The Curse Of La Llorona

Don’t unlock that door!  Stay in the car!  Don’t cross that line!

In The Curse Of La Llorona, ignoring perfectly reasonable commands routinely results in completely preventable calamities.  It’s hard to warrant much sympathy for such stupid people.

Who the hell is La Llorona?  In the late 1600s, she was a married woman from Mexico so pissed off at her philandering husband she drowns their two sons.  Belatedly realizing that’s the ultimate self-own, she drowns herself.

300 years later, she’s now in Los Angeles to look for replacement children as a vengeful, not-so-scary-looking spirit.  (Why did she decide to relocate?)  La Llorona means The Weeping Woman which is how she attracts the attention of her vulnerable victims.  She has this perplexing ability to appear and disappear at will.  Sometimes only one person can see her.  Other times, she is visible to everyone.  Chew on that for a while, Sheldon Cooper.

After drowning more kids, the process is endlessly repeated, I presume, because to keep the curse going, her dead victims can’t become spirits like her, they just die.  So, it’s back to more weeping and killing, the very definition of insanity.

Lovely Linda Cardellini, who deserves so much better than this, plays a widowed social worker with two young kids of her own, a son and a daughter.  (Her husband was a cop.  We have no idea how he died although it’s a good bet it happened while he was on duty.)

She’s concerned about another single mom with two sons, a case she’s been closely overseeing for four years.  When she goes to visit her Mexican-American client, she’s acting peculiarly.  Their small apartment is surrounded with lit candles.  More importantly, what’s with all the handdrawn eyes on the closet door?

Clearly spooked by La Llorona, she warns Cardellini not to open it.  She does anyway.  Her equally scared sons urge Cardellini to back off. The social worker doesn’t understand what’s going on and makes a repeated promise she can’t keep.

Later, after La Llorona strikes, Cardellini is woken up in the middle of the night to visit a crime scene.  Question: how do you drown someone in the LA river when there’s barely any water?

Knowing she can’t leave her sleeping kids behind, she drives to the site with them in the back seat.  She tells her son to stay inside and not wake her sister.  He does not obey.  As he quietly observes the police in action from a high perch, here comes the weeping.

After being branded on his right arm, he flees in terror and heads back to the car.  The spirit tortures him by turning door handle after door handle.  La Llorona could easily snatch both kids but apparently would rather do an invisible audition for the CIA than get the job done.  By the time Cardellini returns, she’s long gone.  Shortly thereafter, Cardellini’s daughter will have a similiar experience. 

A helpful priest gives us the back story on the demon spirit.  But instead of getting further help, the family continues to needlessly suffer in silence.  Cardellini’s fellow social workers, including close friend Sean Patrick Thomas (Save The Last Dance), start investigating her children’s injuries, the same markings found on the Latino’s woman’s kids.  When asked directly what caused them, perhaps fearing ridicule and disbelief, they don’t mention the psycho spirit haunting their asses.

Unlike the Mexican-American mom, Cardellini isn’t taken into custody or separated from her kids.  But she does visit her temporarily jailed client who absurdly blames her, not La Llorona for her double tragedy.  (Did she really think those markered eyeballs would stop the spirit from opening that closet door?  You’re not much of a villain if you’re outmatched by a Sharpie.)  That ultimately leads to an unwelcome visit in the film’s finale where she attempts her own Llorona-style kidnapping for reasons that don’t make sense. Then, shortly thereafter, she suddenly and unconvincingly becomes an ally.  Make up your mind, bitch!

Raymond Cruz plays an ex-priest recruited in a fit of desperation once Cardellini learns that the Catholic Church won’t even rule on her case for weeks.  (Fucking bureaucracy.)  He’s part of a long cinematic tradition of colourful shamen whose hocus pocus shenangans don’t pass the smell test.

In a scene that at least contains a couple of genuine laughs, he uses eggs to determine how powerfully evil La Llorona truly is.  After using one like a Geiger counter around the house, he cracks it open and out oozes black yolk.  After spinning around on their own, three more table eggs pop open revealing the same contents.  “Ta-da!”, indeed.  Was this really necessary?

Having already collected the spirit’s tears that somehow when flicked directly onto the villain result in a burning sensation not unlike holy water or in this case, “antivenom”, as Cruz puts it, the family can’t make a run for it.  La Llorona is attached to the family, he asserts, not their house.

So, why the spreading of the seeds from the fire tree around the bottom of their front door?  If the spirit is haunting these three people themselves and not their residence, how would this prevent further hauntings that are already happening on the inside?  (Yes, he gets her out of the house before placing the seeds but still.)  Why would it even need to leave the house in the first place?  Why wouldn’t it just hang around until finally going through with its abduction and murder scheme?  Also, how could you forget about the back door?

Cardellini is not exactly great at protecting her kids, either.  She constantly lets them out of her sight.  (Forget about that stupid doll, young lady.)  When they’re hidden in a closet, instead of staying in that room to keep an eye on things, she goes downstairs with Cruz.  Meanwhile, two threats slip past them both undetected.

I’ve never accepted a supernatural villain that hesitates and delays a surefire evil plan against defenseless human beings.  Consider the moment where Cardellini’s daughter is in the bath tub.  She thinks her mom is behind her.  (Why is Cardellini not there with her as usual?)  Once submerged in the water, she knows better.  But why doesn’t La Llorona finish the job?  What’s with the cowering behind the tub?  I mean, what’s Cardellini gonna do to her?  The spirit always flings her hard against a wall.

By the time we reach the climax in the attic, we’ve climbed the heights of impossibility.  (Yes, I know this is a ludicrous fantasy, but still.)  You’re telling me a gunshot victim can somehow manage to get up there, hand off a weapon in plenty of time to another character while a hard charging ghost forgets to disappear at the moment of impact?

When I was a kid, I was warned about Black Peter.  If I misbehaved, this mythical figure would take away my Christmas gifts.  If Latino kids acted like dicks, they were told they would be kidnapped by La Llorona.

I can think of a worse punishment.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
11:55 p.m.

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Published in: on August 13, 2019 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Wedding Crashers

How do they do it?  How are Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson able to attend so many weddings and receptions without someone realizing the obvious?  They weren’t invited, no one knows who the fuck they are and they’re not charming enough to pull off this shameless charade.

In Wedding Crashers, there’s a quick montage where we see them offer up fake identities to get inside multiple events.  (It seems highly unlikely these very white men would easily get into that Indian wedding with Indian names.)  Once they’re in, they’re the life of the party.  Making toasts, dancing with flower girls, posing for photo-ops with newlyweds, cracking up old men, doing magic tricks and making balloon animals for the rest of the kids.

But their real intention is more nefarious.  They just want to hook up with hot single women and never call them again.  Honestly, they’re not charming enough to pull this off.

Instead of just being themselves, they offer sad sack cover stories meant to make them look more sensitive and sympathetic.  It always works.  But they’re only getting action through manipulation.  They’re no better than those internet pick-up artists.

Wedding Crashers is a combination of two rather tired comedy formulas:  1. the confirmed, self-absorbed bachelor who denounces marriage as “unrealistic” but will reverse himself upon meeting the one.  2. the charming imposter who proves more “real” than anybody else despite maintaining a major fraud through much of the movie.

It opens with Vaughn & Wilson mediating a bitter divorce between Rebecca De Mornay and Dwight Yoakum.  By constantly yammering on about the con of matrimonial monogamy and the joy of empty hook-ups, they manage to defuse all the tension and force an agreement.  (The resigned Yoakum is the only character in Wedding Crashers who acknowledges how irritating they are.)

It is abundantly clear that despite what he believes in that first scene Vaughn will indeed find someone to marry.  That someone turns out to be Isla Fisher, the daughter of Secretary of the Treasury and potential Presidential candidate Christopher Walken.  They have sex on the beach away from yet another reception.  Vaughn is shocked to learn she’s a virgin (she’s not) and that she is already completely obsessed with him.

Determined to get as far away from her as possible, he pleads with Wilson to cut their losses and leave early.  But Wilson has developed an attraction to Rachel McAdams, Fisher’s sister.  Unfortunately, she’s dating philandering douche Bradley Cooper who seems way more interested in his own loveless sexcapades and environmental causes.

How many times have we seen this set-up?  One of our heroes crushes hard on an unavailable woman stuck in a a dead-end relationship she seems too powerless to end.  She clearly likes Wilson and yet makes no effort to free herself to pursue him.  There’s a terrible scene where Cooper, clearly feeling threatened by Wilson, suddenly stands up and declares he’s engaged without actually popping the question to her.

Bizarrely, McAdams goes along with this.  (Did she ever truly like this asshole?)  Now feeling guilty about using a fake name and pretending to be a venture capitalist, Wilson is ready to confess the truth and declare his love.  But before he gets the chance, Cooper outs him.  (Through a friend, he hires a private investigator.)

Vaughn’s cover is blown as well.  After a series of questionable sexual encounters where he clearly does not give his consent, he confides in minister Henry Gibson that that’s no longer a problem.  She lied to him, he lied to her.  She’s a freak.  It’s all good.  What?

Meanwhile, Walken’s wife, Jane Seymour, makes repeated overtures to Wilson, how she hasn’t been faithful in decades and would’ve loved to have seen him play touch football in his undies.  He doesn’t bite.  So, she corners him in a bedroom demanding he inspect her implants.  He isn’t given a choice to leave and that’s a problem.  Seymour’s reaction to his forced groping of her is ridiculous.  Is she really that fussy about how she’s touched?  He doesn’t even want her.

Like a lot of modern comedies, Wedding Crashers feels more desperate than truly outrageous.  Consider Ellen Albertini Dow (the rappin’ Granny from The Wedding Singer).  She plays Walken’s unfiltered mother.  Her grandson Keir O’Donnell is an overly aggressive gay painter (he has a crush on Vaughn) who Dow refers to more than once as a “homo”.  Nope.

Now banished from Walken’s family summer house, Vaughn and Wilson inevitably have a split of their own.  An increasingly depressed Wilson acts even creepier as he becomes a solo act at more weddings and receptions while Vaughn deepens his relationship with Fisher.

Things are so bad for Wilson we briefly see him reading a self-help book called Don’t Jump.  Two years after the release of this movie, the real Owen Wilson attempted suicide.  It’s an uncomfortable moment now, to say the least.

It’s been said that romantic comedies give men bad ideas about how to conduct their own love lives.  Let’s examine what Wilson does to try to get McAdams back.  He calls her multiple times, writes her multiple letters.  No response.  Learning she’ll be at another reception, he conspires with Walken’s Jamaican butler Ron Canada to sneak in as a waiter.  But before he can get to McAdams, he gets pummeled by a threatening Cooper who is clearly only marrying into protection and prestige.

When Vaughn and Fisher decide to get married, with the surprising approval of her family, Wilson reluctantly agrees to be his best man.  He shows up late and once Vaughn vouches for him he starts whispering to McAdams, one of the bridesmaids, who eventually gets fed up and starts to walk out of the church.

Then comes that moment you always expect in a movie like this:  the big “heartfelt” speech, where the undeterred “reformed” guy somehow makes everything alright again and the woman who repeatedly ignored his previous attempts at reconciliation suddenly is all in again.  Not a good message for boys.  This never happens in real life.  You don’t want submission and resignation.  It’s not healthy.

Wedding Crashers was a monster hit fourteen years ago.  Considering how much the culture around sex and consent has evolved since then, it might as well have been released in the seventies.  It is extraordinarily outdated.  It clearly doesn’t like women very much.  And it doesn’t give us appealing male leads to root for.

Vince Vaughn has continually radiated insincerity in the few onscreen performances of his that I’ve seen.  When he’s not being humourlessly sarcastic, he’s falsely vulnerable and an unapologetic sleaze.  His rapid fire delivery grates.  Switch to decaf, bitch.  It’s as though he’s always in a rush to get through this shit so he can go on to the next terrible movie he’s signed up for so he can steamroll through that one, too.

I liked Owen Wilson in The Haunting but he too has become an unwelcome presence in the movies.  Like Vaughn, he offers up the same stock performance over and over again.  I can’t take his nasally delivery any longer.  When he goes for sweetness, it feels dishonest and smarmy.  And like his co-star, I find him completely unfunny in this movie.  Then again, the screenplay is like one big giant bomb factory.  It’s shockingly mediocre.

Thank God for Will Ferrell.  Although so much more could’ve been done with his “inspirational” character, he’s the only funny thing in Wedding Crashers.  He’s not doing anything particularly special, either.  But he breaks the comedic dry spell, albeit far too briefly.

Something is seriously wrong with the current state of American film comedies if this is considered a high point.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, August 8, 2019
12:50 a.m.

Published in: on August 8, 2019 at 12:51 am  Leave a Comment  

That Darn Cat! (1965)

Movies about animals that are smarter than human beings are usually not very good.  The original That Darn Cat! proves the point once again.

Released in 1965 and based on the novel Undercover Cat (the screenplay was co-written by the book’s authors), it asks us to accept that the FBI’s best lead in a robbery/kidnapping case is a bitchy, insatiable Siamese house pet with an odd taste for dog food.

Literally named “Darn Cat”, or DC for short (a sanitized version of his real name which I suspect is “Damn”), every night at the stroke of nine, he awakens from his deep slumber, trots down the family stairwell, walks out the cat door in the kitchen and makes his usual rounds in his neighbourhood.

After outsmarting a bulldog, ogling his girlfriend from outside her window and sneaking a slice of leftover pizza, he follows Frank Gorshin out of the butcher shop.  He wants the salmon steak he just bought.

Gorshin has a secret.  Him and his partner, Neville Brand, have just pulled off a daring daylight bank heist.  (It’s the top story on all the daily broadsheets, much to their delight.)  Misleading the cops into thinking they’re moving around a lot, they’re actually cooped up in a cheap-ass apartment complex with their hostage, a bank teller (Grayson Hall).

Now why have they made their lives more complicated by committing this clearly unnecessary kidnapping?  Let’s be clear.  They’re not bright.  This becomes evident when DC climbs the stairs to their back door and when Brand opens it up he darts right for the salmon steak.  (Also, they look guilty.  Look at those faces.  Would you believe they’re good citizens?)

Originally blowing him off in the street, Gorshin is now all too happy to see the hungry puss (he suddenly reminds him of his own beloved cat from childhood), much to Brand’s annoyance.  Grayson Hall is just happy she can let someone know what happened to her.  Her concerns about her uncertain future are well-founded.

Left alone to cook for the insistent robbers (they’re that lazy), she removes her watch and tries to carve “HELP” on the back but only gets halfway through due to an interruption by Gorshin who otherwise doesn’t suspect anything.  Removing DC’s collar and replacing it with the watch and its incomplete plea, in a panic she opens the back door and lets him out.

When DC comes back home, Hayley Mills (at the height of her charming, lovely teen period) comes to the absolute correct conclusion once she notices the watch and the unusual marking on the back.  Despite being told not to go to the police by her crabby older sister Dorothy Provine, she heads right to the FBI where she encounters likeable agent Dean Jones who she clearly fancies.  (He ends up preferring Provine.)

Despite being initially skeptical about her claims, he is ultimately authorized to set up shop in DC’s family home.  The plan is to have several agents secretly follow the cat on his nightly journey hoping he’ll lead them right to the bandits.  Can’t imagine Hoover would’ve signed off on this.

And it almost works.  Once again, the cat with the striking blue eyes is spotted right outside that same apartment complex.  But he isn’t allowed inside this time.  This leads to a very dumb moment where the FBI agents make an easily avoidable mistake.

At no time do they, or the police for that matter, pursue other leads, beyond finding deliberately deceiving clues left behind by Gorshin which starts to arouse their suspicion.  No.  It’s the cat or nothing at all.  As a result, That Darn Cat! takes way too long to get to the expected finale.  This damn movie runs nearly two hours.  (Even the godawful 1997 remake wrapped things up in under 90 minutes.)

Because there’s so much time to kill, a couple of strange, romantic subplots are thrown our way.  Mills is semi-involved with some guy named Canoe (Tom Lowell), a surf-obsessed foodie who clearly wants more of a commitment than she does.  They don’t even kiss.  She seems to tolerate him more than desire him.  He’s always over at her house raiding the refrigerator.  She’s not digging his taste in film.  Why are they together?

Meanwhile, older sister Provine is using the much missed Roddy McDowell for car rides to work.  Why doesn’t she have a license?  There’s a very awkward scene where he tries to invite her to meet his unseen mom for duck dinner.  (It never happens because DC apparently understands perfect English and gets to the hanging meat first (don’t ask).)  He gets so close to her she gets pressed against the front door.  But when he kisses her on the forehead, she puts her lips out wrongly expecting reciprocation.  Her disapproval is baffling.  She doesn’t even like the guy.

Elsa Manchester (The Bride Of Frankenstein) plays their slut-shaming nosy neighbour.  Her deaf husband, William Demarest, who can only hear through a device placed in his ear, continually admonishes her for being such a hopeless busy body.  In one of only two funny moments in the entire film, when she decides to conduct her own impromptu investigation, he calls the cops claiming she’s a guy in drag.

Like Mr. Roper and Frank Barone, Demarest frequently roasts his wife but in his case without the cutting wit.  Like the dicky, naive cops who pick her up, he keeps mocking her looks which feels needlessly cruel and cheap.  He’s not exactly a heartthrob himself.

As the movie drags on, Jones decides to place a bug in DC’s new collar.  That leads to certain secondary characters embarrassing themselves multiple times en route to the final showdown.

Considering how much I loathed the laughless 1997 remake, I was slightly surprised that this 1965 original isn’t as bad, which truly isn’t saying much.  Jones and Mills are the standout performers even though the movie wisely doesn’t force them to couple.  And even though the jazzy theme song, sung by Bobby Darin, isn’t terribly catchy, it does have very clever lyrics.

That said, what bothered me most about That Darn Cat! is its crime plot which, unlike everything else, is taken very seriously.  When we first meet the robbers, poor Grayson Hall has her neck rubbed suggestively and Gorshin nearly punches her in the face.  To go from that to cornball physical gags and unlanded one-liners is awkward, to say the least.

Looking back, I wonder what J. Edgar Hoover thought of this film.  The FBI has long pushed for softer on-screen portrayals to make them more palatable in the eyes of the public.  In That Darn Cat!, they’re not cold operatives harassing communities of colour and leftist activists.  Rather, they’re inept bumblers completely incapable of apprehending unsophisticated thieves, let alone clever ones, on their own.  This isn’t good propaganda at all.

Early on, we learn that agent Dick Jones has a severe allergy to cats.  Any time he comes in contact with DC, one or two things happen:  he starts sneezing and/or the unfriendly feline lashes out.

It’s never a good sign when an animal is the only one openly opposing fascism.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, August 8, 2019
12:10 a.m.

Published in: on August 8, 2019 at 12:11 am  Leave a Comment  

The Out Of Towners (1970)

They could’ve stayed in the manager’s office.  Why wouldn’t they stay in the manager’s office?  They’d have privacy, a couch, hell, they may have even received free food for their troubles.

But no.  They had to listen to a con man and now they’re fucked.

Jack Lemmon is a businessman from Ohio, Sandy Dennis plays his wife.  They’re bound for New York City for one important reason:  Lemmon could be getting an important executive position with some plastics company.  Leaving their two kids behind, they decide to fly in for one last interview.  Lemmon thinks he already has the gig.  The in-person meeting is just a formality, he asserts.  Time to make plans to relocate the entire family, he advises.

But he’s not really that persuaded.  You see, he’s the nervous, projecting type, always second guessing himself and worrying that he’s forgotten something.  She’s the sedative, always called upon to reassure and settle him down.  Dennis has to convince him in the car on the way to the airport that yes, he should take this job.  She doesn’t express any ambitions of her own.

Once in the air, Lemmon insists on no food or drink.  That’s because he’s already made a reservation at a swanky restaurant in the city for later in the evening.  No “stale chicken” for him, no airline coffee for her.  (Why does she need his permission to order a beverage?)

But of course, they’re not going to make it in time.  That’s the whole point.  Released in 1970, The Out Of Towners is a Neil Simon comedy that clearly paved the way for Planes, Trains & Automobiles nearly 20 years later.  Whereas the brilliant John Hughes classic has one big laugh after another and a surprising poignancy, The Out Of Towners is an annoying mess.  I laughed at two sight gags and nothing else.  (I also liked portions of Quincy Jones’ musical score, for what it’s worth.)

The couple’s plan, as Lemmon excitedly reminds his wife, involves them taking this flight from Ohio to New York City where they’ll stay at the Waldorf-Astoria and partake in multiple activities.  But then the captain informs the passengers that they can’t land right away, they have to circle the city for at least a half hour.  Too much air traffic ahead of them.

Of course, it’ll be longer than a half hour, as Lemmon’s jumpy enthusiasm soon turns to powerless aggravation.  When Dennis pleads with him to let her have something to drink, he finally relents only to be informed that it’s against airline regulations to serve anything when they could be landing at any time.

But they won’t be landing any time soon because of an evolving fog issue.  They end up being in the air for so long, night has fallen.  Then, a final announcement.  They can only land in Boston.

But then their luggage goes missing.  In a tired running gag, the supposedly litigious Lemmon starts a list of all the people who’ve made what should’ve been a routine business trip deeply unpleasant for him.  (Richard Nixon, Sheldon Cooper & Chris Jericho must’ve taken notes.)  Blink and you’ll miss some famous faces like a young Billy Dee Williams who eventually tracks down their two bags, Sandy Baron (Seinfeld’s Jack Klampus) who kicks the desperate couple out of church and Philip Bruns (the original Morty Seinfeld), an ineffectual cop.

Starving, thirsty, fatigued and increasingly cranky, the miserable bickering couple can’t catch another flight in time.  They’ve all been grounded until the morning.  Rather than stay in a different hotel in Boston, they decide to cab it to the train station fifteen minutes away.  But they miss their ride by going on the wrong train.  A helpful employee points them in the direction of another station about a half hour away.  Once they eventually board, there’s no room to sit and there’s a two-hour wait for limited food options.

Finally arriving in New York more than six hours late, by the time they get to the Waldorf-Astoria, more bad news awaits.  Their reservation has already expired.  Their room isn’t available any more.

With three strikes going on (sanitation, milk delivery and transit) and the lobby already filled with sleeping, stranded people, no amount of threatening or yelling on Lemmon’s part is going to fix this.  But then, a lifeline.  The couple is offered the manager’s office.

No response.  Huge fucking mistake.

Instead, Lemmon is convinced by a very suspicious stranger to leave the comforts of the hotel to go to a less fancy one.  Having already pocketed his ten bucks, the stranger informs the couple that rooms are a mere twenty smackers.  He’ll even walk them to the building.

Lemmon should’ve accepted his ten-spot back.  A short distance away from the Waldorf-Astoria, where they could’ve stayed in the manager’s office, the man pulls out a gun and mugs them.  With just four cents to their name, it’s off to the police station where they encounter Anne Meara who may be another of the stranger’s victims.

The police offer Lemmon & Dennis a ride to a nearby armory.  But of course they don’t make it.  A trio of thieves have broken into a liquor store so that takes priority.  While the cops are able to chase one of them down, the other crooks commandeer the abandoned police vehicle with the frustrated couple still sitting barely alert in the back seat.

There are more contrived calamities.  A broken heel, a chipped tooth, a missing ring, a stolen watch, a crying kid, a large dog, a man in a black cape, a recovered suitcase that can’t be opened, a political protest, a flying manhole cover, a set of missing false eyelashes, almost none of it funny.

It’s hard to have much sympathy for Lemmon’s privileged character when he lacks basic common sense.  Sure, airline food doesn’t get Michelin stars but consuming a subpar light snack thousands of feet above the air is preferable to running close to empty on solid ground for almost an entire day.  Yes, the manager’s office in a first class hotel is not the equivalent of a luxury suite but it sure beats taking unnecessary risks in the middle of the night.  After all the time it took to finally get here, why would you suddenly leave for the unknown?

The Out Of Towners wants to be a cautionary tale, a cinematic warning for small-town Midwest suburbanites thinking they can hack it in a vast, unforgiving metropolis.  Although the film predates Death Wish by four years, it too sees 70s New York, particularly in the dark, as one big criminal playground where scammers and muggers are more in charge than the hapless police.  Even asking for help leads to more unforeseen problems.

Unsafe at every turn as almost nothing goes right, Lemmon & Dennis come to the same conclusion.  But the movie is deeply unfair.  It can’t help but torture them one last time.  It turns out Neil Simon hates his characters as much as we do.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, August 7, 2019
11:40 p.m.

Published in: on August 7, 2019 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ms. 45

There’s no question women have continually faced daily harassment from men:  on the street, in the office, in other public buildings, even in their own homes.  From sleazy comments to inappropriate touching to all-out assault, it’s a wonder they want to be with us at all.  We haven’t exactly earned their trust.

Abel Ferrera’s Ms. 45 exploits all of this but in a rather shameless manner.  For about half its running time, though, it’s surprisingly provocative if not entirely convincing.  Then, it goes completely off the rails.

Early on, we meet a sympathetic woman named Thana (the late Zoe Lund).  She is so shy she only communicates through body language and the occasional handwritten note.  Working as a seamstress in Manhattan’s garment district, as the movie begins, she’s about to have the worst day.

First, while walking home after a shift, she gets quickly raped by a masked goon (Ferrera himself in a cameo).  Then, in a daze, she enters her tiny apartment only to find a thief who assaults her again when he can’t find anything valuable to steal.

In the middle of the much longer assault, Thana reaches for an object and after the gunman drops his .45, she bashes him in the head with it.  Then she grabs her iron and finishes the job.

What happens next is, shall we say, rather unexpected.  Instead of finding a way to contact police (why doesn’t she ask her nosy landlord to help her?), she drags his lifeless carcass into her bathroom, pulls him into the tub and closes the door.  The next day at work, as a co-worker puts a new garbage bag over the trash bin, she gets a demented idea.

After slicing him up, Thana stuffs his separated parts into separate trash bags and then, after removing all her food, places them all in her fridge and freezer.  Every time she departs, she takes one out and rather casually places it in a bin on the street.  A homeless man rummaging for food opens one up and finds a hand.  On second thought, he’s not that hungry.

An obvious question:  did the assaults themselves turn Thana insane?  Or were these psychopathic tendencies always within her, laying dormant until the sudden emergence of trauma?  Because this is a cheapo exploitation thriller, we’ll never know for sure.  Ferrera isn’t interested in character studies or deep analysis.  He just wants his anti-hero to kill scumbags.

And there are a lot of scumbags in Ms. 45.

There’s the permed, cocksure fashion photographer who follows her out of a restaurant hoping to lure her with the promises of pot and an impromptu shoot.  There’s the wealthy, chauffeured Saudi Arabian who has his driver pick her up off the street and offers her money for sex.  There’s the pimp hassling and beating one of his sex workers in plain view of Thana.  There’s the would-be gang rapists surrounding her one night.  And there’s her overly handsy boss Albert (Albert Sinkys), who I originally thought was gay, but based on how he acts around her is probably bisexual.

Clearly inspired by Death Wish but less challenging and consistently thrilling, Ms. 45 starts losing its way when Thana completely transforms herself from a mousy self-defender who wouldn’t hurt a fly unless it was absolutely vital into a glamourous spree killer eagerly searching for new targets whether they wronged her or not, all while looking like she’s auditioning for Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love video.  Unlike Paul Kersey who deliberately attracted street thugs to attempt to attack him before he popped them, Thana doesn’t require as much murderous motivation.  If you’re a guy, any guy really, she wants you dead.  A fascist is a fascist, no matter the gender.

There’s a scene where she quietly observes a couple making out in front of a Baskin Robbins in Chinatown.  The girl wants to go back to work but the guy doesn’t want her to leave so they resume kissing.  Eventually, they stop.  At one point, as he tries to get things going again, she shoves him off and he departs.  Thana follows him until he goes to the front of his building.

As he tries to use the key to get inside, she pulls out her second rapist’s .45, the same gun she’s been using to assassinate men throughout the entire film.  He can’t quite get the gate open and it looks like he’s a goner.  But thankfully, at the last second nothing happens after he finally enters the front entrance.  Thana’s evident disappointment is strange.  What did this guy do to her to warrant her wrath?  Even his girlfriend wasn’t this mad.

There are a lot of street harassers in Ms. 45, one of whom makes the fateful decision to follow Thana on her way home.  For some reason, she drops her bag and runs.  He picks it up and chases.  Just as he’s about to give it to her, she shoots him.  It makes the cover of the New York Post.  Now, did he deliberately set a trap for him?  Her fearful reactions suggest otherwise.  Either way, the incident changes her forever.  Now every guy she sees, whether they interact with her or not, is a potential threat.  (There’s an effective scare when touching her own breast triggers a hallucination of rapist number one.)  “I just want them all to leave me alone,” she writes to a co-worker.  This only applies to a few of her victims.  Ironically, she’s more of a menace than they are.

One of the more disturbing sequences involves an oversharing douche she meets at a bar.  He goes on and on and on about his failed marriage, how the sex was great at first, then tapered off.  While at work, he grew suspicious when his wife wouldn’t answer his constant calls, some of which took place at three in the morning.  One day, he decided to follow her and discovers she’s a secret lesbian.  Infuriated, he strangled her cat.  Lovely.

Right on cue, Thana pulls out her pistol.  But something goes wrong.  The fool grabs the weapon and decides to pay tribute to Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter.

For the absurd finale, Thana is invited by Albert, her eye-raping boss, to a Halloween party.  As the crowd dances to the entertaining live band (that for some reason features a guy pretending to play the saxophone on a trumpet), he brings her up the spiral staircase to have his way with her.  What follows goes beyond reason.  If changing your mind about a vasectomy is worthy of a death sentence, then your standards are too low.

Before it loses its way, Ms. 45 does a good job of demonstrating the burdens of being a woman, the dangers that lurk everywhere you turn even when you think you’re safe in the company of other women.  But once Thana starts executing random guys whether she’s under threat or not makes her as loathsome as Kersey in all the Death Wish sequels.  She doesn’t refuse to get into the rich Saudi Arabian’s car when she’s invited.  And she certainly doesn’t turn down his 100 dollar offer.  At no time does he molest her and hold her against her will.  He still gets shot in the dick.

Are we supposed to root for her fascism, to embrace her extrajudicial killings?  I mean, I’m ok with her blasting away at five guys that clearly want to gang rape her but what did the guy in the wig and wedding dress at the Halloween party do to deserve getting popped?

I will say this for Ms. 45.  It has a mostly good musical score.  Joe Delia smoothly alternates between memorably moody John Carpenteresque piano solos in the quieter scenes to early 80s new wave during the fashion pitches to a full-on disco jam accentuated with a sometimes screeching saxophone during the Halloween party.

Like the original Death Wish, Thana never does get her revenge on that first rapist (we never see him again) and she, too, has a nauseous feeling after killing a man, in her case for the second time.  And just like Paul Kersey, she quickly loses her humanity as her compulsion for fascism overtakes everything else.  But at least the once pacifist architect doesn’t profile innocent people.

In her final moment, she utters her only word.  Did she really think she was acting on behalf of other women?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
3:49 a.m.

Published in: on July 16, 2019 at 3:49 am  Leave a Comment  

A History Of Disappointment

Evaporating standards
Upon entering these rooms
Misplaced excitement
As disappointment always looms
A message is sent
A window is closed
The pattern is repeated
Their loathing exposed

Then a breakthrough arrives
And conversation begins
An ongoing inquiry
The confession of sins
Why are they here?
They have lovers and friends
Their lives are enriching
Their happiness offends

Then a surprising change of heart
And they suddenly disappear
Their absence is grating
So much hypocritical fear
Acts of depravity
Are enthusiastically discussed
But push a little further
And now there’s disgust

So bold then so tentative
Innocent follow-ups are ignored
A brief moment of titillation
And then someone gets bored
The full story is elusive
Another mystery unsolved
Intimacy at a distance
Why do I bother getting involved?

A once daily occurrence
So entrenched it was routine
A more welcoming atmosphere
A more comfortable scene
Relationships were formed
And expanded outside its walls
More sweet messages were exchanged
Not to mention the calls

But the distance was insurmountable
We didn’t meet face to face
Loving feelings turned sour
Rank bitterness over grace
Exploration has its limits
You feel empty and depressed
Drained beyond recognition
It’s no fun being distressed

So much wasteful investment
Always vulnerable to deception
The more intriguing the yarn
The more open the reception
You convince yourself to continue
You become addicted to the lies
But no real bond is ever formed
There are no genuine ties

Years and years of pathetic commitment
With varying breaks in between
Then after false feelings of nostalgia
You get jolted by the mean
You regret the indecisiveness
Should I stay or should I go?
Curiosity draws you back
And resentment makes you blow

You crave the “revelations”
They excite you to no end
But there is no release
Not even a friend
And after a while
You grow more certain
It’s time to draw down
The final curtain

This perverse distraction
Has lost its appeal
No more repeat business
No more distorting what’s real
So many lonely souls
Desperate to connect
I’d rather move on
Than obsess and reflect

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, July 13, 2019
8:26 p.m.

Published in: on July 13, 2019 at 8:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Greta (2019)

Neil Jordan’s Greta begins as a surprisingly dull drama before ultimately deteriorating into a laughable, maddening thriller.  For the Oscar-winning creator of The Crying Game, this is an embarrassing comedown, his worst film since High Spirits.

Chloe Grace Moritz plays Frances, a restaurant hostess mourning the loss of her mother.  Her academic father (Canadian Stratford Festival vet Colm Feore) has already moved on.  (In a deleted scene, a year after his wife’s death, he already has a new girlfriend.)  As a result, their once close relationship is now strained.  She dreads his phone calls and avoids returning them as much as possible.

During the opening titles, as she’s about to depart her subway car, she spots a leather purse left behind on a seat and grabs it.  When she approaches the lost and found, it’s closed, so she takes it home.  Her colonics-and-yoga-obsessed loft roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) dumps out the contents and isn’t impressed.  She also tries to steal the cash.

But Frances knows what she must do.

The purse belongs to a mysterious old woman named Greta (a phenomenally miscast Isabelle Huppert).  When Frances arrives at her suspiciously isolated home, she seems friendly enough.  But we know better than Frances.

In the very first shot of the film, as Greta leaves that same subway car, it’s blatantly obvious she left behind the purse on purpose.  (How come no one rushes to give it back to her?)  A vulnerable, naive Frances gets sucked right into Greta’s manipulative song-and-dance about her dead husband, her dead dog and her estranged daughter.  Longing for a replacement mother figure, she totally buys in.  Greta tests her loyalty.  Frances stupidly proclaims it.  “My friends call me chewing gum.  I tend to stick around.”  What a dope.

When Frances offers to help her find a new pet, Greta first demurs then later conveniently changes her mind.  At the pound, Greta settles on a sad looking pooch who’s on the verge of being put to sleep.  How she’s allowed to adopt it when the animal won’t even eat her treats and does nothing but whimper around her is beyond me.

Accepting a dinner invitation at her home, everything changes when Frances makes a hilarious discovery.  It’s hilarious because it’s so dumb.  That’s not a good hiding place.

Unable to hide her suddenly sickening feelings, Frances skips dessert and hightails it out of there.  This gives a concerned Greta an excuse to continually try to contact her.  This sudden change in the young woman’s attitude arouses deep suspicion.  There are dozens and dozens of phone calls that go mostly unreturned.  Then the stalking begins which provokes more laughter.  Look out the restaurant window and there’s Greta.  Walk off the apartment elevator and there’s Greta again.

Despite repeated attempts to tell her to fuck off without actually saying the words, Greta is unrelenting.  She won’t take no for an answer.  One such encounter sounds like a break-up that doesn’t take.

There are the usual, frustrating scenes where Frances is informed by the reliably useless authorities that Greta’s actions aren’t illegal and don’t meet the criteria for unlawful harassment which, of course, is total nonsense.  (A possible restraining order will take months to implement and therefore, never pursued.)  In one scene, she sends Frances photos of Erica she snaps while quietly following her around Brooklyn, occasionally reminding her through text messages of her “betrayal”.  Frances belatedly realizes she didn’t really need that phone tutorial after all.  The technologically proficient Greta is hooked on her Facebook page.  She loves being bored, apparently.

Most ridiculous of all is the scene where Greta returns to Frances’ restaurant expecting to be served.  The crazy old lady makes such a big scene she gets carried out and straitjacketed onto a gurney right into an ambulance.  But she’s immediately released from custody (Frances figures out as much when she calls for information that’s not freely given) and this silly nightmare continues.

Jordan, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, surely knew he was making a predictable pile of trash so there’s a bizarre sequence where he tries to subvert our expectations and fails miserably.

Erica, the roommate, who initially warns Frances that Greta is oddly clingy, now gives her incredibly bad advice.  She instructs her worried friend to meet with her tormentor, tell her she’s going away for a while to work on herself but when she comes back, they’ll definitely see each other again, which is a big whopper even an imbecile could spot.

Greta is not an imbecile.  A professional bullshitter always sees right through a panicked amateur.

Before Frances has even packed, there’s the old lady puttering around in her apartment (how did she break in?) as the young woman suddenly feels dazed.  Dragged out of there and dumped into the back of a cab, they’re soon at Greta’s home with Erica close to completely passing out.

Then suddenly, she awakens and is back at the loft, as though nothing has happened.  As her dad arrives to pick her up for their impromptu vacation, she walks into the elevator and instead of stopping on the first floor, it keeps dropping.  Oh, and it also tries to squish her.

She awakens again, but this time, she’s locked in a toy chest at Greta’s place.  Come on.

Now realizing she’s been kidnapped, Frances’ dad turns to a private investigator (longtime Jordan collaborator Stephen Rea) for assistance.  As soon as he arrives at Greta’s, you know he’s a fucking goner.

The second Frances becomes Greta’s prisoner, the movie becomes a bad parody of Misery.  Like the much scarier Annie Wilkes, we learn she too was once a nurse who shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.  (We also discover she’s not really French (despite being played by a French actress) and there’s a very good reason her daughter never responds to her frequent cards and letters.)  You wonder why it’s taking so long for a young, healthy woman to break free from her elderly captor, especially when, in the beginning, she’s not tied up, just locked in that secret room behind the piano.  Look at all the objects at her disposal.  Maybe break that chair over Greta’s head instead.

Then a finger gets chopped off and a rolling pin becomes an effective weapon.  But instead of finishing the job, which would be smart and buy more time, someone decides to run for it, forgetting you need a key to get out the front door.  There’s a discovery in the basement and then it’s back to the secret room where there is no chance of a solitary escape.

By the time we reach the pitiful end, once again a glorious opportunity arises to finish this once and for all.  But no.  That would make too much sense.  One must always allow room for a possible sequel.

Greta was released by Focus Features, the faux indie arm of Universal Pictures.  It starts off rather slow and tedious before suddenly traversing down formula thriller avenue.  But it’s often not thrilling at all.  Isabelle Huppert is the absolute wrong actress to pull this off.  She’s just not terrifying, not in the slightest, even when she’s playing stern piano teacher.  It’s extremely hard to believe she has gotten away with this lonely old lady act for as long as she has.  (How come no one is looking for all her other victims?)  Plus, she’s sloppy.  Really sloppy.

Consider the scene with the private investigator.  If Stephen Rea’s character was more on the ball, he would immediately ask why she’s only wearing one glove.  He would also demand to know what’s with that constant noise behind the piano.  (Why didn’t she noise-proof the secret room?)  When Greta goes upstairs briefly, he takes too long to investigate.  Inevitably, he pays the price for his sluggishness.  Shouldn’t he have anticipated being attacked?  He waits until he’s nearly passed out before pulling out his piece.  Dick Cheney has better aim.

Chloe Grace Moritz is an appealing lead but her character is too dense to take seriously.  Huppert isn’t really charming enough in the early scenes to warrant such immediate affection.  And when her true nature is exposed, you’re not even remotely unsettled.  Maika Monroe, who plays the roommate, is too obnoxious and unfunny.  Stephen Rea was far more memorable in his Oscar-nominated turn in The Crying Game.  And as for Colm Feore, he’s clearly slumming here.  This ain’t Shakespeare.

But Greta is a tragedy all the same, just not the way the filmmakers intended.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 30, 2019
2:37 a.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2019 at 2:37 am  Leave a Comment  

The Driller Killer (1979)

Thank God Abel Ferrera made Bad Lieutenant and Body Snatchers.  If The Driller Killer was his only credit, his career would not be remembered with much fondness or respect.

Released 40 years ago when he was a hungry guerilla filmmaker in New York, Ferrera the director also plays the title character (but curiously uses a pseudonym for his acting credit), a struggling, temperamental painter living with two women, one his girlfriend, the other her secret lover.

Living right underneath their surprisingly spacious apartment is the world’s shittiest punk band, The Roosters, led by the deeply untalented Tony Coca-Cola.  He can’t sing, they can’t play.  Yet, they still attract groupies and a small club following.  When Ferrera’s girlfriend claims with a straight face that they actually sound good on their album, he is dumbfounded and unconvinced.  One of their hooks is a blatant rip-off of Peter Gunn.  It’s still awful.

Ferrera has a psychotic streak that isn’t properly explained or even remotely credible, despite his frequent bitchiness.  He has some bizarre dream early on that’s supposed to foreshadow his inevitable rampage.  One night, while huddled around the TV with the ladies, an ad comes on for Porto Pack, a portable battery pack that allows you to use appliances and electrical tools without a cord for just $19.95.

Shortly thereafter, Ferrera buys one.  And then for some reason, he starts murdering random homeless people by drilling holes in their heads, hands, backs and chests with his power drill.  He has no legitimate beef with them.  There’s even a scene where he converses with one friendly, smiling street person while sketching his portrait.

As Ferrera continually complains about the godawful Roosters and their endless noise pollution, at no time does he contemplate taking them out.  When Tony Coca-Cola comes around to ask if he’ll paint his portrait, Ferrera obliges for a 500 dollar fee.  Not a single homeless guy ever bothers him.

In the meantime, Ferrera’s relationship with his girlfriend is deteriorating.  He has this giant buffalo painting that he really needs to sell.  (Her alimony from her still smitten ex-husband is the only way they’re staying barely afloat.)  She wonders not unreasonably when he’s ever going to finish it.  He snaps at her condescendingly, proclaiming only he knows what he’s doing and it gets finished when it gets finished.

His increasingly impatient gay art dealer, who ultimately dismisses the work once he sees it, refuses to give him any more advance money.  For a guy who contemplates a better life, Ferrera is curiously more interested in killing randoms than selling his work.  He’s in no hurry to be the next Warhol.  And the movie is far too invested in showcasing The Roosters.  Honestly, what more could they do to warrant Ferrera’s wrath?  He refuses to do us all a favour.

Besides its complete lack of genuine scares and incomprehensible plot, The Driller Killer also embraces casual misogyny and homophobia.  Pissed off after his buffalo piece is brutally rejected, Ferrera lures the art dealer back to his apartment by unsubtly suggesting sex is on the table.  Spoiler:  it’s not.  The way Ferrera treats his girlfriend it’s no wonder her ex is suddenly looking like a better option for her.  But what about her secret bisexual lover?  Guess it was just a fling and not serious.  Anyway, their love scene in the shower feels more gratuitous than essential to the confusing plot.  Besides, she ends up rolling around with Tony Coca-Cola.  As Costanza would say, she could do a hell of a lot better than him.

Perhaps the strangest scene is the first one.  Ferrera walks up to some muttering, bearded guy in a church, sits down next to him, slowly reaches out for his hand and then gets freaked out when the guy suddenly looks at him.  He barrels out of there in a hurry.  What was the point of that exactly?  Bearded guy apparently had Ferrera’s name and phone number on him, and the church put them in contact with each other.  But they don’t have any connection whatsoever.  They’re not related.  This was their first meeting.  Is this the beginning of Ferrera’s inexplicable animus towards the homeless?  Really weak.

And then there’s the ending.  Despondent over his now ex-girlfriend’s exit from his life, a now completely unhinged Ferrera decides to pay her an unexpected visit.  The moment builds up as she climbs into bed thinking her ex is under the covers (even though she was expecting to have tea after her shower).  Will he kill her or will she survive?  We’ll never know because instead, we get the end credits.  We’re left to imagine the actual ending, not that we ever cared that much in the first place.

“THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD”, the film instructs right off the top.  Actually, in this particular case, the mute button is your friend.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 16, 2019
12:37 a.m.

Published in: on June 16, 2019 at 12:38 am  Leave a Comment  

The Beast Within (1982)

It’s 1964.  A newlywed couple is traveling through Mississippi late at night when their car gets stuck.  The husband (Ronny Cox in a rare babyface role) instructs the wife (Bibi Besch) to stay inside with the doors locked while he runs back up the road to get a tow truck.

But, of course, the wife doesn’t listen.  The couple’s yappy dog wants to get out from the back seat.  So, out they come.  But then she loses sight of him.  Meanwhile, something is on the prowl.  And it’s hungry.

Once chained in the basement of some old house in the woods, this thing is now loose and ravenous.  The wife soon makes two horrifying discoveries, one that will dramatically change the future course of her life.

That’s the set-up for The Beast Within, a truly terrible horror film that’s equal parts silly and tasteless.  In other words, a typical 1982 release.

Seventeen years later, we learn the married couple has a teenage son (an overwrought Paul Clemens) and he’s not doing too well.  Something to do with his pituitary gland, according to the doctor (R.G. Armstrong).  The kid keeps having sweaty, unscary nightmares about that old house where that mysterious thing was held prisoner.

Sure enough, he inevitably escapes the hospital and locates that same house.  Against his better judgment he opens up the locked cellar door and his heel turn begins.

What’s strange about The Beast Within is that because there’s lots of full moon shots we think we’re gonna see a werewolf movie.  But instead, we get a possession movie.  The boy is a catalyst for a pissed off spirit seeking vengeance against an entire family in a small Mississippi town.  One by one, the married couple’s son tracks them down and either eats them or stabs them.  These are not well-executed scenes, if you’ll forgive the pun.

Meanwhile, his idiotic parents belatedly start investigating what happened that fateful night in 1964.  The wife learns about a murder while rifling through the archives of the local newspaper that apparently has just one employee.  Some of the residents, including the mayor and the judge, are deeply concerned about their sudden investigation.  This is the worst cover-up since Watergate.

The tortured teenage son develops a crush on a cute local girl (Katherine Moffat) with an abusive dad (John Dennis Johnston).  There’s an odd scene where he hears a high-pitched noise and is in excruciating pain so he falls to his knees.  Then, they make out on the ground.  Killing the mood is her dog who runs over to drop off a severed hand he just dug up.  The police eventually recover 36 skeletons in the same wooded area, only one of which is identified.

In the meantime, the killings continue.  There’s the coroner who looks like an even creepier Conan O’Brien.  And the “crazy” old drunk, an old friend of the vengeful spirit, who no one believes is telling the truth about the teenage son.  (Why he gets electrocuted to death makes no sense.  He didn’t wrong anybody.)  By the time everybody finally stops being stupid, the son has transformed into some kind of monster ready to relive 1964.

Let’s focus on that transformation scene for a moment.  Now I’m a sucker for old-school effects that are done well.  Look at what David Cronenberg’s team put together in Scanners and Videodrome which were released during the same period.  Those effects and the make-up hold up really well.  Compare all of that with The Beast Within and you’ll notice one major difference.  These scenes provoke unintentional laughter.

Why does the teenage son look like a generic deformed monster when this vengeful spirit that’s inhabiting his mind and body is supposed to be an ordinary human being?  And what’s with the sexual assaults?  Does the spirit only have a limited amount of time in a certain body?  Is that why he has to procreate?

The movie comes full circle in its final scene essentially repeating what we witness in the opening.  At no point during this movie does anyone mention the word “abortion”.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 16, 2019
12:19 a.m.

Published in: on June 16, 2019 at 12:19 am  Comments (1)  

Haven’t Felt In Years

Numbing agents at my disposal
All I need is a single dose
No forthcoming counter proposal
Far away and yet so close

A stinging sensation, then a hint of bliss
A permanent chemical solution
A thrust of denial works like this
A perfect shot of delusion

Hammer the nail until it breaks the flesh
Target the pain for removal
Pound it hard while the wounds still fresh
This always meets my approval

Protect yourself from further decay
Keep stabbing at the ghosts of the past
Even though they refuse to go away
This valley of depression is vast

Dreading the impact of the final blow
Arrival uncertain and the source of all fears
When it finally comes, I won’t even know
I haven’t felt in years

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 9, 2019
3:19 a.m.

Published in: on June 9, 2019 at 3:19 am  Leave a Comment