The Hero (2017): Downbeat and Deep Sam Elliot Rocks (Review)

 MV5BMWRjMTlkOGEtODlkZC00ZThkLTg4NDctMTM0NDkzZGY2ZTEwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_

Written for Sam Elliot and directed by Brett Haley, The Hero is a loving homage to the star and his long running career as consummate character actor. This deep and downbeat drama also manages to pay tribute to all those TV westerns where Sam, along with fan favorite Tom Selleck, helped to bring the tales of Louis L’Amour to life. Elliot, in short, rocks in his performance and should, if nothing else, get an Oscar nod for this role.

This is not a fun film to watch. With the exception of the award ceremony where Elliot proves he can play “high” with the best of them, the film is a cold hard look at the profession, aging and, ultimately, death. It also, through the auspices of Laura Prepon, tells us that romance is not dead at 71.

Co-written by Haley and Marc Basch The Hero tells the story of Lee Hayden. (Can there be a better name than this for a one time western star?) Lee is 71. His glory days are far behind him and he is estranged from his daughter (Krysten Ritter). Lee learns that he is to receive an award for his star turn in an old western “The Hero.” 

Before he can attend the ceremony, Lee marches through his days as a voice over artist; flogging barbecue sauce, smoking pot and wondering about his existence. He meets Charlotte (Prepon) who has a thing for older men and Lee learns that he is in the final stages of pancreatic cancer.

The Hero is a slow, almost languid, film. It is more interested in looking at Lee’s state of mind and the internal machinations of a man who knows he is dying. (There is a sort of irony at work here. Patrick Swayze – Elliot’s co-star in Roadhouse – died from pancreatic cancer. As this was written for Elliot, it stands to reason that this may be a slight nod to the late actor.)

The film has a fine mix of comedic moments (very low key) and a number of tearful scenes. Elliot’s resurgence in the social realm, after his award speech is broadcast on YouTube, leads to an audition. It is not a surprising scene. There is a splendid buildup to the moment in a previous scene.

Lee reads his sides with onetime costar and drug dealer Jeremy (Nick Offerman).  The lines deal with a space cowboy who is trying to save his estranged daughter. Themes of desertion, death and betrayal resonate in the brief bit of dialogue and the stage is set for what transpires later. 

Katherine Ross (Elliot’s real life wife) plays his ex with conviction and the only complaint here would be with her lack of screen time. This is, however, Elliot’s story so everyone else must stay on the periphery of the tale. The Hero strides slowly towards its somewhat ambiguous ending with a pace that is evocative of a western hero striding slowly down main street; spurs jangling, to that fateful shootout.

Prepon is spot on as Hayward’s young poetry obsessed lover. Ritter proves that whether she is playing a Marvel superhero, doomed drug addict or the  estranged daughter of a self centered actor, she  nails the character completely.

The Hero is the perfect counterpoint to the redneck comedy on Netflix where Elliot has been both miscast and misplaced. The actor can do comedy brilliantly and still manages to, with nary a word spoken, show pathos almost effortlessly.

(When Sam cries we all cry, such is his depth and honesty.)

The Hero is a full five star film, despite its somewhat lacklustre ending. The film is one that needs to be seen and savoured. Haley has put his heart and soul into this cinematic love letter to Elliot and this should net some gongs at the next Oscar ceremony.

Orange Is the New Black: People Persons – Suzanne and Lolly (Review)

Uzo Aduba as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren

The torturous punishment of Flores, and more recently Piper, ends with the discovery of the body in the garden.  All of Litchfield is placed in lockdown.  Orange Is the New Black “People Persons” takes us that step closer to a meltdown at the minimum security facility. This episode also looks at  Suzanne’s backstory and there is a heart wrenching end to Healy and Lolly’s sessions.

“People Persons” was a tissue box bonanza as everything starts falling  apart at Litchfield. Finding the body has begun  a domino tumbling exercise that will end in tears for more than one inmate in the prison.

When the body is found Caputo leaves Piscatella in charge and most of the Corrections Officers go off the rails. Only Donuts and Bayley question what is going on. As the alarm sounds for lockdown, Healy asks what is going on.

He finds out that a guard’s chopped up body was discovered in the gardening area.  Sam realizes that Lolly was actually telling the truth.

Warren speaks with Maureen (Emily Althaus) and Taystee suggests that she give Kukudio some room.  “She gave you blue labes,” Taystee says and she indicates she thinks Maureen is crazy. 

Suzanne’s Flashback:

Suzanne  Warren is a “greeter” or welcome lady, for a store. She is popular with the staff and the customers, especially the children. She really likes Dylan and his family. After she greets the group, Suzanne learns she has won “Employee of the Month.”

She rushes home to relay the good news and discovers that she will be alone for the weekend. Suzanne does not like being by herself. Her sister tells her that there is food in the fridge and that they are only a phone call away.

In the park Warren bumps into Dylan playing with his new truck.  She invites him to have ice cream and she brings him home to play video games.  Dylan gets scared and calls 9-1-1. Suzanne tells him off for calling the number for a non-emergency.  The boy tries to get out of the front door but cannot.

Dylan  then climbs out the window to the fire escape. Suzanne tries to pull him back in and he topples over the edge of the railing to his death.

The Staff:

The Corrections Officers are upset that the dead man has not been identified.  They believe him to be a fellow officer which he was not. He was a hitman hired to kill Alex.  This annoyance starts the ball rolling as they decide to ignore everything Caputo tells them.

Piscatella takes the lead and starts questioning inmates, even though Caputo said not to. Donuts questions the captain and gets sent out to stand guard over the body parts. Luschek makes fun of Donuts and gets sent to protect Judy King. Everyone else watches the inmates during the lockdown or rounds-up inmates for questioning.

The Comedy:

Donuts while watching the body parts keeps hearing noises in the tiny cornfield. Bayley brings him a book; Stephen King’s It, and twice the new officer scares Donuts when he visits.

Luschek ends up in a molly-taking  sex session with Judy King and Yoga Jones (Constance Schulman). The morning after sees both Jones and Luschek disturbed by what they have done while Judy carries on as if nothing happened. 

Sam Healy: 

Healy realizes he misdiagnosed Lolly and it has destroyed him.  Sam leaves Litchfield, he passes Luschek on the way to work. He tells the other officer he needs something from his car.  Healy heads down to have ice cream and later heads to a lake.

He calls Katya and leaves a message saying she does not have to call him back. He then walks into the water; he is committing suicide. Just as the water reaches shoulder height, his cell phone on the bank rings.

He wades back to the shore and finds it is work.

Suzanne in the Present:

Maureen approaches Suzanne who takes Taystee’s advice and gives the other woman some space. Humphrey tries to instigate a fight between one of the supremacists and Suzanne.  She refuses.

Kukudio volunteers to fight the “retard” and all the officers urge the two to fight. Maureen is the aggressor but never lands a punch. Suzanne flips out and beats the other woman bloody. Humphrey declares he has won $20.

Red:

Piscatella zeroes in on Red for questioning. As she and the captain engage in a battle of wits, her bunk, living area and work place are all searched. The dead guard’s keys are found behind the oven.

When the keys are brought into the interrogation room, it seems that Red will give up Lolly.

Lolly:

Despite appearances, it is not Red who snitches on Lolly, but Sam. The staff cannot find her and Piscatella starts to sound the alarm. Healy knows where she is though. He takes the officers down to Lolly’s time machine.

She is there, clutching a potato and trying to travel through time. Healy takes Lolly to the psychiatric wing. At the gate, she is escorted by two guards as Sam watches through the bars.

Lolly begins to panic and calls out to Healy. He remains silent,  tears in his eyes as they take her down the hallway. Finally, with Lolly’s cries echoing down the hall, Sam turns and leaves.

Thoughts:

This episode of Orange Is the New Black did so much. It was a poke in the eye for private prisons for a start. The scene with Caputo and Linda, where it is revealed that she has never visited  a prison yet works at purchasing for the system is infuriating.

The staff are not trained properly and therefore begin bullying in earnest when they are put in charge of the inmates while Caputo is gone.

Suzanne’s backstory was heartbreaking. She clearly was not ready to be left on her own so Dylan’s death was really down to her sister.  When Dylan falls over the railing it is shocking to the extreme.

Sam’s suicide attempt is also horrible and it serves as a precursor to what happens to Lolly.

This episode was hard to get through without going through an entire box of tissues. it was full of heartache. Sam, Suzanne and Lolly all brought tears to our eyes in “People Persons.”

Orange Is the New Black falls right smack in dramedy territory. This episode, except for Donuts and Luschek, was all tragedy.  There are two episodes left in this season, if you have not watched the entire thing already, start watching the series now.

CAST:

Orange Is the New Black: Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull – Diaz and Movie Night (Review)

Movie Night OITNB

Things have been cranked up a notch in Orange Is the New Black “Bunny, Skull, Bunny, Skull.” Diaz is finally released from the prison and things do not go well for her.  Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” tries to reconcile with her gingerbread sweetheart and Flores is still on that table in the dining hall. Movie night almost turns into a race riot and Nicky is going cold turkey, sort of.

To make matters worse, that dead body in the garden is discovered when the sewer line has to be diverted through it and the greenhouse.  All hell is about to break loose in Litchfield. The prison is already a pretty tense place with the “rise” of Piper’s supremacist  group and this find will blow things up.

Sister’s mission to find and photograph Sophia (Laverne Cox) falls flat when Ingalls (Beth Fowler) sneezes and her smuggled cell phone falls out of her vagina.  Later Caputo lectures the Sister on her behavior. He then takes the phone and uses it to photograph  Burset in the SHU.  

He meets with Danny Pearson (Mike Birbiglia) and gives him the phone with the picture. He wants to blow the lid off the whole issue but not be connected with it. Pearson’s reaction to the phone that was in a “nun’s vagina” is hysterically funny.  

Taystee picks “The Wiz” for movie night and she appears to be the only inmate who loves the film.  The white group try to intimidate the black inmates watching the film and as result movie night is cut short.

Blanca has not budged from her spot on the table. Urine stains are on her uniform and the tabletop.  The COs are not relenting and other inmates attempt to give her food and drinks. Piscatella (Brad William Henke) is furious at these infractions and promises that who ever does it again will be crawling back to there cell. 

The “white” group throw food at Flores and mock her. The CO who ordered Blanca to stand on  the table is supported by “his brotherhood” and this will end in tears.  Regardless of the officers sticking together, the tensions are rising between the staff and inmates.  Humphrey’s act of depravity towards Maritza (Diane Guerrero) is a sign that at least some of the guards should not be in charge of other people. 

Outside the prison Diaz is struggling to cope with the reality of being free. Her friend spent all her money and sold her clothes. “But not your shoes,” she says.  Diaz snaps at other customers in a cafe and is not finding her freedom to be quite what she expected.

Inside Litchfield, Dayanara (Dacha Polanco gravitates toward Maria and her drug running gang in the beauty shop. Gloria (Selenium Leyva) tries to warn Diaz’s daughter off but she refuses to take her advice.

Red puts an embargo on Nicky (Natasha Lyonne) getting drugs from anyone.  Frustrated, Nichols takes some weed from Luschek (Matt Peters). Suzanne sneaks out of movie night to spend some broom closet time with Kukudio (Emily Althaus).

The plan is to “do the dance of no pants” with her friend from the woods. Maureen takes Crazy Eyes right up to the point of orgasm and then stops.  Her revenge on Suzanne for leaving her in the woods.

Piper leaves a granola bar on the table near Blanca. She is forced, by another guard, to stand on the table with Flores. “Your scent is…strong,” Piper  tells her table mate. “Breathe through your mouth,” Blanca replies.

Piscatella tells his officers that he will stand behind their actions. He also denigrates Caputo for not leaving his office and walking the “trenches.”

Orange Is the New Black is heading for a meltdown in the prison. Even minimum security inmates will riot if given a reason. The new COs are mostly comprised of bullies and Humphrey is clearly a sick individual.  Overcrowding, emphasis being placed on the Dominican prisoners and racial unrest are making Litchfield a kettle ready to boil.

Finding the  body is a real game changer here. With tension already near breaking point,  this is the icing on the cake.

Orange Is the New Black is streaming on Netflix. Watch the whole season or enjoy each episode one at a time.

 

CAST:

Orange Is the New Black: Turn Table Turn – Blanca (Review)

Laura Gómez as Blanca Flores

In”Turn Table Turn” Blanca (played by Laura Gómez) has her  backstory  featured and Maritza (Diane Guerrero) learns that CO Thomas Humphrey (Michael Torpey) is a dangerous and slightly mad bully.  Sister Jane  Ingalls (Beth Fowler) has a hard time getting anyone to send her to the SHU. Caputo questions Judy King (Blair Brown) and Cindy (Adrienne C. Moore) about that picture and Nicky decides to get sober. 

This was a busy episode of Orange is the New Black. Blanca’s flashbacks show a very different woman from the Litchfield inmate with the Frida Kahlo mono-brow and poor hygiene. Unlike some of the other women’s backstories, Ramos’ life is transformed by love.

Or at the very least a combination of lust and frustration with her dictatorial boss. The unpleasant and bossy woman she cares for fires the Dario, aka Diablo (Miguel Izaguirre).  Blanca, whom the woman calls “Bianca,” is furious and later has sex with the man by her employer’s bed. 

The worm has turned.

Caputo suspects that someone took King and Cindy’s picture in the prison . He also tells the two inmates that their “affair” better be real. Piscatella (Brad William Henke) orders a search for mobile phones. Ironically,  Luschek (Matt Peters) is put in charge of the detail. 

Maritza incurs Maria’s wrath when her drug contact is chased off by officers. She believes that Flores is behind it  trying to  quit her courier duty. Ramos reminds Ruiz that she is not even Dominican and the gang leader tells the younger inmate to leave.

Boo (Lea DeLaria) is furious with Doggett (Taryn Manning) for accepting Coates’ apology.  Soso (Kimiko Glenn) is upset that Judy King’s multiracial relationship has turned her and Poussey into “Kim and Kanye.” 

Ingalls is successful in getting sent to the SHU.  Nicky finally goes to Red for help and Piper and Alex dream of cheeseburgers.

Maritza and Marisol (Jackie Cruz) play a game in the dining hall called “Gun to Your Head.” They ask each other questions. The first is whether or not to run a 72 year-old grandmother down. Maritza choses to run grandma down. 

The next question is, “Gun to your head: swallow 10 dead flies or a live baby mouse.” Humphrey listens  to their game and Marisol warns Maritza. He tells Maritza is Spanish that he knows about the van. Later he takes the inmate  to his house.  On the table are 10 dead flies and a live baby mouse.

He puts a gun to Maritza’s head…

The Latino population are still being targeted for searches and Blanca soon discovers that her smell stops the officers from rubbing her down. She increases the smell using smoked oyster juice and other fish oils. CO Stratman (Evan Hall) is disgusted with Ramos’ body odor and tells her to wash, “with soap.” 

It soon becomes a battle of wills between the inmate and the officer.  After repeated warnings to clean herself up, Stratman snaps when Blanca walks past him in the dining area. Furious, he orders her to stand on a dining table until she decides to clean up.

Stratman asks CO Dixon (Mike Houston) about his action and the other officer says he may have made a mistake. Blanca glares at the two men from the tabletop. 

The episode ends with Blanca on that table. This is something that will not end well for anyone. The officer has overstepped his authority and this could blow up in his face.

Kudos to Ms. Lyonne for her portrayal of a “blasted” Nicky. Her wandering and unfocussed  eyes combined with her scattered speech pattern were spot on. Gongs for this talented lady come Emmy time should be a no brainer for anyone on the committee.

Orange Is the New Black is steaming on Netflix.  Cracking television that can be watched all in one go. Check it out.

CAST:

Orange Is the New Black: Friends in Low Places – Branded Pt 2 (Review)

Judy King kissing Cindy OITNB

In the previous episode of Orange Is the New Black, Piper was branded by Maria and her gang.  “Friends in Low Places” sees Chapman get a new brand and Judy has her picture taken kissing Cindy.  Nichols puts the make on her old girlfriend while stealing from Red to finance her reawakened drug habit.

Caputo is upset that his education initiative has been turned into “Cool Hand Luke” and Linda pulls a gun on Sophia Burset’s wife.  She turns up at Caputo’s house demanding to know how Sophia (Laverne Coxis doing. MCC  is stonewalling the woman and using their private status to withhold information.  Somewhat bizarrely Mrs. Burset is accompanied by her boyfriend.

At the start of “Friends in Low Places” Judy King is still terrified of being attacked for her 1980s racist videos.  A corrections officer even has to watch over the celebrity prisoner in the showers.

Standout Moment of the Episode:

Suzanne “Crazy Eyes”  Warren (played by two-time Emmy winning actress Uzo Aduba) steals the entire episode.  As King returns to her cell with the CO escort, Suzanne swans by with a long white sock on her left hand and arm. Using the sock as a puppet she sings a song from King’s ’80s “racist” video. A truly hysterical moment that shows all too well why Uzo won two Emmy’s for this show.

King later speaks to her biggest fan, Poussey and asks why her fellow inmates want to hurt her. She learns that the “attack” was actually a “paparazzi” moment.  Judy decides to help the enterprising Cindy, Taystee and Alison. She grabs Cindy and gives her a big kiss. Cindy is nonplussed at the action and muses that her mother will see her kiss a white woman.

The former employees of Whispers are called out to the yard for “vocational training” which turns into a behind the walls chain gang. The woman are very impressed with the construction foreman instructor (what a mouthful) who asks if anyone  has experience.

Standout Moment of the Episode Part Two:

Big Boo (Lea DeLaria) makes a reference to the iconic film “All About Eve” to Doggett (Taryn Manning) and the younger inmate goes off on a  riff about Adam and Eve. The expression on Boo’s face is priceless.

Back to the new construction site: No one has prior experience. Then the instructor reveals he needs an  an apprentice is needed all the women, sans Piper, volunteer. The backhoe (digger) breaks down and all the women are handed shovels and hardhats.

Maritza  (Diane Guerrero) is almost caught with contraband and later tries to quit. Maria refuses to let Ramos go. 

After failing to reconnect with her old girlfriend Nicky puts the make on Alex who also turns her down. She does agree to partake in some recreational drugs with Nichols.

Piper is in agony and her brand is bleeding.  Later she joins Alex and Nicky in the cornfield and shares a crack pipe with them. Chapman and Vause then reveal each other’s secrets.   Alex admits to killing her assassin, who is buried under the corn,  and Piper shows them swastika burned onto her forearm.

Later Red helps Chapman out, taking her into the kitchen and changing the swastika to a windows logo.

Honorable Mention:

Nicky Nichols was all wide-eyed in the corn patch.  The eyeliner around her peepers helped emphasis her wild facial expression. She  looked quite mad throughout the big revelatory  crack scene.

Lorna (Yael Stone)is convinced her husband is cheating on her, after her conversation with Nicky earlier. She asks her sister to check on him. Nichols stops by the salon to buy drugs and Aleida  (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is annoyed that Maria is selling drugs in the salon.  

At Caputo’s house Linda proves that she knows nothing about cooking and that she has no problem pulling a gun on someone.  After she threatens Mrs. Burset with the weapon, Linda and Joe presumably have sex.

This episode of Orange Is the New Black has a lot of humor. It also built up future plots by showing that Red  (Kate Mulgrew) knows   Nicky is stealing from her.

Despite the amusing highlights in this episode, the end of “Friends in Low Places” was quite emotional.  Donuts apologies to Doggett and it is a moving moment . As Piper is held down, this time voluntarily,  Red adapts the swastika.  Chapman tearfully says “I’m so  sorry” twice.

Cue viewers reaching for tissue boxes in unison.

With less attention spent on procedures the show was able to spend more time on the inmates.  It served to bring us that bit closer to these prisoners and their lives. Well done OITNB.

Orange Is the New Black is streaming on Netflix. Binge it,  or parcel out the episodes sparingly, but however you do it, watch this show.

CAST: