Return of The Dutchess…

27 11 2014

The Cali native formerly known as Stacy Ann Ferguson has dropped a new single, and it’s as sun-baked and carefree as you’d expect from the sultry voice on every other party anthem of the 2000s.

Robbie Daw for Idolator observes, “The DJ Mustard-produced track finds the 39-year-old Black Eyed Peas diva surprisingly stuck in creative rut, spouting out a slew of hip-hop-lite cliches that, to be honest, we would have expected her to have left behind sometime around The E.N.D. ”

Fergie Ferg is so much better when she actually SINGS! I have always been confused as to why they make her talk over these club beats, or trot her out for a looped and dreamy hook. It’s like didn’t know what he H. A. D. in his arsenal. I discussed this, at length, in a blog post almost four years ago… I’m starting to feel like Fergie’s leading me on.

As I’ve pointed out before, this long-awaited sophomore album can serve as second act for the former Black Eyed Pea and the sky’s the limit if only she would give existing fans a bone. (We’re here and we’re waiting! Reward us! Give us something we can share with friends and proudly say “I told you so!”)  I’ve literally been watching this woman sing her way to deserved stardom since a little known 90s girl band (Wild Orchid) hosted a fun but forgettable Saturday morning talent show (Great Pretenders).

This “LA Love” stuff is OK for radio buzz, but give me those love-hardened, crushed velvet pipes on a power ballad ala “Big Girls Don’t Cry” any day. The Dutchess is approaching 40, and she still got it, but she needs to start owning it. “LA Love” isn’t as fun as “Fergalicious” or “Clumsy,” and certainly lacks the confident sass of “Glamourous” and “Pedestal.” It’s an empty spectacle, not a hit.

At least her husband seems proud of her-- Josh Duhamel was kind enough to appear at the American Music Awards last Sunday to introduce Fergie's live performance of the track. 

At least her husband seems proud of her– Josh Duhamel was kind enough to appear at the American Music Awards last Sunday to introduce Fergie’s live performance of the track.

Movie Review: The Drop (2014)

9 10 2014

Well, I had to wait until September to see the best movie of the summer… because there were no films on my radar that came close to the gripping storytelling or depth of character performance of Michael R. Roskam’s THE DROP.

“I just tend bar. And wait.”

THE DROP is an amazing contribution to the crime-drama genre, expertly crafted by Dennis Lehane (who you may know from his other adapted works: MYSTIC RIVER, GONE BABY GONE, and SHUTTER ISLAND) and Michael R. Roskam.

Based off Lehane’s 2009 short story “Animal Rescue,” THE DROP stars Tom Hardy as Brooklynite bartender Bob Saginowski. The reserved bachelor and one-time thug immediately seems the guy to root for in this Chechen-dominated underworld. On a walk home, he discovers a brutalized puppy in a trash can and strikes up a relationship with the woman, Nadia, whose property the can is on. It turns out, there is a common shady figure, Eric Deeds, in their pasts that lurks back into focus. Trouble on top of trouble, he is.

“Are you doin’ somethin’ desperate? Again?”

The bar, Cousin Marv’s, gets held up by a couple of dumb brothers trying to prove themselves in the game. They’re aware that Cousin Marv’s is a longstanding local haunt, but it hasn’t quite been “locally owned” for more than a decade. Some shot callers from the Eastern Bloc muscled Marv and Bob’s crew out of power, letting Marv retain his establishment but requiring Bob to handle the collection of money to-be-laundered.

Seemingly anxious, self-isolating, and seeking redemption, pragmatic Bob hardly appears the kind of man to get on board with such activity. He lives alone in his parent’s house, prayer cards and plastic-wrapped furniture all around him. He hems and haws over the decision to care for the dog he found, eventually coming to treat the animal like his own child.

“I got news for ya, Fitzy. We’re all dead, we’re just still walkin’ around.”

Cousin Marv, who is in fact Bob’s relative, isn’t sitting by so quietly anymore. He may or may not have had a hand in the stick-up, and he may or may not be planning another hit on the biggest tip night of the year: Superbowl Sunday. He also may or may not end up dead in his car because the “Chechnyans” are on to him.

The robbery plotline kind of dissolves by the end, because Bob gets all riled up at the prospect of protecting his woman and his new canine companion, Rocco, from the psychotic Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). Love and respect taking priority over the ego of an aging wannabe, family or no.

Tom Hardy is sexy as hell, even while he’s crazy-eyed and shooting people in the neck. By film’s end, I couldn’t decide if Nadia (Noomi Rapace) was hanging around him because she was afraid to leave or because she was enamored of his extreme efforts to be the alpha-male on the block. Hardy disappears into the role of Bob Saginowski, without a hint of his natural accent or impish charm peeking through. Bob is supposed to come off as straight-laced and pretty vanilla, that is until he expertly disposes of a bloody limb left outside the bar. Hardy masters the script, revealing little bits of Bob’s true (mildly terrifying) self with a quip here and a covert move there. From Bane to Bondurant, I love his diversity!

The late James Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a neighborhood guy who sees himself as considerably ‘harder’ than he is able to live up to. Facing pressure from his sister (Ann Dowd) to finally act his age; the financial burden of caring for an ill, elderly parent; and the emasculation of knowingly being pushed out of your own business create the perfect storm for Marv to lash out and get himself in a situation he cannot handle, and Bob is not willing to clean up (like last time). Cousin Marv is kind of the antithesis of Tony Soprano, the groundbreaking HBO gangster whom Gandolfini portrayed for six seasons (and earned 3 Emmys). Tony had vision, Marv has half-assed ideas. It was at once odd and reassuring to see Gandolfini as Marv, his last major film appearance before his June 2013 death. To see this burly, brutish-looking actor take on roles of pronounced vulnerability (ENOUGH SAID, THE DROP) at what turned out to be the end of his career, speaks volumes about the varied body of work the actor was trying to accomplish for his professional legacy. He was much more than Tony Soprano, and we’d do well to acknowledge that for him even post-posthumously.
THE DROP presents as one story and flips you onto a new path a few times to keep your interest. Let’s just say I was alert and engaged from the first frame, while my fellow audience members were actively . THE DROP took in nearly $5 million last weekend, a respectable feat considering it opened in less than 1,000 theaters. Check Fandango and get yourself to see THE DROP as soon as possible- this is one movie that is sure to be a sleeper during the upcoming awards season, and you’ll be sorry to have missed it. #MarkMyWords


Fox Searchlight Pictures

Movie Review: Blackfish (2013)

30 07 2014


Magnolia Pictures / CNN Films





Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite takes no prisoners in her examination of Americans’ fascination with wildlife, perverted into an industry of animals-as-entertainment. The nation’s greatest offender? Sea World, according to Cowperthwaite.

At once beautiful and tragic, BLACKFISH pulls back the curtain on the industry built on trick shows and ‘swim with’ gimmicks. The concept that a several thousand pound marine mammal could/would revert to basic animalistic defense behaviors against their handlers “friends” seems shocking to those in the trade, something that is disturbing on a whole new level as a viewer.

“This culture of ‘get back on the horse’ and you dive back in the water, and if you’re hurt, well then ‘weve got other people that will replace you’ and ‘you came a long way are you sure you want that?’”   (John Jett, PhD – Former trainer at Sea World)

BLACKFISH chronicles an established, savage 1970s practice of kidnapping infant whales from their pods; barbarically housing, training and inseminating them; and maliciously twisting science to fit their profit-driven agenda. In short, BLACKFISH manages to strip any forethought that marine-parks are working in conjunction with conservation and/or research efforts.
Cowperthwaite interviews over a dozen former Sea World trainers, all of whom became disillusioned with the organization. A contributing factor for many was the consistent practice of covering up incidents of animal (specifically orca) aggression and spinning “trainer error” to the concerned public. They now, collectively, feel bad for all of the whales— knowing what they know and having seen what they saw.

Cowperthwaite, who has produced and directed for over a decade, was inspired to make this movie after the highly-publicized attack on veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World Orlando in February of 2010.
Brancheau, you may recall, was pulled into a large performance pool by Tilikum, a 12,000 pound bull orca. While the Sea World company higher-ups insisted that Brancheau was at fault for the incident (alleging that her having touched fish then her long pony-tail, confused the animal), witnesses know that the 22.5 foot long mammal targeted her.
It would become public knowledge that the animal had been involved in responsible for two deaths previously; the first, in 1991, at the now defunct Sea Land of the Pacific in British Columbia,  20-year-old swimming star and amateur trainer, Keltie Byrne was killed by drowning (three whales held her under, tossing her back and forth); and another, in 1999, a defiant park-goer sneaked into Tilly’s tank overnight— Daniel Dukes was found naked and mutilated, slung across the whale’s back the next morning. [*This incident is highly suspicious, as the PR explanation is vastly different from the medical examiner’s findings. There are cameras every which way at Sea World, and at least 4 night trainers were on duty at the time of the attack— no one saw or heard anything.]

“It didn’t ‘just happen,’ it’s not a singular event. You have to go back to understand this.” (Dave Duffus, Researcher/Expert witness for OSHA case against Sea World)

Researchers have found that orcas have a part of the brain that humans do not, it is called the paralimbic cleft. The inference of this discovery, based upon it’s location and application as compared to known chemistry/functions, is that orcas have highly elaborate emotional lives and social complexities, in which their sense of self is inherently tied to their community (ex: mass stranding, the pod will not abandon a beached whale).  This information makes Sea World, their less-respectable Canary Islands affiliate Loro Parque, and facilities like them seem so cruel!
Former Sea World trainers who spoke with Cowperthwaite stated that on several occasions when a calf (infant/child aged orca) was separated from it’s parent, the mother whale would vocalize her grief and anxiety with seering cries and long-range sounds that were unlike anything the staff had ever heard from one of the marine beasts.

Another egregious falsehood being perpetuated by Sea World regards the quality of life and the lifespan of orcas.  Several segments of film are included in BLACKFISH showing trainers and park support staff spouting off facts for an audience; the most blatant lie of which is that orcas in captivity live twice as long as in nature. In fact, whales free in the ocean have been tracked to live 50-80 years (depending on sex). The majority of captive whales die by the time they’re 35.
A hot-button issue in the community is that of dorsal fin collapse; 100% of male whales in captivity have a slumped over dorsal fin, whereas 1% of wild ones are afflicted with the condition. This issue is addressed by Sea World park staffers filmed in the documentary, each of which says that ‘it’s just something that happens,’ although plenty of data exists as to why. (See a scientific article HERE, or videos HERE.)

Several experts featured in BLACKFISH theorize that Tilikum developed a kind of psychosis from his treatment in captivity— from being ripped from the wild at the age of 2; being deprived of food to illicit specific (show) behaviors; being isolated in too small, dark pens; and being rejected by the forced family unit (despite his gargantuan size, he was ganged up on by female whales that would grate their teeth across his skin and ram into bully him).

A thoughtfully written and thoroughly researched NatGeo article on Tilikum, and his far less belligerent, but equally famous “twin,” can be found HERE.

Terrifying incidents are recounted by Cowperthwaite’s panel of former trainers, and in some cases shown with archival video. Among them: 1987 – John Sillick, 26, is crushed between two whales during a show at Sea World San Diego; 2002 – a trainer named Tamarie was thrashed by a whale called Orkid, eventually she rose from the pool waterlogged with a compound fracture to her arm; 2006 – senior trainer Ken Peters was dragged about the show pool, down to the bottom, by 6,000 pound Kasatka. The animal continued to charge him after he fled over a float net and struggled to stand on his mangled feet/ankles.

“…[Dawn] had so much experience. It made me realize what happened to her, really could’ve happened to anyone.”   (Kim Ashdown, resigned as a Sea World trainer one year before Brancheau’s accident)


Something particularly eery and jarring for me during this film was the 911 recording played at the beginning. The caller, a man, is incredibly calm while describing to the operator that a Sea World trainer had been “eaten by one of the whales.”  Given the later information, from a paramedic’s testimony, that she was essentially scalped and had an arm ripped off (and a lack of blood shed indicated her heart had already stopped beating when the injuries were inflicted)— a gruesome picture of Brancheau’s death is painted.
BLACKFISH accomplishes for the patronage of wildlife exhibits and water-based amusement parks, what SUPER SIZE ME did for the fast-food industry and WAITING FOR SUPERMAN did for the nation’s broken education system. Certainly it will not eliminate the business, but it is sure to drive people into a tizzy for some time to come.

**  UPDATE:  Initially Sea World claimed that this remarkable and necessarily unsettling documentary had, and would have, ‘no effect’ on their business, yadda yadda, and they would continue their work for ‘research’ and ‘conservation.’ But I’m pleased to report that the organization has in fact suffered a 13% decrease in revenue/attendance in the first quarter of this year.  **


2013 VMAs… I’m Officially Too Old for This Shit.

26 08 2013

I was only half involved last year, having realized in adulthood that it is dumb for MTV to continue hosting the VIDEO Music Awards when they barely show videos anymore. Seriously, the days of TRL are long passed. The only time to avoid Rob Dyrdek yelling over viral videos, teen moms making mistake after mistake, or Tyler Posey running around a treed soundstage in facial fur, is 3am-6am when the videos play.
Watching the (pointless) preshow and red carpet coverage made me, again, feel entirely too old to be tuning in, but, the rumors of an NSYNC reunion were enough to secure my butt in this seat a good hour before start time, 9pm.

I will review and recap the festivities in timestamp fashion, as I am too lazy to actually make this post any kind of polished literary offering.

8:55pm – Shailene Woodley is here, and I could care less about the movie trailer she’s promoting. Love. Her.

9:05pm – Ok, Gaga. I appreciate the incorporation of wigs that recall your hits like “Just Dance” and “Telephone,” but “Applause” more confirms your endless quest for attention than affirms your love of your Little Monsters.

9:08pm – First award is “Best Pop Video” and it goes to Miss Selena Gomez for the not-so-Disney-friendly jam “Come and Get It.” She gives a blah speech, with blah hair and an outfit that is only half-appropriate.

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

9:20pm – Miley Cyrus is complete trash.  Hannah Montana is officially dead.  I can’t believe her mother was smiling pridefully when they cut to her in the audience… It makes me sad how nasty their whole family is.   I can’t even give her respect as an artist, as a creative, because it’s all so gross. It just makes no sense.   Someone who has that much money, and therefore the creative freedom to do what she pleases, should not be trying THAT hard to break away from the images people used to have of her, because now we do in fact think she is a ‘ratchet white girl.
Aditionally, Robin Thicke has just cheapened himself by singing with her. Someone who has really made a splash recently, would absolutely been able to swing NOT performing with her. He should have ducked outta this one!

9:24pm – Lil Kim, is that you? If so, Letoya Jackson called and would like her face back. Ouch.
The formerly well-respected MC may be the “Queen Bee” of the B-K, but she is lookin’ a mess! A shell of her former self– looks, rep and style wise.

9:26pm – Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis win the second award of the night, Best Hip Hop Video, for “Can’t Hold Us.”

9:38pm – Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. “Blood on the Leaves” is entirely too heavy for the VMAs. People don’t so much respect you, as fear you. You make us uncomfortable.  (Before he started, my brother said “Oh, That’s what he looks like?” Then went on to acknowledge he had never seen him without sunglasses, nor without the contortion of rabbid, paparazzi-aimed rage.)

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

9:49pm – Taylor Swift wins the third award of the ceremonies, Best Female Video, for “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Daft Punk, Pharrell and Nile Rodgers presented (pictured at right).
Breaking from her usual, seemingly feigned, “I can’t believe they like me” gushes of gratitude- Swift stated “I want to thank the fans because I tweeted about this a lot, I really wanted this.” Adding, “I also want to thank the person who inspired this song because he knows exactly who he is, because now I’ve got one of these.”
Harry Styles of One Direction, her most recent ex, looked on unamused. Speculation has circulated that the diddy was about him, written more than a year ago following their initial encounter. Other claims are that the power-pop tune takes aim at one-time Swift beau, actor Jake Gyllenhaal. (I, however, refuse to believe he was at all toxic or drama-causing; confident that she ruined that union.)

9:51pm – Mackelmore takes the stage again to claim his trophy for “Same Love,” which won the 4th category: Best Video With a Social Message. He gave a heartfelt speech, driving home that this song not only has purpose but sincere meaning for him as a person. I’m glad Mackelmore won, but I have to acknowledge the ridiculous, made-up for this occasion category… Really, MTV? You’re only televising 8 awards and this one is total BS.

9:59pm – JIMMY FALLON!!! The greatest host in the history of this program has returned to the stage, now to introduce what proves to be a lingering vanity piece for Justin Timberlake.
JT starts in with “Take Back the Night,” before actually arriving at the stage, and going into an extensive medley of his hits: “Sexy Back,” “Like I Love You,” “My Love,” “Cry Me a River,” “Rock Your Body” among them. Going backwards through his catalog is KILLING MY NERVES as I wait pretty impatiently for the four men with whom he made his name to appear…

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

10:10pm – THEY’REEEE HEEEEERE! About 90 seconds of thrill (Thinking ‘This is epic!’) and a brief snippet of 2 songs, “Girlfriend” and “Bye Bye Bye”, broke way to feelings of ‘WTF, all that hype and it’s just a segue’ to “Suit & Tie.”

10:12pm – Jimmy is back and he is presenting BFF Justin with the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Whatever the fuck that means.
JT says “I don’t deserve this award, but I’m not gonna give it back,” then goes on to acknowledge that his past successes, including 4 ‘Moonmen’ statues from the VMAs, are due in part to the men of NSYNC. “We can keep it at my house, but I share this with those four guys.”

10:25pm – I almost don’t feel like finishing this. Now that I have been significantly disappointed, watching a DVD of ‘Veronica Mars’ sounds like a better option than watching Katy Perry hop around to “Roar” (which at this point we all know bears striking similarity to Sara Barellis’ “Brave.”)

10:27pm – Kevin Hart is only funny half the time, so his second appearance as flashy little filler is weak. Nobody booed but I didn’t hear a ton of laughter either. This is one of several instances tonight I have though “What’s the point of this?” aloud.

10:29pm – Fifth award, Song of the Summer, goes to One Direction for the antagonistically catchy “Best Song Ever.” I would like to formally protest; “The Way,” by Ariana Grande and Mac Miller, should have not only been an option but the winner.

10:32pm – Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis perform “Same Love,” following an intro from Jason Collins, recently out NBA player (which is significant), and A$AP Rocky (which is a shameless plug). Much as MTV has diverged from their MUSIC Television roots, they do keep on trend and on topic- politically not just pop-culturally.

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

10:43pm – Best New Artist goes to Austin Mahone, whom I’ve never heard of. He looked genuinely excited, and also a bit like he was up passed his bedtime. He is a knock-off Justin Bieber; thanking God, his single Mom, his friends and PR team. His fans are apparently called “Ma-homies,” which made me gag a little. (Why do fans need nicknames now? They’re titles make them sound like the least threatening gangs ever– Mariah Carey calls her fans “Lambs,” Nicky Minaj’s refers to fans as “Barbs” or “Barbies” and The Killers’ followers are known as “The Victims.”)
A quick Wiki search does little to raise my interest– the 17-year-old gained attention through his Youtube covers, before traveling with Disney’s Bridget Mendler and country crossover Taylor Swift.

10:45pm – TLC introduced Drake. Somewhere about a lyric into “Hold On, We’re Going Home” I began to wonder if it were about Rihanna; and then whether it was at all awkward to sing about her whilst in the same room with her and a few thousand other people. Cameras cut to her, and she looked unfazed. Interesting.

10:55pm – Best Male Video, the 7th trophy awarded, went to “Locked Out of Heaven” crooner Bruno Mars.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling a little like Kanye here when I say it should have been Robin Thicke.
And may I just say, I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down, MTV… having Taylor Swift present best male video? Not-so-subtle but definitely not out-of-line. Touche.

11:15pm – The ever-sexy Joseph Gordon-Levitt took to the stage to hand out the night’s final, and allegedly most prestigious or most anticipated, Video of the Year. Man of the night, Sir Justin Timberlake took the cake, for his single “Mirrors” off of the album “20/20 Experience.” He adorably huged his mom and manager before going up to thank and dedicate the concept of the song/video to his grandparents. I kept wondering though, as they cut between stage and seats: Where’s your wife, dude?

Photo Credit: MTV/Getty Images

11:18pm – Is “Roar” really Katy Perry’s biggest hit, as we have been told all night? Because I am fairly confident in assuming that “Teenage Dream” was the peak of her career. The performance is under the Brooklyn Bridge… Which only made me concerned about the unbelievable traffic for that whole borough last night! Yes, honestly, during all the pop festivities MTV had to offer, I was preoccupied about the traffic.  Why? Probably because KP was lookin’ a mess! The hair is natural, and on trend with the braids, but the outfit. Whoa.
Tiger sports bra; flame-edged, shiny boxing shorts; white, knee-high tube socks and gold hightops? WHO Let her out like this? It was a mostly spoken word performance, with a few runs thrown in. I give her credit, because it did appear as though she sang live, and who can fault her for not staying on melody when she’s got some pretty sprawling choreography to keep up with.

In the words of ‘American Idol’ judge Randy Jackson, “It was just OK for me, dawg.”

11:22pm – It’s over. Oh wait, it’s starting all over again. Time to pop in that ‘Veronica Mars’ DVD I mentioned.


8 09 2012

This movie is almost too badass for words! 
But I’m going to try to be professional and make some sense…

Several online reviews, by critics and movie-goers alike, found the Texas Killing Fields to be a rehashing of other, better, crime dramas or thrillers.
I feel that Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Chloe Grace Moretz are all excellent in this dark, backwoods, murder-mystery.

Morgan stars as Brian Heigh, a grumbly, graying detective who just seems to want his work to mean something. He is always willing to help out his fellow officers, specifically Pam Stall, earnestly played by the stunning Jessica Chastain, from a neighboring department.
Heigh’s partner, an eager but obstinate detective, Mike Sounder used to be married to Stall. Sounder struggles with his loyalty to his partner, having very different ideas about what cases before them are the “important” ones; and with Heigh’s growing comraderie with Stall. Sounder goes a little rogue, staking out a creepy would-be pimp and dealer with serious neck-tattoos. Whilst surveilling the man and his green Pontiac, or drowning his sorrows in the off-duty hours, he misses several opportunities to get in on the hunt Heigh and Stall are on for the serial killers boldly dropping girls all across ‘the fields.’
Heigh takes an interest in the well-being of local truant Anne (Moretz), whos time walking the backroads may actually be safer than sitting at home. Lucky for her, Heigh is very nearby when she is snatched from a local convenience store – presumably to be the killers’ next victim. Moretz, now 15, is powerful but understated in the angsty role. The up-and-comer is definitely not afraid to get some dirt under her nails and drop a few phrases unbecoming of a young lady (case in point: she will be reprising the controversial role of  Hit Girl inKick Ass 2,due out in June 2013).

Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) was attached, but dropped out of the project. Upon his departure, Boyle told The New York Times: “Texas Killing Fields was a fantastic script, really special script, but it was just so dark it would never get made.”

Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Hollywood heavyweight Michael Mann, stepped in to helm the Donald F. Ferrarone screenplay.

While set in a strip of Texas between Houston and Galveston (and loosely based on a series of murders in the area over the last decade+), the production shot in May 2010 in bayous of Louisiana.
Michael Mann — who you may know from any one of his acclaimed works,Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Ali, The Aviator — served as producer on the film.

Following it’s premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, Texas Killing Fields had a limited theatrical release in October 2011. Its box office gross, to date, stands just under $960,000. (A mere $45,000 of which was earned domestically.) 

Texas Killing Fieldsis available on home video and digital download. I say: Well worth the rental fee! (Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit I work in one of the last video stores on the planet, and I got it for free.)

* Fun End Note *
I met Jeffrey Dean Morgan recently, and he was far thinner in life than I would have thought. Such a nice guy though! He and his “wife” Hilarie Burton live in my area now, and everyone in town has welcomed them warmly. They are very normal, which I appreciate about celebrities.

DVD Review: Girlfriend

8 09 2012

Independent drama and film-festival darling “Girlfriend,” starring Evan Sneider and Shannon Woodward, was equal parts beautiful and gut-wrenching. I was on-board with the whole narrative until the last 5 minutes.

“Girlfriend” tells the story of a recently orphaned young-adult with Down syndrome as he pursues his high school crush, now a down-on-her-luck single-mother juggling a violent love-triangle, in a lower-middle-class backwoods town.

Director Justin Lerner had an amazing cast with whom to tell the story, including the awkwardly brilliant Amanda Plummer, intense Jackson Rathbone and honest newcomer Evan Sneider.
Shannon Woodward evolves with each of her projects, on film and television. She can do so much! Woodward brings a deep range and control of anxiety, compassion, and calculated risk to the role of Candy.


“Girlfriend,” filmed in 2010, holds a 98% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Hollywood Reporter concludes “Writer-director Lerner does not overdo the melodrama, and he derives considerable suspense from the notion that Evan’s behavior could become extreme. Sneider handles scenes of tenderness, mystery and anger with much skill, and the director shrewdly lets the young actor’s expressive eyes carry key scenes.  Woodward matches him, playing an easily tempted woman who discovers within herself a degree of grace she might not have suspected was there. It requires considerable delicacy, and Woodward nails it. Rathbone, too, gives his jealous lover a measure of subtlety that adds depth to his character.”

DVD Review: “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” (2011)

15 02 2012

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” opened in theaters August 6, 2011.
It was later released on DVD and Blu Ray on January 3, 2012.

When people in movies hear a suspicious noise, why do they always walk TOWARD it?
This is one of the thoughts I have whenever I (infrequently) watch horror movies, and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” was no exception.

Lucky for me and my perpetually nervous sensibility, the first scenes were the worst. The latter 92% of the film was more suspenseful and intriguing. I had the willies, but I wasn’t cowering on my couch!

The movie opens veering through a grand home, ornate wood and intricate glass adorns the path. Flickering candles and the ring of a maid’s bell echoes bounce off stone walls.

Driven mad by little whispering deviants, man of the (enormous) house Lord Emerson Blackwood lures his servant to the basement. There, he kills her and offers her teeth to the raspy clamor coming from his flue, as a sort of ransom for the return of his son (who we can only assume has been sucked into their fireplace dwelling).

Opening credits roll, about a century or so passes, and up the driveway comes Sally Hirst (played by Bailee Madison). The eight-year-old has been sent to spend time with her estranged father Alex, an architect (played by Guy Pearce)  and his girlfriend Kim, a designer (played by Katie Holmes) as thy restore the estate.

My understanding is this scenario differs significantly from the original CBS movie-of-the-week plot. The 1973 version starred Kim Darby as Sally Farnham, an inheritant of the home, who even as an adult is targeted by the fanged fairies.

Madison is adorable and all, but her character’s boundless curiosity was a little unbelievable. In more ways than one.
From finding the entrance to a “secret” basement on the property, to sneaking away to pry open a creepy little cast-iron door from which she hears voices, to dazedly carrying on a conversation with her possessed stuffed bear toy — Sally doesn’t show an ounce of true fear until the demented mole-men wield household tools [razors, nails, scissors, screwdrivers] against her while she’s in the bathtub.

Of course the crazy old contractor, Mr. Harris, interferes at every opportunity, having learned of the twisted force years ago, from his grandfather who was groundskeeper of the formerly illustrious manor.  Harris’ willingness to save Sally and get the whole family to understand the very real danger they face, almost gets him killed.

Alex, reluctant to indulge his ex-wife’s claims that Sally is emotionally unstable, nor agree that she be medicated, doesn’t buy into Sally’s allegations that something evil’s afoot.
But Kim does.

Although she was at first apprehensive about being a new mother figure to her partner’s allegedly troubled child, a wide-eyed Holmes’  jumps at the chance to befriend, and then defend, young Sally.

With the help of Mr. Harris’ labored breathy clues, Kim goes to investigate the late Emerson Blackwood, and the local lore about his property, called ‘ Fallen Mill,’ at the public library. She is shaken by the similarities between Blackwood’s unpublished catalog of artwork and the images Sally has been drawing. The excited ramblings of the librarian’s assistant, a Blackwood fan and believer in local conspiracy theories, help Kim piece together the situation she’s up against.

Blinded by the opportunity to win over a Mr. Jacoby, who has something to do with either selling the property or getting it more publicity, dad has little time for Kim and Sally’s games.

During a dinner party with the Jacoby’s and other real estate figures, one of the naughty creatures ventures under the table and is taunting Sally.  Armed with a Polaroid instant camera she crawls about, using the flash to keep the demons at bay. The chase brings Sally, followed by a herd of guests, to the library. Instead of believing whats just happened before their eyes, they stare unnervingly at the child.

It is not until the film’s finale that Alex leaps to action.  It is not stated out-rightly, but the “leader” of the little intruders is in fact Lord Blackwood. When the group takes a new victim, that individual becomes of of them.
As the trio are preparing to pack and flee the mansion, Alex is confronted by the transformed Blackwood, and rendered unconscious in the garage.

Kim, who was knocked out herself, finally musters the strength, grabs a flashlight, and takes off toward the screams coming from the basement.  Alex eventually follows, though every door on the way through the house is now locked– the minions took his keys!
Once downstairs, Kim cuts Sally free from the dirty ropes the fairies are using to pull her into the chimney pit. She is tangled, her legs broken from behind. (Katie Holmes is a good screamer!)

Father and daughter take a moment to call out, fumbling with how to proceed.

Kim is heard, in hushed tones, assuring her new comrades that they have time. And someone will come.
Thus, the cycle of horror continues.
Much like the cycle of horror films, many of which are never out of the running for a reboot.



Rotten Tomatoes Review of “Don’t Be Afraid…” Remake

Roger Ebert Gives “Don’t Be Afraid…” Three Stars