A Life Not to Follow: Neo-Noir in Three Acts (Review)

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Directed and co-written by Christopher Di Nunzio A Life Not to Follow  is an inner-city neo-noir in three acts.  With a modern day setting, an old fashioned crime family, a bent cop and a worn-out gumshoe, the film is at once a throw-back and a homage.  

There are three separate vignettes tied together two characters.  A young woman (played by Molly Kay) who is found, lost and then found again.  Another person present in all three storylines is Luca Trapani (Michael Capozzi). 

The first act is all about Eric DiVenardi  (played by Fiore Leo). Eric is a man who took an unwilling fall for another member of a mob family.  Sent to prison at 16, he does a lot of hard time. 

Act two has Luca playing more of a part and it contains a “Godfather” type storyline.

The final act introduces former FBI agent, and insomniac private eye, Tobias King (David Graziano).  He helps young Detective Sylvan (Nick Apostolides) on a case that bent cop Derby (William Bloomfield) will most likely take from the younger man. 

The opening of the film with Eric, is at first glance,  a bit off.  The character speaks oddly, using stilted English and phrases that do not particularly fit. After a few moments however, the ex con’s speech pattern makes perfect sense.

DeVenardi went into prison as a teen and would have been influenced by what he read and watched in the jail.  In a sense, Eric is trying too hard to be correct with his phrasing and it speaks volumes about the character.

All the characters look like they walked right off out of a courtroom or were freshly released from prison.  The  head of the families, the”soldiers,” the cops and the P.I. all scream Italian authenticity and they fit.  Even the women feel like they belong in this world (with the exception of Cushing who is clearly not from this neighborhood.)

A Life Not Followed looks noir down to its very core. The locations, the sets and the environment fit the theme perfectly. Some of DeNunzio’s shots, by cinematographer Nolan Yee, are rich and beautifully framed.

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Rich textures and beautiful  framing.

The casting for this film was spot on.  Major kudos to Capozzi, as the newly “made-man” who is so deceptively gentle at first glance.  The actor impresses and manages to make his character almost likable right up until he commits a few heinous acts.

The real treasure in this film was Graziano as Tobias.  Having only seen him in Chris Esper’s Still Life,  where he played a college professor, it was a surprise to see that the actor convinced equally in both roles.  Graziano was that overly tired private investigator.

Bloomfield was spot on as the dirty cop.

The Life Not Followed looks brilliant.  The editing and the framing of each shot feels right. The film won an award and was nominated for another three.

The camerawork, which feels like it was all hand-held, is crisp and clear.  It features a number of almost extreme close ups and in one sequence, the camera is sped up and slowed down, creating a jolting fast forward effect.

A couple of actors were a tad wooden but overall the dialogue and delivery fit the social stratum of the area.

A Life Not Followed features payback, revenge  and betrayal.  This is an enjoyable film that ladled on the neo-noir.

The film is a worthy 4 stars with an  interesting concept and interaction between the three storylines.

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The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors by Michael West (Review)

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The third installment of “The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors” is, appropriately enough, out just before Halloween. A world of shape-changing Lovecraftian, and worse, creatures that are all battling for control of the world are perfect for that time of year.

Author Michael West has diligently continued the story of main human protagonists Earl Preston and Carol Miyagi.  Also included are some familiar faces from Poseidon’s Children, favorites who are suddenly thrust back into the limelight.

Homicidal human monster Dante “Horror Show” Vianello is back, along with his enigmatic cellmate Preacher. Vivian Song, Dante’s nemesis has also returned and she is as terrifying as before. Song’s favorite Brit; Benny, who is Vivian’s lover is also back, much to Earl’s chagrin.

Book Two saw Carol Miyagi get critically injured by Yeti’s.  Alan and Kari, both of whom love Carol, struggle to get her treated in the mysterious ark found in the mountains.

Song and her henchmen, or hench-were-creatures, are steadily taking everything they need to rule the world.

West has continued building this world of “mutating” creatures that are locked in a battle as old as time. The first novel, “Poseidon’s Children” began the story with Larry and Peggy, and their neighbors in a small seaside town.

“Hades’ Children” introduced Vivian Song, a dragon lady in more ways than one, and Carol Miyagi a human heroine with almost superhuman ninja skills.

The author has given his readers a cast of characters that, despite some having a rather disturbingly  inhuman duality, are fascinating, touching, scary and, in at least one case, funny.

Earl Preston, whose life has changed a good bit since readers first met him in another Michael West novel; “Spook House,” has teamed up with a gorgeous, and fierce, female werewolf and an enormous crocodile creature. The trio are ready to take on Song and Benny, along with any of their evil minion.

Larry, from “Poseidon’s Children,”  seems holds the key to Vivian’s success, or failure, and his life, as well as Peggy’s depends on his actions.

This was a brilliant third installment to this “page turner” series.   It is literally impossible not to attempt reading all of the book in one sitting.  (A word to the wise: Even the most accomplished speed-readers will find this hard to do as there is so much going on in this world.)

All of West’s characters connect with the reader. Empathy is not an issue with any of the players, even a human monster like Horror Show prompts a positive response.  We can even understand Vivian Song’s actions, heaven forbid, and her lover Benny’s.

“The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors” was well worth the wait.  It is still set against an international backdrop and carries the story forward with an admirable momentum.

Do not miss this third installment in the series.   There are still many questions left to be answered. But…The journey to reach a final conclusion is such an addictive treat that we do not mind the remaining queries.

“The Legacy of the Gods: Zeus’ Warriors” will leave readers clamoring for more.  Michael West’s latest novel is published by Seventh Star Press and can be purchased from Amazon.com via Kindle. Make sure you read this third visit to West’s wonderfully weird world.

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Narcos: The Enemies of My Enemy – The Noose Gets Tighter (Recap/Review)

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Carrillo’s death only marginally slows things down in Narcos. In “Enemies of My Enemy” Peña strikes up a reluctant allegiance with Judy Moncada and the Castaño brothers. She offers up Maritza, the girl that Limon used to set up the colonel as a welcoming gift.

Javi visits the young woman and she tells him she was set up.  Pablo Escobar has ruined her life and Maritza asks for help.

Murphy offers condolences to Carrillo’s widow and lies to her about the atrocities her husband committed.

The president wastes no time getting in a replacement for Carrillo.  Colonel Hugo Martinez is forced to volunteer after his son, who recently graduated from the police academy, joined Search Bloc.  The colonel takes the assignment to help protect his son.

Pablo brings down Tata’s brother Carlos for an extended visit.  She makes a meal to celebrate and Escobar takes a walk with his brother-in-law.  Pablo tells Carlos that he is ready to get back to work and make some serious money.

Viewers are introduced to Pablo’s money launderer; Lion (played by Jon-Michael Ecker who is currently in Queen of the South in a similar role). He  is the man who gets Escobar’s money back into the country. Maritza meets with Limon who tells her there is little he can do to help her. 

The vist is a setup, Javi and Trujillo (Jorge Monterrosa) are watching Limon. They follow the cab driver to one of Pablo’s safe houses and learn that Velasco is there. Javi tries to get permission to enter the facility but is denied. 

He then calls the Castaño brothers.  Javi is afraid that red tape will  allow the criminal to escape.  The brother’s arrive and the team splits up.   They breach the house and kill almost everyone in the building while chasing down their suspect.

Velasco almost gets away but Berna and one of the brother’s heads him off. Later Velasco is tortured for information about Pablo but instead gives up three of Escobar’s accountants.  Judy realizes this is the way to defeat Pablo. They must take away his money. “No money, no army,” says Moncada.

She calls Rodriguez and tells him that Lion was due to be met by Velasco at the airport. Escobar’s money man meets the Cali cartel instead. Lion later tells Blackie that since Velasco never showed up, he got scared and returned to Miami.

Carlos tries to talk his sister into leaving the country with the kids and Martinez shows his son just what Pablo Escobar is all about.

Murphy’s visit with his wife ends all too son and the new Search Bloc leader is instigating grid searches.  Peña is not impressed but Murphy thinks they need to give this a chance.

Berna lies to Javi about the information they got from Velasco. Peña lays down the rules of the game; armed opponents are the only people to be killed or attacked.

The Castaño brother’s begin taking down Pablo Escobar’s men at a rapid rate. There are shootouts in the street and drug dealers are being killed off already.

Medellin is turned into a battlefield. Five of Pablo’s men are killed in one night and they have no idea who is responsible.

The authorities find Velasco’s dead body hanging from a  pole with a placard attached to it. It is signed by Los Pepes.  “Who the hell,” asks Murphy, “is Los Pepes.”

Peña knows but he will not be saying anything to his partner.  The metaphorical noose around Pablo’s neck is tightening as his enemies gang up to take him down.

Narcos is streaming on Netflix and all 10 episodes are on offer. There are five episodes left in this season. Head over and watch this fascinating bio-drama.

Cast: 

SNL: Season 42 Premiere – Margot Robbie Blasting Out of the Gate (Review)

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Welcome back Saturday Night Live. All is forgiven. After a previous season that had more misses than hits the premiere of SNL season 42 was an epic win. Guest host Margot Robbie, who clearly has arrived,  did a fine job with her monologue and was hysterically funny in “The Librarian” (a pre-recorded bit of ’80s nostalgia.)

The  show blasted out of the gate with special guest Alec Baldwin doing his Donald Trump impression.  Alongside Emmy winning  performer Kate McKinnon (who showed just why she earned that award in the “Actress Round Table” skit) Baldwin and Kate killed  it in the show’s open.

(The Willy Wonka gag got less laughs than it should have for some reason…)

Robbie, still red-hot after her Harley Quinn performance in Suicide Squad,  appeared in a number of skits. She even got to portray Darlene in the Mr. Robot parody at the end.

The highpoint for Margot had to be The Librarian. The ’80’s pastiche  that combined the “Oh Yeah” song from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with a brilliant dose of bizarre science fiction.

After the monologue, where Margot “fact checked” everything she said, the show started off with a “live news report” where a sinkhole had just swallowed up seven cars.

Robbie, who is an incredible 11 out of 10 marks for stunning, and her bespectacled husband (played by Neil McNabb) are the eyewitness couple that Kenan Thompson’s reporter speaks to.  The gag in the skit is how on earth this mild mannered chap wound up with such a beautiful wife. This was brilliantly funny and it felt like SNL had gotten their mojo back.

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Other skits included the Family Feud political lineup with Thompson once again donning his Steve Harvey persona.  Robbie played Ivanka  Trump, Larry David reprised his Bernie Sanders and new kid on the block Melissa Villaseñor did a pretty decent Sarah Silverman.

(The Silverman inclusion had to be an in-joke since the performer was briefly part of the the SNL stable.)

There was a “homage” skit called “The Hunch Bunch” that was a parody of Scooby-Doo without the animated mutt.  Kudos, by the way to Kyle Mooney for doing a very funny “Shaggy.”

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The Hunch Bunch featured a mystery solving gang who are all pretty PC.  Robbie, channeling her inner Harley Quinn is the odd one out and her boyfriend Tad is mortified at her verbal gaffes.

As the gang come in contact with the old man haunting the place, Becca Ashley (Robbie) shoots him in the back.  One of the group tells the rest that the old chap is still alive and Becca Ashley cocks her pistol and aims down at the prone figure.

“Oh no, I’m not going back to jail…”

While not hysterically funny the skit was amusing and, once again, was more like SNL used to be. A bit silly overall but it allowed a vague Harley Quinn reference in.

The clear winner, in terms of skits (versus pre-recorded sequences like The Librarian) was the Actress Round Table discussion. McKinnon ruled this one. Her anciently old performer was truly hysterical and had guest host Margot Robbie corpsing throughout the skit.

One other notable thing about the roundtable skit was that it featured Sasheer Zamata, the more silent cast member of SNL. The performer actually got more than the usual one line spot.

The Weekend Update was a staggering 14 minutes long, easily taking up the lions-share of the episode.  It was the usual Jost and Che double-act treat. Topics covered were the Colin Kaepernick national anthem issue and of course politics.

Cecily Strong and Kenan Thompson gave performances and musical guest The Weeknd did a cameo spot.

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The Weeknd

The Mr. Robot sketch (with Pete Davidson as Elliot Alderson) did a riff on the Leslie Jones computer hack that was funny. It was also a sign that the Sam Esmail series has “arrived.”

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This was a brilliant start to season 42.  Robbie did very well for her first time. And there were moments where the comedy was so spot on that tears of laughter were spilled.

SNL airs Saturdays on NBC. May the comedy seen thus far continue. Stop by and check this newest season out and keep an eye on Melissa Villaseñor.

Longmire Season Five, Episode Three: Chrysalis (Review)

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The third episode of Longmire may turn out to be a  “personal best” for the fifth season.  The subplot of Malachi being up to no good and Jacob pressing Henry to learn what the chief of security is really up to takes a back seat to the main storyline.

Cady’s story starts off the show. She is learning that the realities of helping the tribe are going to be very different from what she imagined. Jacob does not really help and his little talk with Cady leaves her feeling exposed and a little paranoid.

The main storyline begins in the casino parking lot.  A little girl sits alone in the passenger seat of a car. Cady stops and learns the kid saw her father go in but he has not come out. She does not know when he went in.

Cady calls Walt.

This episode was a proper “whodunit.”  While Walt worries about Donna, she is not returning his calls, he and Vic chase down clues to learn what happened to Olivia Parr’s father. Along the way they must figure out her mother’s issues. At first glance, it appears that Melissa Parr is a drug addict.

Walt takes the little girl home and they find her mother passed out in her car with the engine running.  Olivia asks Walt to take Melissa into the house. She tells Longmire that she will sober her up, “I’m used to it.”

Olivia’s father turns up dead on the other side of the county. His body is found near the Chrysalis mobile home park. The man has been run over and later they find his blood alcohol level is two times over the limit.

Meanwhile Cady and Henry look for space on the reservation for her legal aid office. Her attempt at giving the tribe something to actually see.

Walt tries to track the dead man’s movements and keeps drawing a blank. Olivia says that her father was a heavy winner the night before and Jacob asks Malachi to check the casino footage.

They find the man playing the night before, just as Olivia said, but there is no sign of him the night he went missing.

Walt stops by the school to drop off the girl’s  homework and he learns more about the missing Vincent Parr and his wife.  Parr is the guidance counselor at the high school and “one of the good ones” according to Olivia’s teacher. She tells Walt that Melissa seems to have an substance abuse problem.

Walt thinks that since Vincent was a heavy winner, that Malachi is up to his old tricks.   However as Walt and Vic question Olivia’s mother she  proves to be evasive and vague.

Donna finally responds to one of Walt’s calls. He asks her to check on Melissa. When she arrives Vic rips a strip off the doctor for not taking Walt’s calls. The two women have a little cat fight of the verbal variety and at the end Donna realizes she is in the wrong.

As the investigation continues it turns out that Vincent was not a “good one” after all. He was an abusive alcoholic who beat his wife and kept their daughter away from her.

Part of what Walt learns is that a company is renting out room 503 and Jacob then learns that it is being used for prostitution.  It seems that Jacob is getting tired of Malachi’s illegal activities. He learns what is going on in 503 by hiding cameras in the room.

A witness tells Vic that Melissa was near where Vincent’s body was found Mrs. Parr becomes the prime suspect.

A packet of half-eaten skittles in Vincent’s car and lack of car keys leads Walt to the killer. It was Olivia.  The 10 year old knew about her dad beating Melissa and she was protecting her mother.

By the end of the episode Olivia is in counseling and Cady finds a office. (It is a foreclosed home on the reservation.)  Jacob has tasked Henry with keeping an eye out for Manifest Destinations on Malachi’s books.

On a sidenote Cady gets the best line of the episode.  She asks Henry, “you love me like a father don’t you?” Henry responds in the affirmative.

“Well you are underestimating me like a father too.”

Ouch.

Due to Vic’s verbal telling off of Donna, the doctor does apologize to Walt and they get back together.

It does not go smoothly.  Donna first tells Walt she is pregnant. He offers to make it legal and she then explains that she is not really pregnant.  She was, she says,  trying to make a point.

While they drink a beer, she asks Walt if he knows how babies are made.  Apparently despite all the heavy breathing in the season four finale, they never actually “got physical.”

Walt explains that with the concussion he really does not remember if they had sex or not.

This episode was top notch. The mystery of Vincent’s death and his hidden abuse, along with the false face he presented to his colleagues was brilliant and touching.

On a sidenote it is interesting that Malachi helps Walt out when he wants to search room 503. Perhaps the man is not all bad.

“Chrysalis” saw Vic reach new heights of loyalty to Walt and her telling off  Donna was brilliant. (So too was Donna’s reaction to it. “Just stop with the subtle insinuations. Especially since you aren’t very good at the subtle part.”)

Longmire manages to cover  domestic violence with this storyline; keeping to the show’s tendency of covering topical issues. It could well be a personal favorite out of the new season.

All 10 episodes are available to stream over on Netflix right now. Mosey on over and catch this or all the cowboy detective’s cases from season five.

Cast:

Guest starring  Hannah Nordberg as Olivia Parr,  Anne Dudek as Melissa Parr and Beau Garrett  as Shawna Crawford.