Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The People vs. O J Simpson: American Crime Story

The FX network has a history of presenting series we would likely never see on the standard commercial television networks.  Their current hit has one more episode scheduled to air on April 5th at 10 pm EDT.

The People vs. O J Simpson is based on a book by legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, entitled  The Run of his Life: The People vs. O J Simpson .

With a fine cast, well-written scripts, and taut directing, this is a series worth watching.  It is currently available on demand from your cable provider and should be available on Netflix or Hulu in the near future.

Those of us who were sapient life forms when the events on which the series is based occurred are familiar with the story.  In those days it was impossible to watch a news program with no mention of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman or the subsequent trial.

In fact the trial was carried daily live on television providing viewers with an "as it's happening" voyeuristic peek.  My own mother, bless her, gave up her daily soaps to watch the trial in its entirety. She came away at the end believing in his innocence, which astounded me.

I was working in those days and didn't watch any of the trial. Honestly, in the beginning of the investigation I believed him to be innocent. As more information came out about the battery of his wife, I became convinced he did it. In many cases, battery does escalate to murder with signs of rage in the violence committed against the victim.

Based on Toobin's book, the FX series is a faithful rendition of events of the trial. Though it provides a much greater scope than the television coverage of the actual trial did.  For example, there was one episode in the series devoted to the jury.  The members, both the regulars and the alternates, were basically imprisoned with a bunch of strangers for nearly nine months. They couldn't watch television or read newspapers, listen to the radio, etc.  As you can imagine it was a huge strain on each of them.

There have been episodes which focused on Assistant District Attorney Marcia Clark, in which we learned she was in the middle of a contentious divorce at the same time as the trial. Her ex was suing for custody of their children and fighting dirty. She was also mocked by the defense team and the media. At one point, her first ex-husband sold nude pictures of her to the tabloids.

By the same token, Johnnie Cochran was also featured in several of the episodes, along with Assistant District Attorney Christopher Darden. Defense attorneys F. Lee Bailey, Robert Shapiro, and Barry Scheck were also highlighted on episodes. Robert Kardashian was featured from the very beginning of the series.

The cast is impressive. The following actors are excellent in their roles.

Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden
Kenneth Choi as Judge Lance Ito
Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson
Bruce Greenwood as Gil Garcetti
Nathan Lane as F. Lee Bailey
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark
David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian
John Travolta as Robert Shapiro
Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran

The series also touched on the events with the public outside the courtroom.

This is a well-rounded series based on real events.  It isn't fun to watch, but like the historic trial itself, it is mesmerizing.  You cannot look away even though you know that train wreck is coming.

Well done FX, thank you for another outstanding series. 

I read the American Crime Story series will return next year with the story of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Until next time...

Sunday, March 13, 2016

In the Heart of the Sea

Director Ron Howard's epic based on a true story, In the Heart of the Sea, is an excellent film. However, it was a big disappointment at the box office. It was anticipated to be a $100,000,000. opening, but made about a quarter of that figure.

I had planned to see it in the theater, but by the time I was ready to go back to movies it was gone.  It has already reached pay-per-view, so lucky us.

It is based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex, which inspired Herman Melville to write his masterpiece Moby Dick.

The film has a wonderful cast with Chris Hemsworth as Owen Chase, First Officer of the doomed ship, Benjamin Walker as the arrogant neophyte Captain (son of the ship's owner) who makes really poor decisions, Tom Holland, as the youngest crew member who survives the ordeal, Brendan Gleeson as the same survivor thirty years later, and Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville.

Melville comes to see the elder Thomas Nickerson in 1850, thirty years after the sinking of the Essex, with the idea of writing a novel based on the incident. Nickerson at first refuses, but his wife, played by Michelle Fairley (The late lamented Stark family matriarch in Game of Thrones) convinces her husband to see the man and tell his story.

An authentic tale of life in 1820 ensues. Set partly in Nantucket and the Essex on the open sea, the film presents each locale in historical accuracy. Director Howard is known for his attention to detail in recreating different places and times.

Frankly, I am glad I didn't see this one in the theater.  Parts of it were hard enough to take watching on my flatscreen.  No detail of the cruel art of whaling is dismissed.  The whales suffer mightily when harpooned multiple times.

The white whale, yep he's mostly white, though a bit mottled, really is out for revenge against the Essex.  You see the crew happens upon spawning grounds with many whales of all ages and sizes grouped together.  The crewmen embark on an orgy of killing, indiscriminately taking whatever whales they can reach, some females with nursing calves, some huge males, and everyone in between.

Woe to the crew, the white whale, with whom they've already tussled, is there.  He escaped them, although wounded, once before. To say he gets angry is putting it mildly. While some of the crew are in the small whaling boats, he destroys their ship.  They are left on the open ocean without instruments and only hardtack for food in three small boats, little better than rowboats.

The white whale follows them relentlessly.  When Chase (Hemsworth) has the opportunity to throw a harpoon into the whale one last time, he sees the eye of the behemoth looking back at him, with Chase's harpoons previously thrown embedded near his eye. Chase sees the animal's intelligence and cannot do it.

The dwindling number of survivors spend ninety days on the open sea, adrift, before they make it to safety. When they are back in Nantucket, they must answer to the company for the loss of the Essex and the precious cargo of whale oil.

According to the story, Chase goes on to become a captain of a merchant ship and sails until he retires. Never did he kill another whale.

The film is based on a book by Nathaniel Philbrick, an American author, entitled The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. It was published in 2000, I think.

In the Heart of the Sea has a great cast and director.  It is an accurate historic piece, down to the detail of the ships and the way whales were caught and used.

For most of you who don't know, I have a long-held fascination with ships.  My second and third novels in my Touch the Sky series both feature ships in the stories as the characters sail between England and the United States. The third novel takes place when steamers have been invented which makes the trip much shorter.  For my fourth novel, a romantic suspense which takes place mostly on Hawaii in 1898 when the islands were annexed by the US, also has a ship and its captain featured prominently.  I did my research and discovered in 1898 it took a steamer a mere five days of sailing from San Francisco to reach Honolulu.

Also, I am descended from Captain Kidd on my mother's side.  (Yes, that Captain Kidd.)

In other words, I know a good ship yarn when I see one. Like I wrote before, In the Heart of the Sea is historically accurate and a fascinating tale. It kept my attention, though there were times when I had to look away. It is not for the faint of heart. Remember, this is a realistic depiction of a cruel industry.

If this sounds like something you'd want to see, enjoy it.  The strong cast and great director have worked well together and produced a quality film.

Until next time...

Friday, March 11, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane

Bad Robot Studios has released a new Sci-Fi film, 10 Cloverfield Lane, starring John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr. Produced by J.J. Abrams, it was directed by first-timer, Dan Trachtenberg.

Some of you may have seen the 2008 release, Cloverfield.  Though it is a bit of a tease, 10 Cloverfield Lane has nothing to do with the original film. They are playing on the name.  Now there is one similarity, you are not sure in either one for at least half of the film what kind of monster is endangering the cast.  Indeed, in Cloverfield, you never get a good look at the big mama-jama, just a sort of silhouette seen from a hand-held camera, as the man filming falls to the ground. In 10 Cloverfield Lane, the audience is teased about the identity of the monster...are there really space aliens terrorizing the Earth, or is Howard (John Goodman) the real monster?

The story is basically this - Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Michelle) is a clothing designer (wanna-be or professional - it's never made clear) living in New Orleans.  The movie opens with her trying to call her partner, Ben (voiced by Bradley Cooper), with no success.  So she clears out the apartment of her things, leaves the keys to the place, and what is apparently an engagement ring.  She eventually accepts a call from Ben, but hangs up on him. She drives out of the city. Long after dark, she is the victim of an auto accident with her car rolling over an embankment.

She wakes up stripped to her tank top and underwear, wounded, and chained to the wall.  She is on a mattress on the floor.  Her clothes are folded across the room.  The big metal door to the concrete cell has a mesh insert suitable for looking at her.  She doesn't remember much about the accident, other than she was in one. Someone has tended her cuts and put a knee brace on her wounded leg.

She tears out her IV and uses the stand to pull some of her belongings within reach.  She gets her IPhone and is upset to see she has no service. Howard comes in to check on her, tells her she needs to eat.

Eventually, he lets her out where she meets a young man, the only other resident in the bunker.  John Gallagher, Jr. (Emmet) has a broken arm.  They share dinner together.

Howard tells her there has been a huge attack.  He's not sure if it's aliens, the "Russkies", or Al Qaeda. Whatever it is, it is huge, and has decimated the surrounding area. When she doesn't believe him, Emmet tells her he broke his arm trying to get into the bunker.  It seems he worked for Howard, helped him build the bunker, and was determined to save himself when the attack came. Privately he tells her Howard has been planning for such an attack for years as he's a real "conspiracy nut."

Howard shows her evidence of the attack, though she still does not believe him. One of his neighbors, a woman, who is injured, comes to the bunker, demanding to be let in, but he refuses to admit her.

The film continues playing hide and seek with the audience.  It is tense, as Michelle tries to unravel the truth of her situation.  Is she facing some outside threat, or is Howard the true monster of the piece?

She eventually does find out what happened and who the real monsters are.  The ending confirms everything for her. I'll say this for her, she adjusts well to her situation...

If you like a tense science fiction movie, this one's for you. It was so atmospheric, I was just glad to get out of the theater into the sunshine...of course that could have been due to the rude older women who walked into the theater close to the climax of the movie, speaking loudly wondering if they had the wrong theater. They did.  Being an even ruder older woman, I told them to "Shhhhhhhhh!" They ran never to be seen again...

Don't interrupt my movies.

Until next time.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

London Has Fallen

Okay, I admit it. I've liked Gerard Butler ever since I saw an English film entitled Dear Frankie.  If you haven't seen it or heard of it check it out.  It's a lovely film. And I thought he was a terrific Phantom in the film version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. (What, he even sings?!!)

A recent release in which he starred entitled Gods of Egypt got mediocre reviews and little box office. (Who wants to go see a costume epic about ancient Egypt in which the actors all sound like they were trained at the Old Vic? Reminds me of one of the opening credits for Deadpool - "And we've got a British Villain!")

Besides, author Tmonique Stephens, creator of the phenomenal Descendants of Ra series, commented on Facebook after seeing the Gods of Egypt trailer they don't even look like Egyptians - She should know. Authors research their subjects.

Just ask me how to load a Philadelphia Deringer (Yes, it's spelled Deringer after its inventor, even though in our era most people write Derringer.)

I think the release of this sequel to Olympus Has Fallen is fortuitous.  People can forget about the Gods of Egypt. I know I will until some late night when there's nothing else to watch on cable...

Now Mr. Butler is a fine braw Scot laddie in real life, but he plays American Secret Service agent Mike Banning very well.  Aaron Eckhart reprises his role as the President (I modeled the hero in my first novel after this actor), with Morgan Freeman returning as the Vice-President, Melissa Leo as the Secretary of Defense, and Angela Bassett as the Head of the Secret Service. They returned to their roles from the first movie when everyone was menaced by North Koreans.

Honestly, the reviews have not been that good on this one, but you know what? This is an action movie, nothing written by Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, or Dalton Trumbo. It's a formulaic film with lots of explosions, tense scenes of running from a literal horde of nasty Middle Eastern terrorists who keep coming and who have a grievance against the western powers, particularly the United States. Of course the best part is, the good guys win in the end.  Toss in a few jokes at tense moments, a human interest sub-plot, evil turncoat subterfuge, and you've got an entertaining couple of hours, even if it's nothing new.

Not only does London fall, it's heavily damaged in key places.  Lots of heads of state die at the hands of the wicked. Let's hope it is not a likely scenario. I'm sure such an occurrence would sound like a dream to some folks in the world.  Let's just hope they never pull it off...

No it isn't great literature or a contender for 2016's Best Picture Oscar. But it is entertaining. You know going in the good guys will ultimately win this one.  They have to, they're the leads.

If you're looking for some good old-fashioned pro-America entertainment, check out this one. There are even some lines that hark back to Clint Eastwood, looking furious on the telethon right after 9/11 when he stared into the camera and said something to the effect, "you will never defeat us.  There are 300 million of us who pull together as one when the time comes..."

In times of such division as this election campaign, it's good to remember we are all Americans and we have a history of facing adversity together, no matter our political leanings.

So give this film a break. Nobody is pretending it is anything but what it is, entertainment.

Lay off the negative reviews written to make the writer all puffed up with his or her importance and intellect. This is an action movie, for heaven's sake. Just enjoy it.

I liked it even without my usual popcorn - the line was too long and didn't move, so I went on to the auditorium to get a seat.

Until next time...