincts are right. The reasoning behind Sr. Antonio’s departure, and the direct impact it will have on his family’s future, will be revealed to the viewer later on in the film.

Cleo gets the occasional day off, and more often than not, spends time with her boyfriend, the martial arts obsessed, Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero). As time passes, one day they opt not to go to the movies, and instead, they rent a hotel room. A bit later on in the film, Cleo learns she is pregnant. When Cleo tells Fermin, at the movie theater, that he is going to be a father, he acts as if it is wonderful news. In addition, he promises to stick by her side. Fermin’s promise is worthless; within seconds, he excuses himself from the movie, claiming he needs to use the restroom, and does not return. Cleo, hoping against hope, waits for him long after the film is over, but from all outward indicators, he has seemingly left Cleo, on her own, to raise the baby. While Cleo initially wants Fermin to be in her life, she is afraid of how Sra. Sofia will react to the news that she is pregnant. She is worried, that as much as she is sometimes treated as a member of the family, and even though she is loved by the children, that there exists the very real possibility that she will be fired.

Particular events, such as the aforementioned, help to comprise the whole of “Roma.” The film doesn’t follow exact plot points from start to finish, but is more of an episodic study of the events that take place, especially in Cleo’s life and the life of the family. The entire movie is set against the backdrop of the political turmoil that was taking place in Mexico in the early 1970s. In particular, the film focuses on the 1971 Corpus Christi Massacre, which took place on June 10, 1971. The massacre was carried out against student demonstrators, who were angered at the government’s interference with the University of Nuevo Leon. The exact number of protesters that were killed by the Halcones (The Falcons), young men who were in favor of Mexico’s ruling party and then Mexican President, Luis Echeverría Álvarez, who served from 1970 to 1976, has never been confirmed. The number is believed to be upwards of 120 people that lost their lives.

Written and directed by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” marks his first film since “Gravity” (2013). The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Italy on August 30, 2018. During the film’s 135 minute runtime, both Spanish and the indigenous dialect of Mixtec are spoken. Could another Oscar be in Cuarón’s future? He just won the Golden Globe for Best Director, and “Roma” won for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language, at the Golden Globe Awards Ceremony that aired on NBC  (National Broadcasting Company) on Sunday, January 6, 2019. The cast, as a whole, are excellent, especially Aparicio, who makes her film debut. “Roma” is currently available to stream on Netflix.

 

 

 

 

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“The Initiation of Sarah” (1978)

The Goodwin sisters, Patty, played by Morgan Brittany (Dallas), and Sarah portrayed by two time Emmy winner Kay Lenz (Midnight Caller), are headed off to their freshman year at Waltham College. Shortly after they arrive, the two begin to make the rounds, attending functions hosted by the various sororities. Their first stop is at ASN (Alpha Sigma Nu), the sorority their mother (Kathryn Grant) attended while at Waltham. Mrs. Goodwin has high hopes that the attractive, socially outgoing, Patty will get accepted to pledge. She doesn’t have the same sort of expectations for Sarah, who is more of an introvert. Sarah, herself, has confided in Patty, that she’s apprehensive about leaving home and going away to school, even though Patty attempts to assure her that everything will be fine.

The popular ASN sorority, as expected are very welcoming of Patty. This is particularly true of their sorority president, Jennifer, played by Golden Globe nominee Morgan Fairchild (Flamingo Road). Sarah meanwhile is largely ignored. Sensing that her sister is not having a good time, Patty leaves with Sarah, and they make their way to PED (Phi Epsilon Delta), or as ASN has unkindly dubbed them – pigs, elephants, and dogs. The girls at PED haven’t set up any sort of function in the way of attracting new pledges. Patty and Sarah do spend some time with the sisters of PED, and while Patty acts polite and interested, it is plain to see that this time, Sarah is more in her element.

When the sorority bids are announced, it comes as no surprise that Patty gets a bid to pledge ASN, and Sarah receives her lone bid from PED. Patty and Sarah originally made a pact to stay together during their college years, but once Patty is accepted to ASN, those plans quickly change. Instead of cowering in her room, afraid to face the world without Patty, Sarah makes friends. She beings to grow close with her fellow sorority sister, the violin playing Alberta (Tisa Farrow), whom everyone calls mouse, as well as Paul Yates, a teaching assistant in the psychology department, played by Oscar winner Tony Bill (The Sting).  

Mrs. Hunter, the PED housemother, is portrayed by two time Oscar winner Shelley Winters (The Diary of Anne Frank). A former student, she now teaches at the college, and has a deep and abiding dislike for ASN. She also practices witchcraft, and is the holder of the only key to a mysterious room that is off limits to the girls. When Mrs. Hunter was a student at Waltham, PED was the most popular sorority, and ASN members were jealous of them. Mrs. Hunter states that information to Sarah one evening while they spend time talking. She also imparts to Sarah the fact that she knew Sarah’s father, who is deceased, when he was a student at Waltham.

Mrs. Hunter is aware that Sarah possesses special abilities, psychic and telekinetic powers to be exact; this is something the viewer will already be aware of from the opening scene of the movie. Sarah believes that Mrs. Hunter wants to help her to harness her powers so she can get the maximum effect out of them. Sarah, however, is not certain of what to make of her powers, or how she wants to use them; her struggle is evidenced by the type of conversations she has with Paul.

What finally pushes Sarah over the edge, is a cruel trick played out against her by the sorority sisters of ASN. Jennifer has her boyfriend Scott, a role acted by Robert Hays (Airplane), call Sarah on the phone and invite her out to a party. Sarah rejects the offer, until she learns that the party is a surprise birthday party for Paul, so she agrees to attend. Sarah buys a new dress, gets her hair and makeup done, and for the first time since arriving at Waltham has a good feeling about things. Once she steps outside, however, she is pelted with mud and tomatoes by Jennifer and the rest of the sorority sisters from ASN, who think the humiliation they are causing her, is the funniest thing they’ve ever done.

Will Sarah, guided by Mrs. Winters, give in to her dark urges? What kind of revenge will she extract against the sisters of ASN. Does she harm her own sister, Patty, who is pledging to become a member of ASN? Do the other sisters of PED perhaps also have powers? Has Mrs. Winters made it, through the use of her witchcraft, so that only girls with unique abilities are interested in joining PED? The answers to those questions, as well as a good deal more that I haven’t mentioned, will be revealed by the film’s conclusion.

“The Initiation of Sarah”  was directed by Robert Day (The Bold Ones: The Senator). The teleplay was written by Don Ingalls (Star Trek), Carol Saraceno (The Streets of San Francisco), and Kenette Gfeller (Police Woman), based on a story written by Saraceno and Tom Holland (Fright Night). The movie originally aired on February 6, 1978 on ABC Television (American Broadcasting Company). The 96 minute television movie held my interest from start to finish, primarily because I took it for what it was. The movie is labeled as belonging to the genres of horror and thriller, however, the scares are kept to a minimum. The movie offers solid performances from its cast, especially Lenz, and an interesting story, enough so, that I wanted to know how things would be resolved in the end. As of the writing of this post the movie is available to be watched on Amazon Prime.

 

 

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“Scrooged”

“Scrooged” is one of those Christmas films that I liked when I first saw it on HBO years ago, but haven’t watched in a good deal of time, so I decided to revisit it. The film is a modernized version of the Charles Dickens classic. “A Christmas Carol,” which was first published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843. BAFTA, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Bill Murray (Lost in Translation) portrays the cold hearted Frank Cross. He is the modern day equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. In the film, his character, is a television executive at IBC Television, in charge of overseeing an ambitious live Christmas Eve airing of a “A Christmas Carol.” Cross is reminded of the importance of the production going off without a flaw by IBC Television’s Chief Executive Officer, Preston Rhinelander, a small role played by Golden Globe winner Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter). Rhinelander has lost confidence in Cross and has brought in Brice Cummings, played by five time Emmy nominee John Glover (Smallville), to oversee his progress.

Cross fearing for his job, begins to act like a tyrant on set. The viewer will not need long to ascertain, that Cross is someone, who is not imbued with the holiday spirit; he is truly interested in profit over people, making work the focal point of his existence. In the original Dickens story, Scrooge detested Christmas because it meant he lost income, conversely, Cross is as happy as a man like he can be, because he uses the holiday as a means of maximizing his bottom line. Amongst numerous mean spirited acts the viewer sees Cross commit: For disagreeing with him, he fires his timid employee, Eliot Loudermilk, played by ‘Bobcat’ Goldthwait (Maron); turns his back on Claire Phillips, the woman who loves him, portrayed by Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), because she’s interested in helping the homeless, something he feels is a waste of time; and encourages his employees to up the violence factor to an outlandish degree in the promotional material for the beloved holiday classic.

During the film’s 101 minute runtime, in sticking with the structure of the Dickens story, Cross is first visited during the evening by his zombified, former mentor and business partner, Lew Hayward, portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner John Forsythe (Dynasty). Hayward, in the guise of Jacob Marley, informs Cross that he will be visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve, and indeed he is. Cross is visited by the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ played by David Johansen, the former lead singer of the “New York Dolls,” and the critically acclaimed “David Johansen Group.” Johansen, however, is perhaps best known, under the name Buster Poindexter for his hit song “Hot  Hot Hot.” In the film, Johansen’s version of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past’ is a cigar smoking, cab driver, whose magical checkered cab transports Cross back to 1955. In the role of the pink dress wearing, feisty and borderline insane, ‘The Ghost of Christmas Present’ is two time Emmy winner Carol Kane (Taxi); and the part of the ‘The Ghost of Christmas Future,’ whose face takes the shape of a television set, is acted by Chaz Conner (Meet the Hollowheads). The three ghosts combine in a more comedic manner, albeit cynical, to show Cross what a truly despicable person he’s turned into, and what a miserable existence he is living. Furthermore, they impart to him how his choices have negatively affected the people in his life, both past and present. For example, his current secretary, Grace Cooley, portrayed by Golden Globe and four time Emmy winner Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers’ Boys), is a single mother, taking care of her son, Calvin (Nicholas Phillips), who has never uttered a word. Cross learns via the ghost, that his task master mentality toward Grace, keeps her away from her special needs son. He also sees, however, that the little time they do spend together, there is more love and happiness that takes place between mother and son, than Cross has experienced himself in a long time.

Does Frank Cross learn from the errors of his ways? Will he have the same epiphany that all of the Ebenezer Scrooges have had throughout the stories recreations in various television, stage, and film productions? Could the film go in a different direction? Is it too late for Cross? Has he become so immersed in his quest for money and power that there is no turning back? All of the questions will be answered by the film’s conclusion.

“Scrooged” was directed by Richard Donner (Superman), and written for the screen by Emmy nominee Mitch Glazer (Magic City) and two time Emmy winner Michael o’ Donoghue (Saturday Night Live). The film premiered in Los Angeles, California on November 17, 1988. The score by two time Emmy winner Danny Elfman (Milk) helps to set the mood for what transpires on screen. Trivia buffs take note: Bill Murray has three brothers, Brian, Joel and John; all three of them appeared in the film. During one scene in the movie, Murray insults a group of street musicians, two of whom are played by four time Emmy nominee Paul Shaffer (A Very Murray Christmas), and Grammy award winner Miles Davis (Elevator to the Gallows). Comedian Sam Kinison was originally cast to play the part of ‘The Ghost of Christmas Past.’

I am glad I decided to re-watch “Scrooged.” I didn’t feel it necessary to get into an overabundance of specific plot points in this review. I’ll assume, which in general, I don’t like to do, but in this instance, I’ll assume most of you who are reading this post are familiar with the Dickens classic. For those of you who perhaps haven’t experienced “A Christmas Carol” yet, I recommend reading the story, and then watching the iconic 1951 film version starring BAFTA nominee Alastair Sim (Stage Fright), or my personal favorite of the different versions, the 1984 television movie starring Oscar winner George C. Scott (Patton).

 

 

 

 

 

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“Unsane” (2018)

Warning: Minor spoilers throughout:

Sawyer Valentini, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Claire Foy (The Crown), has recently moved from Boston to Pennsylvania in an attempt to put a traumatic portion of her past behind her. The background information on Claire starts to build throughout the opening minutes of the film. She works at a bank as a financial analyst – has a boss (Marc Kudisch) who is willing to forget about his marriage if she’s interested in a little fun, and her co-workers want to get to know her, but the feeling doesn’t come across as mutual. Later that evening, Claire has a date with a man she’s connected with on-line. She tells the relative stranger that the two of them can have fun that evening, but afterward, he’s not to contact her again. No sooner does she take the man back to her apartment, than she becomes extremely agitated and locks herself in the bathroom.

Claire recognizes that the problems she’s struggled to deal with, are still very much on the forefront of her mind. In order to quell her anxieties, which were not of her own making as the viewer will come to learn, she seeks out help at Highland Creek Behavioral Center. As it turns out, Claire was the victim of a stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard), who developed a deep abiding love for Claire, that at no point was reciprocated. No matter how many times Claire ignored David’s advances, text messages, and proclamations of love, his obsession with her did not waver.

While talking with a counselor (Myra Lucretia Taylor), she admits that on occasion, due to the detrimental effect David had on her life, she has thought about committing suicide, but has never gone so far as to plan out how she would take her life. Claire has an interest in meeting with the counselor for future sessions. She is asked by the counselor to sign papers, which she does, thinking it is routine in order to set up weekly appointments. What Claire doesn’t know, is that she has voluntarily committed herself to the hospital as a suicide risk; having done so, she will need to remain under observation for 24 hours.

A one day confinement turns into seven, after Claire makes a series of poor choices. For example, the stress she is under, causes her to physically strike a hospital employee (Zach Cherry). Claire, understandably, vociferously protests that she is being held against her will, but it does her no good. She is not saying anything new, that countless others in her situation haven’t asserted in the past. Refusing to accept her situation, Claire does everything she can to expedite her being able to leave the hospital as quickly as possible. She contacts the police, who once they view the paperwork she signed, walk away, not even bothering to see how she’s doing. The lead doctor at the facility, Dr. Hawthorne (Gibson Frazier), makes more time for phone calls, than he does his patients; when he does speak to Claire, he points to her violent actions since being brought in for observation. Furthermore, Violet, played by BAFTA winner Juno Temple (Dirty John),  the girl who resides in the bed next to Claire’s has seemingly had it in for her since the moment Claire was brought into the hospital. The only other patient who appears to have all their wits about them, and attempts to be nice to Claire, is Nate, played by Jay Pharoah (Saturday Night Live). He claims he’s at the hospital to get help for his Opioid addiction, but as the viewer will learn, there is more to his being there, than he initially lets on.

Claire contacts her mother Angela, played by Oscar nominee Amy Irving (Crossing Delancey), who gets to work right away, trying to free her. Angela is met with excuses, and a plastered smile, when she meets with the hospital’s corporate liaison, Ashley Brighterhouse (Aimee Mullins), who assures her that everything about Highland Creek is above board. The lawyer (Joseph Reidy) Angela speaks with on Claire’s behalf, tells her the things she wants to hear, but provides no timeline for Claire’s release, before hanging up the phone on her without offering a goodbye.

Unbeknownst to her mother, the timing of Claire’s release might be of the utmost importance, and not just because she’s being held against her will. While in line for her medication, Claire flips out, when she believes she sees, none other than her stalker, David. Claire can’t believe that he not only violated the restraining order she had against him, but left Boston and followed her to Pennsylvania. Additionally, that his desire to be with her, prompted him to get a job at the hospital; not just any job, but one in which he gets to dispense potent medication to patients. David, if that is indeed who he is, denies Claire’s allegations, and insists he has never seen her before. The head nurse, Nurse Boles (Polly McKie), and the other members of staff, dismiss Claire’s ranting; they’ve come to know their co-worker George as a good employee and nice person. Is Claire right? Has David gone through the trouble of a move and getting a new job, just for a chance to be in Claire’s presence again?

“Unsane” premiered on February 21, 2018 at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film was directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic). Furthermore, the cinematography for the movie was done by Soderbergh under the name Peter Andrews; he took the first two names of his father; Soderbergh also edited the film, taking his mother’s maiden name, Mary Ann Bernard, as his pseudonym. The screenplay for the film was co-written by Jonathan Bernstein (The Spy Next Door), and James Greer (Max Keeble’s Big Move). Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 98 minutes. Soderbergh shot the film over the course of 10 days, and filmed it entirely on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus in the 4K video recording option using the Filmic Pro app. Soderbergh’s stylistic choices; Foy’s acting; as well as the acting of the rest of the cast, who were uniformly good; and the question of Claire’s sanity, kept me interested from start to finish.

 

 

 

 

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“My Dinner with Hervé”

Sacha Gervasi, the writer and director of “My Dinner with Hervé,” was working at the U.K Publication, “The Mail on Sunday,” as a journalist, in 1993. Among other stories he worked on that year, he was tasked with interviewing a former television star. The star Gervasi was sent to interview was Golden Globe nominee Hervé Villechaize, best known for his work as Tattoo on “Fantasy Island.” The series ran from January 14, 1977 through May 19, 1984 on ABC Television (American Broadcasting Company). Initially dismissive of Villechaize as nothing more than someone who spoke the lines “da plane – da plane,” as well as a memorable turn in the 1974 James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun,” which starred Golden Globe winner Roger Moore, and BAFTA winner Christopher Lee, Gervasi was less than thrilled about having to conduct the interview. Gervasi discovers, however, over the course of the five days that the interview takes place, that there was a great deal more to Villechaize’s life, outside of his famous catch phrase. (As an aside: The teleplay Gervasi wrote for the movie was based on a story he had co-written with Sean Macaulay (Eddie the Eagle).

Portraying Villechaize in the movie is Golden Globe and multiple Emmy winner Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones). In the role of Gervasi, who in the film is referred to as Danny Tate, is BAFTA nominee Jamie Dornan (The Fall). The film begins when Tate meets Villechaize in Los Angeles; it is the first interview the actor has given in a decade. The story was assigned to Tate by his editor, Mrs. Baskin (Harriet Walter), as more of a joke, than a serious assignment. In fact, Baskin informs Tate that she wants him to write a humorous, five hundred word story, on the most famous dwarf in the world, in order for it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of “The Man with the Golden Gun.”  The primary purpose, however, for Tate being sent by his London publication to Los Angeles, is to interview Gore Vidal (Michael Elwyn). The piece, which Tate is assigned to write, he is told, will be a hatchet job, something which Tate objects to, but if he wants to stay employed, he is not in a position to turn it down. In fact, Tate has very little else going for him. Tate’s wife, Katie (Oona Chaplin) has left him, and taken their child with her to stay at her mother’s (Sabina Franklyn) house. Additionally, Tate is a recovering alcoholic, and has only recently been allowed back to work, after managing to remain sober for one month.

Villechaize makes the most out of what will be his final interview. He talks for so long that Tate winds up arriving late at the restaurant where his interview with Vidal, was scheduled to take place. Vidal is dismissive and unconcerned with Tate’s excuses, and is not accepting of Tate’s apologies, and rather than proceeding with the meeting, simply leaves the restaurant. Tate feels dejected, knowing that he has blown, what perhaps is, his last chance at redeeming himself to his employer.

Once back at his hotel, he struggles to fight off the urge to drink the alcohol contained in the mini-bar; alcohol which he had politely asked hotel staff, to remove hours earlier. Tate is on the verge of giving up his sobriety, when he receives a phone call. The call is from Villechaize, with whom he didn’t part company on the most pleasant of terms. Villechaize wants his story to be told, and is waiting downstairs for Tate. He is going to reveal the truth of all that has been rumored over the years, as the two are chauffeured around in a white stretch limousine.

Throughout the course of the wild night, Villechaize discusses a wide variety of topics pertaining to his life, which are shown to the viewer via flashback. His story begins with his birth in Nazi occupied Paris, France, in 1943, as the ambulance that is carrying his pregnant mother crashes, while trying to avoid bombs that are being dropped from the sky. As the story continues to unfold into the early post World War II years, the viewer is made aware that Villechaize’s mother (Félicité Du Jeu), rejects him, in favor of his brother, Patrick (Tommy Beck). His physician father (Alex Gaumond), however, is shown to be very loving toward him, and is seeking out every possible experimental procedure to help Villechaize combat his rare condition of dwarfism. Not everything that is revealed in flashbacks about Villechaize early life is tinged with sadness. For example, he was a successful painter, who was respected by his peers. Additionally, he was determined to go to New York City, learn to speak English, and become a working actor; a goal which through his determination, and unconventional ways, doesn’t take long for him to achieve.

As the evening progresses, Villechaize delves into his life, once his fame took off with “Fantasy Island.” He falls, however, into the category of an unreliable narrator, revealing only that which he wants to reveal from his point-of-view. The viewer, however, will learn the whole truth of what took place. Villechaize’s story, in essence, serves as a cautionary tale to Tate, who, unlike his subject, still has time to turn his life around, and get his ego in check.

“My Dinner with Hervé” premiered on HBO on October 20, 2018. In addition to the aforementioned actors, the 110 minute film featured, amongst others, the following: Emmy winner David Strathairn (Temple Grandin), as  Villechaize’s agent, Marty Rothstein; Golden Globe nominee Mireille Enos (The Killing), plays Kathy Self, a production assistant on “Fantasy Island,” who wound up falling in love with Villechaize, and becoming his girlfriend. She cares for him, and looks out for him, like few others in his life. Furthermore, there is Oscar nominee Andy Garcia (The Godfather: Part III). He portrays Emmy winner Ricardo Montalban (How the West was Won), who played Fantasy Island’s host, Mr. Roarke. Additionally, Wallace Langham, plays a small role as prolific television producer, and two time Emmy winner, Aaron Spelling (Charlie’s Angels). While “My Dinner with Hervé” is a standard biopic to be sure, it was none-the-less interesting, and Peter Dinklage, per his usual, was excellent.

 

 

 

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“Thelma (2017) – Impressive Film From Norway”

Warning: Minor spoilers throughout:

The opening scene of “Thelma” is jarring to say the least. Trond (Henrik Rafaelsen) is out hunting, joining him is his young daughter Thelma (Grethe Eltervåg). The two traverse a frozen lake, and walk into a snowy forest, in search of deer. A short time into the hunt they spot their first deer, a bit off in the distance from where they are standing. Thelma watches, as her father takes aim at the animal, but then she looks away. She doesn’t want to see the deer get killed; she’ll know it’s over, when she hears the sound of the rifle being fired. What Thelma doesn’t realize is that, as she is looking away, her father has turned his rifle back around, and is aiming it directly at the back of her head. This opening scene, is one of a number of disturbing moments that stand out in the film.

After the opening, the narrative moves forward in time; over a decade has passed. When the film resumes, a shy, teenage, Thelma, portrayed in a compelling manner by Eili Harboe (The Wave), is going off to attend her freshman year at the University of Oslo, where she will be studying biology. Her decision to attend college, away from home, is something which doesn’t sit well with Trond, or with Thelma’s mother Unni (Ellen Dorrit Petersen). Thelma has been home schooled since she was a child, and, because of the isolated location of her parents’ house, has had little social interaction. Demonstrating their lack of ability to let Thelma live her life with some space, her parents have her schedule memorized, inquire as to what she is eating, and call her throughout the day, until she answers her phone. The reason for their overprotective behavior is due, in large part, to their fervent religious beliefs; a set of guiding principles for life, which they fear Thelma will stray from once she is no longer living with them.

Thelma has difficulty making the transition from her isolated upbringing to the thriving environment of college life. For the most part, she attends her classes, but does little else. One afternoon, while studying at the library, the outwardly friendly and attractive, Anja (Kaya Wilkins), sits down next to Thelma, and they have a pleasant, albeit, quick exchange. Seemingly out of nowhere, Thelma begins to feel strange sensations that begin to overwhelm her mind and body. The intense feelings coincide with the crashing of birds into the library windows. In the next moment, Thelma is writhing on the floor, in the throes of a seizure. Later on, when questioned by the examining doctor, Thelma states that she doesn’t have a history of epilepsy. A series of medical tests are conducted, which yield no specific diagnosis as to why Thelma has had a seizure. The reason for Thelma’s apparent seizure is not medical, it is, in fact, her using long dormant, psychokinetic powers, that she possesses. The powers have been kept under control by her parents since she was a small child.

A short time later, while swimming laps in the pool, Thelma is surprised to see Anja. She has come to inquire as to her well being. Thelma, has been lonely since arriving at the university. As previously mentioned, she mainly attends classes, or studies, and repeats the same process, the next day. She is touched, that someone other than her parents would care about her.

Thelma and Anja begin a friendship which takes off immediately. Anja introduces Thelma to her circle of friends, and for the first time, Thelma begins to socialize,  however, due to her religious convictions, she is having a difficult time letting loose. Anja’s friends jokingly tease Thelma about refraining from alcohol and smoking.

As Thelma’s friendship with Anja continues to grow, it will not take her long to realize that her feelings extend much deeper than friendship. In fact, the more Thelma desires Anja, in a sexual manner, the more she descends into a hallucinogenic state, where, the filmmakers blur the lines between what it is real and what Thelma is imagining. I don’t want to reveal more than I have up until this point. There is a good deal to the film, that I haven’t mentioned, that I would like those of you, who want to see it, to discover on your own.

In addition to directing “Thelma,” Joachim Trier (Louder Than Bombs) co-wrote the screenplay with Eskil Vogt (Reprise). The film premiered on August 20, 2017 at the Norwegian International Film Festival. “Thelma” is comprised of a wide array of genres: drama – fantasy – horror – mystery – romance, and thriller. In regard to the horror aspects of the film, when they do appear, they are, for the most part, psychological instead of explicit.

“Thelma” provides the viewer with a number of answers to the questions it poses during its 116 minute runtime. However, in thinking about the film, after viewing it, I felt there are at least two ways to interpret the story. In one respect, a viewer might deem the film to be about the loss of a young girl’s innocence, after Thelma breaks free from the oppressive home life she’s dealt with during her formative years. Conversely, it can also be interpreted as a coming of age film, in which Thelma’s character begins to realize her special abilities, that have always existed within her, but she was not fully cognizant of until her sexual awakening. From start to finish, “Thelma”  is a dark film to be sure, but one that held my interest.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976)

At the start of the film, “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” Cosmo Vittelli has just paid off the debt he owed a loan shark, Marty (Al Rubin). In exchange for paying off what he owed, Cosmo’ nightclub, The Crazy Horse West, located on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, is once again his place, free and clear. Cosmo is portrayed by Emmy winner Ben Gazzara (Run for your Life) who gives a first-rate performance. Instead of basking in his financial accomplishment, Cosmo decides to celebrate with a handful of his female employees. He doesn’t furnish the women with expensive gifts, nor does he whisk the ladies off on a private plane to a tropical island. Instead, he has each of the women picked up, by a chauffeur driven limousine, and each lady is given a carnation to wear. The limousine drives Cosmo and the women, to an illegal gambling establishment run by local gangsters with mafia connections; it is a place, where seemingly anyone can receive a line of credit to play. Payment, however, for those who lose, is expected immediately, unless other arrangements can be agreed to.

By evening’s end, Cosmo, is called in to meet with the establishment’s boss (Morgan Woodward) to settle his debts. After being in the financial clear for less than a day, he is back in debt. According to the accountant (John Kullers), Cosmo owes $23,000 dollars, which in 2018, would be equivalent to approximately $105,000. Cosmo doesn’t have that kind of money, nor would his club generate that kind of  income in sufficient time to pay back the gangsters. Working in Cosmo’s favor, albeit, just in the manner in which it buys him more time, is that one of the gangsters, Mort, played by Oscar nominee Seymour Cassel (Faces), happens to personally like Cosmo.

The gangsters agree to let Cosmo and the ladies leave, but they will be in touch soon, to discuss how he can pay down his considerable debt. When the gangsters catch up with Cosmo, they inform him that they have a way for him to erase his debts. What they want, is for Cosmo, a Korean War veteran, to kill one of their competitors, a Chinese bookie, Soto Joe Hugh. Cosmo is hesitant at first, but after being taken into a back alleyway, by Flo (Timothy Carey), and physically worked over for a bit, to see what he would be in for, with an outright refusal, Cosmo accepts the job.

Cosmo has no desire to either be disabled or killed, nor does he want to lose his club. He considers the club, and the people that work for him, to be his true family, having no immediate family of his own. He even fancies himself a bit of an artist, even though the paying customers are there to see women strip. Cosmo insists on putting on musical numbers, as a way to separate himself from the other strip clubs. The musical numbers and skits are designed by Cosmo, and hosted by Mr. Sophistication (Meade Roberts). He is a heavy set individual, who wears brash makeup, and dresses in a tux, replete with cane and a top hat.

Given a gun – directions to where the bookie lives – instructions to purchase hamburger meat in order to keep the man’s guard dogs busy, and a key which unlocks the door to the building the bookie lives in, Cosmo sets off in a stolen car. From the outset, what can go wrong, does go wrong. When Cosmo arrives at the bookie’s house, the man is entertaining company. Additionally, the bookie has a number of bodyguards spread out throughout the property, more than Cosmo thought he would be contending with.

Only because it is not the primary focus of the movie, merely the catalyst for what comes afterward, I will let it be known, that Cosmo does successfully kill the bookie. After doing so, Cosmo has placed himself in tremendous peril. What Cosmo doesn’t know, information that the gangsters withheld from him, for obvious reasons, is as follows: The gangsters never expected him to be able to pull off the job. They figured he would kill the bookie, and one of the bookie’s people would take out Cosmo, and they would step in and take over Cosmo’s nightclub. Furthermore, the person Cosmo killed, wasn’t just a simple bookie, but was the head of west coast operations for an international criminal Chinese syndicate.

Is there a way out for Cosmo? Will he have to go to war with the gangsters to win his freedom? If he succeeds, and bests the gangsters, what about the Chinese crime syndicate? Do they come looking for Cosmo to extract their revenge against him for taking out one of their leaders? All of those questions and more will be answered by the conclusion of the film.

“The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” was written and directed by  three time Oscar nominee John Cassavetes (A Woman Under the Influence).  The film premiered on February 15, 1976 in New York City, New York. When the film first premiered, and for approximately a week thereafter, its runtime was 135 minutes, but after receiving less than stellar critical reviews, Cassavetes released a 109 minute version of the movie. The original story for the film had been developed years earlier by John Cassavetes and Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (The Departed). The film comprises the genres of crime, drama, and thriller. The pacing is slow, but that only enhances the realism that Cassavetes was striving for while dealing with people who are on the fringes of society. In closing, the role of Cosmo was an excellent character study, thanks to the performance given by Ben Gazzara; the cast as a whole was uniformly good, and the score by Emmy winner Bo Harwood (Ups & Downs), helps to elevate the tension of what is taking place on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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