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Tucker Carlson Tonight: Episode dated 18 September 2019
(2019)

Climate, Climate, Climate
In this episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight on September 18, 1919, the show opened with a segment on the dramatic fall of Kamala Harris in pols in her bid for the Democratic nomination for the President. Guest commentator Dana Perino suggested that Harris failed to follow up after her scathing attack on Joe Biden, and the ideas she is raising seem unformulated. Even Andrew Yang has clear-cut positions on the issues. There were also interesting blocks on homelessness in San Francisco, Hilary Clinton's excuses for losing the election of 2016, and the alleged commission of fraud by Illan Omar.

But the most engaging segment of the evening was a lively discussion between Tucker and Ian Samuel, who refers to himself as a "Catholic American socialist." Samuel disagreed with Tucker about China's role as the #1 perpetrator in damaging the environment.

But Samuel agreed that across-the-board sanctions are appropriate for any nation that is harming the environment. Both commentators agreed that the media hysteria and the education that high school students are receiving about climate have promoted a hysteria that is counter-productive in solving the planet's environmental problems.

The Operative
(2019)

The Spy With a Will of Her Own
"The Operative" is not a great film, but it has an intriguing central character in Rachel, the spy with a will of her own.

In a joint enterprise of British intelligence and the Mossad, Rachel is sent to Iran via Germany in order to disrupt Iran's attempt to build a nuclear bomb. She infiltrates a legitimate company that is selling parts to the Iranian government for a nuclear arsenal. Rachel helps to ensure that the parts are defective.

Uncharacteristic of any good spy, Rachel becomes personally involved with the manager of the parts company. She has an affair with him and comes to love him. It is never made clear if she becomes pregnant, but she at one point was seen visiting an abortion clinic. Slowly, the action-picture, spy saga turns into a romance!

Rachel's handlers become uneasy and want to pull her from the project. She tries to turn the tables on them. She has one loyal supporter in the man who originally recruited her. The best drama of the film comes within the final fifteen minutes. Yet the film's ending was unsatisfactory, and the structure of the film was complicated by different time frames. When the long flashback sequence finally comes to an end, the film picks up steam momentarily.

Many viewers will be put off by the slow pace, the convoluted plot, and many unpleasant characters. The most interesting part of the film was the romantic connection between Rachel and her Iranian lover. But it is a shame that the audience was left hanging on that thread with no resolution.

Cradle Robber
(2019)

"His Name is Eric, and He Wants to Meet You"
"Seduced by a Killer" (a.k.a., "Dating to Kill," a.k.a., "Cradle Robber") recycles a familiar Lifetime movie theme: a mother's devotion for her daughter.

As apparent in the relationship of Jessica and her daughter Tessa, nothing (including an especially inept police force) can prevent the mother from keeping her daughter out of the clutches of an older man with a history of psychiatric problems. There is no father figure to Tessa, as appropriate for a Lifetime movie. Thus, everything is riding on the tenacity of Jessica to save her daughter from a psychopath.

Late in the picture, the filmmakers cleverly tied in an episode of an assault on a college campus that is the opening scene of the film. Jessica, who runs a successful styling salon, is desperately trying to thwart the efforts of a man named Eric, who is twice the age of her daughter, from dating her Tessa after they met online. The fragile Tessa is still in recovery from the death of her boyfriend, Will Radford, due to oleander poisoning.

A turning point in the film is when Jessica meets Eric for the first time. Tessa has paved the way for the meeting by telling her mom that "his name is Eric, and he wants to meet you." While Jessica does not recognize Eric, she senses something is not right and insists that Erica stop seeing Tessa. From that point on, the truth about Eric slowly begins to emerge.

The scenes in the styling salon were not very credible, as Jessica was continuously leaving her clients in midstream while they were in their chairs. The relationship of Jessica with a doctor named Christian also seemed forced, especially when the doctor violated medical ethics by searching for the medical history of Eric.

A breath of fresh air in the film was the savvy friend Auntie Nancy, who had a good legal background and advised Jessica on her rights for pursuing a civil suit against Eric. She also kept a trusty revolver in her kitchen drawer. The final half hour of the film included good suspense, as Jessica is relentless in demonstrating a mother's love for her daughter.

Criminal Intent
(2005)

A Feminized Version of Perry Mason
"Criminal Intent" was a throwback to the old black-and-white television episodes of "Perry Mason." The film has been thoroughly updated with women replacing the men as the litigators. Unfortunately, the slow-pacing and convoluted plot leave only average impressions on the viewer.

The three principal characters are the District Attorney Kirsten, the defense attorney Susan, and the defendant Devon, who is being tried on charges of killing his wife. There is a rivalry between the prosecutor Kirsten and her courtroom adversary Susan that seems a unhealthy at the outset and gets worse as the film proceeds. One of the most intriguing roles was that of Judge Greenwood, who was a convincing television judge who remained impartial throughout the proceedings.

The most painful moments in the film are the "reconstructed" scenes imagined by the various attorneys, who seek hypotheses for the murder of Devon's wife Angela. The blurry sequences drag and make the film more complicated than it should be. The subplot of Devon's possible money laundering and ties to criminal organizations was also flimsy and distracting from the principal murder case.

The filmmakers dropped the ball by not having more lively courtroom drama. Most of the action was played out in the subplots and the recurring scenes in the prison where Devon confers with his attorney. A stock image of a fortress-like prison recurs all too frequently to cue the viewer to another prison conference scene.

Among all of its shortcomings, the film's greatest liability was that the characters were so unlikable and unpleasant. The only character with some decency was Marge, the idealistic legal assistant of Susan. Unfortunately, Marge goes the way of knife and is unable to redeem this lackluster effort to resurrect the spirited legal drama of a Perry Mason story.

Tucker Carlson Tonight: Episode dated 17 September 2019
(2019)

Smear Campaign
In the lead story of September 17, 1919, Tucker Carlson reviewed in detail how the character assassination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was enabled through flawed reporting of The New York Times.

In a rare occurrence, the Times was forced to make a retraction of an article that failed to disclose how the alleged recipient of sexual harassment could not even recall the incident at the heart of their story. The evidence presented by the Times is second-hand through a partisan Democratic operative named Max Stier, a classmate of Kavanaugh at Yale. Stier's claims do not hold up under close scrutiny, a fact that was apparent last summer.

Brit Hume appeared as Tucker's guest to provide historical context on The New York Times. For Hume, the tradition of journalistic integrity has fallen by the wayside in the current writing and editorial staff that no longer values objectivity. As Hume wrote on his Twitter account, "There was a time when the New York Times wouldn't have touched this bogus story."

It is instructive to compare recent antithetical book publications on the Kavanaugh confirmation. The newest offering is "The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An Investigation" by the authors whose work was excerpted in the Times, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. The second book is written by another pair of female journalists, Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino and is entitled "Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court ." Reading both books will allow readers to make up their own minds, based on the evidence.

Tucker also interviewed Laura Ingraham, who offered a much stronger commentary than that of Brit Hume. She stressed the ruthlessness being employed in overt attempts at character assassination in an attempt to remove Kavanaugh from the Supreme Court. Ingraham predicted that the attempts will grow even more desperate at the 2020 election approaches.

It would appear that specific Democratic politicians, enabled by their allies in the leftist press and television networks, are reacting to the realities that Republicans control the Presidency, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. But instead of directing their energies to voters with ideas to win a constituency and shift the balance of power, the preferred approach is to find ways to subvert the United States Constitution in political maneuvering that what would appear closer to a banana republic than a democracy.

A Bride's Revenge
(2019)

Here Comes the Bride!!!
Lori is the bride who is jilted in a wedding planned with Ian to be conducted in the chapel of the San Juan Batista mission in Northern California, the setting for much of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller "Vertigo." One year later, Lori relocates to Los Angeles, where she goes on a mission of vengeance against Ian and his new fiancée Miya.

The film builds good suspense in the recurring appearances of a veiled bride harassing Ian and Miya. Somehow, Lori always has an alibi for the times when the bride is wreaking havoc on the streets of Los Angeles. The mama's boy Ian has a smother-mother in Deb, who is recovering from surgery and leaves the kitchen door open, thereby becoming a victim of Lori's diabolical vendetta against her son.

Part of the mystery of Lori's past pertains to the death of her father, who left home when Lori was nine, then died in a mysterious fire. The mother now has dementia, and the secret to unlocking the mystery may be in the circumstances of the fire in which arson was suspected.

Miya works in a styling salon where there are occasional troubling remarks and suspicious glances from her co-workers. Could either of those nice hair stylists be colluding with Lori? How else to explain the strange delivery of flowers charged to Miya's credit card?

The film has excellent production values, including good location footage, plus performers who are somehow able to keep straight faces during the campy scenes and melodramatic dialogue. Suspense is maintained throughout the film with no lapses, and the culminating confrontation in the Pentcliffe Mausoleum is terrific.

College Dating App
(2019)

"The Newest Technology for the Oldest Profession"
At Porterville University, Trina is a straight "A" student whose scholarship is suddenly and unexpectedly discontinued. The sleazy administrator named Dean Brackett explains to her that the funding was withdrawn. But, Trina has recently been an eyewitness in the death of a student named Jade, run over by a speeding driver in a parking garage. Are the two events connected?

Trina has ingeniously created a new ap as part of a class project for Professor Sara Savoy for Econ 230. Trina's software is applied new dating site that becomes an instant success. Unfortunately, the new site is instantly used by some of the college women who run an escort service. The new ap has enabled them to hook up with clients.

Unfortunately for Trina, she is now potentially guilty of a felony offense in providing inadvertently "new technology for the oldest profession" in the world. But she desperately wants to track down the killer of Jade, who was one of the call girls.

With her best friend Zach, Trina slowly pieces together the evidence of a group of "johns" that leads right back to Porterville University. Two good friends of Trina, Raquelle and Lacey, were also involved in the escort service, and Lacey becomes another victim of the stalker-killer.

While Trina feels like she has become a madam in a "virtual bordello," she is relentless in pursuing the killer. The genius of her "Make-a-Date" site is that it brought the men out of the woodwork for her to single-handedly pursue justice. In addition to her academic achievements, Trina deserves the grade of A+ for her investigative work and for doing the work of local police in bringing a psychopath to justice.

Tucker Carlson Tonight: Episode dated 16 September 2019
(2019)

Brett Kavanaugh Controversy Redux
In this edition of "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on 9/16/19, the lead story addressed the character assassination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, wherein allegations about his personal conduct from his youth were revived over the past weekend.

In Tucker's opening remarks, the point was made that The New York Times had to retract the essence of an article wherein the key witness had no recollection of any harassment from Kavanaugh. Tucker went on to suggest that not only are leading Democrats and the media seeking to impeach Kavanaugh. They are in fact attempting to "remake the country completely," stopping at nothing to stack the Supreme Court with liberal jurists.

Tucker's expert guest was Ryan Lovelace, a legal reporter in Washington, D.C., who published a book that is germane to the renewed assault on Kavanaugh. The book was released only two weeks prior to the most recent wave of hysteria in the wake of The New York Times article. The book is entitled "Search and Destroy: Inside the Campaign against Brett Kavanaugh," the title deriving from a prominent statement made by Kavanaugh himself during the stormy days of his confirmation hearings.

Lovelace observed that The New York Times reporter was not even a investigative journalist, but a cultural writer. She was relying on Max Stier, a classmate of Kavanaugh at Yale, who may be biased as a loyal Bill Clinton supporter when the Whitewater controversy was being adjudicated by none other than Brett Kavanaugh. Lovelace also reviewed how Christine Blasey Ford's testimony was a tissue of uncorroborated assertions, wherein one of Ford's friends was pressured to change her story in order to support Ford's unsubstantiated claims. Even Ford's father, whom one would think would support his daughter unfailingly, cheered on the confirmation of Kavanaugh.

Above all, Lovelace's research revealed that "dark money" was behind a carefully orchestrated plan on the part of Democrats to sabotage the Kavanaugh nomination beginning even before President Trump nominated him. The goal was to prevent at all costs the nomination of a conservative to the highest court in the land. The result of their efforts was the show trial witnessed by the world on television in the summer of 2019, wherein Kavanaugh's character was vilified in a trial of public opinion, rather than fact.

For Lovelace, the search-and-destroy process undermines our judicial system, as well as faith in our democracy. The most startling of Lovelace's revelations is the meticulous care with which (1) a well-funded smear campaign unfolded, (2) the extent of desperation of Democratic senators to ruin Kavanaugh's life, and (3) a complicit print, internet, and television media worked in concert in an attempt to prevent Kavanaugh from being confirmed.

In other words, the clear-cut procedure for the electing of a Supreme Court Judge as articulated in the U.S. Constitution is being subverted through an ongoing tar-and-feather process of personal attacks and lies. And the insubstantial evidence is presented through the increasingly Democratic organ, The New York Times. As journalist Mollie Hemingway recently wrote, "Pogrebin and Kelly's work has a pattern of omitting exculpatory evidence that supports Kavanaugh's consistent claim that he never sexually assaulted anyone." That is not fair and unbiased reporting.

And the beat goes on....

The Other Woman
(2008)

Appearances Can Be Deceiving When It Comes to Toxic Masculinity
"Joy Fieding's The Other Woman" was an especially well-crafted made-for-television film. At first glance, this appeared to be a standard film about a femme fatale (Nicole), who is trying to break up the happy marriage of a famous defense attorney (Derek) and his wife (Jill), a former investigative journalist. But by the midpoint, the film turns into an interesting whodunnit with good suspense and character development.

The narrative is presented primarily from the perspective of Jill. At the outset, she trusts her husband, knowing that his intern intends to replace her in his life. But there is another plot strand about Derek's boss Stan, the head of the law firm, that slowly supersedes the femme fatale narrative.

We can see glimpses of Stan as sleazy when he accepts sexual favors from Nicole, and, in return, she is allowed to work as Derek's intern. But there are deeper family secrets about Stan: he has been a longstanding wife batterer. Even on the minor pretext of losing a card game, Stan will beat is long-suffering spouse Bonnie. Stan was estranged from his son Cole, who eventually became a priest. Was Cole privy to the abuse of his mother while growing up?

The film was especially well cast with an ensemble that seem perfect for each of their roles. Such secondary characters as Bonnie, her daughter Lisa, Derek's daughter Lauren were all well-performed. Jason Priestly provided excellent direction in this fast-paced film.

The dramatic arc of the film revolved around our changing impressions of Derek, a lawyer who practices without scruples and a husband who callously discards his wives for newer models. During his current trial, he refers to the defendant as "my client," as opposed to a person with a name. Derek's daughter Lauren slowly comes to see her father as amoral and a fraud.

The most memorable line in the film was when the battered Bonnie asks Jill, "Are we so different?" This question gives Jill pause, as she and her step-daughter move to take control of their lives in the face of adversity of toxic masculinity.

Stolen Innocence
(1995)

Based on a True Story
Stacy ("Stace") lives in Illinois and is eighteen-year-old with wanderlust. She leaves home with only $200 in her pocket primarily because she is restless and does not get along well with her mom. At a truck stop, she is picked up by a stranger named Richard, who promises her the universe, then lets her down when it clear that he is mentally deranged. He seeks ransom money to return her to her family, and the longest stretch of the film is a standoff in a motel in Kansas.

"Stolen Innocence" was based on a true story. But the filmmakers take an ambivalent stance on the story. Was the bizarre relationship between Stace and Richard a "Romeo and Juliet"? Or, was it an example of the Stockholm syndrome where the victim identifies with the captor? The blends a pseudo love story with a generic hostage film. Predictably, the results are uneven.

The sequence in the motel with a mad dash by the father to simulate a ransom drop, followed by protracted phone negotiations, food sent in with knockout drops, and a stray kitten, is the extent of the drama with Richard holding Stace in a room that looks like a paramilitary arsenal.

The real hostage scene lasted twenty-two hours, and it feels as if that amount of time elapses in the closing section of the film. Richard's motto (in Latin) was "Don't let the system grind you down." The filmmakers made Richard far too glamorous than he deserved. It was almost as if the "stolen innocence" of the film's title were an expression of sympathy for Richard's hard lot in life.

The real Richard received a prison sentence of twenty-five years for his shenanigans. Viewers can make up their own minds, based on this film, if the sentence was too long or too short.

American Anarchist
(2016)

William Powell: Poster Boy for the 1960s
This fascinating biographical profile and interview of William Powell portrays the decade of the 1960s in microcosm. As a radical teenager, the nineteen-year-old Powell cobbled together a book called "The Anarchist's Cookbook." Over time, the book came to be used in mass killings, an unintended consequence of the author. This film documentary tells his story.

It is clear from the interviews in the program that Powell had not even considered some of the intimate questions that were posed to him by documentary filmmaker Charlie Siskel. Powell is extremely deliberate in his thoughtful responses. The camera records the long pauses as Powell is formulating responses.

It should be clear to anyone that Powell made a terrible mistake in writing the book. His remorse is evident in his own words filmed at his reclusive life in the small town of Massat in Southern France. But the filmmaker never places Powell's book in the context of the 1960s, a decade that thoroughly transformed the history of the United States.

The nearly unspeakable violence of race riots, the war in Vietnam, and political assassinations defined the era, and they were not the result of Powell's book. Powell himself is a symbol of the epoch. With a troubled childhood that included sexual abuse at an English boarding school, Powell became a firebrand when his family moved to New York. He directed his pent-up energy while working feverishly in the New York Public Library to cull the data for his manual on making bombs, rockets, and LSD.

One of the most incisive points made in the documentary was that of Powell's wife, who indicated that "people do dumb things as adolescents, but do not usually put them in print." Powell put in print information that is now widely accessible on youbube videos. Neither the adolescent Bill Powell nor the mature Powell, who spent his adult life teaching students with learning disabilities, was responsible for the atrocities at Columbine or Oklahoma City.

The eccentric Bill Powell made a perceptive point when he remarked that "people need to think for themselves." Instead of assigning blame to Powell for his abhorrent book, it is important to step back and examine the deeper fissures in our society to understand how and why his book was used in such misguided way.

The Crown: Misadventure
(2017)
Episode 1, Season 2

The Queen's Agony: Troubles with Philip and the Suez Crisis
The opening episode of the second season of "The Crown" juggles two narrative strands. As arguably the greatest political and military blunder in postwar English history, the Suez Crisis of 1956 is depicted as the pet project of Prime Minister Anthony Eden, seeking to emerge out of the shadow of Churchill. A parallel narrative strand is the personal crisis experienced simultaneously in the marriage of Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

One of the most moving moments of the episode was the pain registered by Elizabeth when she discovers a memento of the ballet star Galina Ulanova, with whom Philip has presumably been having an affair. He has been enabled by his personal secretary and pimp named Mike, who shamelessly neglects his own family to see that the royal consort is well serviced. Elizabeth attends a performance of Giselle at the Royal Ballet and refuses to meet Ulanova backstage.

But the best scene in the program is the personal meeting between Eden and Elizabeth in which she extracts the truth from Sir Anthony. His public posturing for a peace settlement is belied by a secret meeting outside of Paris that has resulted in the Sèvres Protocol, uniting France, Israel, and England in an alliance against Nasser. Britain is now preparing for an impending air strike and invasion of Egypt.

The Queen's resolve in the matter, however, ends when she gives her support to the Prime Minister for what will become the Suez fiasco. The meeting with Eden and the Queen reveals both the strengths and limitations of her role in a constitutional monarchy. She could have insisted the Eden follow tradition in receiving the authorization of Parliament for war. Instead, she takes the easier way out by giving her blessing to the will of the prime minister.

Is Elizabeth being equally equivocal in her marriage? In an early scene in the program, which is set in Setúbal Harbour, Lisbon, Elizabeth tells Philip that divorce is not an option; they must find a way to make their marriage work. But the effort that it will take to rein in Philip may lead to untold suffering for the Queen.

Silent Witness
(2011)

Lady Justice is Blind
Sam Robb and Tony Lord were a dynamic due at quarterback and halfback for a legendary football season at Lake City High School. With the clock running out in a memorable game, Sam called an audible, then moved left as if it was a bootleg, halted in his tracks, then rifled a 35-yard touchdown pass to ol' number 22 Tony Lord who was wide open. Now, decades later, will the lawyer Tony Lord be able to work the same magic in getting Sam Robb off the hook on a murder rap?

The conceit of the film is that the attorney Tony Lord had been acquitted of murder of Allison, a young woman Tony was dating at a time when he was still in high school. The stigma lasted, and he is still a pariah to some in Lake City. Now, he must return home to defend his buddy against a similar capital offense.

There are many twists to the plot and some good courtroom scenes in "Silent Witness." But the key to the puzzle of Sam's trial may be the link that it shares with the death of Allison many years ago. The character who possesses the unspoken evidence is the "silent witness" Kate, the long suffering wife of Sam. While sitting in court, the details of the past return in a flood to Kate, and she meets with Tony to convey to him details that will lead to the shattering conclusion.

This TNT production was well-crafted and well-performed. While moments of the film were overly graphic and violent, the strength of the screenplay was in the fast-paced courtroom dialogue. While the legal system may not been perfect, Lady Justice was blind, and the truth emerged due to a tenacious attorney and the painful recollections of an eyewitness.

Sorority Murder
(2015)

"Et Tu, Brute!"
A sorority is by definition a conspiracy waiting to happen. After all, it is a secret society comprised of women who admit the members in secrecy, then participate in secret activities. This is a lesson that the young architecture student Jen is slow to learn in "Sorority Murder."

When she arrives at Whittendale University in Vermont for her freshman year, Jen is given brilliantly stupid advice by her professor and architecture instructor. He recognizes that Jen is an advanced student. But instead of challenging her to excel, he recommends that she back off on academics and give herself over to a social life. So, the student dutifully takes his advice and joins the girls of Beta Sigma Eta during rush week.

Because Jen is feisty, she is a potential object of hazing for the sorority that is already on probation. Her roommate Alex is even more gullible than Jen, as she suffers under the authoritarian regime of the president Breanne. When Breanne is murdered, Jen is fingered for the crime because she was the only pledge with the gumption to stand up to Breanne.

Despite the college setting, the most memorable relationship in the film is that of Jen and her mother Melissa, an alcoholic still grieving the death of her husband. But when Melissa attends her first AA meeting, she wins back the trust of her daughter. The bonding of mother and daughter helps to sustain Jen through her ordeal. One of the funniest scenes in the film is when Melissa arrives at the sorority to support her daughter and impersonates a drunk, slurring her words and distracting the confused sorority sisters while Jen searches the facility for clues.

Jen enlists another ally in the figure of Darren, a frat boy who sees something special in Jen's eyes and helps her in her quest to prove her innocence. Of course, the Whittendale police force is completely useless in their investigation, leaving it up to Jen, Melissa, and Darren to find the clues and unlock the secrets of the conspiracy.

In Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," there is the dynamic depiction of a conspiracy to kill Caesar that resonates with the sisters of Beta Sigma Eta. When Caesar is stabbed by Brutus, the man he most trusts, Caesar exclaims, "Et tu, Brute!" So too was Breanne felled in a conspiracy that will surely resonate across the ages just as fully as the death of Julius Caesar.

On the wall of Jen's room is a poster with a quote from Einstein: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." This is a truth that the fledgling architect Jen applies to proving her innocence just as much as she will be using it in the design of a building.

The Neighborhood Watch
(2018)

Everything You Want to Know About Home Security Systems & Pecan Pies
"The Neighborhood Watch" (a.k.a., "Seduced by My Neighbor") is a by-the-numbers Lifetime thriller with very little suspense.

With her daughter Allie, a widow, Sarah, moves into a rural neighborhood to be close to the mother of her deceased husband and is immediately greeted by an overzealous "security" expert. The man's name is Mike, and he is all-too-willing to be helpful in matters of security.

Sarah and Allie immediately encounter problems with home security, yet never suspect Mike of any wrongdoing. Even when Mike blows his cookies in an embarrassing display of temper during a ping pong game, no one harbors any suspicions. The filmmakers could have exploited the voyeuristic possibilities more completely in Mike's rigging of the home security system, and his obsession with following every waking and sleeping moment in Sarah's life.

This film stretched credibility beyond the pale and did not include enough human realities to sustain interest for ninety minutes. There was never much suspense, and the subplots with the old ladies at the retirement center and the buxom, voyeuristic neighbor Julia were simply not interesting.

The major romantic intrigue between Chris and Sarah was never quite believable, and the ending was far too pat, especially the details about cuckolded Mike's mad drive in pursuit of his wife's lover, which led him on a collision course with Sarah's husband, Neal.

The best scenes were the moments when Sarah's home-baked pecan pies were on display. Sadly, the pies were the most memorable part of the film!

My Life as a Dead Girl
(2015)

Quest for a Real Family
The film opens in Portland, Oregon. The time is the present. "My Life as a Dead Girl" tells the harrowing saga of a young prostitute, exploited first as a foster child and ward of the state, then by a nefarious creature named Jackson, who becomes the pimp of the protagonist named Brittany.

While working the rough streets of Portland, Brittany makes friends with another foster child named Chelsea, and they plan to help Brittany break away from Jackson and recover her hard-earned money that he expropriated. But Chelsea is shot and killed by Jackson. Brittany then impersonates her friend and travels to the coastal town of Steveston, moving in with the long-lost aunt of Chelsea.

For a moment, Brittany is successful with her identity theft scheme, but her new foster parents, Kim and Donnie, soon become suspicious. There is a touching relationship developed between Brittany and her adopted aunt, who genuinely cares for the young woman regardless of her identity.

There are other scenes at school where Brittany comes to the rescue of a mousey nerd named Shannon. Brittany stands up to the student who is bullying Shannon and eventually has the perpetrator expelled from school.

Another connection at Steveston High is a romantic relationship blossoming between Brittany and a brainy student named Zach. A charmer and over-achiever, Zach is successful is getting Brittany to tell the truth about her past. But when he learns that she has worked as a prostitute, he bails on her in the middle of dinner. Later, he feels remorse and tries to make amends. The relationship between Brittany and Zach was one of the best parts of the film because the characters had genuine chemistry and a heartfelt connection.

Aunt Kim and Uncle Donnie have unbounded love to offer Brittany and to provide her with the home she has never had There is a defining moment in the film when Brittany is about to shop-lift a tube of lipstick while shopping with Aunt Kim. A child witnesses the scene and gives Brittany a hate stare. It is as if the child is the symbol of Brittany's own youth and lost innocence. She then returns the lipstick, which is a token gesture of how she is undergoing a life-changing experience that will culminate in her moving past the threshold of a nightmare to experience a real family.

Intimate Stranger
(2006)

Squirrels in the Attic
This is the story of Karen Reese, a successful investment broker in Kansas City, who is very selective with the company she keeps with men. The harrowing tale unfolds around a mysterious intruder harassing Karen and her little boy Justin.

The film's narration waxes philosophical about life as "an open road" with many "twists and turns." But, at heart, this is a thriller with excellent suspense due to the effective screenplay and a terrific actress who conveys the vulnerability and helplessness in the face of stalker. There was a clever connection made between the squirrels in Karen's attic and a man in hiding, who had set up a sophisticated base of perverted voyeuristic spying.

The filmmakers are successful in planting subtle clues as the action unfolds. In one moment, Karen's new beau Dennis lets his guard down by confessing to little Justin that his father never took him fishing. In another moment, Karen simply states that "there is something" that is troubling her about the man who professes to adore her.

The characters were well-developed with the caring sister, the admiring boss at work, and the play-by-the-books detective. But the film belongs to Karen, who, with the eye of the tiger, refuses to back down in the face of adversity.

Deadly Exchange
(2017)

The Perfect Houseguest
Throughout this film and so many of the Lifetime motion pictures, the characters fail to think for themselves. Is that a convention of this style of filmmaking? Or, is it a troubling pattern of behavior in our culture today?

In the case of "Deadly Exchange," a well-intentioned mother, Samantha, accepts too much at face value about the exchange student Chloe without verifying it the young woman's identity prior to inviting her into her home. One thing leads to another, and a psychopathic killer is on the loose because of her background as an orphan whose mother was killed by a deranged boyfriend.

There is a motto that Chloe lives by in this film, which is "That's how this works." The way things "work" for Chloe is to mastermind her evil doings, deciding to stop anyone in her way with murder as a last resort. To this goal, Chloe relies on the gullibility of her victims.

The actress playing Samantha also had a hand in the screenplay of "Deadly Change" that included an interesting set of characters. But a major theme of the film was the compliant nature of characters who never stopped to think about their choices and to allow themselves to be manipulated by a clever hustler.

Sorority Surrogate
(2014)

How Would You Like Your Eggs?
College student and sorority sister Valerie ("Val") Vont faces a dilemma. She is about to lose her financial aid at college because her drunken father is falsely claiming her as a dependent on his tax returns. So, Val moves into action to consider donating her "eggs" for $25,000 or earning an even greater payday for carrying a child to term as a surrogate. She opts for the big money.

But a problem ensues when the parents who have enlisted Val die in an auto crash after their vehicle was rigged for the brakes to fail. The culprit was the boyfriend of Jameson's powerful mother and former congresswoman Maureen Darlington. It was her boyfriend Charlie Harding, who paid his former thug crony Walter to kill Sara. Unbeknownst to him, Jameson was also riding in the car.

Charlie is the lynchpin of the nefarious actions to gain possession of the baby carried by Val to ensure that the matriarch Maureen will be able to raise the child on her own. But Val wants the kind sister Stacie and her gentle husband Bob to be the parents. Charlie draws upon his background as the "fixer" for Maureen's corrupt political campaigns, the Walden video, wiretaps, and even the murder of her husband Edward.

The quick-thinking friends of Val, including her sorority sister Su and her compliant boyfriend Kyle become suspicious of the machinations of Maureen and Charlie. But the film really belongs to Val, who will stop at nothing to bring a happy baby into the world.

The only scene that truly stretched credibility was the moment in the hospital when Val cheerfully handed the baby off like a football to Stacie and Bob. No post-partum depression for Godmother Val! Hers was a job well-done in being a sorority sister that will make Omega Zeta Delta proud.

A Deadly Romance
(2019)

The Only Man in Town
"In Bed with a Killer" (a.k.a., "A Deadly Romance") is a well-produced thriller focusing on Lena and her daughter Ashley ("Ash"), who move to a small town after the death of Lena's husband. Both Lena and Ash are in recovery from their recent loss. But the small-town environment turns out to be their worst nightmare.

The beautifully maintained red-brick façade and the tidiness of the shops on Main Street augur well for Lena's new bakery. She meets other women who run the adjacent shops in the peaceful community with the sheriff facing little in the way of crime. In reality, Sheriff Hank is the town drunk.

The only problem with the town is that, apart from Sheriff Hank, who appears to be married to John Barleycorn, there appear to be no eligible males. The one big hulk at Jenny's yoga studio appears to be gay. The dynamic women, who all are single, are left to compete for the one stud in town, who is Hank, a former kick-boxer who had killed a man in the ring and now runs the local hardware store. With the rugged charm of "Hardware" Hank, the women are apparently drawn to him like moths to a flame.

As Lena and Ash are settling into their new home, a series of disappearances of three of the women entrepreneurs occurs, and the evidence points to Hank as the possible killer. The film turns on a small detail at the midpoint that points in a different direction than Hank. One of the most important clues may be a bottle of bleach.

The mother-daughter relationship of Lena and Ash was nicely drawn, as well as a subplot in which Ash falls head over heals for the neighbor boy Charlie, the son of the town's yoga expert, Jenny. But it wasn't very believable that virtually upon meeting each other, Charlie and Ash are billing and cooing and he is instantly invited over to her room.

Alas, logic does not always figure prominently in a Lifetime film. "In Bed With a Killer" had solid production values, good performances, and a sly sense of humor that culminates in the best moment in the film when Lena cannot help but breaking out in laughter at the most intense moment in the action. And the audience cannot help laughing right along with her!

Tamara
(2005)

Too Violent and Predictable
In the first half of "Tamara," there were some sparks of creativity, especially in the characterization of the nerd Tamara, who writes an exposé about student athletes doping and gets hazed by her classmates. But the film falls apart in the second half when it becomes a by-the-numbers horror flic.

While Mr. and Mrs. Natolly were interesting characters, the rest of the cast appeared wooden and one-dimensional. Interest was sustained in the character of Chloe, who was unique among the others in having a conscience. But the other characters tended to run together in a generic and bland trope.

As the film progressed, it became not only predictable, but overly violent. The unpleasantness of the resurrected Tamara was such that all of the work in creating the interesting, shy Tamara at the beginning was lost.

There was far too much routine action in this slasher film, which completely lost its momentum when Tamara #2 replaced Tamara #1.

In the Blood
(2014)

A Lovely Island Honeymoon
The film opens with the beautiful wedding ceremony of Derek and Ava. Yet once senses that, given the background of the two lovebirds who met on a needle share that all will not be well on their honeymoon.

From the wedding in Alexandria, Virginia, that action shifts to a lawless Caribbean island where the couple encounter Manny, a lively young man who promises to take them on an adventure. The adventure that follows is not what the couple has in mind for their honeymoon.

Immediately, Ava and Derek get into a brawl on the dance floor of a local island bar, offending some of the locals. Then, Derek suffers a serious leg injury from a fall from a daredevil amusement ride across a ravine. When the ambulance driver fails to drop him off at the local hospital and he goes missing, it is up to Ava to find her husband.

With an interesting batch of characters ranging from a nefarious overlord of the island to the wise-cracking Manny to the dour, suspicious father of Derek, it is Ava alone, who brings her survival skills and martial arts training to the single-minded pursuit of her husband.

Gina Carano is terrific in her understated character study of Ava. She rises to the occasion in the fast-paced action scenes and effectively delivers the film's snappy repartee. This is a first-rate action film with a performer at the top of her game.

Beach House
(2017)

The Mysterious Stranger
"Beach House" is a crisply written, low-budget film that tells a yarn about a young writer's imagination, as she prepares a novel. Emma is a college student spending time in a remote beach house with her parents who are visited by a mysterious stranger. The man named Paul is an old flame of her mother. The characters' interactions form the basis for shaping Emma's novel.

One clue to the filmmaker's idea for the film comes from the detail of Emma reading Theodor Fontaine's novel "Effi Briest." The novel has a loose connection with the story of "Beach House" with the lurid romance and the bohemian side of Berlin, which Emma plans to visit.

One problem with the film is the lack of clarity between what is occurring between Emma and Paul in their nocturnal visits and what proportion of the narrative is from Emma's imagination. How much of Paul's visitations is real, and how much is taking place in the mind of Emma the writer?

The acting was good in the small cast, especially the chemistry between the demure Emma and the wise-cracking, jovial, and lusty photographer Paul. With the strange circumstances of the fate of Paul as depicted in the film, Emma has to be wondering what might be the real-life consequences if she ever publishes her novel.

Late Night
(2019)

"The Privilege of Your Time"
The fictional celebrity late-night talk-show host Katherine Newbury closes her programs by thanking her audience for "the privilege of your time." Unfortunately, for audiences of this film, it really wasn't worth our time.

Emma Thompson is good in portraying the narcissism of a television personality. But the screenplay was really flat in developing an arc of action. The film's conceit is for the hiring of a young female worker in a chemical plant to serve on the writing team of Newbury's show. But the writer never truly infused a new brand to the show to demonstrate a dramatic change needed to save Newbury's job.

All too often, the minor tweaks to the late night show were liberal talking points that were likely the staple of the program that had already won multiple Emmy awards for Newbury. The screenplay loaded on the political correctness ad nauseam until the white, male writers were squeezed out of the office.

The most disappointing part of the film was a protracted subplot that involved an affair of Newbury with a younger man, leading to a #MeToo style theme in which the television hostess went live on camera to admit the weakness of the flesh and to apologize to her long-suffering husband.

"Late Night" was a trifle that never penetrated beneath the surface layer of the backstory of producing a popular talk show. While the chemistry between Newbury and the new hire, Molly Patel, was good, it was not enough to truly carry this lightweight film beyond the level of mediocrity.

Cold Blood Legacy
(2019)

Convoluted Cat-and-Mouse Game
In the bonus track of the DVD of "Cold Blood," the film artists described the magnificent winter filming that took place on location in Ukraine. But they failed to shed light on the workings of the film and their specific goals in this thriller. Instead, they talked around the film by focusing primarily on the "dream cast."

Indeed the cast was good, especially Jean Reno as Henry and Sarah Lind as Melody. But despite the promise of a suspenseful narrative in the aftermath of the murder of a business tycoon and the distribution of his estate, the film turned into a predictable cat-and-mouse game set in a remote winter cabin.

The time is the present. The location is Washington State in the winter. A woman on a snowmobile has a serious accident and is taken into a cabin to recover. Is the man who is assisting her an angel of mercy? Or, he is an angel of death? Many of the essential narrative elements were never cleared up in the film, including the circumstances of how the well-trained and highly disciplined Melody had the accident in the first place.

Henry the hitman has only one book in his possession in his cabin: Sun Tzu's "The Art of War." The film never explored how he was strategizing based on the ancient Chinese teachings. There were also too many long periods of silence throughout the film. Granted that Reno's Henry was a taciturn figure and his captive was unconscious for a substantial stretch of the film, the pacing and the long pauses did not work in a purported action film.

The film did not live up to his promise in the good cinematography. It was a trifle long, and the loose ends of the plot were never satisfactorily resolved.

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