“Verax” Proves That There Are Eyes Everywhere—


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

When you combine the talents of a first-rate print journalist and an Eisner-nominated political cartoonist, chances are better than good that the end result will be something pretty damn great — especially when the topic under their collective microscope is equal parts relevant and disturbing — but then, we’ve seen highly respected people from outside the comics field come up short when they’ve decided to “slum it” in our little medium of choice before, so I guess I went into Pratap Chatterjee and Khalil (or, if you prefer, Khalil Bendib)’s new Metropolitan Books-published graphic novel (a term that actually applies in this case), Verax (Latin for “truth-teller”), with a sense of what we’ll call “cautious optimism.” I had little doubt that this “true history of whistleblowers, done warfare, and mass surveillance” would be interesting — but would it also be good?

Chatterjee, for his part, had a front-row seat…

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Lifetime Film Review: The Lost Wife of Robert Durst (dir by Yves Simoneau)


Tonight’s Lifetime premiere was The Lost Wife of Robert Durst, the latest of many films to deal with the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst and the subsequent activities of her husband, millionaire weirdo Robert Durst.

The disappearance of Kathie Durst is an intriguing cold case.  Robert Durst was a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in New York.  Many have speculated that may be why Durst was never charged with anything, despite the fact that everyone was convinced that he was responsible for her disappearance.  (Others have pointed out that most of the evidence against Durst was circumstantial and that Kathie’s body has never been found.)  Durst, himself, appears to have spent the last few decades as something of a millionaire hobo.  His best friend, Susan Berman, was murdered in 2000.  (Berman provided Durst with an alibi for the night of Kathie’s disappearance.)  Durst himself eventually turned up in Galveston, where he attempted to disguise himself as a woman and was eventually arrested for murdering his neighbor, Morris Black.  Durst was acquitted in that case.  All Good Things, a feature film starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, led to resurgence of interest in the case of Kathie’s disappearance.  It also led to a HBO documentary series, called The Jinx.  In an act that was either extremely cocky or extremely self-destructive, Durst agreed to be interviewed for the documentary, implicated himself in all three of the murders that he was suspected of committing, and was subsequently charged with murdering Susan Berman.

It’s one of those stories that, when you hear the details, you can hardly believe is true.  It has everything: love, greed, sex, jealousy, politics, the mafia, and several unsolved murders.  It’s not surprising that there’s been several movies and TV shows based on the Durst case.  The problem that every new film faces is what can it add to the story that we haven’t already seen.  The Lost Wife of Robert Durst is relatively well-made but there’s really nothing here that you couldn’t find in All Good Things or The Jinx.  This is like the Wikipedia version of Durst case.  It gives you all the details without going into too much depth about any of it.

Of course, one of the main questions about this case is whether Robert Durst is mentally ill or if he’s just extremely clever.  Those that claim that Durst is crazy tend to point out that he saw his mother commit suicide when he was a young boy, that he has a habit of muttering to himself, and that he lives like a hermit despite all of his money.  Those who claim that Durst is actually very clever and in total control of all of his actions point out that all of Durst’s alleged crimes required extensive planning and that, in The Jinx, he was caught saying, “What the Hell did I do?  Killed them all, of course.”  That would seem to indicate that Durst is fully aware of whatever he may have done.  The question of Durst’s sanity is not a minor one.  In some states, it would be the difference between life in prison and execution.

The Lost Wife of Robert Durst attempts to have it both ways.  As played by Daniel Gillies, Durst is obviously unstable yet clearly calculating at the same time.  In fact, I would argue that, from a purely dramatic point of view, Gillies plays Durst as being a little too obviously unstable.  You find yourself wondering why Kathie (played by Katharine McPhee) would have ever agreed to go out with him in the first place, much less marry him.  As played by McPhee, Kathie is almost as hard to read as Durst.  Even in the scenes depicting the early days of Durst marriage, the lack of chemistry between Gillies and McPhee is a problem.  I spent most of the film wishing that it would dig a little bit deeper into the case.  Then again, considering that Durst has yet to be convicted on any charges, I suppose there’s only so much that the movie could suggest.  (All Good Things changed everyone’s names, which gave it at least a little bit of freedom to speculate.)

That said, the Robert Durst story is such a strange one that, flaws and all, The Lost Wife of Robert Durst is watchable.  It’s a good enough introduction to the case, if you’re looking for one.  Ultimately, though, All Good Things remains the Durst film to watch.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR: Killer Mom (dir by Christine Conradt)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  It’s going to take a while because Lisa has over 200 things recorded.  However, one thing is for sure: it’s all getting erased on January 15th.  Will Lisa be able to watch everything before doomsday?  Keep checking here to find out!  She recorded Killer Mom off of Lifetime on April 15th!)

Poor Jessica (played by Karen Cliche)!

Nothing’s going right for her.  First off, her husband has been arrested and charged with one of those financial crimes that rich men always seem to be committing in Lifetime movies.  She’s had to move in with her best friend, which is good because her friend keeps her supplied with wine and sympathy but bad because her friend’s house is not quite as nice as the house that she used to live in.  When she does go out of town, she’s so broke that she can’t even afford to stay in a nice hotel.  She has to rip open her blouse and threaten to accuse the manager of raping her just to get a good room!

However, there is a light on the horizon.  14 years earlier, as the result of an affair with a married man, Jessica had a daughter named Allison.  Jessica gave Allison up and Allison was raised by her father and his wife.  The wife died a few years previously and, just a few days ago, the father was killed in a plane crash!  That means that the now 14 year-old Allison (Maddy Martin) stands to inherit millions!

After showing up at the funeral and introducing herself, Jessica starts to work her way into Allison’s life.  Allison’s half-sister, Sydni (Kirby Bliss Blanton) automatically suspects that Jessica is only interested in the money.  For that matter, so does just about everyone else in the world.  No one trusts Jessica but Allison.  And Allison is so happy to finally be reunited with her biological mother that no one has the courage to tell her about their suspicions.

That doesn’t stop people from trying to investigate Jessica’s past, however.  Of course, that’s always a mistake in a Lifetime movie.  Trying to investigate anything is usually a good way to end up either getting framed or murdered.  For instance, Aaron Martin (Brad Long) makes it clear that he doesn’t trust Jessica and suddenly, his computer is full of child porn!  Is Aaron a perv or did Jessica use her magic internet powers to hack his computer?  (Take a guess.)  The housekeeper doesn’t trust Jessica and suddenly, her mother is attacked by an intruder.  Sydni thinks that Jessica is plotting something and … oh my God!  Suddenly, there are drugs in her car!

As I’ve said before, the more batshit crazy a Lifetime film is, the more likely it’s going to be a success.  Killer Mom is totally and completely over the top, full of nonstop plotting, snarky commentary, and — most importantly — really beautiful houses.  Nobody lives in a messy house in a Lifetime film!  Karen Cliche totally embraces the role of femme fatale, giving a performance that suggests that Jessica is almost as amused by her schemes as we are.  All in all, Killer Mom is good melodramatic fun.

A Movie A Day #300: Death Before Dishonor (1987, directed by Terry Leonard)


In a fictional Middle Eastern country, tough-as-nails Col. Halloran (Brian Keith) has been kidnapped by terrorists.  The leader of the terrorists is named Jihad and he is played by the No Mercy Man himself, Rockne Tarkington.  The American ambassador (Paul Winfield) is a weak-willed Carter appointee who says, “We have to go through proper channels.”  Gunnery Sgt. Burns (Fred Dryer) ain’t got no time for the proper channels.  All of his men have been killed.  His mentor has been kidnapped and is being tortured with a power drill.  Even if it means breaking all the rules, Sgt. Burns is going to rescue Halloran, defeat Jihad, and kill anyone who has ever chanted “Death to the U.S.A.”

Totally a product of the 80s and about as politically incorrect as they come, Death Before Dishoner was an attempt to turn former football player-turned-TV star Fred Dryer into a movie star.  It did not work, though Fred does his best Clint Eastwood impersonation, chugging beer and speaking exclusively in tough one-liners.  Death Before Dishonor is dumb but entertaining.  (It may have been made for New World Pictures but it’s a Cannon Film at heart.)  The movie’s highlight if Fred Dryer chasing the bad guys in a jeep, keeping one hand on the steering wheel while using the other hand to fire a bazooka.  A close second is Brian Keith barely flinching while taking a power drill to the back of the hand.  No one’s tougher than an 80s action hero!

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 15: Halloween Leftovers 2


cracked rear viewer

Halloween (and ‘Halloween Havoc!’) may have come and gone, but for horror fans every day’s Trick or Treat! Here are 5 fright films scraped from the bottom of this year’s candy bag:

THE BEAST OF HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (United Artists 1956; D: Edward Nassour and Ismael Rodriguez) – This US/Mexican coproduction stars Guy Madison (TV’s WILD BILL HICKOCK) and Patricia Medina (PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE) up against a giant prehistoric Allosaurus in the Old West. The movie starts as just another standard Western until the three-quarter mark, when the beast finally makes his appearance. Jack Rabin’s cartoonish special effects can’t hold a candle to the great Willis O’Brien , who’s given credit for the film’s story idea (later remade as the much better VALLEY OF GWANGI ). Good as Saturday matinée kiddie fare, nothing more. Fun Fact: Patricia Medina was the wife of actor Joseph Cotten, who made quite a…

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Film Review: Flint (dir by Bruce Beresford)


Undoubtedly, there’s a great and important film waiting to be made about the Flint water crisis.  Unfortunately, the new Lifetime film Flint is not it.

As I watched Flint last night, it occurred to me that it’s been a while since the Flint water crisis made the national news.  For a few weeks in 2016, it was all anyone was talking about but then the governor of Michigan announced that he wouldn’t be running for President and the media promptly deserted Flint.  I think most people in the country assumed that Flint now magically had clean water.  In reality, Flint hasn’t had reliably clean water since 2014.  Earlier this year, it was announced that Flint’s water quality has returned to acceptable levels but residents were still advised not to use it until all of Flint’s water pipes had been replaced.  When one looks at the coverage that the crisis has received, one gets the feeling that the media stopped caring once it became apparent there wasn’t going to be an easy and quick solution.

That’s the thing with this crisis.  There is no easy way to resolve it and it’s not a happy story.  Even when all of the pipes are finally replaced (which will be 2020 at the earliest), it’s not going to be a happy ending as much as it’s just going to be an ending.  The citizens of a city were poisoned because a bunch of civil servants wanted to save money.  There’s no way to spin that into a positive.  Even if the people of Flint are no longer drinking contaminated water, that doesn’t change the fact that they once did and no one in power seemed to care until they had no choice but to pretend to be outraged.

Flint is a well-meaning film but it’s immediately handicapped by the fact that it’s a Lifetime film and, therefore, has to take a Lifetime approach to the material. which means that things have to end positively.  The film does a good job of showing brown water running out of taps and detailing why clean water is a necessity.  And the film also deserves some credit for including a note informing us that the pipes in Flint are still in the process of being replaced and that the citizens are still being told either use filters or bottled water.  But, too often, the film turns what should have been a modern-day horror story into a simplistic story of “you go girl!” activism.  When the film should be angry, it’s merely annoyed.  When the film should be furious about the present, it’s too busy being optimistic about the future.  Instead of really exploring what led to the crisis in the first place, the focus of the film is on city council meetings and the cartoonishly slick mayor getting voted out of office.  “Yay!” the movie seems to proclaim, “Sucks about the poisoned water but at least everyone got to bond and now we have proof that democracy works and the government really does care!”

(There’s even two scenes where a city councilman tells the activists to keep fighting, the movie’s way of saying, “See!  Not all politicians are bad!”)

Oh well.  I don’t want to be too critical because, while the movie may have been strictly by-the-numbers, it at least tried to remind people about what’s going on in Flint.  That’s certainly more than the national media’s doing these days.