“Bloodline”—An Intravenous Infusion of Disaster



“Bloodline”, a dramatic thriller from the creators of “Damages,” just completed its second season on Neftlix Originals. Exploring the darkest secrets of an affluent American family in the Florida Keys, Bloodline digs deep into the underbelly of the Rayburns, the upstanding pillars of society for their small coastal community. Their past, however, contains dark secrets that have damaged all of them. After an unthinkable crime takes place, the façade of the tight-knit caring family disintegrates, replaced by betrayal, abandonment, and more criminal behavior.

The theme of family is always a heady combination with the addition of crime and dysfunction. “Bloodline” punches us in the guts as we ask ourselves what would we do if we were accessories to a crime in the name of family solidarity. Family roles change, and in “Bloodlines” we see the dark side of each family member morph and astonish. With Sissy Spacek playing the matriarch, and Kyle Chandler as the titular head of the family and Ben Mendelsohn as his brother, we can understand the Emmy-nominated performances in this riveting family-thriller. The ghosts of the past dictate limited options and new role formation for each. This is another outstanding series on the ferocious nature of family sagas and the Rashomon perspectives and chameleon nature of family structure. Highly recommended. Season 3 will be released next summer.


“No”—Mad Men in Politics



 In this Chilean film, with uncanny similarities to the upcoming election in this country, we see how voting can be manipulated by brilliant promotional advertising. ”No” was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award in 2012.

Gael García Bernal (best known for his role as Che Guevara in “Motorcycle Diaries” ) plays René Saavedra, a young advertising talent at the time that General Pinochet has been in power, a dictator backed by the US government and running for reelection in 1988 for another eight years. After fifteen years of military dictatorship and facing considerable international pressure, the Chilean government asks the public to vote. If the electorate votes “no”, there will be an open democratic presidential election the following year.

René Saveedra, at first, is apolitical and enjoying the material comforts of an affluent Chilean society with his young son. After witnessing first hand the extreme violence of Pinochet’s army, he is eventually persuaded to join the “no” movement and devise an advertising campaign to encourage voters that change can really take place. In an effort to appeal to a wider audience and especially to younger voters, Rene directs an initially unorthodox and unpopular ad campaign. A negative ad campaign, he argues, will generate fear and a sense of powerlessness, which ultimately lead to voter abstention.

The drama builds as the “Yes” Pinochet forces first try intimidation against René Saavedra and the “No” movement and then parody their advertising strategy.   Even international (including American) celebrities join in the television ads for the “No” side.

René Saavedra is one of the most compromised characters whose obvious virtues run a tight race with his flaws. He is interested in making a “sale” and this time it is the future of his country that is at stake. Gael Garcia Bernal plays Saavedra brilliantly, the apolitical not-quite adult who must face a dangerous situation for him and his son. So he pulls out rainbows and smiles in dead serious ads, resonating with the Coca Cola commercials in the signature finale of the TV series “Mad Men.”   “No” is certainly worth seeing!

“Bates Motel”, Seasons 1-3—Mother-Son Obsession


Norman Bates
Norman Bates

The ongoing television series, A&E’s “Bates Motel” is a prequel to “Psycho”, the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie (1960). In “Bates Motel” we see the backstory of Norman Bates and the unfolding of his relationship with his mother, Norma, and half brother during his adolescence.

The first season received critical praise, especially for Vera Farmiga who plays the mother, Norma Bates, who was nominated for a 2013  Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The series continues to be A&E’s number one drama series of all time among adults in the 18–49 demographic.  Season 3 which premiered in March 2015 is perhaps the best season yet, pushing boundaries of what constitutes a dysfunctional, hypersexualized relationship between mother and son. The writers (Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin) have announced they will end the series after five seasons, the fourth just concluded last month. In April 2015, Cuse said, “I defy anyone to watch this show and not really be completely connected to Norma and Norman. And now that bond you have with these characters is going to completely inform the rollercoaster ride of the last two seasons.”

Norma and Norman Bates
Norma and Norman Bates

 For those  who have seen the Hitchcock film, Bates Motel does not have the same sort of horror (i.e. gore fest) that the “Psycho” film is famous for (at least, not up until the finale of Season 3, the only seasons I’ve seen so far). There are some bloody and violent scenes (nothing like “American Horror Story”) but what really gripped me was the family dynamics.  Norman Bates ( extraordinary young actor Freddie Highmore, who played Peter Pan in “Finding Neverland”) is so astonishing in this role, I wondered how he could retain his sanity.  No other film or television series I have seen so far unveils the darkest side imaginable of a mother-son relationship gone berserk, familiarity dissolving into psychosis. No spoiler alerts here.

I touched upon obsessive love and fear between parent and child in my first novel, Things Unsaid, but what we see in “Bates Motel” is that the twisted relationship between Norma and her son –the heart of the narrative—drives the narrative to an end we expect but nonetheless gasp at. “Bates Motel” dares to touch this subject matter in such a brilliant and fearless manner. A tour-de-force like no other!

Note: Seasons 1 -3 available on both Netflix and A&E’s website. Season 4 will be released soon, and season 5 is in development.


“Suffragette”—Suffering for the Right to Vote


SuffragetteThis 2015 film about women fighting for the right to vote in England tackles an almost forgotten but nevertheless compelling struggle for women and men alike. Don’t take that right for granted. The suffragette movement in England has received less cinematic attention than in the US [2004 film “Iron Jawed Angels” about the American suffragette Alice Paul] until now, with the release of Suffragette.

Suffragette opens outside a London laundry in 1912, where 24-year-old Maud Watts (the talented Carey Mulligan) has worked in squalid conditions as a laundress since she was a child. While delivering laundry, she accidentally witnesses a riot for the right to vote. One of her co-workers is participating in the suffragist movement and soon Maud becomes involved, almost against her will. When the co-worker cannot testify before parliament about the moral obligation to give women their right to vote, Maud becomes the reluctant witness who gives testimony.

The leader of the women’s movement is Emmaline Pankhurst (a cameo role from Meryl Streep) who inspires women to challenge the status quo. When parliament does not follow through on their promise to change the law, Maud soon learns about the consequences of fighting for women’s rights, including the collusion on the part of the government, business, and police.

Pankhurst’s main organizers, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and her sympathetic husband, encourage Maud to take an increasingly high-risk role which results in a criminal record and family disintegration. As the government continues to ridicule the idea of women voting, the movement builds and succeeds in winning equal voting rights eight years after the US ratifies the Nineteenth Amendment to the constitution.

The cast is exceptionally strong and watchable. Nonetheless, the film suffers from a curious “saggy middle” in the narrative, when the passion and emotionally electrifying hopelessness of the women should be rising to a crescendo. The cinematographer lingers on scenes too long, minimizing the painful sacrifices being made, but beautifully recreating historical London.

Suffragette is an eye-opening film with political relevance for today. It is a reminder that not so long ago half of America was disenfranchised. It speaks for the suppressed and silenced, not exclusively to the women’s rights movement but to all human rights battlegrounds. The sacrifice women made in England for the right to vote—including force feeding suggestive of water-boarding—reminds of us what is at stake.  Suffragette could have been even better, but it shouts: go out to vote!