Category: Crime

“American Nightmare” (2024) / Z-View

American Nightmare (2024)

Director:  Bernadette Higgins, Felicity Morris

Tagline:  No One Would Suspect the Truth.  It’s Always Revenge.  It’s Always the Boyfriend.  It’s Always the Scorned Ex.

The Plot…

Aaron Quinn calls 911.  He tells them that his girlfriend, Denise Huskins, was kidnapped from his house the night before.  They ask why he didn’t call sooner, he replies that he had been drugged with Nyquil and zip-tied.  The police bring him in for questioning. Aaron repeats his story.  He says the kidnapper was wearing a scuba suit.  The police ask if either he or his girlfriend put up a fight?  No, the kidnapper had a gun with a laser pointed at them.

The police say that a blanket is missing along with his girlfriend.  What could the blanket have been used for?  Aaron says to carry out a body.  The police say blood was found on the steps and Aaron has failed the lie-detector test.  Aaron says he can’t explain either.  A ransom demand comes in for $15,000.  That’s too low of a ransom for the risk.  The police are ready to arrest Aaron.

A day or so later, Denise shows up at her dad’s house about 300 miles away.  She tells police the kidnapper dropped her off.  The police question her and she tells the same story.  A break in by a guy with a laser pistol in a scuba suit.  He zip-ties and forces Aaron to drink Nyquill to knock him out.  The man then kidnaps Denise.  The police believe it to be a hoax and go to the media with this crazy story.  Denise and Aaron are destroyed when the story goes viral.

Time passes and the truth eventually comes out.  You know the saying, “Truth is often stranger than fiction?”  This time it is.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

After the first episode of American Nightmare, you are convinced Aaron killed Denise.

After the second episode, you believe Aaron and Denise came up with this outlandish story.

After the third episode, you will be in shock when the truth comes out.

American Nightmare (2024) rates 5 of 5 stars.

“Fargo”: Season 5 (2023) starring Juno Temple, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sam Spruell and Jon Hamm / Z-View

Fargo: Season 5 (2023)

Created by:  Noah Hawley

Directors:  Noah Hawley (eps. 1 -2); Donald Murphy (eps. 3 – 4); Dana Gonzales (eps. 5 – 6); Sylvain White (eps. 7 – 8); Thomas Bezucha (eps. 9 – 10)

Screenplay:Noah Hawley (eps. 1 -5, 9 – 10); Noah Hawley & Bob DeLaurentis (ep. 6); Noah Hawley & April Shih (ep. 7); Noah Hawley & Thomas Bezucha (ep. 8)

Stars: Juno Temple, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Rysdahl, Joe Keery, Lamorne Morris, Richa Moorjani, Sam Spruell, Dave Foley, Lukas Gage and Jon Hamm.

Tagline: None.

The Plot…

When a riot breaks out at Dot Lyon’s (Temple) daughter’s school board meeting, Dot accidentally tasers a police officer.  She’s arrested and booked.  Her fingerprints indicate she’s not who she says she is.  Soon this seemingly quiet housewife and mother will find herself in danger from kidnappers, her former husband who’s now a corrupt sheriff in a neighboring county and the F.B.I..

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

Fargo presents new characters and story with each season.  All have been excellent and season 5 may be the best yet.

The story is full of twists and fantastic characters.  Every member of the cast is a standout.  I would not be at all surprised to see nominations and awards for Juno Temple, Jennifer Jason Leigh (has she ever been better?), Sam Spruell and Jon Hamm.  Their characters were quirky and the actors made the most of them.  Kudos also to Joe Keery, Lamone Morris, Richa Moorjani and Dave Foley.

Fargo: Season 5 (2023) earns 5 of 5 stars.

“The Mad Doctor of Market Street” (1942) / Z-View

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942)

Director:  Joseph H. Lewis

Screenplay: Al Martin

Stars: Una Merkel, Lionel Atwill, Nat Pendleton, Noble Johnson and John Eldredge

Tagline: GENIUS – OR FIEND?

The Plot…

Dr. Ralph Benson (Atwill) changes his name and boards a passenger ship after a man dies during one of Benson’s crazy experiments.  While on the ship Benson is recognized so he lures the man to a secluded area and throws him overboard.  A fire breaks out on the ship.  Benson and five others are the sole survivors.  Their lifeboat lands on an island populated by natives ready to kill them.

Benson learns that the Chief’s wife is on her deathbed.  Benson claims he can cure her.  When a shot of adrenaline revives the woman, the Chief thinks Benson has magical powers.  Benson sets himself up as a god.  He plans to continue his experiments starting with the other survivors.  Trapped on an island with a mad doctor and natives ready to kill them, the survivors have little chance for life.

Unless…

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The Mad Doctor of Market Street is about what you’d expect for a low budget B film of the early 40s.  The murders are tame or appear off screen.  There’s an attempt at humor.  The one surprising thing and it is pretty grim even though it appears off screen is — BIG SPOILER ALERT — the fire that alerts the search party that there are survivors on the island comes from the natives burning the doctor alive!

The Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942) rates 2 of 5 stars.

OWNING UP by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos has a new one coming out.  Actually four new ones if we want to be accurate.  Here’s the lowdown…

Four blistering novellas, drawn together by themes of strife, violence, and humanity; “Every time I read one of George Pelecanos’s novels, I’m left a little awed.” (Dennis Lehane)

When the son of the Carusos is involved in a hold up, the family home comes under siege in the form of a no-knock warrant. Months after the cops destroyed their home, the Carusos struggle to return to normal. Elsewhere, two former inmates reunite by chance on the set of a TV production. Both have found their way on the straight and narrow path, that is, until one sees the potential for an easy grift. A teenage boy must step into the man he’d like to be as a hostage crisis grips his hometown. A woman adrift meets a man tied to her grandmother’s past, an encounter that awakens her to a bloody history that undergirds the place she grew up.

Pelecanos’ portraits are characterized by shades of grey, resisting the mold of heroes and villains, victims and perpetrators, good and evil. At once streetwise and full of heart, Owning Up grapples with random chance, the bind of consequence, and the forked paths a life can take.

OWNING UP by George Pelecanos drops February 6, 2024.

The Invisible Woman (1940) / Z-View

The Invisible Woman (1940)

Director:  A. Edward Sutherland

Screenplay: Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, Gertrude Purcell, story by Curt Siodmak, Joe May

Stars: Virginia Bruce, John Barrymore, John Howard, Oscar Homolka, Donald MacBride, Margaret Hamilton, Charles Lane, Mary Gordon  and Shemp Howard.

Tagline: The YEAR’S FUNNIEST FUN!

The Plot…

Richard Russell (Howard) has always used part of his wealth to fund eccentric Professor Gibbs’ (Barrymore) inventions.  When Gibbs comes up with a method to turn people invisible he needs a test subject.  Out-of-work model, Kitty Carroll (Bruce) volunteers.  When gangsters learn of the device, they decide to steal it.  Kitty, Professor Gibbs and Richard are in over their heads.

Let the fun begin!

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The Invisible Woman was a 1942 Oscar Nominee for Best Special Effects.

If at times John Barrymore seems to be looking past who he’s talking to or in different directions as he speaks, it’s because cue cards were placed in strategic locations around the room.  Sadly Barrymore’s alcoholism had taken a toll.

Watch for Shemp Howard as the gangster named Frankie!  Margaret Hamilton of Wizard of Oz fame also has a supporting role.

The Invisible Woman (1940) earns 3 of 5 stars.

“In the Shadow of the Moon” (2019) starring Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman & Bokeem Woodbine / Z-View

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

Director:  Jim Mickle

Screenplay: Gregory Weidman, Geoff Tock

Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine, Michael C. Hall, Tony Craig and Rachel Keller.

Tagline: Some Crimes Defy Time

The Plot…

The year is 1988.  Three people in different locations bleed from their ears and eyes and then die.  Police officers Lockhart (Holbrook) and Maddox (Woodbine) along with Detective Holt (Hall) are assigned to the case.  Lockhart discovers similar wounds on each victim.  The trail leads Lockhart and Maddox to a suspect in the subway.  She is a young, African-American female who tells Lockhart details she shouldn’t know about his life.  She tells him the date his wife will have a baby.  She further predicts her own death.  When Lockhart attempts to arrest her, a struggle ensues.  She is thrown in front of subway car and dies.

Nine years later people begin dying after bleeding from their ears and eyes.  Lockhart, now a Detective, believes that a copy cat killer is at large.  But when he locates a suspect, he is shocked to discover it is the same woman as before.  She didn’t die and hasn’t aged.

Why are these people being killed?  Is the killer a time traveler?

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The film has an interesting premise and starts off well enough.  Along the way I began to lose interest.  I finished the movie but just found it to be okay.

Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine deserved better.

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019) earns 2 of 5 stars.

“Pickup” (1951) directed by Hugo Haas, starring Hugo Haas & Beverly Michaels / Z-View

Pickup (1951)

Director:  Hugo Haas

Screenplay: Hugo Haas, Arnold Phillips based on GUARD No. 47 by Josef Kopta

Stars: Hugo Haas, Beverly Michaels, Howland Chamberlain, Art Lewis and Bernard Gorcey.

Tagline: Easy to “pick-up” – but you won’t – if you know what’s good for you!

The Plot…

Jan “Hunky” Horak (Haas) is a middle-aged widowed railroad dispatcher who works alone at an isolated water stop.  When Hunky takes his first day off in a year, he heads in to town.  He’s surprised to find a carnival set up.  As Hunky walks through the amusements, he is targeted by Betty (Michaels), an attractive blonde.

Betty figures to get a free meal and maybe a couple of bucks from the old guy.  Betty is broke and about to be evicted.  When she learns Hunky has several thousand in his savings account she works him into marrying her.  Betty knows that if Hunky dies… or is killed, the money is hers.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The Pickup has a classic set-up.  A gold-digger has plans to end her older husband’s life to take sole possession of all he owns.  Along the way we’re treated to an interesting twist that alerts Hunky to his wife’s plans.  Up until the very end it felt like we were getting a poor man’s The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity.  The ending isn’t bad, just not quite in line with the noir that had been set up.

Hugo Haas is perfect as Hunky.  Beverly Michaels is also just right as Betty, the girl that’s easy to pick-up at your own risk.  Watch for Bernard Gorcey (of The Bowery Boys fame) in a small role.

Pickup (1951) earns 3 of 5 stars.

“The Prince of Pennsylvania” (2015) / Z-View

The Prince of Pennsylvania (2015)

Director:  Jesse Vile

Stars: Mark Schultz, John du Pont, Robbie Calabrese, Dave Schultz.

Tagline: None

The Plot…

Multimillionaire, John DuPont wanted to create a mecca for US amateur wrestlers. He recruited the best and they were on their way.  Then DuPont killed their best athlete.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

DuPont created a training facility that was state of the art.  He invited the best wrestlers from across the country to live and train there for free.  Using filmed interviews and never-before-seen footage we get access to life there and DuPont’s gradual decline that lead to murder.

The Prince of Pennsylvania (2015) earns 4 of 5 stars.

“Rolling Thunder” (1977) starring William Devane & Tommy Lee Jones / Z-View

Rolling Thunder (1977)

Director:  John Flynn

Screenplay: Paul Schrader, Heywood Gould; story by Paul Schrader

Stars: William Devane, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Haynes, James Best, Lisa Blake Richards, Luke Askew, James Victor, Cassie Yates and Dabney Coleman.

Tagline: CHARLES RANE: EXECUTIONER! The war had turned him into a machine for murder. He had nothing to live for…except revenge

The Plot…

After seven years in a prisoner of war camp, Major Charles Rane (Devane) returns home.  The years a prisoner were brutal.  Rane was repeatedly tortured.  Adjustment to his new freedom will be difficult.  Making it worse, his son, who was a baby when Rane was captured, doesn’t remember him.  His wife now loves another man,

Although his hometown considers him a hero, Rane doesn’t feel like one.  At a ceremony honoring his return, Rane is presented with a new Cadillac and 2,555 silver dollars – one for every day he was captive, plus one for luck.  Later three lowlifes break into Rane’s house to steal the money.  They torture Rane but he refuses to tell them where he hid the cash.  Even when they force Rane’s hand into a garbage disposal, he won’t talk.

When Rane’s wife and son enter the house, the thugs threaten them.  Rane’s son tells where the silver dollars are hidden.  The thieves then shoot Rane, his wife and son.

Only Rane survives.  He awakens in a hospital,  His mangled hand had to be removed, replaced by a hook.  Rane reaches out to  Johnny Vohden (Jones), another soldier from his unit that also was a POW with him.  Rane plans to get revenge on three murderers who killed his son, wife and left him for dead.  Johnny doesn’t hesitate to join him.

Major Charles Rane has come home to war.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

I’m not a fan of the movie’s poster shown above.  It makes Rolling Thunder look like a cheap horror film.

Paul Schrader who co-wrote the film originally had Rane written as a “white-trash racist”.  He wanted Rane’s killing spree to be metaphor for Vietnam.  The rewritten screenplay takes out that aspect and makes Rane a hero.

James Best known as the bumbling Sheriff Roscoe Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard plays one of the three murderers.  If you only know him from The Dukes, it’s odd seeing him play a tough guy thug.  In Rolling Thunder, Best’s character always seems to be sweating.  He achieved his effect by placing ice cubes under his hat.

Rolling Thunder (1977) earns 3 of 5 stars.

“The Equalizer 3” (2023) directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Denzel Washington & Dakota Fanning / Z-View

The Equalizer 3 (2023)

Director:  Antoine Fuqua

Screenplay: Richard Wenk based on The Equalizer by Michael Sloan, Richard Lindheim

Stars: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning

Tagline: Justice knows no borders.

The Plot…

Robert McCall (Washington) finds himself in the small Italian town of Altamonte while he recovers from a gunshot wound,  McCall’s road to recovery is a slow one.  As time passes, McCall is accepted and treated with kindness by the locals.  He begins to think that Altamonte may become his new home.  McCall loves the pace and peacefulness.

When a crime boss and his gang begin to move in on the town businesses, McCall decides to get involved.

Thoughts (beware of spoilers)…

The Equalizer 3 is the fifth teaming of Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua.  Their other collaborations are Training Day (2001), The Equalizer (2014), The Magnificent Seven (2016) and The Equalizer 2 (2018).

The Equalizer 3 is the second teaming of Denzel Washington and his co-star Dakota Fanning.  They first appeared together in Man on Fire (2004).

The Equalizer 3 is a worthy follow-up to the first two films.

The Equalizer 3 (2023) earns 4 of 5 stars.