By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
One can only imagine the pressure Jennifer
Hudson endured as she took on the role of Aretha Franklin in
"Respect" when it was Franklin herself, the Queen of Soul, who
specifically recommended that Hudson play the part. Unfortunately,
Franklin did not live to see the final product, but it is likely
safe to say she would have approved.
Hudson, an Oscar winner for her work in
"Dreamgirls" in 2006 -- her first movie role, by the way -- is a
sure bet to receive an Academy Award nomination for "Respect," if
nothing else for her superb vocal imitation of Franklin's masterful
Director Liesl Tommy, who interestingly
directed a "The Walking Dead" episode a couple of years ago, guided
Hudson through some rousing musical numbers -- in recording studios,
in church and in live concert performances, but it all could only be
carried out successfully using someone with Hudson's enormous
But like many movie biographies of people
who achieved the apex of success, "Respect" does have to deal with
the usual dark side these stars endured. Interestingly, Franklin
grew up in a well-to-do environment, obviously the most favored
daughter of C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker), pastor and pillar of
the local African-American community. C.L. not only has Aretha as a
child (Skye Dakota Turner in an astounding performance dramatically
and vocally) sing in church but also has her sing during social
gatherings at the Franklin home.
On the other hand, C.L. and his wife Barbara
(Audra McDonald) have split up and C.L. has full custody of the
children. Young Aretha adores her mother and anxiously anticipates
Barbara's visits, until Barbara dies. Despondent, Aretha goes silent
for awhile. Then there is the apparent abuse of young Aretha by a
man in the Franklin inner circle and as a young adult Aretha already
has two sons born out of wedlock.
Why C.L. is not enraged by this is never
explained. But anyway, C.L. is the driving force behind Aretha's
early career and under the production of John Hammond (Tate
Donovan), Aretha records four albums of classic standards, no doubt
impeccable recordings but not big sellers. As Aretha says wistfully,
she wants to put out a hit record. Enter Ted White (Marlon Wayans),
whom C.L. despises, but Aretha defiantly enters into both a
professional and intimate relationship with him.
While White is instrumental in changing the
trajectory of Aretha's career that led to its worldwide success,
hooking her up with a new producer Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron), he
turns out to be an abusive prick and eventually Aretha is able to
walk away from him.
Then the alcohol kicks in. As portrayed here
in the script by Tracey Scott Wilson, who also collaborated with
Callie Khouri on the story, Aretha slips emotionally after the
assassination of Martin Luther King, and even that does not lead to
any reconciliation with C. L., a close friend of King's. And as has
been put on film before, we see a star go on stage drunk or
otherwise under the influence of some substance, ruining the show.
Then the eventual bottoming out.
Thankfully for Aretha, and for the rest of
us, Aretha found redemption in going back to her spiritual roots
that did lead to her reconciling with her father and the production
of her spiritual and most successful album, "Amazing Grace."
"Respect" is worth viewing just to see
Hudson excel in the musical numbers, some of which can induce
chills. I had one bone to pick. At the end of the movie as the
credits role, the film goes split screen and while the credits
scroll up on the left, on the right is the footage of Aretha singing
at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. So the credits don't
get the credit of being seen.
ESPECT" Official Trailer:
From musical artistry in "Respect" to
bone-crunching, ass-kicking mastery, we have "The Protege." Though
she does not get top billing in "The Protege," Maggie Q as Anna is
the uncontested star of this movie. She has to share screen time
with iconic scene-stealer Samuel L. Jackson and engage in mind games
and physical brutality exercises with Michael Keaton, and Maggie Q.
holds her own.
The story begins in the vicious final days
of the Vietnam conflict when Anna as a child (Eva Nugyen Thorsen)
witnesses the slaughter of her family and soon discovers she has a
stunning ability to kill people. Still, she is only a child but fate
leads to her meeting professional assassin Moody (Jackson) , who
gets her out of Da Nang and she becomes his protege.
Jump ahead a few decades and Anna now is a
coldly efficient professional assassin. She is seen as a white-hat
assassin, as she truly believes her targets are bad people who
deserve to die.
When Moody is targeted by other assassins,
Anna goes into full revenge mode but finds herself going against one
of those patented well-armed and supposedly well-trained units whose
existence is to help operate and protect to interests of a
well-connected man who on the surface appears to be a great
humanitarian and philanthropist but has his hands dirty all over the
A good chunk of the movie follows Anna as
she unravels the mystery behind this powerful man, played by David
Rintoul but whose identity cannot be revealed here because of a
SPOILER ALERT, and lands her in the sights of Rembrandt (Keaton) who
is sort of a cleaner for the powerful man's organization, tasked
with toning down the bloodshed but a man who can inflict a lot of
damage on his own.
Anna and Rembrandt spar vocally with heavily
sexual conversation, brutally kick the hell out of each other and
then make love. Naturally.
Rembrandt's boss worries that the man might
be too obsessed with Anna to be able to objectively counter her
moves. Rembrandt insists he is only curious but as sharp is he is,
he makes himself vulnerable to Anna and her strategy.
"The Protege" -- directed by Martin
Campbell, who helmed James Bond adventures "Goldeneye" and "Casino
Royale" -- features a lot of shooting, fighting, explosions and some
twists. Not particularly groundbreaking, it is a film much like
"Atomic Blonde" -- a delight in which a woman can and will prevail
over the forces of evil.
PROTEGE" Official Trailer:
"DON'T BREATHE 2"
A surprise hit in 2016, netting $89 million
at the box office in the U.S. and $157 million worldwide -- and
picking up 21 nominations and seven awards from various horror /
sci-fi groups and film fests -- "Don't Breathe" was a thriller /
horror flick that twisted things around and forced audiences to
question their allegiance to the characters. Starting with a simple
premise of three disenfranchised young people who burglarize homes
around the perimeter of Detroit and who meet their match when they
decide to victimize a blind, hermit-like war veteran, the movie
tosses a wrench into the mix with a revelation about the blind man
that changes the whole complexion of the story and the character
dynamics. In the end the most sympathetic character is Rocky (Jane
Levy), one of the burglars who almost is victimized by the blind
man's tortured and near demented effort to rebuild the family he
lost. Rocky is motivated to use money obtained via her crimes to
take her younger sister and flee to California, away from her trashy
mother and the woman's deadbeat boyfriend. In this she succeeds.
But also surviving is the blind man, Norman
Nordstrom (Stephen Lang), who in the aftermath of his deadly
encounter with the burglars is portrayed in the media as a war hero
now a victim of crime.
Which leads us into "Don't Breathe 2." The
original writing-directing team of Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues is
back for this sequel, but they switched duties. Alvarez directed the
original but the sequel is helmed by Sayagues. However, both again
collaborated on the screenplay.
From the start the film leaves us guessing.
It opens with a scene of a house engulfed in flames and on the
street maybe a hundred yards away is a little girl, unconscious or
dead. The timeline jumps eight years and we meet an older, but still
pre-teen girl named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace). She lives with her
father who happens to be Nordstrom. Of course, based on what we know
about Nordstrom, red flags go up about whether this child is really
Aside from that, Nordstrom and Phoenix live
a very pandemic-like existence. Nordstrom is almost pathologically
overly protective of Phoenix, home-schooling her and having her go
through survival exercises. The only other human contact for these
two is Hernandez (Stephanie Arcila), a former Army Ranger like
Nordstrom, who runs errands for the blind man and when given the OK
by Nordstrom, takes Phoenix along on her trips into town.
Phoenix is restless, wanting to go to school
while also pining to live in a nearby orphanage. When she complains
she has no friends, Nordstrom says, you have me. "That's not
enough," she declares.
This impasse is interrupted when a group of
men, lead by Raylan (Brendon Sexton III) with ties to an at-large
organ harvester, zero in on Phoenix, thus leading to a deadly battle
between Raylan's men and a sole blind man. Nordstrom puts up a good
fight but is overwhelmed.
At this point we learn the truth about
Phoenix and why Raylan went after her. While it is evident Raylan is
not a stellar citizen we almost forgive him for snatching Phoenix
from Nordstrom. But then we find out Raylan's real motivation is so
sick and depraved we can only hope Nordstrom can recover from his
defeat and make things right.
In notes about "Don't Breathe 2," the team
of Alvarez and Sayagues wanted to set things up to turn Nordstrom
from villain to hero. Not hard to make Raylan detestable even before
his dealings with Phoenix when we see his attitude toward dogs.
"Don't Breathe 2" is brutal. The body count
is much higher than that of the original, expected with the amount
of antagonists Nordstrom and Phoenix must face. Lang endures some
hellacious beatdowns while this movie does delve a little more into
his character. His own self-evaluation is less than favorable but we
can see his passion and what he is willing to do to defend what is
dear to him.
Advisory: Sit through the closing credits.
It seems the inserting of a tease at the end of movies, a device
used in Marvel comic movies, is becoming more widely used in other
BREATHE 2" Official Trailer:
"TED BUNDY: AMERICAN BOOGEYMAN"
Presented as a one-night Fathom Events
screening on Aug. 16, "Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman" is another
look at one of the most notorious serial killers in American
history. There is a morbid fascination with people who kill at
random, with books, documentaries, movies and more about such
horrifying people as Bundy, Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez,
Charles Manson, Ed Gein (loosely the inspiration for the "Texas
Chainsaw Massacre" films as well as "Silence of the Lambs") and
others. Psychologists could write dissertations as to why this is.
Writer-director Daniel Farrands is well
qualified to present a story about Ted Bundy. His film work has
included him serving as a writer, producer or director on such
projects as documentaries on the "Friday the 13th" films, the
makings of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Scream," as well as
helming "The Amityville Murders," "The Haunting of Sharon Tate" and
"The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson."
His take on Ted Bundy in "American
Boogeyman," focuses less on the savvy serial killer and more on the
victims and the key law enforcement officials tasked with tracking
A prelude to "American Boogeyman" is a brief
documentary on the life of Bundy, which helps clear the way for
Farrands to direct attention to those who suffered at the hands of
Chad Michael Murray as Bundy has his moments
as his methods of luring young women into his web of death are seen,
but the motives behind his evil are left to be pondered by the key
elements of law enforcement, specifically FBI agents Robert Ressler
(Jake Hays, son of Robert "Airplane" Hays and Cherie Currie) and
Kathleen McChesney (Holland Rodan from "Escape Room: Tournament of
Champions"). For McChesney there is personal motivation, as her
sister was abducted and murdered much like Bundy's victims.
Bundy's murder sprees took place in the
Pacific Northwest, mid-America and Florida. There was a pause in
this as he was convicted and imprisoned but escaped (according to
books about Bundy, he deliberately dieted to lose weight so he could
crawl through air vents to make his escape).
The last act of "American Boogeyman" centers
around one of Bundy's final acts of brutality. He is seen renting a
room near Florida State University, ominously next to the Chi Omega
sorority house. The haunting score composed by Steve Moore delivers
a sense of dread here.
Other than the scenes in which one young
woman, Carol DaRonch (Olivia DeLaurentis, daughter of Diane
Franklin) manages to escape from Bundy and later identifies him in a
lineup and bravely is determined to testify against him, the college
women in the sorority house have the most screen time among the
On that horrific night of Jan. 15, 1978,
Bundy broke into the sorority house and bludgeoned five women --
Margaret Bowman (Leslie Stratton), Lisa Levy (Alexandra Scott),
Karen Chandler (Marietta Melrose), Kathy Kleiner (McKenna
Alvizo) and Cheryl Thomas (uncredited in the movie). Bowman and
Levy died after being strangled while the other three though
seriously injured did survive.
Farrands took some license in this portion
of the film, showing McChesney going into the sorority house just
after the attacks while Bundy calmly walks away. My research never
confirmed McChesney was there. Bundy did get away and attacked
another woman nearby and nearly a month later claimed his final
victim, 15-year-old Kimberly Leach, before being arrested during a
traffic stop on Feb. 15, 1978. It was nearly 11 years later, after
much court shenanigans, that Bundy was executed on January 24, 1989.
While most of the cast is made up of little
known people, two icons of horror make appearances. Diane Franklin
has a short but intense cameo as Mrs. Healy, mother of Lynda Ann
Healy, the first confirmed victim of Bundy. And Lin Shaye, from the
"Insidious" film series, portrays Bundy's mother, who appears a bit
befuddled but serene over what her son turned out to be.
As Franklin noted in a pre-screening
interview, the movie was designed by Farrands to not glorify Bundy.
In this the film he succeeds. While Murray's performance does
capture some of Bundy's lethally misguided charm, he is seen as
soulless -- a man with no true connection to life.
"Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman" will be
offered on video on demand and available on DVD starting in early
September. It is definitely worth a look. Farrands has also
completed filming on "Aileen Wournos: American Boogeywoman,"
featuring Disney's "Jessie" alum Peyton List as this killer female.
BUNDY: AMERICAN BOOGEYMAN" Official Trailer:
BONUS FEATURE: Other movies about
"The Deliberate Stranger" (1986): Decades
before Mark Harmon surged into immortality as Leroy Jethro Gibbs in
"NCIS," he portrayed Bundy in a movie that Bundy defense attorney
Polly Nelson described as "stunningly accurate."
"Ted Bundy" (2002): Labeled "exploitive" by
some critics, this movie stars Michael Reilly Burke as the serial
killer, picking up Bundy's life in 1974. Burke's performance was
deemed by many to be the best aspect of the movie.
"The Stranger Beside Me" (2003): Based upon
the book of the same title by the prolific true-crime writer Ann
Rule (1931-2015). Rule and Bundy worked at a suicide hotline crisis
center together in Seattle and were friends. Even after she became
aware of Bundy's murders, she kept in contact with him upon his
imprisonment, offering insight for her book, which in paperback is
625 pages. In this movie, Billy Campbell plays Bundy and Barbara
Hershey stars as Rule.
"The Riverman" (2004): Thomas Harris' now
iconic character Dr. Hannibal Lector is based upon the fact that
Bundy, after being convicted, provided his pathological insights to
professor Robert Keppel, who was trying to track down the Green
River killer -- dubbed The Riverman -- in the Pacific Northwest.
Harris built the Lector character under the basis that a serial
killer would be willing to offer tips and a look into another
killer's mind. Cary Elwes plays Bundy in this movie.
"Bundy: An American Icon" aka "Bundy: A
Legacy of Evil" (2008): Directed by Michael Feifer, this movie
explores Bundy's life from childhood to his final arrest. Starring
Corin Nemec, it was panned by critics and mostly forgotten now.
"The Capture of the Green River Killer"
(2008): Another look at how Bundy offered his insights in helping
track down the Green River killer. James Marsters, Spike in "Buffy
the Vampire Slayer," takes on the role of Bundy.
"Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile"
(2019): Based upon the book by Bundy's former girlfriend Elizabeth
Kendall titled "The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy," Zac
Efron gets a chance to portray Bundy in the film that begins when
Bundy and Kendall met in 1969. The title of the movie is taken from
Judge Edward Cowart's comments upon sentencing Bundy to death.
"No Man of God" (2021): A crime mystery
directed by Amber Sealey and written by C. Robert Cargill, this film
is based upon taped conversations between Bundy and FBI analyst Bill
Hagmaier. Luke Kirby plays Bundy and Elijah Wood plays Hagmaier.