lavatch

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Framed for Murder
(2007)

Follow the Money!!!
June Baldwin is a graduate of Penn State--not the university, but the Penn State Correctional Facility. June spent eight long years in prison after being framed for the murder of her abusive, philandering husband, Tony. Now, June is finally liberated and is about to be reunited with her son Sammy. But, not so fast! June is about to be framed for a second murder.

When finally released from prison, June is given a temporary home with her sister Claire and her multi-millionaire husband, Jason. It is revealed very early in the film the Claire set up June for the murder of Tony at a time when Claire was having an affair with him. Now, the devious Claire is plotting with her paramour Nick the gardener to kill Jason and frame June for a second time, then reaping the benefits of Jason's ten-million-dollar estate.

The filmmakers offered a wide range of interesting location sites in the attempt to simulate Philadelphia. There were also good supporting characters, including Karen, who also had affair with Tony and a savvy private eye named Diane Di Salvo. Unfortunately, both Karen and Diane make early exits from the film when they are respectively strangled and stabbed by Claire's hitman Nick.

My favorite character in the film was Charlie, the quick-thinking friend of June from prison. Charlie, June, and Diane's associate Victor team up to "follow the money," and the trail leads them straight to Claire. A fateful meeting at the stadium will finally turn the tables on Claire.

The incredulous June had trouble in coming to terms how with how her sister could have been jealous of her struggling, bipolar sibling. The only flaw of "Framed for Murder" is apparent in the denouement when it becomes clear that Claire has been completely let off the hook by her kind sister. Complicit in two murders, Claire is now walking free, while June presumably continues with her Proladine prescription and lives with the awareness that for a third time, she may be framed for murder.

My Daughter Vanished
(2018)

Man Overboard!!!
As a child, little Scotty Taylor suffered abuse from his father Owen. There was a compensating factor from his smother mother, Helen. Yet twelve-year-old Scotty still chose to run away from home at the death of his abusive father. Was the controlling Helen the main impetus for the child's attempt to escape from an oppressive existence?

Fast forward to the present and the unfortunate death of the adult Scott Taylor in a family boating accident accompanied by his wife Melanie and daughter Gabby. Scott allowed Gabby to take the wheel, and, when she shifted into high gear, Scott went overboard, hit his head on the side of the boat, and drowned.

Guilt ridden from the experience, young Gabby stops studying, drops out of debate team, and refuses to talk with her bestie Danielle or her sometime boyfriend Jason. She also shuts her caring mom out of her life. On a lark, Gabby phones her Granny Helen, asking for a ride to the beloved Taylor family cabin. When Granny Helen picks her up, Gabby is unaware that she will be abused, tormented, and nearly murdered by her psycho granny.

The filmmakers moved the action along at a lively pace and sustained interest due to the intriguing past of the dysfunctional Taylor family. The secrets are slowly uncovered, and the truth about Scotty's past was conveyed by the mentally unhinged Granny Helen. One of the most maudlin lines was spoken by Granny to Melanie in fondly recalling her dear Scotty: "He loved to swim in the lake. I never thought that he would lose his life in the water."

Inevitably, the film comes down to a frightful experience in water for young Gabby, but not in the lake where Gabby had a lapse in judgment in shifting into high gear. Rather, the fateful moments will occur in the mundane experience of a bathtub!

A Daughter's Deception
(2019)

The Lighthouse of the Lost
An essential reference point for "A Daughter's Deception" in the image of the Lighthouse for the Lost, a fictional agency that will break the law in order to reveal to adopted children the identities of their birth parents. Young Bree Hogan sets in motion such a quest after learning from the Lighthouse that her birth mother, Laura Parker, gave her up for adoption shortly when, as a seventeen-year-old, she was forced by her parents to surrender the infant before she was even able to rise from her birthing bed.

Bree is quite resourceful in ingratiating herself with Laura, her husband Michael, and their daughter Skylar ("Sky"). Bree demonstrates that she has personal relation skills as well as backbone when she stands up for Sky, who was harassed and punched by the school bully, Chloe LoPresti.

The filmmakers were successful in developing an interesting set of characters, and suspense was built towards a final revelation about the truth of Bree and her motivation for inserting herself into the lives of the Parkers. The eagerness of Laura to believe Bree's story and to welcome her into their family was completely understandable.

One of the most interesting characters in the film was young Sky, who appeared wise beyond her years when she disagreed with her mother's proposition of allowing Bree to move in with them. Sky later took it upon herself to investigate Bree's background and to seek confirmation of the story with a visit to the Hogans. This was more than the cursory internet search that had been conducted by the Michael's attorney friend, Tom Caldwell. Michael's programmer at work, Garreth Drury, was more skilled at tracking Bree. But Garreth met his untimely end when he was literally caught with his fly down by Bree.

The Lighthouse of the Lost was an apt image for the lost soul that Bree turned out to be. The film had a striking set of credible dramatic moments. And one of the best was the denouement with a touching reunion scene in the hospital where a mother is reunited with her long lost child.

Dying to Belong
(1997)

Commitment! Unity! Trust!
It is fall semester at Anders College, and journalism student Lisa Conners is welcomed into the Pi Gamma Beta sorority. Lisa's mother Gwen was an Anders graduate and a proud "Pi Gamm." Eager to please her mom, the daughter has passed muster during rush week and has received a bid from the sorority. And now, the nightmare begins for Lisa Conners.

Lisa's roommate, Shelby Blake, has also won a bid to Pi Gamma Beta, but young Shelby is much more sensitive and vulnerable than Lisa. In her attempt to curry favor with the sisters, Shelby endures a humiliating hazing experience in which "the Queen of the Wannabees" is called insensitive names like "Thunder Thighs." Shelby is then led up to the clock tower where she is forced to install a large banner. With her fear of heights, the anxious Shelby slips and tumbles to her death on the quad. The sisters then engage in a conspiracy of silence about their complicity in the tragedy.

In the film's major subplot, a budding romance develops between Lisa and a fellow writer for the school newspaper, "The Daily Crusader." Steven Tyler is one of the film's most interesting characters as he researches the Pi Gamms and discovers a past incident of hazing that was covered up by the college. The lovebirds collaborate to eventually meet with Anne-Marie Johnson, who will blow the whistle on the two sorority ringleaders, Drea and Kim.

The filmmakers were successful in developing a gritty realism to campus life. Visually, campus scenes did seem realistic, and the unpleasant sorority sequences of initiation and abuse during "hell week" were convincingly portrayed. The Pi Gamm's motto of "Commitment! Unity! Trust!" had a clear appeal to gullible recruits. Dean Curtis, the clueless administrator, who studiously avoided close scrutiny of the Greek system, was entirely believable.

But, apart from the hard-working reporter Steven, the characters in the film never cracked a book. The development of character of Lisa's mother also seemed implausible, as the naive mom failed to listen to her daughter's story of the truth of the hazing occurring at her alma mater.

So, perhaps the most telling line of the film was spoken by Gwen Conners when she finally came to her senses about how her daughter was being abused in the academy. While gazing nostalgically at the grand old sorority building of Pi Gamma Beta, Gwen blurts out, "What a waste!!!"

Killer Under the Bed
(2018)

Be Careful What U Wish For
The film's title "Killer Under the Bed" appears at first glance to be a slasher film with a psycho on the loose. But it is closer to a paranormal experience when young Kilee Yeager discovers in a shed a doll sent from hell as an emissary to the unwise and gullible.

By sticking a pin in the doll with a personal item of another person, it is possible either to cast a spell or take it away from the victim. Kilee begins to experiment by inflicting pain on her brassy sister, Chrissy. She then moves on to make her history teacher, Mr. McCabe, like her. She inflicts suffering on the school bully and blackmailer, Tina. And, finally, she uses the doll to turn her mom's rival dentist into a raving maniac.

The history of the doll came from Mandy Denkins, who was the previous resident in Kilee's house and is now in lockdown in the Ridgedale nut ward. It will be a race against the clock for Kilee to learn the secrets of how to "disable" the diabolical doll.

The filmmakers kept up a brisk pace to the action that culminated in a frenetic, over-the-top finale in the Yeager's home. Both Kilee's mom, Sarah, and her sister, Chrissy, became true believers in the work of the devil when they finally encountered the doll.

The takeaway from the film is not so much to beware of making a Faustian bargain with Satan. Mandy Denkins paid out 30 silver coins for the services of the demon. In the case of Kilee Yeager, however, the message is more homespun: Karma and the hand of fate are always at work, and it is best to be careful what you wish for.

Past Never Dies
(2019)

Like Father, Like Son
Lena Winters and her 28-year-old daughter Casey suffered a traumatic ordeal when they were held captive for eight long years by Lena's deranged husband, Timothy Fast. They escaped his clutches and sent Timothy to prison. Now, twenty years later, a voice from the past returns in the form of Timothy's equally psychotic son Jacob, who is carrying out copycat murders drawn from the playbook of his sick father. Like father, like son!

When Lena is kidnapped by Jacob while about to give him a shave in her Diva styling salon, the feisty daughter Casey moves into action with a private eye named Nate Bishop, who has been fascinated by their case for years when they went by the named of Jane and Charlotte Marsh. Unfortunately for poor Casey, she is fated to come into contact with the two repellant creatures, her father Timothy and her stepbrother Jacob.

An improbable romance ensues between Casey and Nate, who proves to a clever investigator, but inept at getting the handcuffs on Jacob when he has the chance. It stretched credibility as well that Casey and Nate would be the only super sleuths tracking Jacob at a time when the police were trying to figure out who is the serial killer on the loose.

Despite the lapses in the screenplay, the film was crisply directed with good seasonal footage to convey the bleak, snowy landscape experienced by the mother-and-daughter team of "Winter Ladies." There was also gritty photography in the Black Rose Café, where everyone, including the serial killer, seems to hang out.

Born in captivity, Casey is really the central focus of the film. Her single-minded pursuit of her mother and her captor finally leads to a sense of closure. Casey now sets her sights on study abroad in Italy. Perhaps she can even persuade Nate to tag along, so that they both can finally relax under the Tuscan sun.

The Wrong Neighbor
(2017)

Into the Shark Tank
A colorful character in "The Wrong Neighbor" is the swim coach at the local high school, who goes by the name of "Jaws" Jaworski. But the real shark tank is the deranged neighbor named Jamie who is attacking a nice family. In the film, the villainess is referred to as "Hurricane Jamie" or simply "The Vampire" for the havoc she wreaks on the lives of Heather and Tim Sullivan, as well as on their young daughter Lisa.

One waits in vain to learn the motivation for why Jamie has singled out Heather, Tim, and Lisa. No background is given in the film other than the messianic desire of Jamie to have a "family." She appears to single out Tim at random when he moves into an apartment complex during a trial separation from Heather. It is actually the complete psycho Jamie that helps to restore the marriage!

The film was a by-the-numbers "thriller" about a nut case on the loose and the resilience of a set of family members who finally come to their senses to realize that they love one another. The filmmakers seemed to suggest that Jamie had murdered her parents. A loose plot strand was in the action of one of the clients of Heather, who works as a tax attorney. She worked pro bono for Patrick Clark, a security expert, whom she sent to spy on Jamie. Patrick found some important information that he relayed to Heather in a voice mail message. But Heather never played back her message, and Patrick unceremoniously dropped out of the film when he was stabbed to death by Jamie.

The character of a kind British psychiatrist provides counseling for Heather, Tim, and Lisa. But the person who needs to be lying on Dr. Fischer's couch is Hurricane Jamie!

The Doctor Will Kill You Now
(2019)

The "God Complex" of Dr. Gary
He is a magician with the scalpel. Apparently, Dr. Gary Vincent can do no wrong under the brights lights of surgery. But he has a little problem with his obsession with Sarah Crenshaw, which defines Dr. Gary as the pervert that he truly is.

Sarah has had bad luck with men. While on the ski slopes, she observes her fiancé flirting with a young woman. As Sarah moves into her slalom, she turns back to see her beau grabbing the woman's fanny. Sarah then suffers a horrific leg injury as she tumbles through snow on the down slope.

After Dr. Gary performs the miraculous surgery on Sarah's leg the true nightmare begins. The doctor's obsession leads him to prescribe a weak pain killer to keep Sarah in a state of dependency on him. As she is starting a relationship with her physical therapist, Jake Drummond, Dr. Gary intercedes to drive a wedge in the budding romance.

A problem with "The Doctor Will Kill You Now" (a.k.a., "Doctor Death") was how slow Sarah was in catching on to the sick behavior of her doctor. Other characters sense his depravity, and the film became a real downer when Dr. Gary killed the likable Rosalind "Rosie" Golding, who was trying to warn Sarah. An even more disturbing killing occurred when the good doctor crushed poor Jake Drummond under the weight of an enormous barbell.

The sagacious Rosie recognized the "God complex" that exists with some doctors. Dr. Gary's grandiosity was apparent when he blurted out to Sarah, "I gave you life!!!" It was only due to the intervention of Nurse Paige Lambert and Dr. Randolf that Dr. Gary was stopped from using his circular saw in performing a needless amputation on Sarah's leg.

Sarah Crenshaw became both a pill popper and a lush in the course of the film. Yet, the denouement that finds a perky Sarah back on the ski trail seemed a bit hollow for the nearly catastrophic physical and psychic experience she had endured with Dr. Gary.

Secrets in the Attic
(2016)

A Beautiful Love Story
Someday. Somewhere. When the time is right.

"Secrets in the Attic" tells a Romeo and Juliet-like story about a couple of youngsters who meet like two little ships passing in the night. Both young Luke and Callie had sordid upbringings. Luke was physically abused by his step-father, left home, and was subsequently taken advantage of by an unscrupulous man named Ed Brinson. Luke killed Ed in self-defense after Ed refused to pay Luke for manual labor.

Callie never met her father, who died in prison after being convicted of larceny. Rachel finally opens up to her daughter, who was led to believe that her father's name was Roger. Instead, she learns that he was Gordon Wright. But, in truth, he was Mr. Wrong.

Luke is a gifted artist and sketches a lovely profile of Callie. In turn, Callie assists Luke in sleeping in her grandmother's attic. Callie's mom, Rachel, has arrived with Callie to settle the estate of grandma Evelyn in lovely Chehalis, Washington.

Much of the film is devoted to revealing the secrets of the past, as well as the unsavory small town atmosphere in which a bloodthirsty cop, Sheriff Urban Blackwell, is pursuing young Luke much like Javert's quest to apprehend Jean Valjean.

Grandma Evelyn has left bequests for her relatives, and she has earmarked one small item for Michael Collins. It turns out that Luke is Michael Collins, and he was kind to Evelyn, assisting her with groceries. As handyman working at her Michael discovers the greenhouse where he sleeps and later camps out in Evelyn's attic, occasionally munching her plentiful supply of ravioli in the pantry. Perhaps her also occasionally chauffeured her in her 1973 Lincoln Continental à la "Driving Miss Daisy." It was Michael who phoned the paramedics when he heard a crash from his attic lair and discovered Evelyn unconscious.

One interesting character who drops out of the film early was young Jordan Benson, who clearly had a crush on Callie. But she prefers her young outlaw and artist, Luke. They form a kind of pact to one day go to Tuscany. When they do, perhaps they can make a detour to fair Verona, where they can relive the sad tale of woe of Juliet and her Romeo.

The Sisterhood
(2019)

Women Helping Women
The best line in "Secrets of the Sisterhood" is when the protagonist, Ashley "Ash" Shields is being held captive by Desirée Holt, the head of the secret Sisterhood. Ash is about to be beaten to a pulp for her betrayal of the society. But the savvy Desirée gives a final instruction to her goon: "Not the face!!!" At this point, Ash is only being given a warning about the power of her "sisters."

The filmmakers developed a great set of characters with very clear motivations. The two sisters, Ash and Jasmine, are drawn to the Sisterhood because their lives have been in disorder. Desirée and the sisters offer an apparent solution to all of their problems. Unfortunately, Ash and Jasmine get themselves in too deep, and they cross the line with Jasmine becoming one of Desirée's goons and Ash inheriting the job of cooking the books.

Jasmine had always been the wayward daughter of the family. But, as the film opens, she has been "clean and sober" for nine months, due to the influence of the Sisterhood. But unbeknownst to Ash, Jasmine takes on the role of a prostitute, having an affair with Ash's boss, then blackmailing him to raise Ash's salary. It is at that point in the film that Ash recognizes she must take drastic action against Desirée.

Two especially intriguing characters were Ash's ex-husband Rick and his wife Julie, a cop. Ash used her influence with the Sisterhood to pay off an arbitrator so that Ash would receive full custody of her daughter Grace. Yet there is decency and even a quality of forgiveness on the part of Rick, who is dedicated to his daughter and is somehow able to find a way to support Ash in her time of need.

There was a chilling credibility in the character of Desirée who presides over the ritual initiation of Ash into the Sisterhood, then methodically takes over her devotee's life. To the end, Desirée confidently asserts that against any odds, the Sisterhood will not die. And the line is spoken with a steely determination to remain true to the sisters' motto: "Women Helping Women!"

My Husband's Secret Wife
(2018)

Avery's Fragile Psyche
Avery Stinson is a successful artist and runs a gallery along with her sister Kat and Kat's boyfriend Hugh. But Avery is still haunted by the tragic auto accident that took the life of her husband Jesse. Now, a new man, Alex, and come into her life after assisting in the rescue of Avery's little boy Jack during a kidnapping attempt. Without knowing much about Alex's past, Avery has rushed to the altar, and now must face the truth about the secrets of Alex's past.

One of those secrets is that Alex is still married to a woman named Melanie, who just keeps showing up throughout the film, despite an apparent restraining order. Melanie is clearly unhinged, yet Alex keeps defending her. "We had a history," he tells Avery, as if that will justify his bad behavior as a liar and a bigamist.

The characters in "My Husband's Secret Life" were a motley crew indeed. With the exception of the well-balanced sister Kat and the nice mom, Lisette, the other characters were edgy and erratic. Hugh seemed devoted to Avery at the art studio, but he also seemed to have had some past involvement with Melanie. Alex has to be the most incompetent attorney on the planet, based on his inability to argue his own case to his two wives. Even Avery, a pill popper, is capable of coming unglued at any moment.

The filmmakers kept up a lively pace to the film. But poor little Jack may require years of therapy after being tossed around like a hot potato. As an artist, Avery's masterpiece was the lifelike sculpture of the winged horse Pegasus. In the film's denouement, Avery was wise in standing behind the horse and rejecting the overtures of another suitor who could bring more misery to her fragile psyche.

Dying for a Baby
(2019)

Wild Shirley's Male Escort
My favorite character in "Pregnant and Deadly" (a.k.a., "Dying for a Baby") is Don, the male escort hired by the film's villainess to impersonate her husband. Don only has a few brief scenes trying to hold up his end of the bargain. His biggest gaffe comes when he explains that he is on a business trip to Shanghai, which he believes is located in Japan!

Don is only one of the colorful characters in this frenetic drama about Jessica Moore's obsession with having a baby. It is clear that she will stop at nothing in order to have Amber Goodwin's delivery moved up, so that she can kidnap the child.

Amber and her husband Kyle are looking forward with great anticipation to the birth of their baby boy. As a film buff, Kyle is recording every moment of the pregnancy period, and some of the footage will be crucial in unmasking the dangerous game played by Jessica, who once had a fateful encounter when her car slid across an intersection crashing into the vehicle driven by Amber. In the process, Jessica lost her baby and may no longer carry a child. In her twisted mind, she can never forgive Amber for the accident.

Another interesting character is Amber's savvy mom, Morgan. The mother recalls an incident when her friend named "Wild Shirley" had paid for an escort date. Morgan recognizes Don as the man who dated Wild Shirley.

There is a good amount of collateral damage in the film. Jessica first murders the prospective renter of a guest house, so that she and be Amber's neighbor. It was also unfortunate that Amber's bestie Nicole and Blanche, her nice boss at the Savory Fare bakery, died at the hands of the psychotic Jessica. Another secondary character is Taylor, who is also carrying a baby and is duped by Jessica into believing that Jessica will adopt the child. Fortunately for Taylor and her baby, Jessica will be thwarted in her scheme.

An ambiguous character in the film was Dr. Welch, who flirted with Jessica and subsequently was forced at gunpoint by her to induce labor on Amber, so that Jessica may steal the child. In the film's denouement, Dr. Welch was not present at the birthday celebration of little Jonathan. Dr. Welch may no longer be in practice as an obstetrician.

Hello Neighbor
(2018)

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood!
"The Killer Next Door" (a.k.a. "Kill Thy Neighbor," a.k.a. "Hello, Neighbor") is clearly not a depiction of Mr. Rogers' neighborhood!

Julie Caster has begun a new chapter in her life after the tragic death of her husband Matthew in an auto crash. With her little boy Matty, Julie has moved into a beautiful neighborhood near her sister-in-law, Allison (Ally). She has a new job as a physical therapist, a beautiful home, a new boyfriend Blake, and a nice nanny, Marisol Garcialis. And, of course, there is Auntie Ally who dotes on little Matty.

Indeed, Ally's fixation on the little boy drives the film and does so at a labored pace. Early on, the viewer recognizes that Ally is tormenting Julie, attempting to make her the pariah of the neighborhood. The plan works until Julie finally gets wise to the twisted mind of her sister-in-law.

The film was a slow burner with the only missing link the motivation for what is driving Ally. The ultimate revelation was that Ally was Matthew's twin and, in her bizarre thinking, she equated her little nephew with the brother. But it was never a very plausible neurosis.

There were too many unnecessary casualties, including the previous therapist whose death provided the opening for Julie to take her job. Then, there was the nice bicycle cop, who was clocked with a tire iron and disappeared from the film. The angelic Marisol was removed from the script at the three-quarters mark. And poor Blake nearly had his kneecap broken. That is a lot a collateral damage for the sick aunt who wants to only to be close to her nephew.

The Party Planner
(2020)

A Party Pooper
Young Kerry Anderson is looking forward to her coming out when she reaches the age of sixteen. Her doting mom Kayla, who is busy in running an art gallery, hires a party planner and gives a generous $2,000 budget for her daughter's party.

Unfortunately, the planner is just as deranged as any nanny ever to grace a Lifetime film. Lindy Shores murdered her Congressman husband when he was acting like Henry VIII in demanding that Lindy "do your job" and produce a child for him. Unfortunately, after giving one baby up for adoption, Lindy can no longer have children.

"Psycho Party Planner" was a by-the-numbers drama with the psycho Lindy seeking to reclaim her little, lost orphan for herself. There were two unfortunate casualties in the process of planning the party. Dulcie, who interviewed for the job and was the front-runner, was dispatched by Lindy. And the nice high school soccer coach, Marlow Meadows, was senselessly garrotted close to the finale.

One of the best characters in the film was Kayla, whose love for little Kerry was unconditional. The temper tantrum thrown by Kerry when she learned that she was adopted seemed strained, considering that the little princess was spoiled rotten. How many sixteen-year-olds have a $2,000 party thrown in their honor?

My Wife's Secret Life
(2019)

The Case of the Mysterious Hickey
"My Wife's Secret Life" is all about indiscretions. At one point in his marriage, divorce attorney James Briggs was unfaithful to his wife Laurel. After years of therapy, there is still tension in the marriage. But after attending a conference for her work, Laurel brings home a hickey from a one-timer of her own. In a case of karma, Laura's indiscretion was with the disgruntled psycho husband of one of James' clients. Kent Anderson (a.k.a., Ray Patterson) is determined to ruin the Briggs family.

The filmmakers maintained a fast pace to the action in the cat-and-mouse game Kent is playing with Laurel and James Briggs. Kent is even successful in wooing Aunt Angela, who occasionally serves as the nanny to the Briggs children, Joshua and Daniela. By "scoring" with both Laurel and her sister-in-law, Kent has proven that he has a unique skill set, and he likes to think big!

Lifetime fans simply adored Kate Villanova in the role of Laurel. Her best scene was in portraying Laurel's heartfelt confession to James in her "moment of weakness." She was having a bad day, had drunk too much wine, and, ah heck!, I am so sorry. Everyone wants to see Kate in more Lifetime pictures.

Another interesting character is the private detective Ari Sheffler. It is through Ari that the Briggs learn that, at age twelve, Kent witnessed his alcoholic mother murder his father with a knife. Kent is now living off his credit cards and is tracked by Ari to a mountain cabin where he plans to do away with both Laurel and Briggs, marry Angela, and raise little Joshua and Daniella as his own children!

A theme of the film emerges when Laurel and James are attempting to hold their marriage together, and Laurel opines, "We fight each other and not FOR each other." Kent Anderson-Ray Patterson affords them the opportunity to literally fight to save their marriage and their lives, as well as making the mysterious hickey only a minor infraction in "My Wife's Secret Life."

Mrs Wilson
(2018)

O Cursèd Progenitor!!!
Alexander "Alec" Wilson was a dreamer, and he discovered writing as cathartic. A shell-shocked soldier from the Battle of the Somme in World War I, Alec maintained his sanity by escaping to the world of the imagination, especially during the Battle of Britain when he apparently began to write spy novels.

But the world of fiction carried over from the typewriter to reality in the four households he maintained in the postwar years. Four households, and an enormous brood who take a curtain call at the end of this miniseries!

The film was slow-paced, especially in Episode 2, where a careful balance between the flashbacks and the scenes in the present was not achieved. There was also a surprisingly cruel side to Alison in the way she confronted Dorothy about lying to her son about his wayward dad. Alison then proceeds to lie to her two boys in the same way.

In the final episode, the mood shifts between high drama and low comedy, culminating in poor Alison Wilson entering a nunnery! Perhaps the final straw was when a little street urchin named Douglas showed up on her doorstep, providing Alison with a glimpse into Alec's FOURTH family.

As relentless in pursuit of the truth about her lyin' husband as Javert was about Jean Valjean, Elizabeth finally comes to terms with her husband as a pathological liar. But the film never conclusively demonstrates whether Alec was a bona fide spy for the British government or merely a pathological liar and bigamist. Apparently, he was a combination of the three.

O cursèd progenitor!!!

Mrs Wilson: Episode #1.3
(2018)
Episode 3, Season 1

Understanding and Forgiveness
In the final episode of this miniseries, the mood shifts between high drama and low comedy, culminating in poor Alison Wilson entering a nunnery!

As relentless in pursuit of the truth about her lyin' husband as Javert was about Jean Valjean, Elizabeth finally comes to terms with her husband as a pathological liar.

The final program never conclusively demonstrates whether Alec was a bona fide spy for the British government or merely a pathological liar and bigamist. Apparently, he was a combination of the three.

A shell-shocked soldier from the Battle of the Somme in World War I, Alec apparently failed to truly serve his country during the Second World War. The scene with his incarceration in Brixton Prison was nearly the breaking point for Alison. With her husband in jail and with no source of income, she took the children to live with her mother, who always believed that Alec was a phony.

With the help of Father Timothy, Alison eventually discovers a degree of redemption. But not after finding a little waif named Douglass on her doorstep, Alison learns that Alec had a FOURTH wife and yet another mouth to feed.

Alec was a dreamer, and he discovered writing as cathartic. But the world of fiction carried over from the typewriter to reality in the four households he maintained in the postwar years. Four households, and an enormous brood who take a curtain call at the end of this miniseries. O cursed progenitor!!!

Mrs Wilson: Episode #1.2
(2018)
Episode 2, Season 1

For Crown and Country
During the war, Alec Wilson was a very busy man working as a spy and saving lives in India and Northern Africa. He was also busy in procreating lives with three different wives! This episode reveals the shocking truth about her husband's past to Alison Wilson, the third and final wife of the late Alec.

The episode was sluggish in its pace as it moved back and forth in time. A major problem is that the scenes in the past were more interesting than those in the present. Alison seems to be pushing away her two sons, Gordon and Nigel. As a navy man, Gordon has by now learned just about as much about his feckless father as Alison. Will the pawn ticket to Urquahart's shop be of help to Alison, who has discovered the card stitched into Alec's old wallet?

The other two wives, Gladys and Dorothy, were interesting characters. Alec's wartime handler, Shabaz Karim, stoically defends his old war buddy. He and the local vicar both advise Alison to forget about the past. After all, Alec performed a great service to crown and country!

Mrs Wilson: Episode #1.1
(2018)
Episode 1, Season 1

The Silent Service
In the opening episode of "Mrs. Wilson," the hard-working typist, Alison Wilson, leaves the office for an hour to prepare lunch for her husband, Alec. While she is setting the table, he dies of a heart attack. The balance of the episode is the shocking revelation to Mrs. Wilson that her husband led a secret life with a second wife and family.

The setting for the film is in the 1960s, but the narrative includes flashbacks to the war years. Alec Wilson worked as a British spy, which is where he met Alison McKelvie, who was his secretary. Due to his knowledge of Arabic, Alec was sent to Northern Africa at the time of the crucial battle of El Alamein. Alison never learned the details of the duties he performed.

With superb period costumes, the filmmakers move the action along at a deliberate pace, as we observe Alison react to double life of her husband. A conflict arises when the son of the second family insists on the burial of his "father' at Southsea in an unmarked grave. To avoid scandal and humiliation to her two sons, Alison agrees to the demands.

At the funeral, Alison meets Bert Ashby, one of her deceased husband's apparent colleagues. A more mysterious figure named Asabay Karim arrives and mentions the name of Dorothy. Is it possible that Alec had a third spouse? Karim suggests that Alison see Alec's wartime supervisor Coleman for the details.

The Outpost
(2020)

The Dark Side of the Moon
Dateline: October 3, 2009. The place is Afghanistan. Nestled under the steep incline of the Hindu Kush, the army outpost of Kamdesh is a poorly conceived site for Bravo Troop 3-61. Strategically vulnerable, the doomed men at one point in the film contemplate issuing the report of "Alamo! Alamo!"

Early in the film, a group of the soldiers visit the local elders, who recall the historic failures of the British and the Soviets who experienced the quagmire of Afghanistan. It is difficult for the locals to see the American imperialists as any different. The leader of the army entourage actually seems sincere when he talks of winning the "hearts and minds" of the elders, exactly like the failed policy in Vietnam in the previous century.

With the Kamdesh site about to be closed, the Taliban plan and carry out a massive attack on the fort. The second half of the film is given over to the protracted battle and the clear sense that war is hell. The heroic soldiers stay the course until finally air cover arrives and the survivors evacuate.

One of the most revealing moments in the film is when one of the soldiers attempts to explain the purpose of their "mission" in Kamdesh, but is unable to articulate any military or political goal. At another moment, the chain of command is discussed with the name of Stanley A. McChrystal named as the figure in authority responsible for what was later called in an investigation an "obviously indefensible" outpost.

Both technically and in the screenplay, the filmmakers were successful in developing the ambience of "the fog of war" and the two decades of utter futility of American foreign policy in Afghanistan. It was a chilling experience that brought to life the nightmare of a remote military outpost in the Middle East that came to be known as "Camp Custer."

Reconstruction: America after The Civil War: Part 2, Hour 2
(2019)
Episode 4, Season 1

The Ongoing Struggle (1890-1915)
In this final episode of "Reconstruction," the filmmakers trace the story of civil rights from 1890-1915. By the 1890s, the Democratic Party was firmly in control of the Southern states. One exception was Wilmington, N.C., where blacks held prominent positions in government. But a violent coup d'état in 1898 eliminated that government. Jim Crown had now firmly taken hold.

The film explores how propaganda contributed to establishing a new narrative of Reconstruction, twisting it into a story of "the lost cause" and "redemption" of the South. By 1900, there was only one black member remaining in Congress, George Henry White of North Carolina. Edward A. Pollard's book "The Lost Cause" spun a tale not of a lost Civil War, but of a victory over Reconstruction. The slanted view of history was promoted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization that worked tirelessly to rewrite children's history textbooks about the post-Civil War South.

At a time when the minstrel shows were showcasing a stereotype named Jim Crow, Frederick Douglass was using the medium of photography to paint a different picture of blacks in America. Photography in the age reveals a dignity and beauty of blacks who were using the medium to tell their own life stories. At the celebrated Paris Exposition of 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois compiled a series of 363 photographs for an exhibit and subsequent album entitled "Types of American Negroes, Georgia, U.S.A. and Negro Life in Georgia, U.S.A." DuBois came to be the leading black intellectual of the early twentieth century with his masterpiece, "The Souls of Black Folks."

In addition to photography, fiction, and poetry, music comes into full-blown expression, championed by James Weldon Johnson, who had classical musical training. Bert Williams and George Walker respond to the abhorrent white minstrel shows with their own version.

Du Bois joins forces with "Boston Guardian" editor William Monroe Trotter in 1905 for the Niagara Movement. Its "Declaration of Principles" asserted that "we refuse to allow the impression to remain that the Negro-American assents to inferiority, is submissive under oppression and apologetic before insults." Du Bois is also instrumental in the establishment of the NAACP. His journal "The Crisis" includes remarkable pictorial images on the journal covers. The NAACP takes a strong stand against the false narrative depicted in the film epic "The Birth of a Nation," which portrayed "the cultural apex of Southern redemption."

This outstanding four-part series concludes with a recapitulation of the remarkable achievements of Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois over the course the half century covered from 1865-1915.

Her Fatal Flaw
(2006)

Corruption in Cook County
"Her Fatal Flaw" is a stylish, noirish thriller revolving around hot-shot Chicago attorney Laney Hennessy. At the moment she is aspiring to become Cook County State attorney, Laney is thrust into a murder case wherein she must represent her fiancé, Robert "Bobby" Genero who faces charges of murdering a local official.

The filmmakers developed a taut drama around Cook County politics, a crooked cop, a local business tycoon engaged in drug trafficking, and a sultry romantic story with Laney caught in between her current lover Bobby and her ex, the police detective Mark Farrow. Her mentor, Richard O'Brien, may prove the pivotal figure in identifying who murdered alderman Adam Sutton.

The protagonist is painted as an idealistic attorney and a hopeless romantic. Will her attraction to the dashing Bobby cloud her vision and ruin her career? Or, will her instincts and investigative skills, aided by her trusty assistant Brooke Cavanaugh, lead her to the truth?

Stylistically, this compelling thriller was filmed with effective cinematography, lighting, and scoring. But more than anything, a sordid set of characters "on the take" allow Laney Hennessy to emerge as a breath of fresh air in the pursuit of justice and liberty in a sea of troubles in Cook County.

Reconstruction: America after The Civil War: Part 2, Hour 1
(2019)
Episode 3, Season 1

"Life Within the Veil"
The historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois referred to hardships of African Americans in the post-Reconstruction era as "life within the veil." In 1875, a sweeping Civil Rights Act had been passed in Congress. Yet in 1883, the act was essentially ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The clock was being turned back by the American judicial system and would have to wait until 1965 for a new Civil Rights Act.

Ida B. Wells was a pathfinder as a teacher and activist in this era. She was fighting against what Du Bois would later describe as the time when "the slave went free and stood a moment in the sun and then moved back again towards slavery." The phenomenon of sharecropping turns black farmers into virtual serves starting in the later 1860s and 1870s, but truly coming into its own in the 1880s.

A mass movement of blacks in the South heads to Kansas where they appear to be welcomed. But the so-called Exodusters do not find greater opportunities there. In Alabama, Eli Madison's plan for an all-black community comes to fruition in Madison Park. A third political party emerges out of a coalition of blacks and whites known as the populists.

Mob violence figures prominently i the 1880s. In one of his greatest speeches, Frederick Douglass's "The Lessons of the Hour" on January 9, 1894, denounces the barbaric practice of lynching at the at the historic Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C.

Booker T. Washington is instrumental in advancing educational opportunities. But the 1896 Supreme Court ruling of "separate but equal" is another court decision that turns back the clock and enables Jim Crow. Things were about to get worse before they got better.

The Sweetheart
(2018)

A Well-Used Bracelet
The best scene in "Dating a Sociopath" (a.k.a., "The Sweetheart") took place in a jewelry store where the manager confronts the film's villain Brian McGavin. The jeweler recognizes a returned bracelet as one that he had sold to Brian years ago when Brian was living with an older woman who died under suspicious circumstances. Brian then made a gift of he bracelet to second woman. The jeweler becomes especially concerned when Brian had gifted bracelet to yet third woman, Sam. It was this scene in the jewelry store that first revealed the twisted mind of Brian McGavin.

Sam is the mother of young Jane and little Tilly (Till). She had a falling out with her husband Paul after his reckless driving led to a serious leg injury for the older daughter Jane. Paul has now moved into a hotel, and Sam has moved Brian into the family home.

The most intriguing character in the film is the quick-thinking Jane, who recognizes right away that Brian is a phony. She eventually catches on as well that Brian has substituted placebos for her painkillers, making her recovery process slow and miserable. The actress playing Jane does a good job moving ambling around on crutches and using a cane, which will figure prominently in the physical action of the film.

The filmmakers moved the narrative along at a brisk pace. It was interesting to watch the dissolute father Paul strive to redeem himself after his disgraceful conduct. Jane's bestie Karli added an important tracking device on Brian's car that led to an old hideaway for the grand climax.

The bracelet was a useful metaphor for the shallow behavior of Sam, who fell too fast and too hard for a gold digger as a new sweetheart. It was due to the heroics of Jane limping noticeably through the action that put greater focus on greater the genuine family values that triumphed in the end.

A Father's Nightmare
(2018)

The Scrunchie From "Swan Lake"
Early in "A Father's Nightmare," the young gymnast Lisa Carmichael is telling her new friend Vanessa about a cherished object that belonged to her mother. It was an old "scrunchie," a band of cloth that attaches to the hair. This scrunchie was used in a production of "Swan Lake," the favorite ballet of Lisa's mother, Anna. But Vanessa subsequently steals the scrunchie, then attempts to turn Lisa into a pill popper, jeopardizing her work as a gymnast and even threatening her life.

Two essential questions are (1) why is Vanessa attempting to poison Lisa's life? and (2) who actually is Vanessa? A clue to answering those questions comes in the introduction of a mysterious character named Zofia, who resides in a mental facility and is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Zofia was the bestie of Lisa's mother Anna. But it will not be until the closing moments of the film that Zofia's true identity is revealed.

The film was unfortunately a real downer. It stretched credibility that a highly disciplined athlete like Lisa would fall for the act of Vanessa, who turned her into an addict and sought to control her mind like an Iago. Suddenly, Lisa is popping "addys" and "benzos" like they were candy. It was surprising that her gymnastics coach Cynthia never detected that Lisa was becoming a heavy user.

The most interesting character in the film was Matt Carmichael, the over-protective father of Lisa. It is clear that Matt was hiding a secret from his past that was apparently known to the mother Anna but never disclosed to Lisa. But the filmmakers struggled to make all of the pieces add up in a believable way. The femme fatale Vanessa was an especially unlikable figure. There was no reasonable explanation for her to walk away with a precious memento like the scrunchie, unless she were truly evil, not merely the victim of a callous father and a neurotic ballerina mother.

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