Thursday, October 31, 2013

Movie Review: “The Iceman”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast

   Michael Shannon portrays mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski in this retelling based on true events. Shannon is superb, both menacing and sinister and seems right at home in this role. Ray Liotta plays Roy Demeo, the boss of Kuklinski and seems to just get better with these types of roles the more he does them. I suppose they have become second nature to him. Winona Ryder is the unsuspecting wife, Deborah Kuklinski, and plays her role of ignorant homemaker very well. Chris Evans is Robert Pronge, another mafia contract killer that befriends Kuklinski (as much as anyone can be) as well as temporary partner. James Franco plays the fleeting role of Marty Freeman...and delivers in one of the best scenes in the film.

The Plot: 
   From 1964 to 1986, Richard Kuklinski killed well over one hundred people. This is the story of what this man was...although we may never understand who he was.

   The film starts by showing Kuklinski in reflection of his recent life. A life that starts out with him very much in love with his wife and very much involved with making and maintaining a family. He has friends, neighbors...a complete picture of normalcy when viewed by the uninitiated. It doesn’t take long for the audience to get initiated though as something as simple as a few insults levied about his wife during a game of pool, quickly leads to a swift and brutal murder.

   When Kuklinski’s job as a porn film editor comes to an unexpected halt, he is offered alternative employment for which he seems to be naturally suited. His job is simple...follow the orders given to him. The fact that those orders more often than not involve ending someone’s life doesn’t even seem to register anywhere on the emotional spectrum for Kuklinski. It was noted by his boss Demeo, while holding a gun in the face of Kuklinski, that nothing but ice water must be flowing through his his eyes reveal nothing, but worse still, reflect nothing either.

   Things begin to take a bad turn after Kuklinski leaves a young woman alive after completing a job (the infamous James Franco scene), sighting the fact to his displeased boss that he doesn’t kill women and children. Around this time is when he meets Robert Pronge. Because of the rash actions of another one of his crew, Demeo shuts down all his dealings, effectively putting Kuklinski out of work once again. To continue his lifestyle and the charade of investor to his wife, Kuklinski partners with Pronge, against the express orders of Demeo to do no work (related to their criminal business).

   As the body count continues, Kuklinski’s alternate employment is eventually discovered by Demeo setting into motion a series of events leading to his eventual capture. Kuklinski, feeling desperate in the face of his family being in danger and daughter being attacked, begins to tie up his own loose ends...none of which can be tied, without a plethora of bodies being involved.

The Verdict: 
   This film is cold...and I’m not just making a pun (but there it is nonetheless). As I watched the story unfold, the depravity of Kuklinski really sinks in as kept reminding myself that this was not just some fictional film, but acts based on real life events. People really died in the horrible and gruesome ways shown. This man was really remorseless and ruthless, and yet, tender and gentle with his family. The mask he wore was his family, who didn’t understand the signs of a broken mind displayed right in front of them at select occurrences.

   The expectation of this film being the kind of film a person would write for entertainment using organized crime as the backdrop is ill advised. It’s not like that, even though it feels like that. The plot is simple: presented before you is Richard Kuklinski. The acting is superb by everyone and is a saving grace for the pace of the film which tries to delve into a mind no sane person wants to experience. I kept waiting for Kuklinski to explode as Shannon plays him to be a ticking time bomb. I wasn’t disappointed in that regard, there are quite a few “explosions” in this film. 

   The thought you put into combing your hair or making a sandwich has more feeling and connectivity than any murder Kuklinski committed, with the possible exception of the James Franco scene...where he entertained the idea of God personally intervening to save Franco. It’s this type of disconnection, while committing the ultimate act of ending life, that makes this film so unhinging...and yet, so engaging. By the end of the film, all I could do was reflect and continue to process everything I had just seen. This alone adds quality to any film rating, and this film murdered three and a half, out of five, cinnamon sticks, in my cup of tea.

Rating 3.5/5

There are several videos of the real Kuklinski...making this film no less of what it was.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Network Nitwits: When Will They Learn...?

   Recently I have become a bit of a television turtle. I use that term because I realize that every time I sit in from of the small screen in my living room, like a turtle, life moves in slow motion...and I’m not really going anywhere. Call it one of my failings...such is my mentality to hold television in such low esteem. That said, they (the Network Nitwits) have managed to hook my imagination on a few shows (smh).

   After hooking me, I suppose they think it’s funny to subject me to stress and see me squirm. In truth, they probably aren’t thinking about me at all...and that’s a huge mistake. I’m not alone. In fact, I’m part a huge and influential group called “the viewers.” See, we are the people that decide, by way of viewership, which shows stay on television and which don’t. I enjoy the power, it’s...liberating. I detest the nitwits that run these networks taking that power into their own hands. I mean, things really aren’t that complicated...until you complicate them.

   So the nitwits want to be “number one” and want their show to trump all others. I don’t see anything really wrong with that, but I think there are better ways to go about it than the way they do. Let me get specific. I watch “Arrow” on the CW network on Wednesday at 8 p.m. It’s one of the best shows on television. I happen to watch another show that is also one of the best on the small screen...”Revolution,” on NBC. Safe to say, someone interested in “Arrow” and that genre will likely also like “Revolution.” So why did NBC decide the best move for that show was to broadcast it opposite “Arrow?”

   What nitwit decided to derive pleasure from creating such a conundrum? Why did they think it was such a great move to make watchers of both shows choose one over the other? I’d very much like to know who was responsible for this idiocy, and have my viewership registered on that day so that it can be documented and understood how bad that decision was.

   If there are one million viewers of these shows (and let’s lump them together since folks that like comics often like science fiction as well)...what sense does it make to get a portion of that total viewership, instead of all of it? The options are simple, show it on another day or show it at a different time. it may not be that simple, but moving it to directly compete with a show that likely shares the exact same audience is just...dumb.

   Take “Elementary” (CBS) versus “Scandal” (ABC). I hear the latter is all the rage, being talked about in every social media medium available. I’m happy people are enjoying it. For me there are no issues since I’m not just a pop culture and sci-fi geek...but a very cerebral one at that. My choice is obvious and you don’t have to be the world’s second greatest detective to deduce what I’m watching at 10 p.m. on Thursday night. I even doubt both shows draw the same type of crowd.

   I’m not gonna pretend there isn’t a lot I don’t know about network television, because there is. The one thing I’m certain about the business is that it’s driven by money, and that’s the bottom line to what we watch on television. That said...give a shout if you find yourself among the minority of viewers that have seen a great shows leave the air...presumably because nobody was watching it with you. I have a theory about that, and it goes something like this: the show doesn’t reach projected viewership numbers even though it has a large audience. Somebody enlighten me if I’m wrong.

   It seems to me that despite what I don’t know about the business, it does seem to be inundated with nitwits that make decisions counter to those of us with taste. Decisions that see great shows like “Stargate Universe,” “The 4400,” and “Journeyman” go the way of the Dodo. Perhaps one day the nitwits will learn, in the meantime I’ll remove myself from the madness and stress...and embrace the wisdom and comfort of watching my shows “On Demand.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Acts of Humanity

   Too often all that is ever reported or featured is the worst humanity has to offer. Some act of violence or senseless depravity seems to always shine in the spotlight and it doesn’t matter the medium. Television, computer,’s become nauseating to think this is the sum of who we are...the totality of what it is to be human. Fortunately, I’m not easily swayed by all the hoopla and happen to know better. I know firsthand that the nature of being human is more than the constant negative news feed of the hour. 

   Recently a very touching story was impressed upon me that left me speechless and had me reevaluating my contribution to making this world a better place to live. It isn’t the first time this has happened to me, nor do I expect it will be the last. The subject of the situation, however, has twice given me pause about my effort to make a positive effect upon it. 

   I know there are people of compassion that meaningfully contribute their time and/or money to making life better for someone living in hardship. After all, there are numerous programs abound that are dedicated to helping people in need...and those programs operate with the influence of other good people. There are many reading this now that have at one time or another, donated money to a charity or program with the intent that those funds be used to help another. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say that most people involved in helping others probably help in this way.

   As I said earlier, a recent event brought the notion of helping someone else into sharper focus, while also reminding me that there are people that contribute in a very personal and intimate way regarding the issue of homelessness and poverty. I’ll get to the reminder in a bit, but first let me retell a situation that, had I been present for, would have effected me as profoundly as the person that was touched by a life less fortunate.

   A woman and her mother ordered some food from their favorite  Mediterranean restaurant and sat down to enjoy a meal both had been looking forward to all day. Eating as much as the could or wanted to, they packed up their area and threw away their trash. Just as they were departing to continue their day’s activities, they witnessed something most of us don’t see on a daily basis. A young man, probably in his early twenties, had dug their trash out of the barrel and went about eating whatever scraps he could find on their plates.

   The woman, completely stunned, was cascaded by a maelstrom of emotions, for she had sons the same age as this homeless man. Her first thought was to give the young man money, but with only $5 in her pocket, felt it was inadequate to the situation at hand. Instead, she approached the man and offered to take him into the same restaurant and have a meal. Feeling the eyes of all the patrons on them, she told the man to order anything he wanted...including a drink and dessert. She was short on cash, but long in credit, and charged the meal. As the man began to take his meal outside, she impressed upon him that he need not battle the elements while eating his meal. It was paid for like anyone else, and like anyone else, he had the right to sit in the warmth of the restaurant. He thanked her avidly and it was an emotional moment for both of them. As he began to eat, she left and continued her day...making sure the $5 she had, found it’s way on his table.

   I can only imagine how charged this moment was, but I know it was powerful from the telling as was told to me by the woman, with tears in her eyes. It was powerful for me to hear it...from my wife, about the day she had, out with her mother.

   We all see people on the street holding signs and asking for spare change. As humans, some of us give some of the time, and some of us don’t. We are aware of the homeless, but rarely do we have an encounter where our scraps are made into a meal right in front of us. I am told it was a humbling and heart-wrenching experience.

   Now I said earlier that this situation was not the first time I’ve been spurred to evaluate my societal contribution with this subject. I’ve had the honor of spending much of my youth with a man named Jamarhl Crawford, who is currently running for the District 7 seat of the Boston City Council. Anyone wishing to talk about service to the community would be hard-pressed to find someone more committed. Long before community residents pressured him to run, he was actively addressing the problem of hunger for those without a home.

   I often ask myself if I am doing enough, am I doing all I can to affect this issue, the community, in a positive way...and the honest answer, after watching the video below Why do I say that? Because the video is an example of something I am perfectly capable of. Even if I site time constraints for the shopping and preparation aspects, there is still no excuse for me not to be along side Mr. Crawford handing out plates to those in need of food. I know this because the time it took me to write this post is time I could have spent engaging in an act of humanity.

   In the time it took you to read this post, you could have done the same. In a world where food is abundant, but not accessible to is some food for thought: Are you doing enough?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bureaucratic Baloney: I Refuse To Digest It

   I don’t eat meat anymore. There is more than ample evidence showing how dangerous our food has become and I refuse to subject myself to something, within my power to control, that is dangerous to my physical health. I take this stand with our society as well. The difference is that the “power” is a collective one, made up of enough people with the same opinion and the willingness to see that opinion manifest so that we (society/community/neighborhood) are not subjected to a dangerous condition.

   Recently, the story of Erin Cox has gained national attention, and make no mistake...her story represents a dangerous condition within our society. Called by a friend that had too much to drink at a party in Boxford, but thankfully was cognizant enough to realize this fact, Erin drove to the party to provide safe transportation. If there is nothing else about this story that strikes you, let this simple fact be it.

   It is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions...and that no good deed goes unpunished. I’ll just chalk it up to more shenanigans by the universe, and say it was simply bad timing...or good timing if you set your watch to the tenets of Murphy’s Law. Whatever philosophy you ascribe to, mere moments after Erin arrives and enters the house to retrieve her friend, the police make their entrance and go about the business of upholding the law.

   Now the next part of this story is where I can see how things went wrong, but still see no excuse after the relevant facts have become known. Erin Cox, was not arrested, but was given a summons to appear in court for underage possession of alcohol. I’d say the picture here is obvious, although I loathe assuming, but it seems that sans the kids that got arrested, everyone else probably had to furnish their identification so the summons could be sent later. I think that was the time to head all this not giving Cox one since she was not drinking, but things happen in situations like these and sometimes minor details that become major headaches later on, slip through the cracks of the moment.

   Back to the baloney...North Andover High responded to this (which they didn’t have to) by suspending Cox for five volleyball games and demoting her from team captain. Let me interject, Cox is an honor student...that clearly cares about her piers by demonstrating a level of responsibility not common among them.

   North Andover High has a “zero tolerance” policy with underage drinking...and I applaud that. I just think they should execute it against students that actually break the policy. Even the Boxford police have come forward as witnesses supporting Cox’s version of events. She was not drinking, didn’t have alcohol in her possession...and didn’t have a hint, smell, or show any sign of having consumed any alcohol...unlike the friend she came to help.

   If it isn’t clear by now, let me spell it out. North Andover High is sending the wrong message to young adults...and by sticking to their erroneous decision to punish Cox for demonstrating responsible behavior, have set up a dangerous condition that could have future teens not call for a ride, and others not respond to a call for help...all of which could cause a tragic situation.

   I think having authority should automatically dictate you use it responsibly and in a world where details matter, blanket policies that are blind to facts will have us all stumbling around wondering where we went wrong.