Category Archives: Entertainment

Sicario: Taut, Tense and Tortured (Review)

Emily Blunt as Kate Macer

Thrumming, strident and evocative of the “train” sound emitted by the surrounding native contingent  in the 1964 film Zuluor a rhythmic overbalanced bass emanating from a woofer one step from shaking itself to death, Sicario begins with a soundtrack guaranteed to elevate the viewer’s adrenaline levels.  This foreboding score begins the film as two definitions of the title appear onscreen. One; being a zealot (a killer who hunted down invaders of their homeland), the other;  meaning hitman. The Denis Villeneuve film is, fittingly enough, about both.

The film’s score, by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Foxcatcher, Prisoners) sets the tone and the pace of the feature from frame one. It manages to dictate the action, the feelings of impending doom and confusion (felt by the movie’s protagonist FBI agent Kate Macer, played brilliantly by Brit actress Emily Blunt) as well as the feeling that everything is one half-step away from stampeding out of control.

Sicario stars Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin.  Playing Macer’s professional partner Reggie Wayne is another Brit actor Daniel Kaluuya. Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice, Fargo) and Victor Garber (The Flash, Power) have impressive cameos in this film about drug cartels and the struggle to control them. The Walking Dead actorJon Bernthal has tiny cameo as a crooked cop.

The film, written by Taylor Sheridan (His first project as author versus actor.)  begins with a raid on a house in the suburban setting of Chandler, Arizona.  Macer is a kidnap specialist who, with her partner and a team of agents, invades a tract house. Entering, by the device of ramming a vehicle through a wall, the team discover a multitude of dead bodies secreted in the sheetrock walls.

Other agents are going through a storage shed behind the house when they discover it has been rigged to explode. Macer, Wayne and their boss David Jennings (Garber) are injured by the blast and flying debris. After the raid and the discovery of all those bodies, Macer is recruited by “DoD advisor Matt Graver (Brolin) and his shadowy colleague Alejandro (Del Toro). Wayne is not wanted, but tags along anyway to keep an eye on his partner.

Macer is talked into volunteering for a dangerous and vague mission to get the men responsible for the explosion in Chandler and the house of dead bodies.  Sicario follows her descent into the madness of a CIA operation and a father and husband bent on revenge.

The film is harsh, unrelenting and visceral in its depiction of cartel activity and the task force’s foray into “enemy territory.”  The viewer feels as helplessly caught up in events as the two FBI agents Kate and Reggie. The audience share her feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated and enraged by the events and Reggie’s concern.

Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) delivers on a level that feels almost guttural in its texture and his use of Jóhannsson to blend and escalate his story is pure genius.  Between the soundtrack and the events unfolding on screen the tension is almost palpable as is the threat.  The tone of the movie is one of a tautness  that nearly screams with a tortured cry of  rage  and confusion from its beleaguered heroine.

Emily Blunt has proven yet again, that a slender and fragile looking English rose can convince as a tough as nails FBI warrior woman who gives as good as she gets.  (Blunt showed off considerable talents in the arena of being a tough customer in both Loopers; “I will cut you the F**k in half” and Edge of Tomorrow; “Bloody hell, it’s the Full Metal Bitch!” and Sicario brings her “action” skills full circle as the American FBI agent in over her head.)

Josh Brolin plays the type of character he specializes in; a real-feeling protagonist who is sitting square in the middle of the fence. A man who is not afraid to create chaos if the end result is order.

Benicio Del Toro is brilliant as the taciturn and scary agent  of Graver’s (Brolin) chaos.  A disturbing mixture of thinly covered pathos tinged with a  deadly air that permeates every scene he is in.  His interactions with Blunt’s character are full of regret and sadness, she reminds him, he says,  of his daughter, which speaks volumes of the FBI agent’s naivety in this new world of cartels and the death they deliver.

Sicario is a powerhouse film that does not have a satisfactory or even clear cut ending. Ambiguity and a sense of confusion are present even after the end credits roll.  The final result is that we the audience have stepped fully into the shoes of Macer and identify with her completely.

This is a full 5 out of 5 stars film.  Tight to the point of screaming;  the plot, the performances and the action all follow that thrumming driving score.  Watch this film and prepare to be wound up like a Swiss precision watch.  Cracking entertainment that should not be missed.


Cartel Land: Meth, Tears and Vigilantes (Review)

Poster for Michael Heineman's Cartel Land

It is oddly fitting that  the documentary Cartel Land, directed and filmed by Matthew Heineman, should be making waves at the same time that the film Sicario has also been getting rave reviews from critics. While the documentary deals with meth and vigilantes on both sides of the border and deals with the reality of cartels, both productions have one thing in common; the tears of the innocent.

Heineman, in his fourth outing as documentary director, is the cinematographer who follows the vigilantes in Mexico and the paramilitary  group through Arizona’s Altar Valley as they seek to stop drugs coming into the country.  Each group may fly similar flags of intent, but the Arizona Border Recon, headed up by Tim “Nailer” Foley (who is an American veteran) is, in reality, a thinly disguised immigration control group with little interest in stopping cartel smuggling and a intent interest in keeping  illegal aliens from taking jobs.

The documentary follows Nailer’s group somewhat, but focusses on things below the border fence. Dr. Jose Mireles, aka El Doctor,  is the charismatic, well spoken and humble leader of Autodefensas . He  heads the  armed group of vigilantes who pass out T-shirts and recruit locals from towns overrun by the cartels.

A battle between the vigilantes, the government (paid for by the local cartels) and the cartels themselves erupts. With names like Knights Templar, the drug gangs control with a mixture of fear, death, torture, bribery and intimidation.  Mireles speaks of the origins of the Templar group and rather tellingly, explains that they too began as opposition to an existing cartel, becoming corrupt as they expanded.

Heineman gets up close and personal with the main players in Autodefensas. El Doctor and his second in command “Papa Smurf” grow the organization;  increasing membership, wresting towns from the cartel and spreading the word that the bad guys can be beaten.  After what appears to be an attempt on Mireles’s life, Papa Smurf is  temporarily put in charge and the nature and structure of the vigilante group changes.

Templars infiltrate the group and complaints from villagers come rolling in.  Eventually, the ideology of the organization changes as does the leadership.

South of the border, the story feels all too familiar, power and corruption do indeed, as Heineman shows, go hand in hand. North of the border, immigrants are stopped and turned over to the authorities but no drugs are confiscated, proof that the activities of the paramilitary group are not as advertised.

Kathryn Bigelow (Oscar winning former spouse of James Cameron and director of Hurt Locker) is the executive producer of  this gritty, intimate and compelling look at vigilante justice and their goals both sides of the border.  While Cartel Land  lacks Hollywood stars and gory special effects, it does manage to disturb and ensnare the viewer.

The film itself is not just about the vigilantes who want to eliminate the cartels, it also features a close look at just why people work for the Knights Templar, or their equivalent.  The meth cooks, who are met at the start of the documentary and revisited later in the film, explain that they know laws and lives are broken by what they do.


They also point out that someone will always do what they are presently doing.  It will never stop, a message also conveyed in the Denis Villeneuve film Sicario.  Bigelow and Heineman have opted to leave the “near-reality” of Breaking Badand other fictionalized visions of the drug trade,  behind and show the warts and underbelly of the drug trade and the citizens who  take the law into their own hands to stop it.

Granted, the vast majority of the tale takes place in Michoacán, Mexico; a whole world away from the US but the reach of the film surpasses this geological location.  This look at cartels and the citizen groups who “fight” them has not been commercialized in the least.  The film is a fly in the wall vision of a struggle that will never be stop and how even the “good guys”  can become seduced by power and the fight.

There are things that “clang” within the documentary. The repeated story of babies being killed by holding their feet and smashing their heads against rocks immediately rings a false note. This grisly and disturbing act has been attributed to “baddies” since the First World War, initially said of Russian soldiers and used again in WWII for the Nazis.

Some villagers sport idiotic grins during the “riot” scenes and during the funeral of a murdered family, young attractive girls in the background mug for the camera.

These jarring moments, which do intrude, do not take away from the power of the documentary, but do mar it.  Perhaps a tighter camera edit or judicious reframing could have fixed this, but overall the documentary impresses with its intimate vision of good becoming sour as it fights the villains and a government who want control.

Cartel Land has rocked the film festival world and has pulled  in seven awards and a number of nominations.  Watching the documentary, it is immediately apparent why it evokes so much excitement.  Heineman gives us a vision that upsets and contains a few twists and turns along the way. Betrayal, human weakness and loss of focus are combined with the human factor and hidden agendas that weaken the motivations of the main players.

This documentary is a must see.  Michael Heineman and Kathryn Bigelow have teamed up to produce a compelling and personal look at drugs, cartels and the real people who want change.  5 out of 5 stars.

Meet the Patels: Dating, Tradition and Comedy (Review)

Ravi and Geeta Patel

One of the best things about being a “film critic” is discovering films that are so outside the “box” that it may as well not exist. Meet the Patels fits that description perfectly. A documentary, which the official site says started as a “home movie” that follows Ravi Patel’s search for the perfect mate. The film, directed by Ravi and his sister Geeta, is all about tradition, dating, creating new traditions and is chock full of comedic moments.

This brother/sister team look at the question of traditional and cultural problems with dating outside ones ethnicity in a different country.  Soon-to-be 30, Ravi begins to panic that he has not found his “someone.” Dating  a white girl for two years, something he kept a secret from “the parents” Ravi breaks off the relationship to search for a first generation Indian/American.

Meet the Patels documents Ravi’s search for a lifelong companion and the telling is done with an abundance of comedy and revelations. As Ravi says in the film:

You know that girl in Eat, Pray, Love? She goes through a break up, goes on the existential journey to India to get over depression, find out what she really wanted in life? 

I was that girl. Except, my family was with me the entire time.


Meet the Patels allows the viewer to be there as well to see Ravi’s journey to find his perfect partner.  While sister Geeta, as cinematographer, spends the vast majority of the film behind the lens and not in front of it she is also a presence throughout the film. Also making appearances is Ravi’s secret girlfriend Audrey Wauchope who is seen through older video footage and later turns up as a  more current part of the documentary.  

Ravi with his father and the map…

The message of the film, delivered via warm, and hysterically funny, moments that will make the viewer helpless with laughter, is that new traditions are born of necessity and that geographical locations may be an important factor in cultural adherence but is not  a “deal breaker.”  Perhaps the most important thing learned from this sibling production about love and family is that “the parents”  will love whoever the two pick because:

“Your happiness is our happiness.”

Meet the Patels reveals what it means to be a Patel and that humor, and love,  can indeed overcome all obstacles. This movie, which does feel more like a home movie than a “serious” documentary will make the viewer fall in love with the entire Patel clan.

As a long time fan of all things Bollywood, this reviewer found the footage dealing with the marriage ceremonies delightfully epic and funny. The costumed pageantry of the celebrants and the music are evocative of films watched in England on Sunday afternoons where the women are all beautiful and everyone breaks into song and dance irrespective of the film’s genre.

Ravi is an American actor, his credits include Grandfathered, Past Life and Super Fun Night, amongst others and his ease in front of the camera helps make his story of searching for  matrimonial bliss entertaining and funny. His sister Geeta is a  “Jill of all trades” in the industry having worked as director, producer and writer on various projects. Meet the Patels is her third major project as director and second feature length documentary.

This brother/sister team, who welcome the world into their family’s traditions, heritage and culture have made a film that is a real treat. Meet the Patels is easily the funniest “feel good film” on offer in 2015.  The goodnatured humor begins with the very first frames of “real” footage (although the animated portion of the introductory scenes are amusing) where Ravi pokes fun at his sister’s camera operating skills.

What helps is that the entire extended Patel family are a splendid combination of endearing, funny and genuine.  This is the documentary, that began life as a “vacation video” to be watched by anyone who has relationship issues (or not) and needs  cheering up.

Meet the Patels (the documentary) is the most fun you will have watching a film this year.  This film is a wonderful mixture of animated hilarity mixed with a family who exude good humor and brilliant comedic timing. Miss this and miss the best comedy movie of the year.


I Smile Back: Sarah Silverman Nails It

Sarah Silverman as Laney Brooks

Adapted from Amy Koppleman’s book of the same name, by Paige Dylan and Koppleman, directed by Adam Salky and starring Sarah Silverman, I Smile Back looks at a suburban familial nightmare of mental illness and addiction. Where one partner suffers from bipolar disorder and opts to self medicate with cocaine, vodka and sex with a variety of partners and objects.  The main character, Laney Brooks, is a woman with issues. 

Brooks has deep set and disturbing mental abscesses that she fills with an affair, an over abundance of self medication and delusional ramblings. Silverman sells her version of an emotionally immature and mentally ill wife and mother of two.  Not having read the source material; Amy Koppleman won raves of approval from literary critics for her book, it is difficult to discern just where Laney’s problems begin.

It is mentioned that her father, played with a mixture of world weariness and a wounded soul by Chris Sarandon,  deserted Laney and her mother when she was a small girl. However, it is also brought up, firstly by Laney herself indirectly at a school meeting and later by her father Roger, that her grandmother had  issues as well.

I Smile Back seems to be saying that the old mot of money not buying happiness can also apply to its inability to fix mental illness.  Laney Brooks is in a relationship where her “provider” and enabler earns very good money. This allows Laney to snort cocaine and drink hidden vodka, while ignoring her prescribed medication.

Silverman’s character also has extra-marital sex, on a regular basis,  and seems to be attempting to replicate what she believes to be her father’s past behavior. Things come to a head when she overdoes her drinking and coke snorting after a family meal. After making an abusive call to another parent, she then masturbates with her daughter’s teddy bear on the floor by the bed while the child sleeps.

She goes through a meltdown and her husband sends her to detox at rehab.  Part of Laney’s problems stem from the bipolar but the rest appear to be from her lack of focus and refusal to accept culpability for her actions.

Laney “plays” at being mommy while ignoring the realities of parenthood. Later in the film, Eli (played brilliantly by Skylar Gaertner) begins exhibiting compulsive disorder symptoms at home and school.  During  a parent teacher meeting to discuss a plan of action, Laney blames the problem on her genes.

This is a moving drama filmed with emphasis on the uncomfortable “realities” of living with a loved one who suffers from mental health issues and is addicted to their own self medication.  Silverman gives this role her all and does not hesitate to show the pathos under the calm exterior of her character.

There are a few sex scenes that rely less on “in your face” techniques and more on making the act feel real. One scene features sex that turns into an assault as Laney’s world spirals out of control.

I Smile Back is evocative of  a “reality” documentary. Interactions are filmed with minimal music, focussing instead on the dialogue and the set’s ambiance.  This gives the film a “fly-on-the-wall” feel that is not too overpowering as music is used to an extent to underscore certain scenes.

Overall, this drama has equal amounts of sadness and loss. One gets the feeling that despite the love that Bruce (Josh Charles) and Laney have for one another, their relationship is doomed.  Her issues run too deep and Laney continues to deny her true feelings while refusing to take her medication. 

The ending is ambiguous; a nod to  real life where solutions are not nearly so cut and dried and innocents often suffer from their loved ones problems. Director Salky has given Silverman a chance to show that her unique brand of comedy is not the only thing that this performer has to offer.

Apart from the money not equating to happiness dictum, the film’s other message is that mental illness, or issues like bipolar or depression, is not affected by social status, success or parenthood. The root of Laney’s problem, apart from her manic depressive issue,  lies in her inability to “grow up,” she plays at being an adult with severe lapses into the emotional state of a fractured child. Nothing can “take her out of herself” long enough to fix her problems.

I Smile Back is a splendid vehicle for Silverman. It is a bit “heavy” but manages to give a human touch to all the issues faced by the Laney and her  family.  Not a film to watch if easily depressed but it is a film that should prompt discussion and not a little deep thinking. This is a 4.5 out of 5 star film and Silverman nails it as the woman who is driven to extremes by her inner demons.

The Antwerp Dolls (2015): New Vintage London Gangsters [Update]

The Antwerp Dolls: Courtney Winston and Jermaine Curtis Liburd

[Update] It should be pointed out that the “sound issues” covered in the review are from the online screener and will not be present on the general release DVD of The Antwerp Dolls. Jake Reid spoke with and explained the problem, so viewers will not “see” these when viewing the film. We apologize for any misconceptions raised by our review. Thank you.

Written and directed by Jake L. Reid (as Jake Reid) The Antwerp Dolls feels like a throw back to the 1980 cult classic The Long Good Friday (starring a young Bob Hoskins, Helen Mirren and featuring a brief glimpse of pre-Remington Steele/James Bond actor Pearce Brosnan and a pre- Casualty Charlie  – Derek Thompson) With more than a nod and a wink to Guy Ritchie’s London underworld of colorful gangsters, this “new vintage” glimpse at crime in the capital is enjoyable if not a little disjointed.

In terms of tipping the hat to Ritchie, Reid uses a similar camera technique for filming actors shooting their weapons, a’la the 2008 film RocknRolla, where a small camera appears to be attached to the end of the gun for an extreme closeup of the actor firing the automatic rifle.

London gangsters aside, the plot, is for all intents and purposes a serious nod to all things Spaghetti Western, or to be more succinct, a variation on A Fistful of Dollars and its dividing two “families” to create havoc. While these villains do not kill each other off (Any further information is not forthcoming so watch the film.) there is a clear intention from a number of sides to do just that.

Tommy Callahan (Jason Wing) has made a deal with two brothers from Belgium who are taking great chunks of London real estate and they have attempted to pave the way with the local crime boss. Enter a group of lads, with inside information, who intercept the transaction causing all the parties to come unglued.

The first half of the film treads a little slowly as each player is introduced and backstories related. The Ferrino brothers, Ray and Max (Bruce Payne and Sean Cronin respectively) are showcased and their enforcer Marco, played with marvelous menace by Sebastien Foucan (Casino Royale, The Tournament) is shown as someone to be equally feared. 

Cally, aka Tommy Callahan (Wing), who appears to be a throw back to the days of “The Krays” a real “effing and blinding” type of mobster who may, or may not, be winding down his little empire, attempts to learn who has thrown a massive spanner in his works.

Jake Reid has managed to make a “low/no” budget film (the estimated production cost was £100,000  or $151,000) look very impressive. Using  guerrilla filming techniques and some special effects for gunshot wounds that look brilliant the film comes across quite well.

What Reid as writer does brilliantly  is to depict the mentality and personality of underworld characters. Their bluster, bravado and bullishness is almost overwhelming and each player in this crime thriller pointedly plays for the overkill factor, with the exception of the two “foreigners” the Ferrino brothers and the accountant.

American audiences might well be shocked at some of the language, the “C” word is really frowned upon within US shores, but the earthy coarseness of the patter is spot on in  representing the English “lower class” criminal fraternity.  The film features a bit more reality based brusqueness with its main characters and does not rely quite so much on what is becoming a sort of standardized exported British cinema “mockney.”

That said, there are stereotypes on offer,  for instance, Wing’s frozen visage; lips caught in a sort of half snarl, make his performance quite interesting and his delivery is pure “London barrow boy made good.”  There is a good cross-section of players, the posh totty accountant  Christy; who is a pure as the driven slush (played with cool conviction by Kate Marie Davies) and teeth-sucking Spacey (played with impressive authenticity by newcomer Jermaine Curtis Liburd) as well as “wide boy” Corey (Ashley R Woods).

At times the film does feel a little convoluted with too many twists and turns to take in. That said, the journey to the film’s conclusion is not a boring one and each character brings something to the table. As this is Reid’s maiden project, and one where Jake exceeds auteur status by also being credited as a stunt driver for the production, it is entertaining enough that one should keep an eye on this new filmmaker.

The Antwerp Dolls is a solid 3.5 out of 5 stars. There are a few issues with sound, with the score intruding in a couple of places and what seems to be ADR syncing problems.  Overall, the film keeps the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen and while some of the acting feels a little OTT, it does sort of fit the verse that Reid has created.  Keep an eye out for this one and give it a go.

99 Homes: A Slice of Soured American Dreams – (Review)

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon living the sour American dream

Written and directed by Ramin Bahrani (an auteur who has been described as the new chronicle of US cinema) 99 Homes offers up a slice of  the American dream that has been soured by the banks, entrepreneurs and an economy designed to suck the life out of the lower-middle class.  Starring the powerhouse that is Michael Shannon and Spiderman reboot star Andrew Garfield (in a serious role not reliant upon Stan Lee’s web slinger or comic books) this film festival favorite is a disturbing look at how honest sweat and labor has been overwhelmed by deal making and double dealing. 

Garfield is “everyman” carpenter Dennis Nash who loses his family  home to the bank. The institution gives the single parent  conflicting information that allows him to fall behind with his payments.  House reclamation expert Rick Carver (Shannon) shows up to take the home way from Nash for the bank.  Later, Dennis begins working for Carver and gets swept up in the nefarious dealings of the dour repossessor for the inept financial institutes who has learned to play the system and earn big money.

Laura Dern plays Nash’s hairdresser mother Lynn and Noah Lomax plays Nash’s son Connor.  Bahrani takes the viewer on an uncomfortable ride where Garfield’s character becomes embroiled in the shadowy and illegal practices of Carver and his real estate company after being forced out of his home and losing everything he holds dear. 

When one of  Carver’s workmen steals some of Dennis’ tools, the man goes to get them back and ends up working pro bono for the repression agent.  Nash has an immediate goal of reclaiming his family home. Later, Dennis loses sight of himself and his own moral compass as the greed and loopholes in the fractured system allow him to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

99 Homes is, at times, extremely uncomfortable viewing. Nash’s humiliation, from a  range of avenues; the court, the bank, the repossession agency, is complete and soul destroying. His fruitless search for work and  temporary living accommodations at a hotel full of destitute refugees whose homes have all be repossessed force Dennis to begin working full time for the very man who took his house away for the bank.

Garfield is brilliant as the single father whose home and, by association,  life  is “stolen” by banks whose employees are making a killing by repossessing houses. Dennis Nash is not the brightest tool in the shed but has an innate honesty and a good heart that becomes polluted by his circumstance and the awareness  that he is actually rather good at repossessing homes and making money on the side from it.

Nash’s journey is a revealing look at someone facing and then working for their own personal demon.  Shannon’s character is a predator who cruises neighborhoods for potential repossessions. His business plans include stripping the houses of air conditioner units and swimming pool filter systems, as well as gutting the place from the previous owners,  while playing both sides against the middle.

In Bahrani’s America shaky financing and loopholes allow sharks like Carver and Mr. Freeman (Clancy Brown in a performance of impressive stature, although for  a plot definitive cameo the part is of “blink and you will miss” him duration) the ability to milk the system as they make a fortune out of other people’s misfortune.

Carver is an e-cigarette puffing money-making machine who has no empathy for the individuals who bankroll his lifestyle.  The real estate agent lives in a mansion and has a mistress.  He also has no conscience.

Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski gives the viewer an unflinching look at the proceedings and Bahrani edits the scenes to allow the same uncomfortable experience to flow throughout the film.  The sound is a perfect blend of background ambiance; empty houses sound empty as does the dialogue taking place in them.

While the film is a “vehicle” for Garfield (who does turn in an impressively underplayed  performance full of angst, it is Shannon who shines as the man who angrily blames the banks, home owners and the economy for his success.  The real estate agent who is making a killing from the frailties of the economy professes discomfort at his success but the man, as they say, “doeth protest too much.”

99 Homes proves that Ramin Bahrani is the new voice of middle America or the blue collar worker’s chronicler as a new generational version of “The Grapes of Wrath,” a’la James Michener via the medium of film.

This is a 5 out of  5 stars vehicle for all concerned. Entertainment based upon not just the human condition but the societal ills that affect it.  99 Homes is a powerful film that disturbs and should be a movie that makes the audience talk about the very real issues behind this tale of greed and loss.

The Player: Downtown Odds – Penultimate Episode Thug’s Life Yo (Review)

The Player - Season 1

Christopher Heyerdahl may be better known as The Swede from AMCs Hell on Wheels, but in this penultimate episode of The Player; Downtown Odds. With a Romeo & Juliette riff on a thug’s life, Yo, the segment felt like a slow methodic waltz with the dancers moving toward an almost preordained ending.  Although unlike the bard’s unlucky lovers, both do not wind up dead.

There is also a “Man with No Name” twist with Heyerdahl’s character “Ivan” playing both sides against the middle. His plan, one that has worked before, is to have both gangs kill each other off and allows him to stroll in and take over their turf.  Winchester, who plays Alex Kane, manages to evoke an image of fearless avenger, as well as the man who believes that the young “thugs” have earned the right to leave the “life.”

Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield)  is shown to be a damned character behind all that sophisticated cool sexiness.  King, like Philip, Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) and even, apparently, Ginny (Daisy Betts) are all sinners caught up in web of redemption, punishment and, possibly, restitution. And like all truly damned people she  further “sells” herself out to Johnson in order to save Nick.

The Player - Season 1
Cassandra choses the Game over Nick…

KaDee Strickland as Agent Rose Nolan oozes that smoldering amount of control that allows her to play give and take with Johnson in a slow sexy dance where she promises to punish this bad man when, and not if, she wins. Nolan is real danger, something that may look like it is outside the game but could well be from within.  Rose knows a lot about the Pit Boss; too much to have picked it all up from beyond the game itself.

This week’s episode does feel little “West Side Story” meets the “Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s.”  Two young people, from different gangs, or clans, meet outside the battle zone and fall in love.  It is this portion of the bet that pushes Philip to take on the game  aggressively.  It does not end well at all. However, the entire storyline moves Cassandra and Philip that little bit closer to an allegiance and drives another wedge between Winchester and his friend Detective Brown (Damon Gupton).

Perhaps it the impending too early finish of The Player, but this story felt downbeat and overly sad.  Although the entire thing was saved from morbidity by guest star Heyerdahl’s splendid underplaying of the boogeyman pulling the strings of the opposing factions.  The actor leaves the “crazy” back at Hell on Wheels and instead focuses on controlled chaos creation.  In essence, his Ivan is kicking the hornets nest in slow motion and enjoying the collapse of an uneasy truce between two “fams.”

The Player - Season 1
Slow “savage” seduction?

Watching Strickland’s FBI super agent take on Snipes’ uber cool pit boss was entertaining and leaves one feeling that despite being on two different sides, the two could be a item of the hottest tension imaginable.  This is coitus interruptus taking place before either party even thinks of “getting it on” and the chemistry between these two is so palpable it seeps heavily from the screen.

Watching Downtown Odds leaves one feeling down thinking of what could have been with this NBC castoff. The Player has a cast of superb performers who make the most of their roles and has some damned impressive guest stars. Granted, some, like Richard Roundtree, are given short shrift but this could have been show to be proud of.

All the players even Damon Gupton, who took some time to warm up for this viewer, has hit his stride and this could have been a major, for lack of a better phrase player for the network. Action, stunts, well choreographed fight scenes, intricate plots and chemistry that threatens to simmer off the small screen and into the living rooms of Mr and Mrs America.

Shame on you NBC, for turning your back on The Player and all who sail her. Treating Snipes, Winchester, Wakefield and Gupton like a “red headed step child,” is not big and it is not clever. May television karma bite your big unprotected network butt.



Maureen O’Hara – Don’t Think You’re Gonna Get Rid of Me That Easy Gone at 95

Maureen O'Hara in McLintock!

When I was a child, I firmly believed that Maureen O’Hara was married to John Wayne. Not only did the two fit, but she was the only female who could have stood so tall against the Duke.  As I was convinced the flame haired beauty was Wayne’s wife, in real life, versus, reel life, when Disney’s The Parent Trap came on television it culminated in a moment of confusion, Brian Keith was not the Duke.

O’Hara worked with Wayne on a number of films, each time playing either wife, or (in the case of The Quiet Man 1952) romantic interest and then wife. In each film Maureen played the head strong and formidable female who stood head to toe, metaphorically at least, with her big strong husband.

The news that she died October 24, at the age of 95, in her sleep, stunned me. O’Hara seemed ageless. A woman for all seasons who would live to be 100, herself’s professed goal.   The actress, born in Dublin, Ireland, spent her life playing strong positive role models. In a time when feminists were not even contemplating burning a bra, her characters stood up to and ruled the menfolk in many of her films.

Her Mary Kate Danaher, who believes her new husband to be a coward, stands up to him when he “manhandles” her back to fight the bullying brother (Victor McLaglen). The red-haired colleen takes a mighty swing at Sean Thornton but misses.  

It was her role in the 1963 comedy western McLintock! (which was retelling of Kiss Me Kate with a cowboy setting) produced by Wayne’s son Michael and directed by Andrew V. McLaughlin where O’Hara proved that not only could she stand up to Duke, but she was adept at comedy.  Her bossy, and hilariously gruff, Katherine Gilhooley McLintock ruled the roost.

Her scenes with Chills Wills, who Duke obviously forgave for his tasteless 1960  Best Supporting Actor Oscar campaign for his role as the beekeeper in The Alamo, are brilliantly funny.

Katherine to Drago: “Shut up and do as you’re told.”

Drago: “This here Douglas feller…”

Katherine: “DRAGO!”

O’Hara could deliver these orders as only she could. With a tone that allowed no argument and gave no quarter.  As Barry Fitzgerald’s character Michaleen Oge Flynn the Matchmaker says of Maureen’s Mary Kate, “She’s the tongue of an adder.”

It was with complete delight that I introduced my, then, young daughter to the magic that was Maureen O’Hara when an old friend found a VHS copy of McLintock! and posted it to us in England. Despite the fact that the film is quite chauvinistic in its belief that women secretly want a man to either a) spank them, or b) “man-handle”  them, it works precisely because it is a comedic rendering of the Cole Porter adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

The plot, of McLintock! deals with a cattle baron being “bullied” by his wife for a crime (lipstick on his collar) for years. When their daughter returns home to the town of McLintock and her father’s 200 square mile spread, Katherine Gilhooley McLintock increases her assault on George Washington “GW” McLintock her husband.

Featuring Patrick Wayne as the love interest of a young Stephanie Powers, the film is a favorite of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara fans alike.  While the movie “condone’s violence toward’s women and the message is very old fashioned, the entire thing is made more palatable by the ending.

After an epic town-long chase, with Katherine being doggedly followed by GW, the two end up at the blacksmith’s, where McLintock spanks Kate with a coal shovel. After tumbling the woman off his lap he tells her, “Now get your divorce.”

Drago, the hired hand, comes up with a wagon and the two men head back to the ranch. Katherine, rubbing her tender nether region, points  up at her husband on wagon and shouts:

“Don’t think You’re gonna get rid of me that easy!”

Katherine then runs after the buggy and grabs hold, riding the thing back to the ranch. The film ends shortly after with the two reconciled at last.  The scene works, not just because of the writing but because of Maureen O’Hara’s conviction and performance. On screen, the actress was bigger than life.

She was one of a kind and it is all too easy to believe that until she went to sleep at age 95, Maureen must have told the “big fella” that he was not going to get rid of her that easily, as “herself” had plans to stick around another five years.

Maureen O’Hara, actress, star, businesswoman, mother and the onscreen wife of another legend in five films has passed on.  I sat and watched McLintock! on Sunday appreciating once more the talent and performance of Ms. O’Hara.  Watching the featurette’s afterward, Stephanie Powers revealed that Maureen showed her how to keep the bright lights (used “back in the day” for filming) from affecting her performance. Maureen was a professional as they come and, sadly, there will be no replacement now that she is gone.

Mary Kate Danaher Thornton, Katherine Gilhooley McLintock, Mrs. Kathleen York, Min Wead, Martha McCandles, Martha Price, Olivia Spencer and even Doris Walker (Miracle on 34th Street) were all strong, passionate women who were unforgettable as was Maureen O’Hara herself. All will allow Maureen to live on.

RIP Ms. O’Hara the world will not be the same without you.

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter (2014): Whimsical Urban Legend

Rinko Kikuchi as Kumiko

Starring Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, The Brother’s Bloom) and directed by David Zellner (who also co wrote the screenplay with brother Nathan  and played the policeman in the film) Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is a whimsical, and somewhat melancholy, retelling of an urban legend. This tale of a socially inept misfit who travelled to America after watching Fargo, to find the money left by Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen Bros cult hit, before being killed, was influenced by the real-life death of a Japanese office worked who killed herself 2001.

Like Kumiko, the real “treasure hunter” also took off for the wilds of Fargo, woefully ill prepared for her journey, the local media put the Fargo twist on the woman’s death and the urban legend sprang from the suicide and her travel itinerary. The real story prompted a documentary as well as this Zellner Bros  film.

The film opens with a solitary Kumiko (Kikuchi) walking on a deserted beach, following a map and going into a cave at the seaside. She finds an old VHS copy of Fargo buried in the sand and wrapped in oil cloth. Taking it home she plays the worn tape and sees the words that start the Coen Bros classic: Based on a true story…

Kumiko is a 29 year-old office lady who detests her job and the people she works with. She also dislikes her boss. Living in a tiny cubicle apartment with her pet rabbit Bunzo. Kumiko’s mother wants her to move back home, or get married, or to have a baby. As the quiet young woman does not really want to any of these, she fixates on the VHS and the buried money.

After the tape is eaten by her machine, she buys a new DVD copy of the film and a player. She draws her own treasure map and bribes a library guard into giving her a map of Minnesota.  When Kumiko’s boss gives her the company credit card to buy his wife an anniversary present, the woman takes the card and uses it to fly to America.

Described as a darkly comic film, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter elicits a similar feeling, after viewing,  to the 2006 film Memories of MatsukoOne cannot stop watching the young woman’s journey to the frozen wilds of Minnesota.  From the many odd people she meets to the end of her search for the briefcase of money, it is almost impossible not to be drawn into the tale.

Even without the knowledge that Kumiko’s journey is based upon the 2001 event which spawned an urban legend, the film is a compelling and an almost insanely intense experience. Rinko Kikuchi convinces thoroughly as the young office lady who lives in a fantasy world where buried treasure is there for the hunter to find.

After watching the character draw her own map, the beginning of the film immediately makes the viewer ask what prompted the discovery of the video tape. Was it another film? A book, or a television show?  Were they also based upon a “true story?”

Director Zellner does a masterful job of downplaying any fantastical elements of the story. Focusing instead upon Kumiko throughout.  We worry about this ill-prepared near-silent protagonist as she journeys to Fargo in search of the buried briefcase.  Despite the feeling of foreboding,  we believe  in her single minded determination to find the treasure  and that Kumiko will endure.

By the end of the film, Zellner, and Kikuchi show how the character is affected by the elements and the trials of her search.  The changing harsh landscape and elements combine to make things more unreal and strange.

Zellner as the helpful cop works well with Rinko and they two have a great chemistry. The scene where he takes the young woman to the local thrift store to get her some warmer clothes is brilliant. As he measures her feet,  the man does that “parent thing” of checking for the toe in the shoe. This  sets up the end of the scene brilliantly.  Kumiko misreads his attentions and he has to explain that he is married with two kids, something that we, the viewer, have already guessed by his actions.

As in the real story, the policeman takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant in an attempt to help the young lady to understand that the film  Fargo was not real.  This whimsical and melancholy  re-imaging of the 2001 urban legend is a film where the viewer roots for this unhappy misfit who  longs for adventure.

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter looks spectacular and throughout the film, Rinko’s appearance changes. At the start of the movie, the actress looks drawn and unhappy as well as every inch of her 29 years. As her journey progresses, she begins to look younger and despite the cold and little food, looks happier.

This award winning festival favorite has a musical score by The Octopus Project who actually won a Special Jury Prize at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Described by judges as mysterious and evocative, the music is indicative of the film itself.  This is a 5 star film and can be seen via Amazon, YouTube, Vudu and Google Play.  The Zellner Bros have made a film that could considered almost as classic as Fargo itself.

Do not miss this one.

The Grinder: FOX Comedy Perfection Equals Rob Lowe & Fred Savage


FOX have come up with comedy perfection with The Grinder, proving that Rob Lowe and Fred Savage equal pairing gold. Added to this sublime double act is a cast that can be considered the “creme de la creme” of the acting world. William Devane, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (the actress who proves that beauty need not be a drawback when doing a comic role) and Natalie Morales all head up the adult members of the cast. 

The Grinder also has some excellent “minor” actors in guise of Hana Hayes and Connor Kalopsis.  Show runners Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul give us a family of lawyers, one of whom “plays” a lawyer on a once popular television show The Grinder

The Sanderson family, Dean Sr. (Devane) and son’s Stewart (Savage) and Dean (Lowe) all get together when Dean the actor steps away from the limelight to reassess his life and what he plans to do next. His father and brother work together at the family law firm and Dean Jr. decides to join the firm.

The actor also moves into his kid brother’s house along with wife Debbie (Ellis) and the two kids; Lizzie (Hayes) and Ethan (Kalopsis).  Lowe is every inch the charismatic character he played on television.  Full of confidence and a never say die attitude, the elder Sanderson brother has a league of fans who believe his every legal utterance. Despite the fact that he has only acted like a lawyer vs really practicing law.

Little brother Stewart, who is a real lawyer, lacks confidence (refusing to appear in court without index cards) and struggles to speak in the dock.  The two men are almost polar opposites and Stewart has issues with his famous big brother that  he has to work out while trying to be supportive with Dean’s life changing decisions.

Devane is brilliant as the head of the family law firm who is tickled to death that his two “boys” are now part of his legal business.  Lowe, as Dean jr., creates havoc at home and at work but he is also helping his little brother to overcome some personal obstacles.

The comedy pairing of the these two veteran performers works perfectly. Savage as Stewart is brilliant. In one of the first three episodes, he realizes that in real life he has become “Pincus” an actor in Dean’s show who is the whiney nay-sayer and attempts to change himself to a more positive person.

The Grinder, also the name of Lowe’s character’s show, is watched each evening by the family, except for the last episode where they watched Ray Donovan, a superbly funny bit where someone erased the recorded episode.  Thus far, Dean (Lowe) has managed to boost the family business and win a couple of “un-winnable” cases.

With only a few television comedies “making the grade” this year, it is a relief to see FOX with comedic perfection with their pairing of Fred Savage and Rob Lowe. Savage has been acting since the age of nine and Lowe proved he could do television comedy easily with his role in The West Wing (1999 – 2006).  Both of these performers have a wonderful chemistry when they are on screen together, as do the rest of the cast.

Devane, who has been performing since 1967 is also a past master at comedy. This first class pedigree of performers prove that good writing and a stellar cast equals a show that delivers. The Grinder also has no need of a live studio audience to pump out laughs.  The whole show creates comedy that feels almost effortless with no sense of urgency from anyone.

Apart from the familial comedy gags, The Grinder also uses the theme of actors as “experts” based upon the roles they play. A perfect example given by Dean  is his argument, to little brother Stewart (the real lawyer) that Noah Wyle (who played Dr. John Carter in 254 episodes of ER) would be the perfect person to deal with a heart attack.

The Grinder airs Tuesdays on FOX and potential viewers are warned, you could become addicted to this series after just one episode.