John Carpenter’s ‘The Ward’ – His First Film in a Decade, and Maybe His Last

Master John Carpenter described “The Ward,” his first feature length movie in ten years, best through a video message at the Toronto International Film Festival:

“’The Ward’ is an old school horror movie made by an old school director.”

It’s good to know this going in as Carpenter is not trying to reinvent the wheel or outdo all other horror releases out now. The plot of “The Ward” is as old fashioned as they come, and it allows Mr. Carpenter to exercise the skills he has perfected for many years. It’s not on a par with “The Thing” or “Halloween,” but in the end I didn’t care. For me it was an absorbing movie which kept me entertained throughout its running time, and it was far more entertaining than those summer blockbusters duds “Green Lantern” or “Bad Teacher.”

“The Ward” stars Amber Heard as Kristen, a young woman whom we first see her indulging in a little pyromania, and not the kind Def Leppard made an album about. The police pick Kristen up after she burns down an abandoned farmhouse, and she gets sent straight to the ward of the movie’s title. Her fellow patients are not necessarily the “Girl, Interrupted” type, and Angelina Jolie is nowhere to be found. The intentions of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) appear ambiguous at best, and dealing with the chief orderly and Nurse Lundt, both who are deadly serious, is no picnic.

Actually, let me segue here for a moment; Nurse Lundt’s name seems to rhyme with a certain derogatory word. Which one you say? Well… You can just figure that out on your own. I wonder if this was intentional on the part of screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, or perhaps it is just the name of someone they knew from way back. Well, whatever the case, Lundt certainly gives Nurse Ratched a run for her money in the seriously mean category, but her voice is not as lovely as Louise Fletcher’s was.

Now this being a psychiatric ward, it is mandatory that a ghost is roaming the halls. Kristen first sees it while taking a shower and, of course, everyone says she’s a nut which is redundant considering she’s staying in a mental institution. Then again, the patients may know more about what’s going on than they initially admit. I hate to think they’ve spent all their time there without seeing at least one ghost, you know? Anyway, patients start to disappear one by one, and Kristen aims to find out what happened to them on top of escaping the ward before it claims her as its next victim.

Now whatever you think of Carpenter’s directorial skills these days, his efforts in generating suspense are still strong. Carpenter is smart to not reveal all the important plot details right away, and he holds you within his grasp throughout as he leaves you guessing or imagining what’s really going on. Even if you see the ending coming from a mile away, the journey to it was an entertaining one for me.

I was skimming through another review of “The Ward” online which said Heard was as believable a mental patient as Charlize Theron was a mine worker in “North Country.” Now what is that supposed to mean? That she’s too good looking to be in a psychiatric ward? Give me a break! Heard does good work here portraying a strong-willed protagonist you want to root for. She’s engaging and believable, and while others may see her as being miscast, I did not. By the way, I thought Theron was great in “North Country” and I utterly accepted her as a mine worker. And in case that one reviewer didn’t notice, both actresses were in “North Country” and played different versions of the same character.

Lyndsy Fonseca is very good as Iris, the first girl to befriend Kristen. She appears to be the most emotionally balanced of the patients, and Fonseca makes her character’s awareness all the more convincing. Mamie Gummer gives a good performance as Emily, and she gives Emily a complexity she might otherwise not have had. Danielle Panabaker makes her character Sarah the epitome of Carly Simon’s classic tune “You’re So Vain,” and she’s a kick to watch. And Laura Leigh rounds out this strong group of actresses by making Zoey a convincingly traumatized person whose escape from reality consists of her acting like a little girl.

In terms of horror, Carpenter still makes effective use of cheap scares. While they have been used to death by dozens of filmmakers, he always makes them count. This is especially the case with “The Ward’s” final scene which truly took me by surprise. I should warn you though that the movie has one of those pull out the rug from under you kind of endings which I am really sick of. However, Carpenter doesn’t telegraph the ending to us like others typically do, so I’m willing to let it pass this time.

If there’s anything missing from “The Ward,” it’s Carpenter’s music which I am a big fan of, and his unique sounds were missed. Not that I want to knock Mark Kilian’s work here as he gives the film an appropriately atmospheric score which works very well, and it does have a bit of that Carpenter sound to it. Still, I yearn for a new score from Carpenter or even his son Cody who did amazing work on “Masters of Horror.”

Am I being too forgiving to “The Ward?” Perhaps. I’ve always been a big admirer of Carpenter’s work, and I even have good things to say about “Ghosts of Mars.” Many have expressed their big disappointment with “The Ward” as they want it to be on a par with “Halloween” and “The Thing.” Others found it not gory enough, but then again Carpenter’s strongest films don’t always rely on it like the “Saw” movies do. Personally, I don’t want to spend time comparing “The Ward” to his best movies because to do so would just be asking us to hate it before the opening credits even begin. You can only let an artist remain in the shadow of their past work for so long until you realize your spoiling the experience for yourself.

With “The Ward,” Carpenter was looking for a movie with a tight schedule and a limited location which didn’t require him to stay for a long time or get completely exhausted after shooting only half of it. With the limited resources he had, he made “The Ward” worth watching, and I got very involved in the plights of the characters. There’s nothing original on display here, and it may very well remind you of a gazillion other movies like it, but I’m glad the master finally directed a feature film again after so long. I just hope we don’t have to wait another ten years for Carpenter’s next film. And if there’s anyway Kurt Russell can star in it, you can sure bet I will be watching it on opening day!

* * * out of * * * *

‘Belushi’ Documentary is an Intimate Portrait of a Hilarious ‘SNL’ Icon

One of the opening scenes of the documentary “Belushi” features a packed audience at the Hollywood Bowl, waiting for the Blues Brothers to make their grand entrance. There was something about the size of this crowd which blew me away, and their excitement at seeing John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd come onto the stage as Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues was very palpable. When they do finally appear, it’s an exhilarating moment as Belushi in particular looks as though he was on top of the world, and back in 1978 he certainly was. But then we hear a voiceover from the late Harold Ramis who says about Belushi, “Knowing his appetites, I don’t think he’ll survive this.” As we all know, he didn’t.

Like another documentary about another “Saturday Night Live” star who left us way too soon, “Love, Gilda,” “Belushi” is at a disadvantage as we all know what happened to this beloved comedy icon and of how he died of a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles on March 5, 1982. Several books have been written and several movies were made which detailed his life and death, and Aykroyd once said how many of them were written by “unfeeling, unqualified personnel.” But with “Belushi,” writer and director R.J. Cutler takes the time to look at him not so much as a comedy icon, but as a man who had his passions and loves which deserve more of our attention than his excesses ever did.

Among the most interesting parts of “Belushi” come at the beginning as animation is used to illustrate his life as a young boy in the west side of Chicago. It was a kick to learn how he would sometimes go to homes of his neighbors to tell stories or do performances. Seriously, John was the kind of person William Shakespeare wrote about, and this is summed up perfectly in his line of “all the world’s a stage.”

To learn of John’s troubled relationship with his father, an Albanian immigrant named Adam Anastos Belushi, was a revelation of sorts as I am tempted to think this played a large role in his development not just as an artist, but as a person as well. Adam expected John to take over the family business which was the Fair Oaks Restaurant, but John was determined to become an actor. There is something about the last meeting between these two which seems to linger throughout the documentary to where I could not help but wonder how deeply this affected John throughout his life. Of course, I have to remember I am not a psychotherapist.

One of the benefits of “Belushi” is it contains interviews which are featured as voiceovers throughout. These interviews were conducted by Tanner Colby for his book “Belushi: A Biography,” and in this documentary we get to hear these interviews for the first time. Whether or not the thoughts of Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher or John Landis surprise you in the slightest, I am thankful we get to hear their most specific thoughts about John as they help to fully describe a man who would have truly done anything to get a laugh from everyone and anyone.

But perhaps the most telling addition to “Belushi” is the participation of John’s widow, Judith Belushi-Pisano who shares, among other things, the letters John wrote to her over the years. In those letters, we see how John was hungry for success, that he did not want to be like his father, and how even he knew he was on a path to self-destruction. The one letter which stood out to me the most was when John confessed to Judith of how he didn’t know how to be comfortable with himself in life. This is a man who yearned to connect with other people, and the one thing he craved, success, kept him from do so.

There was a point where John was in the number one movie in America (“Animal House”), had the number one album in the country (the Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues”), and was starring on the television phenomenon “SNL.” While this may have seemed like a tremendous accomplishment, it is almost treated as though it were a death knell for John as he had nowhere to go but down. Lorne Michaels once said drugs did not kill John, fame did. After watching this documentary, I could not agree more.

Watching “Belushi” quickly reminded of other documentaries about other tremendous talents whose lives were cut far too short. There was Asif Kapadia’s “Amy” which gave Amy Winehouse the eulogy she never would have received from any other filmmaker, and we watched as she walked up to the stage in one scene to accept an award, and the applause from the audience kept getting louder and louder to where any cries for help were forever washed away from our collective consciousness. And then there was also “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” which chronicled the life of the Nirvana front man, and the interview with his mother when she realized just how famous Kurt was going to end up being still haunts me as she quickly realizes he will not be able to handle in a healthy way. Like John Belushi, these are talented artists who the song “Shooting Star” by Bad Company was all about, and their lives were quickly swept up in the tsunami of fame.

Granted, there are some problems with “Belushi” as I was hoping this documentary would go a little deeper in certain areas. When it comes to movies like “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” they deserve their own documentaries as their reputations remain very enthralling, but I would have loved to see Cutler examine John’s performance in “Continental Divide” a bit more as this was a movie in which he dared to go in a more serious direction. And yes, there is the issue of Cathy Smith being omitted from here. Cathy gave John the controlled substances which ended his life at the far too young age of 33. I am not saying Cathy deserves to be crucified, but her role in John’s death does deserve some more insight as it may allude to how certain people treat celebrities who are at their most vulnerable.

Regardless, “Belushi” represents the kind of documentary which digs deeper than the average showbiz expose ever does. So many movies on famous people like this one typically just skim the surface and focus on the most controversial moments at the expense of everything else, and this one does not. For that, I am very thankful as I have always been a big fan of John Belushi, and until Cutler’s film, I truly felt I never got to see him as an individual. Regardless of how you feel about him, John Belushi was a human being like the rest of us who craved love and respect, and he should still be with us all these years later.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Tenet’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

Tenet,” written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, is one of the rare films to get a big release in theaters when it came out in early September during the COVID pandemic. While watching it on Blu-ray was an enjoyable experience, I can only imagine what it was like to see it on IMAX.  It probably enhanced the experience quite a bit for moviegoers.  That being said, I’ve always subscribed to the idea that a good movie is good on any platform be it Blu-ray, 4K or the big screen.  I understand why this was released on the big screen, though, as it is a big screen movie with big ambitions.  Nolan has always been a filmmaker with a specific vision, and he likes to give his audience a lot to chew on when they watch his films.  He also likes to let them come up with their own interpretations of them as well.

“Tenet” is a film I watched for the most part on my own with my wife checking in with me near the end of it.  She asked me what was happening and if I liked the movie.  While the idea of trying to explain the film to her was daunting, and I was still processing the film as it was happening, I realized Nolan had me exactly where he wanted me.  Even though “Tenet” has a running time of two hours and thirty minutes, it’s pretty damn exciting when you take in all that is happening on the screen, the details, both big and little.  As far as trying to describe the plot and what happens to her or to anyone reading this review, I will do my best without spoiling the film or making it sound too convoluted.

John David Washington, who has quickly turned into one of our finest working actors today, is simply known as Protagonist. He is a secret agent who is put through a number of grueling tasks in order to see if he’s up for the task of trying to stop World War III through influencing time. We don’t know much about him, his backstory, or why he’s decided to take on this mission in the first place. Washington, however, comes across as calm, cool and collected in each and every scene, whether he’s negotiating or in battle.  His natural charisma is evident throughout.

He’s part of an organization called Tenet, and this is a word which comes up a lot in the film as it is “inverted” and deals with the concept of moving backwards in time.  This is put on display a number of times with simply stunning visuals which will leave your jaw hanging on the floor.  If you are looking for an emotional core, it comes in the form of Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and her working relationship with the Protagonist. While we clearly root for and spend a great deal of time with the Protagonist, Kat’s story is the emotional core of the film.  There is also great work here from Kenneth Branagh as the villain.  He’s very easy to dislike, and his performance is menacing and a little over-the-top, but it works in the world of this film.

The world of the film created by Nolan is not always easy to follow.  There were times where I was lost even as Robert Pattinson’s character was explaining things to me with his Master’s degree in physics.  I understand Nolan wants to keep us guessing and to question what is happening.  I also know there are a ton of fan theories out there.  It is always a good thing when a film can create discussion and debate among movie buffs.  As a hardcore movie lover myself, I’m always looking to talk shop with individuals that look at movies as more than just movies.  They live, breathe and sleep with the movie long after the credits have rolled.  With “Tenet,” it is a film I look forward to revisiting a few more times to fully grasp and comprehend all it is about.

Let’s focus on the positives, first.  Even though the film was not scored by Nolan’s usual composer, Hans Zimmer, the use of sound and music to enhance the movie is truly awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even realize Zimmer didn’t compose the score until I saw the name Ludwig Göransson in the end credits.  This is not to discredit the fantastic work by Göransson, it is just to say it is clear there is a certain style of sound and music Nolan is looking for with his movies, and he picked a great composer with a very impressive resume. I talked about the performances earlier, and they are universally good across the board with the standouts being Washington and Debicki. A few Nolan favorites pop up as well in cameos.  Visually, Nolan takes his work to a whole new level with “Tenet.” It is a big screen movie all the way.

As far as the negatives, even though it is a good movie and doesn’t feel like two hours and thirty minutes, I don’t know if it necessarily had to be this long. I think they could have shaved fifteen to twenty minutes, and it wouldn’t have harmed the overall film.  We all know Nolan likes to do everything big with his movies from the sound to the visual effects to the running time, but sometimes things can be scaled back a little bit.  Another issue with the film is the fact it can be a little cold and distant at times.  His films would be even more powerful with all of the sound and fury if they came with a bit more emotion, heart and more fleshed out characters.  If you have great actors, you should use them more within the framework instead of letting the plot take center stage.

In the end, there is quite a bit to like about “Tenet.”  I’m going to recommend you buy the film, and I know it will be one I’ll be watching a few more times in the future.  However, my favorite Nolan film is still “Insomnia.”   As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Nolan sometimes completely abandons character development and the heart of his films which can sometimes leave me feeling like I’m watching robots in the story.  He also needs to understand that sometimes less is more.  While I don’t necessarily see him changing his ways, there is always the hope of him evolving with his next project. “Tenet” is a good yet flawed flick.

* * * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Tenet” is released on a three-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. One disc is the Blu-ray, another disc is the Blu-ray special features, and the final disc is a DVD version of the film.  The film has a running time of 151 minutes.  It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language.

Video Info: “Tenet” is shown on 1080p High-Definition 16×9 Variable 2.2:1 and 1.78:1 (IMAX sequences). The film is gorgeous looking with a transfer that is impossible to beat! I couldn’t take my eyes off the visuals of this film.

Audio Info: The Blu-ray comes on the following audio tracks: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Descriptive Audio and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.

Special Features:

Looking at the World in A New Way: The Making of Tenet: This special feature is broken up into thirteen featurettes which go into great detail on the filmmaking process.  This is why I love physical media.  It is for the special features and the amount of behind the scenes details we get here. This special feature is over an hour long!

Should You Buy It?

Considering the fact that you are going to want to watch this film a few times and that it is directed by Christopher Nolan, I think this is most certainly a film worth adding to your collection.  There is also the fact it comes with over an hour of special features on a separate disc.  There was a lot of time, thought and effort put into this film as well as its Blu-ray release.  While this is far from a perfect film, there is enough really good stuff in here to make it a wise investment.  As I’ve said a few times in this review now, I want to watch it again and piece together even more of this elaborate puzzle.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-Ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘The Wolf of Snow Hollow’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.

Good horror is hard to find these days in Hollywood. Between the endless number of sequels, remakes and jump scare flicks, it can be quite difficult to find a horror flick truly worth of your time.  However, the beauty with cinema are the little gems like “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.”  This film is also notable for being one of the last to feature the late, great Robert Forster.  It was written and directed by its star Jim Cummings.  Thankfully for the audience, he’s up to the task of being the lead, and he has terrific comedic timing.  He knows how to balance the quirky tone of the flick, which is why it’s such a beauty to watch from beginning to end.  The film is 80 minutes when you take out the credits, but it makes the most of each and every scene and character.

“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is set in Snow Hollow, Utah where not much of anything happens on a day-to-day basis for local police officer John Marshall (Jim Cummings). In John’s personal life, there is a lot going on as he’s trying to raise a 17-year-old daughter on her way to college despite the fact he and his ex-wife don’t get along at all.  There is also the fact his father, played by the late Robert Forster, is having health issues and struggling to stay retired from his job as Sheriff.  It also doesn’t help that some of the individuals working with him aren’t the brightest and most ambitious bunch of police officers out there.  However, there is one bright spot in Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome) as she takes her job seriously and is there to help out John Marshall whenever he needs her.

In addition to these issues, John is also struggling to stay sober. He’s three years sober after being in AA for six years, but the urge to drink starts to increase when local women are showing up dead left and right in Snow Hollow.  He’s having a hard time solving the case, which is causing increased stress and an inability to sleep until he finds the killer. He also wants to prove to himself, his daughter, his father, and everyone else that he is Sheriff material.  The longer this case goes on, the more blame he is facing from the locals. There are theories out there that it’s a werewolf because of the work of the killer, and he’s not sure if he believes in werewolves or if his mind is playing tricks on him.

However, with each full moon another woman is gruesomely torn to shreds.  The stress and anxiety of the job and John’s day-to-day life is getting to him.  On paper, this might not sound like the type of material which would produce a comedy or a solid horror film.  It’s all in the tone and delivery by the actors and what I would imagine was a very specific script. The deadpan comedic moments are executed flawlessly. The beauty comes in the little moments of the film where the characters are interacting with each other.  John also has an anger problem, which produces some clever and offbeat moments.  It reminded me a lot of “Fargo” if it had werewolves.

“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is gorgeously shot as well, and this really stands out when taking the film in as an audience member.  There are a number of overhead shots which are breathtaking. Near the end, Cummings decides to switch tones a bit, and this is a smart move because he transitions to a heartfelt conclusion that is satisfying on many levels. This is a prime example of a film with a $2 million dollar which makes the most of its script, actors and scenery.  It was a film I was not familiar with until its Blu-ray release, but I was pleasantly surprised with it.

This is the perfect cult movie which is going to find an audience as it ages and more people check it out.  With its Blu-ray release, now is the perfect time for you to discover and enjoy it.  I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I look forward to more projects from Cummings in the future.  He has shown a lot of talent and ability here as a writer, director and actor.  I had never seen anything from him before, but I’m very curious to check out his feature film debut from 2018, “Thunder Road.” He’s the kind of talent who likes to do things on his own, but he has proven it is a task not too big for him.  I highly recommend you seek out “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.” You will not be disappointed.

* * * ½ out of * * * * __________________________________________________

Blu-Ray Info: “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray with a digital code from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 85 minutes and is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughoutand some drug use.

Video Info:  The film is presented in 1080p high definition. It looks outstanding, and I loved the snowy overhead shots.  For a $2 million dollar budget, as mentioned, it surely stands out on screen and there is a lot to enjoy from a visual perspective.

Audio Info: The Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 audio track along with an English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Special Features:

·         The Story and the Genre

·         The Impetus

·         Working with Jim Cummings

·         The Design of the Werewolf

·         The Story and The Genre

Should You Buy It?

Yes! You need to support independent cinema which is daring, takes risks and has something unique to offer to the film world.  I have a feeling I’m going to be hearing a lot about Jim Cummings in the future.  The film also comes with some solid special features as well.  The Blu-ray looks outstanding and really adds to the atmosphere of the movie.  The more removed I was from this film and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.  It’s also only $14.99 at most major retailers.  If you know someone who is a horror fan, this is the perfect Christmas gift to surprise them with this upcoming holiday season.  “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is a delightful surprise. I really enjoyed every minute of this film.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’ is Almost as Funny as the Original

Sacha Baron Cohen has long since proven to have balls of steel in doing the things he does, and you have to admire the fearlessness he exhibits from one crazy moment to the next. But when it comes to him bringing back his most famous character, Kazakh news reporter Borat Margaret Sagdiyev, there is a special daring on display here as Cohen has every reason not to. He announced his decision to retire the Borat persona some time ago as the character had become too recognizable for him to prank others successfully, but now he’s back 14 years later in “Borat Subsequent Movefilm,” a sequel which lays waste to the most ignorant parts of America, and one which proves to be almost as good as the original.

As the film begins, we discover Borat was sentenced a life of hard labor after embarrassing his home country of Kazakhstan all those years ago. In addition to failing to marry Pamela Anderson and, in his own words, “make love explosion on her stomach,” the townspeople in his village now infinitely despise him. He even discovers one his sons, Huey Lewis, now hates him so much to where he has legally changed his name to Jeffrey Epstein. If this is not spitting in a father’s face, I don’t know what is.

One day, however, he is released from the gulag by the country’s Premier Nursultan Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu, playing a fictionalized version of the leader) to deliver a gift to Donald Trump in an effort to redeem himself in his nation’s eyes. Along with him for the ride is the daughter he never knew he had, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), whom he eventually decides to gift to Vice-President Mike Pence even if Pence’s mother or wife does not approve.

“Borat Subsequent Movefilm” makes it clear as soon as it can of how its title character can no longer prey on unsuspecting targets without being recognized. As he tries to walk down the street like any other person, onlookers are quick to greet him despite his best attempts to remain invisible to them. To deal with this inescapable situation, he retreats to a nearby costume shop where he acquires as many disguises as Inspector Clouseau did in all those “Pink Panther” motion pictures, and it is amazing to see what he gets away with.

I would like to believe it is easier to spot Cohen these days as few actors have his height (he is 6 feet, 3 inches tall), and those eyes of his have a unique look to them. Nevertheless, he still manages to trick those who were so unsuspecting to where we wonder if they have any contact with social media or the rest of the world in the slightest. While watching this “Borat” sequel, I kept thinking about “In the Line of Fire” in which John Malkovich played a government-trained assassin who employs a number of different disguises during his attempt to assassinate the President of the United States. Like Malkovich’s character, Cohen manages to fool so many into believing he is the real deal when they should know better. Like Clint Eastwood, I wanted to tell everyone here to look at the eyes as they reveal more than anything else on the surface can.

But as brilliant as Cohen is here, special credit needs to be given to Maria Bakalova as she proves to be as equally fearless in exposing the prejudices of others as Cohen is. Right from the start, she dives right into the deep end as Tutar and appears unafraid to place herself in embarrassing situations others would never be caught dead in. Her commitment to her performance is equal to Cohen’s, and the two make quite the team as they skewer the most unsuspecting people in America. Many of my friends believe Bakalova should be considered for an Oscar nomination for her work here, and I am in complete agreement.

As I watched “Borat Subsequent Film,” I wondered if certain people in America were ignorant either in a willful way or due to a poor education they were subjected to. Borat and Tutar come across those citizens who are not quite up to date on what is going in the world. When Borat asks a tanning salon employee what is the best color for a racist, the employee quickly answers without batting an eye. When Tutar swallows a plastic baby on top of the cupcake she vicariously eats, she and Borat head to a nearby crisis pregnancy center (not to be mistaken for a Planned Parenthood) to have it removed, but Pastor Jonathan Bright thinks these two are involved in an incestuous relationship. Still, he is not eager to terminate what he believes to be an actual pregnancy even if it was conceived in an unsubtle way. As for the debutante ball, I am amazed at those who choose to participate in such a bizarre event, especially the adults who prove to be far too admiring of the teenage girls being put out on display.

But of course, the most talked about moment in this “Borat” sequel comes when Tutar gets to interview Rudy Giuliani, the one-time mayor of New York City. Much has been said about how Rudy acted following the interview, but it does look like he was simply straightening out his pants. Then again, some might describe what he did as being the equivalent of “the Picard Maneuver.” Regardless, when Giuliani asked Tutar for her address and phone number, the average viewer had to be disturbed.

One of the few people who comes off unscathed here and rightfully so is Tutar’s babysitter, Jeanise Jones. Granted, she is being duped like the others, but at least she is able to offer Tutar some much needed advice such as women do not need to be put in cages, and she also convinces her not to get that breast enhancement surgery because, of course, she does not need it. It’s nice to see that, even when an individual is being pranked, they still can seem intelligent simply because they are more in touch with the world than anybody else here.

“Borat Subsequent Film” is in many ways a hit-and-miss affair. Not all the jokes work, but the ones which do work had me laughing harder than at any other movie I watched this year. That it is not the equal of “Borat” should not be a surprise as the first film came at us out of nowhere, and we did not see its comedic firestorm coming at us. With this sequel, we have an idea of what to expect, but this still did not deter Cohen or director Jason Woliner from taking another stab at American culture. In the end, we got a sequel which defied heightened expectations and delivered some much-needed hysterics during the clusterfuck of a year which has been 2020.

As politically incorrect as Borat and Tutar are, it is fun to watch them evolve throughout as they reach a new place of understanding. Of course, as the ending shows, and to quote a lyric from a Paula Abdul song, they have taken two steps forward and two steps back.

As for Giuliani, his career was circling the drain even before he represented Trump. If he ends up getting a Presidential pardon, it will not be for his work here.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ Still Deserves To Be a Holiday Tradition

Wow! This brings back so many memories! I still vividly remember watching these Peanuts specials when I was a kid. Sitting in front of the old Zenith television set in my pajamas, because I had to go straight to bed immediately after they ended, it was always a major event when Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang made an appearance in their latest animated special. Of course, you could always count on Snoopy to steal the show from everybody no matter what holiday was being celebrated.

Sadly, we can only dream of ever having a dog as cool as Snoopy in our lifetime. Can you think of another dog that can cook dinner, be as enraged as John McEnroe during a tennis match, drive a motorcycle, or fly a doghouse in pursuit of the nefarious Red Baron? Cujo comes to mind, but he would be too busy terrorizing humans.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is one of those specials I had not seen in the longest time, but on Thanksgiving evening in 2008, the show was passed on to another generation as my brother and I got his daughter to watch it in all its animated glory. She was originally more interested in watching some show on Nickelodeon which looked infinitely lame if you ask me, but we successfully managed to wrestle the remote control from her and turned it to ABC. She got a big kick out of the episode, especially when Snoopy and Woodstock are fighting with each other over preparing for Thanksgiving dinner. Then again, the three of us were in utter hysterics when a certain wooden chair began to attack Snoopy with a vengeance. It’s always great when people of all ages can appreciate the same material at the same level.

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” is sandwiched between two of the most famous Peanuts specials, “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” As a result, it tends to get lost in the shuffle of other specials, but is still somewhat easier to find on television than “It’s The Easter Beagle Charlie Brown” (until 2020 anyway). This special revolves around Charlie Brown having to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of sorts for his friends before he has to go to his grandmother’s place to have a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Peppermint Patty has somehow invited herself and her friends, Marcie and Franklin (the lone African-American character in the Peanuts universe), over to Charlie’s place, expecting a huge Thanksgiving dinner in the space of about an hour or so, as if such a thing were even remotely possible! My dad spent at least eight hours preparing our most recent Thanksgiving feast. Who does Peppermint Patty think she is anyway?

It’s interesting to reflect on how I viewed this special as a kid, and of how I view it now as an adult. I remember feeling sorry for Charlie Brown because I thought he was doing the best he could under terribly difficult the circumstances. Besides, he had Snoopy to back him up, and Snoopy buttered the toast as if he were a blackjack dealer opening a fresh pack of playing cards (the sound effects pretty much gave that one away). These days, he reminds me of myself when I was a teenager. Self-pitying and often quite hopeless, Charlie Brown is his own worst enemy. Watching him give in to Peppermint Patty’s demands makes me want to shake him and tell him to grow some balls. Stand up to Peppermint Patty. She may kick your bald ass at baseball, but not in the kitchen. But when it comes to Peppermint Patty, I think Charlie said it best:

“You can’t explain anything to Peppermint Patty!”

Indeed, Peppermint Patty has a one-track mind and cannot be easily reasoned with if at all. When she wants something, she seems to get it no matter what. At the same time, she can be so rude and oblivious to things she like good manners. Where does she get off inviting herself to other people’s houses? Why does she expect everyone to serve her needs? Doesn’t she have a clue? Inviting yourself to someone else’s house threatens to be rude and inexcusably imposing among other things… Actually, the more I think about it, the more I realize I was kind of like that as a kid. I did invite myself over to a friend’s house when I was 7 or 8. I wasn’t really thinking about how my friend might think. It’s kind of embarrassing to think about now. Well, judge not lest ye be judged!

Of course, you can always count on Linus to make everyone see the true meaning of the holidays. As in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he tells everyone how Thanksgiving Day came about when the Pilgrims and the Indians came together for a feast, and of how thankful they were for the strong friendship which formed between them. You have to be impressed with the amount of knowledge Linus had at his age. Maybe he had some sort of cheat sheet in that blue blanket he always carried with him. You don’t actually see his blanket here in this episode, but maybe Thanksgiving was one of his most favorite holidays to where he needed no reminding of what it was all about. Linus was always a great friend to Charlie Brown, and it was nice to see Charlie always had him as a friend who could help him through those tough times.

But you have got to love Snoopy in this animated special. He saves the day by making a Thanksgiving dinner of popcorn, buttered toast and pretzel sticks among other things. He also inhabits the funniest scenes as he and Woodstock have to get a table and chairs together for all the guests, and they get caught up in playing table tennis, something Snoopy fares much better in than real tennis, until Linus reminds them they have work to do. Then Snoopy ends up getting into a fight with a rouge folding chair which seems to have a life of its own. They fight each other over which way the chair should be set, and the fact that the chair wins is not a surprise.

There’s one other thing I have to point out in this special. At the end, Snoopy and Woodstock are left alone at Charlie Brown’s house as everyone else goes to grandma’s house, and this is despite the fact Snoopy seemed every bit as excited about going as well. Snoopy goes into his doghouse and constructs a wooden table and chairs for him and Woodstock, and he manages to cook a Thanksgiving turkey (why he didn’t do this earlier is best left unanswered) for the two of them, and they both sit down to eat it and even break a wishbone. Now here’s the thing; a turkey is a bird, and Woodstock is a bird as well. So, by eating the turkey, doesn’t this in fact make Woodstock a cannibal? I mean, he is eating his own kind! Doesn’t Woodstock even take this into account? What would his parents think? Plus, how does he get the better half of the wishbone? How can a little bird manage to overpower a beagle’s strength when he does not have as much to work with? This is the world of animation for you! Making the impossible seem possible even if it defies reasonable logic.

As I write this in 2020, the networks decided not to air “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the first time in decades. This seemed sacrilegious to many, and after a major uproar from millions of people, both specials are now being aired on Apple TV and PBS. It would be unthinkable for either of these animated specials to not be broadcast for all to see. Then again, they are available on DVD, Blu-ray and assorted digital formats, so they are never easily out of our reach.

With “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” I remembered of how certain things from childhood can remain ever so innocent from one generation to the next. Even if the Thanksgiving holiday is now seen much differently than before as people believe the Pilgrims laid waste to the Indians or instead observe this holiday as one where Native Americans (the Indians, mind you) fed a group of undocumented illegal aliens (the Pilgrims), this is still a celebrated time when families come together for a great feast. It’s all about togetherness, and this is one of the many things “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” preaches to great effect. Be sure to give this animated special another look when you get the chance. I don’t care how many times you have watched it because it is always worth watching again.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Dr. No’

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2008 when I was way behind on my 007 watchlist. RIP Sean Connery.

I keep hearing over and over telling me Sean Connery was the best James Bond and still is. And yet after all these years and so many 007 movies later, I have only seen a few of the ones starring Connery. Until yesterday, the only ones I had seen all the way through were “From Russia With Love” which remains one of my favorite Bond movies ever, and the rogue Bond “Never Say Never Again” which brought Connery back to the role for the first time since “Diamonds Are Forever.” The James Bond I really got weaned on as a kid was Roger Moore who played the character like a flamboyant playboy who got caught up in events he looked as though he had no business getting caught in. Nevertheless, Moore managed to get the job done even as the franchise started to descend into parody.

Yesterday, New Beverly Cinema, my favorite movie theater in Los Angeles, had a double feature of the first two Bond movies ever made: “Dr. No” & “From Russia With Love.” I had seen bits and pieces of “Dr. No” previously, but never the whole way through. Watching it today, this 007 adventure seems like an average Bond with the megalomaniac villain bent on world domination. I was starting to get sick of this in the last few films which starred Pierce Brosnan as Ian Fleming’s famous spy. Every once in a while, I like to see Bond go head to head with a villain who is not looking for an infinite level of power, but instead one whom he just wants revenge over like in “License to Kill.”

It helps, however, to keep in mind what action movies were like before James Bond came along. Compared to “Dr. No,” they were nowhere as gritty. Shooting female characters in a film was not allowed back in 1962, and this Bond quickly did away with this unwritten law. There was a lot more going on than just your average good guy here. While it might appear to be something of an average film for those seeing it today, “Dr. No” was in many ways a groundbreaking film which led to a franchise which has lasted longer than so many others.

OK, I am in agreement, nobody played James Bond better than Connery, and this is even though I consider Daniel Craig to be a very close second. His very first appearance as 007 in “Dr. No” was truly brilliant as you could see him at the card playing table, but you did not see his face until he uttered one of the most famous lines in cinematic history:

“Bond. James Bond.”

My dad is always telling me what made Connery so great in playing Bond is that he was so believable in how he could romance a woman one second, and then slap her when she was holding back information from him. There was a raw danger which Connery brought to this iconic character, and he set the bar almost impossibly high for the others who inhabited Bond after him. When he lets a driver take him to his destination, even though he knows this driver is up to no good, shows how quickly Bond can change from being suave and debonair to lethal and dangerous in a heartbeat. Connery’s Bond kept his cool and managed to get his way in the end. The bad guys think they have him cornered, but this is what he wants them to think.

It is endlessly interesting to see how the Bond movies have evolved since “Dr. No.” It remains the only 007 film to not have a pre-titles scene which the others are famous for having. It just goes right into the gun barrel opening in which Bond shoots right at us. The titles look cheesy today as “Dr. No” and “007” are put everywhere on the silver screen. It was the first of many opening credits sequences designed by Maurice Binder, and this one remains the most disjointed of the bunch. It goes from the unforgettable Monty Norman theme we all know to three men superimposed over the credits to the tune of “Three Blind Mice.” The audience at the New Beverly laughed at this part, and I couldn’t help but laugh myself. Things have changed a lot since “Dr. No” came out.

Seeing Bond flirt for the first time with Miss Moneypenny (the late Lois Maxwell) here makes me miss the banter these two characters have had from one film to the next. Miss Moneypenny was not in “Casino Royale,” and I have no idea if we will ever see her again in the future. But seeing these characters here for the first time reminded me of how great and fun their banter was until M made her buzz Bond in for his next assignment. Just when things got interesting between the two, business comes to obliterate pleasure.

In “Dr. No,” Bond actually gets to bed several different ladies instead of just one. Connery makes seduction look so easy to pull off. The fact such seduction is not this easy in real life is utterly frustrating. This lucky bastard of an Oscar winning actor had quite a selection before he came to meet the first Bond woman ever, Honey Rider (Ursula Andress), whose entrance in a flesh colored bikini is still one for the ages. This also marked the first time Bond actually sang, and he has not sung since. I can’t help but wonder if this was a good or bad thing. Then again, I can’t quite picture Timothy Dalton singing “Thunderball.” As for Brosnan, I never want to hear him sing again after “Mamma Mia.”

One of Bond’s first death-defying moments involved a tarantula, and just typing out this particular spider’s description sends shivers down my spine! UGGH! This may have been why I never bothered to watch “Dr. No” earlier in my life. Those damn things creep me out like nothing else. Seriously, get that creature away from me! Easily one of the scariest moments in any Bond movie, the tension escalates so quickly to where the rest of this movie can never quite match it. Still, it wouldn’t be the last time we saw spiders in a Bond movie. My brother covered my eyes during one scene in “Octopussy” which included them. I think it is just as well that he did.

Watching “Dr. No” was fun, and it is an excellent Bond movie in many ways. Time has not been exactly kind to it though. We can see the green screen being used, so we have to snicker some. The pace is a lot more leisurely, and no Bond movie can move so slowly these days. Norman’s Bond theme is played endlessly here to where we threaten to get sick of it. But decades later, it is impossible to tire of this theme as it is to tire of John Carpenter’s theme to “Halloween.”

The print New Beverly Cinema had of “Dr. No” was in peak condition, and it was a recent printing down for the occasion of United Artists’ 90th anniversary. It was great to see it on the big screen all the way through instead of just on television. From here, the Bond series had nowhere to go but up. The formula was more or less perfected with “From Russia With Love,” and the producers did not mess with this formula until after “Die Another Day.” I enjoyed “Dr. No,” and I love how it paved the way for many more exciting adventures with this British spy. May there be many more in the years to come.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘The Mist’ Deals With the Fear of the Unknown and of Reality

There was a time when Frank Darabont created the most effective cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s novels. He gave us one of the all-time great adaptations of King’s works with “The Shawshank Redemption,” a classic which you can still catch it on TBS or TNT every other week. Darabont also directed “The Green Mile” which was very good and left its audience in tears at its humbling conclusion. These days, Mike Flanagan has become the King adaptation master of choice with his takes on “Gerald’s Game” and “Doctor Sleep,” both of which proved to be wonderfully unnerving. Before this, however, was Darabont’s adaptation of King’s “The Mist,” and it represented his first time dealing with one of King’s full out horror stories. Having said this, he still brings this particular King horror tale to life in way few other filmmakers ever could.

“The Mist” takes place, as many of King’s works do, in the state of Maine. We see our main character, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), doing his work as a graphic artist on something which appears to be right out of “The Dark Tower,” and it establishes what David does while simultaneously establishing the kind of movie we are about to see. It is a motion picture which deals with people whom we recognize from the real world we inhabit and the small towns we grew up in. This is not often the case as many horror films deal with stock characters we cannot wait to see done away with.

One day, there is a storm which hurls a tree into David’s work studio, and he ends up going into town with his son the next day to pick up supplies. In the process, he also ends up taking along his next-door neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) regardless of the fact Brent’s tree fell down on David’s boathouse and completely destroyed it. But while at the market, a mist starts to blanket the town to where there is zero visibility. A local townsman named Dan ends up rushing into the store crying out, “There’s something in the mist!”

From there, everyone is trapped in the supermarket as the thought of stepping outside its doors is far too fearful an action. This is largely the result of there being something in the mist which quickly proves to be anything but human, and this creates divisions between everyone trapped in the store. This division is primarily brought about by Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Haden), a fervent believer in the word of the bible who believes judgment day is upon us and that the end is indeed very near.

Watching “The Mist,” you can recognize the familiar types of characters which occupy the average Stephen King story; the man who doesn’t want to be the hero but ends up being one even if it is not by his own doing, the religious fanatic who will not allow themself be torn away from they believe to be the truth, and townspeople who appear to be brave on the outside but terrified on the inside. What I really liked about this film is how Darabont never lets them become just mere stereotypical characters. While these characters may appear to be just that, it is a credit to the writing and acting that everyone involved in this film’s production rose above the genre’s conventions to give us something more human than we typically expect.

What interests Darabont here is not so much the monsters on the outside, but instead the monsters which lurk deep in our psyches. How we would possibly react when all the things we depend on in our life are suddenly taken away from us? No easy answer is given, but it is clear we are left with our instincts for survival at any cost. Darabont does excellent work in creating an inescapably claustrophobic environment where escape is easier said than done and trust can easily become a disposable commodity.

Leading the cast is Thomas Jane who first has made an unforgettable impression when he co-starred in “Boogie Nights.” He then went on to do “Deep Blue Sea” which more or less typecast him as the hardened hero who shows more courage than anyone around him. But here, he is simply an ordinary man caught up in an unimaginable situation, and he is struggling to maintain his sanity in an increasingly desperate situation.

“The Mist” is filled with many fine actors who fully humanize their roles and succeed in avoiding the mistake of making these characters seem stereotypical and easily disposable. It is great to see Andre Braugher here as the disbelieving neighbor/lawyer who makes the idiotic assumption he is being setup for a practical joke. In any other movie, we would simply just hate his character Brent for not believing the protagonists, but Braugher succeeds in making us believe why he might see how Brent could not see the inherent danger everyone is caught up in. As an audience, we of course know better of what is really going on, but it makes you think of how people would normally react in a horrifying situation like this. Could we easily believe in such things? Wouldn’t we be skeptical of what others tell us? Aren’t some us sick and tired of being the butt of everyone’s jokes?

Also in the cast is Toby Jones who is a wonderful presence here as Ollie, a supermarket employee who turns out to be very handy with a gun. Then we have other character actors like Jeffrey DeMunn who plays Dan Miller, and William Sadler who plays Jim Grondin. Frances Sternhagen is also on board as a friendly schoolteacher named Irene and has some of the best and most memorable of moments in this movie. You also have Lauren Holden as Amanda Dunprey, a new school teacher who befriends David and his son Billy (Nathan Gamble).

All of these actors do a great job of making the characters all the more real to us so that we don’t simply laugh them off the screen for doing stupid things that horror movie characters usually do. You get the sense that if this were written and directed by anyone other than Darabont, it would look like just about any other horror movie we have seem hundreds of times already. But there is going with the story of this movie that makes it more than your typical horror movie.

But the best performance comes from Marcia Gay Harden who plays the seemingly crazed Mrs. Carmody. A religious zealot if there ever was one, Carmody can be easily compared to Carrie Wright’s mother from “Carrie” as both are hopelessly devoted to God and the Bible even though their belief structure has long since been corrupted. Harden is a brilliant actress, and she makes Mrs. Carmody far scarier than the monsters which constantly threaten to infiltrate the overcrowded supermarket everyone is stuck in. She also makes you believe how people would end up following her when the fate of the world continues to descend down on them all. Her crazy beliefs end up making believers out of others, and a mob mentality quickly forms a sharp division between the characters stuck in the store which threatens to bring out the worst in everyone. Harden’s portrayal of such a frightening individual has long since stayed with me after watching this film when it came out in 2007.

Not everything about “The Mist” is perfect. The monsters, when they do appear, are effectively creepy and eerie, but they are also clearly CGI, and this takes away from what we are shown. Darabont ends up creating more of an intense effect when we don’t see the monsters up close, but instead from a distance. When they are shrouded by weather they inhabit, they seem infinitely more terrifying as a result. If you have a fear of creepy crawlers like spiders, you may want to think twice about checking this movie out.

The ending of “The Mist” is different from King’s book, and King himself was quick to point this out to everyone who bothered to listen. What I can tell you about the ending is that it is both uncompromising and devastating in its impact. It makes you look back at everything which happened to where you realize the line between good people and bad people, protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains can be ever so easily blurred. The people we end up fearing the most are ourselves and of what we are capable of. We can easily descend into craziness and insanity when all the things we need most in life are suddenly taken away from us. The moment we give up on life and accept its horrifying fate is the moment when we all become less than human, and considering the times we are currently living through, this seems more pertinent than ever before.

I walked out of “The Mist” completely shaken and unable to speak. It contains a shattering ending which is unlike any we usually from any film we typically watch. What makes it all the more unsettling is that we cannot help but think of what we would do in the same situation. There are many who cannot bear to think of the answer such a question, but there are those whose drive to survive is impossible to ignore.

“The Mist” may not as good as “The Shawshank Redemption,” but it is still an effectively made motion picture with excellent performances and an ever-growing intensity. It is also one of the better adaptations of a Stephen King novel in years, and it keeps itself from sinking into the clichés of the average horror movie.

Whether or not you believe in extra-terrestrials is beside the point. We end up fearing ourselves more than anything else, and this fear can easily cripple us from doing what we want to do in our lives.

The tagline of “The Mist” was right: Fear changes everything…

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Dolores Claiborne’ – A Stephen King Horror Tale of the Real-Life Kind

Dolores Claiborne” is, on the surface, not your typical Stephen King novel, and this is important to note before you begin watching this particular adaptation of his work. This cinematic treatment reunites him with the great Kathy Bates who won an Oscar for playing Annie Wilkes in “Misery,” but she’s not playing a deranged psycho this time around. Also, while much of King’s writings deal with terrifying supernatural powers and unspeakable terrors, the horror generated here comes from real life horrors no one should ever have to endure. In some ways, this makes it one of his more terrifying tales because it deals with the kind of horrible crimes we hope and pray never to experience first-hand. Having said this, it is clear how many of us can never be so lucky as to avoid the worst traumas humanity has to offer.

Bates plays the title character who, as “Dolores Claiborne” opens, is believed to have killed her rich employer Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). This crime immediately reminds the town of Little Tall Island in Maine when Dolores’ husband, Joe (David Strathairn), died twenty years ago under mysterious circumstances, and the general consensus was that Dolores killed him. Detective John Mackey (Christopher Plummer), who had pursued the case against her back then is determined to put her behind bars this time and for good. Into this mix comes Dolores’ daughter, Selena St. George (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a big-time reporter who arrives to defend her mother despite the two of them having been estranged for over a decade.

The novel “Dolores Claiborne” was essentially one long monologue as the story was written entirely from the title character’s point of view. This makes the work director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter Tony Gilroy have done here all the more impressive. They have taken Dolores’ unsettling story and have stretched it out into a character driven motion picture filled with various characters who have been fleshed out in unforgettably compelling ways. None of these characters, even that drunken lout of a husband and father, are one-dimensional or throwaway caricatures. Each one is complex, and they take unexpected directions which might seem jarring at first, but eventually make sense in the large scheme of things.

The plot shifts back and forth in time as we flashback to when Dolores lived with her drunk and abusive husband and of the vicious abuse she took from him in his endlessly drunken state. Director of photography Gabriel Beristain shoots this hideous past with such vivid colors to where he gives the scenes an innocent look which is soon contrasted with horrible violence. It almost acts as a façade for how the past was seen as if it were some sort of Norman Rockwell painting, the kind made to cover up the severe family dysfunction many would like to pretend does not exist.

For the record, King said he wrote the character of Dolores Claiborne with Kathy Bates in mind, and it is very hard to think of another actress who could have inhabited this role. Stripped of any false glamour, Bates takes her character from being a victim to one who understandably takes matters into her own hands. Her acting here is flawless and compelling, and we root for her even though her actions have devastating moral implications.

When you look at her overall body of work, this movie almost seems like a walk in the park for Leigh. She has gone to great physical and emotional lengths to portray a character throughout her long career, but here it looks like she is taking it easy. However, her character of Selena is no less challenging to portray than the others listed on her vast resume. Selena is not easily likable, but she has to be empathetic because the viewer slowly starts to see how her innocence was irrevocably and unforgivably destroyed. Leigh matches Bates’ performance scene for scene by showing how much Selena wants to forget the past, but she comes to see how her most repressed memories cannot stay below the surface forever.

Special attention also needs to be paid to Ellen Muth who portrays Selena as a little girl. This is not the kind of role parents want their children to portray to as it deals with abuse and molestation among other things, but Muth proves to be utterly convincing in making the young Selena deeply distraught and confused by actions no child should ever have to be put through.

There’s also a bevy of excellent performances from the rest of the cast as well. Christopher Plummer, who is never bad in anything, is memorable as the relentless Detective John Mackey. This could have been a throwaway role, but Plummer makes Mackey a complex character to where you question whether his determination is based more on personal revenge than justice. Judy Parfitt is unbearably domineering as Dolores’ wealthy employer, Vera Donovan, and their relationship runs much deeper than we see at first glance. And David Strathairn manages to flesh out his despicable character of Joe St. George to where he’s just slightly more than your average mean drunk.

Most of King’s novels deal with the horror of supernatural elements or ghosts and demons which haunt our nightmares. But “Dolores Claiborne,” much like “Stand by Me,” deals with the horrors of real life which we are never quick to confront unless we are put in a position where the awful truth can no longer be ignored. Perhaps the unsettling nature of this particular work by King is what kept many from checking out this motion picture when it arrived in movie theatres back in 1995, but those of us who were willing to dive into the dark side of things like myself did not deny ourselves a journey to the horrors this film has to offer. But now, 25 years later, this film fits in perfectly with a time which includes the Time’s Up movement as we are forced to realize we have thoughtlessly ignored the worst abuses made against other human beings for far too long. As a result, this particular King cinematic adaption plays even better than it did back when it was released.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Eddie Pence: The (Un)special Comedy Special’ is Endlessly Funny

Sooner or later, every standup comedian gets their own comedy special captured on film, digital or whatever else people are using these days. Richard Pryor performed one of his most famous standup specials on the Sunset Strip at the Comedy Store, George Carlin performed many unforgettable specials on HBO, Kevin Hart got to perform to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, and Dave Chapelle has remained a comedic force to be reckoned with on Netflix along with others like Amy Schumer and John Mulaney.

And then there is Eddie Pence. You haven’t heard of him? Well, you clearly have not been paying attention like you should. Eddie has been a stand-up comic for many years in Southern California, has appeared on many different shows, and he is also the vice host of “The Ralph Report” with Ralph Garman. Still, he has not achieved the crazy level of fame others in his field have. But like many in this day and age, he has been busy fundraising in an effort to create his own comedy special, and it has finally arrived and been given the unique title, “Eddie Pence: The (Un)special Comedy Special.” What results is a solid hour of hysterics from a self-deprecating individual who is better at performing than he thinks.

With this comedy special, which Pence filmed in his hometown of Washington, D.C., he wisely sets himself up as an underdog. When rushing towards the camera in the opening moments, he is knocked over by a pedestrian who will not even allow him to say the title of this special which Comedy Dynamics took a little too long to release. As he attempts to give out free tickets to his show, he is greeted by one who mistakenly believes he is a blood relative to a certain Vice President who was recently upstaged by a housefly during a debate. Upon arriving at his appointed venue, the D.C. Comedy Loft, he is informed that the main room is hosting a comedy class on how to tell a joke, and it costs only $10 to attend. As a result, he is forced to perform in the venue’s Cellar room which I imagine is the equivalent of the Belly Room at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, Pence is so determined to jump onto the stage to give us what he has got, and he is so pumped up to where he doesn’t realize his comedy set will not start for another two hours.

The set of the Cellar is very simplistic as it features a red wallpapered wall with bland white Christmas lights adorning it. If those lights were blinking constantly, it may have looked more like the seedy bar Laura Palmer visited in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” But while Pence may not have the spectacular sets which adorned Carlin’s HBO specials, he is not about to let his sparse set affect his comedy set, and it quickly proves to be endlessly hilarious.

Right from the start, I could see Pence has had a lot of experience as a stand-up comedian, and he shows a lot of confidence as he goes from one joke to the next with what seems like relative ease. As he points out how strippers are doing the Lord’s work or how no one can half-ass streaking, it is clear he has long since found his own unique style of performing and trusts his own point of view implicitly. Even I have never taken into account how strippers are doing the Lord’s work.

What I also admired about Pence is how he goes from one topic to another with the understanding of not staying on the same subject for too long. He is also aided by his director, Dustin Jacobs, who keeps the proceedings moving at a steady pace. Stand-up comedy specials usually have spots where things begin to drag to where you find yourself checking your watch or looking how much time is left before the end, but this special is never undone by such problems. Everything feels smooth and I never felt my attention wavering throughout even when Pence talks about how hamsters make the worse pets.

And like all great comedians, Pence saves his best material for last. His jokes about “Star Wars” are more than welcome, and he comes up with stuff even Kevin Smith did not include in “Clerks.” Pence’s biggest jabs, however, are at “The Empire Strikes Back,” still the greatest “Star Wars” ever made. The penultimate scene in which Princess Leia tells Han Solo she loves him before he is frozen in carbonite, and he tells her “I know” remains one of the most memorable moments in a “Star Wars” film, let alone any other film in cinematic history. But in the process, Pence provides us with definitive proof of how a similar situation will never play out as well in real life. In fact, anyone with a DNR order will find their wishes completely voided if those two words are the last thing they say to their spouse.

Is “Eddie Pence: The (Un)special Comedy Special” one of the greatest stand-up comedy specials ever made? Oh please, do not go into this needlessly comparing this one to others. Simply let it stand on its own and enjoy for what it is. Besides, all these lists get everything in the wrong order. There was one which even dared to put “Bill Cosby Himself” at a much higher position than “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert.” Blasphemy! That’s like saying John Carpenter’s “Ghost of Mars” is a better motion picture than his remake of “The Thing!”

Anyway, I digress. Pence proves to be a durable stand up comedian who generates many laughs for the most enthusiastic of audiences, and his “(Un)special Comedy Special” will present viewers with a nice diversion from the apocalyptic world we have been forced to endure this past year. But by the end of 2020, I hope to have an answer as to which comedy is funnier: this or “Trump Card.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *