Diana Vacc sees ‘Fifty Shades Darker’

Not sure about this pic. Maybe it’s Ms. Vacc holding on the gun this film?

by Diana Vaccarelli

No spoilers here because it’s already spoiled!

On February 10, 2017  Universal Pictures released the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey, the not-so-cleverly-titled Fifty Shades Darker.  This film follows the continued relationship of Anna Steele and Christian Grey and their constant struggles to be completely honest with one another and how sex drives their relationship.      


  • After the battles behind the scenes of Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel were not asked to return for the sequel.  Instead the writing went to novelist and writer of the Fifty Shades trilogy E.L James’ husband Niall Leonard.  Leonard has written several television series and films such as Horatio Hornblower.  I mention this because this change from the first film to the sequel was a great success.  Leonard has shown that the characters have a relationship outside of intimacy. Better yet if you’re into this sort of thing, he also gives us some very real-seeming B &D. 
  • Director James Foley of House of Cards and Billions, brings the book more to life then Taylor Johnson did.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much Fifty Shades Darker film followed the book. Looks like sometimes it pays to leave control of a property in the hands of the creator.
  • The music continues in this franchise to be excellent.  It shows Christian Grey’s inner darkness and how his emotions change when he is around Anna.


  • The main issue I continue to have with this series of films is the casting of Anna Steele. Dakota Johnson is, in a word,  drippy and doesn’t give the character one single ounce of personality.  On top of that, she speaks in the kind of monotone that would make anybody want to tie her up, preferably in another room…or city…or country.
  • It’s based on one of the most justifiably reviled novels of this century, which means that no matter how well made this film may be it still may make your skin crawl.


  • If you’re a fan of the books you will definitely appreciate the changes from the first film to the sequel.  If you’re a fan of films that have great music this film might make you smile…but a copy of the soundtrack would be a better choice. For my part, I give Fifty Shades Darker an overall two stars out of five, but my friends have always said that I’m generous to a fault.

    Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and one of the best people we know. Find out more about her HERE


Lew Ritter Film Review: ‘Hidden Figures’

HIDDEN FIGURES: Soaring into the history books

by Lew Ritter


In the late 1950‘s, America and Russia (then the U.S.S.R) were locked in a space race. Each nation was determined to place the first man into orbit around the Earth and eventually land a man on the moon. It culminated with Neil Armstrong being the first American to land on the Moon in 1969.

Prior to HIDDEN FIGURES, movies depicting the Space Race, such as THE RIGHT STUFF and APOLLO 13, focused on the exploits of the white astronauts, who were the pioneers of the space race. HIDDEN FIGURES is a historical drama about three hitherto unknown participants in the American space program. Most remarkable is that these unsung heroes were three African American women. Their contribution to the American space program went overlooked for half a century.

In the early 1960’s, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. The African American women who worked for NASA were employed in a supporting role called “Computers.” It was essentially a data entry role, as the giant IBM mainframe computers were still in their infancy

The three women featured in the story are Katherine Goble (Tariji Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). Each of the women were ambitious and desired to advance in the program, but were denied advancement based on their skin color.


Mary Jackson ( Monae) was denied entrance into the engineering program. She was offered the excuse that she lacks the necessary credentials to qualify to be an engineer. Undaunted, she launches a lawsuit that would allow her to take the necessary night classes at the hitherto segregated high school in Norfolk. The judge resolved the lawsuit in Mary’s favor and she goes onto become an engineer..

Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer) is denied the role of supervisor by the testy Mrs. Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Undaunted, she borrows a book on FORTRAN, an ancient coding program for computers that used punch cards. Soon, she becomes the most capable Fortran programmer on the huge new mainframe IBM mainframe computer. She becomes the first African -American supervisor in NASA.

Katherine Gobel (Henson) moved from being an accessory “computer” into a vital member of the engineering team. Her ability to calculate precise coordinates and elliptical orbits astonished her white compatriots.

Act Three depicts the events of the John Glenn’s flight in the “Friendship Seven.” After orbiting the Earth several times, the heat shield begins to fail. The capsule heads for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. For a few dreaded moments, Glenn’s capsule disappears from the radar and they lose contact with the capsule.

The control room fears that the capsule burnt up upon reentry into orbit. Everyone holds their breath, fearing the worst. After agonizing minutes, Glenn’s voice booms over the radio and his capsule splashed down safely in the ocean.


The cast is uniformly excellent. Henson and Costner are the standouts. However, all of the other actors deliver terrific performances and deserve Oscars for their roles. The dialogue and action is an accurate depiction of the 1960’s. The space mission scenes are a mix of live action mixed with documentary footage featuring such real people as Jules Bergman, the ABC News Science correspondent.

The most entertaining bit of type casting was Jim Parsons (BIG BANG THEORY). He is perfectly cast as the stiff necked scientist, who views Katherine as not his rival, or even part of the same team. He refused to add her name to any of the research reports or let her attend the all – male staff briefings.

Kevin Costner is solid as Al Harrison, the head of the project. He seems more obsessed with the success of his mission than the skin color of his employees. At the beginning of the movie, the women are told not to speak to him. He is either too aloof or busy with the space program.

Slowly, he begins to notice that Katherine, his “computer” works faster than most of her co- workers and has a knack for utilizing the complex Analytic Geometry formulas needed to calculate accurate re-entry coordinates. By the end, he becomes dependent on Katherine’s abilities to project changes in trajectory and safe landings.

The best scene in the movie is when Harrison grows annoyed that Katherine seems to disappear for several times during the day. Outraged, she confesses that she is forced to run half a mile to the segregated ladies room across the campus. Harrison strides into the far-away building and takes a sledge hammer to the sign “Colored Ladies Room.” He has the best line of the movie. ”From now on, he intones, everyone in NASA pees the same color.”

The screenplay is well structured. All of the women get a large chunk of screen time to have their professional and personal stories told. Theodore Melfi has established himself as a major director following his admirable work on last year’s poignant movie ST. VINCENT starring Bill Murray.


I certainly haven’t found anything “bad” here!


The movie was released in January, when studios traditionally dump movies they lack confidence in to recoup their investment. HIDDEN FIGURES has emerged as a surprise hit. Unheralded, it has dominated the box office during it’s first weeks in theaters. The movie has become a crowd pleasuring sentimental hit with audiences clapping loudly at the final credits. It will go onto become an Oscar favorite and perhaps a classic of it’s genre in the future.

Lew Ritter is a teacher, freelance writer, and  TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.


Film Review by Lew Ritter

PASSENGERS is the mega-budget pairing of two A-List stars in what promised to be the must see Sci-Fi thriller of the Christmas Season. It is about the giant Starship Avalon, a giant spaceship /arc containing five thousand sleeping passengers. They are hibernating in pods on a one hundred twenty year journey to a green, undisturbed new planet.

Along the way, the spaceship suffers a meteorite strike, and one of the pods malfunctions. It belongs to JIM PRESTON (Chris Pratt) an engineer looking for a new life. He had spent most of his life savings starting a new life on the new world. Jim awakens from hibernation. To his dismay, he awakened ninety years before the ship would reach its final destination.

Jim becomes the modern Robinson Crusoe of outer space. He is alone on a giant technological marvel of a space ship with all the amenities except company. ARTHUR (Michael Sheen) is Jim’s Friday, a chatty, robot bartender. After a year of solitude, the joys of the technology have worn thin and his thoughts turned to suicide. He steps out of the ship’s airlock and for a moment, contemplates plunging into the dark void of space.

After more than a year of aching grief and loneliness and growing a grizzly beard, Jim glances into one of the pods and sees a gorgeous young blonde. He is rescued by the discovery of a sleeping capsule containing AURORA LANE (Jennifer Lawrence). Enamored with his “sleeping beauty”, he examines her life story and database. She is a gorgeous young writer from Manhattan, who sought to explore and write about the new world.

Driven by his loneliness, he suffers pangs of guilt about whether to release Aurora from her hibernation. At the end of Act One, he caused Aurora’s pod to malfunction. At last, he has company, but at a great price.

Act Two is devoted to the charming, budding romance between the lost lovers. However, drifting below the surface is the dreaded truth about Jim’s actions.

Arthur accidently reveals the truth and Aurora flies into a rage. She struggles to deal with her situation, as Jim vainly attempts to make amends.

The Third Act jumps into high gear as Jim and Aurora race to stop the ship’s computer systems from malfunctioning and destroying the ship. It features some extraordinary visuals as the pair risk a dangerous spacewalk to prevent the ship from exploding.

Aurora risks everything to rescue Jim who has floated away from the spaceship. This is high octane excitement, but too little too late to fight off the snooze factor.


In the last few years, it has become somewhat of a Christmas tradition to see Jennifer Lawrence star in a movie.

She is a talented actress whose name has become a guaranteed box office draw. In the past several years, her Xmas contribution to movie pleasure have been AMERICAN HUSTLE and JOY.

Chris Pratt became a star after appearing in the whimsical, sleeper hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and solidified it with his heroic turn as a scientist/adventurer in JURASSIC WORLD. His performance pumped up the action and fun of JURASSIC WORLD and turned it into one of the most popular movies in the Jurassic Park series.

Pratt and Lawrence are effortlessly charming and would make a fantastic cast for a great romantic comedy. Pratt brings a naïve working class charm to his role of Jim. Lawrence is elegant and brings a soulfulness to her role of Aurora.

Despite the charm of the two stars, however, there is no one else to play off except for Arthur, the bartender. Sheen plays Arthur with a perpetual smile and an amount of congeniality and earns some of the best lines of the movie.


The plot or lack of it. We are asked to believe that a giant spacecraft with 5,000 people aboard has no provision whatsoever for getting struck by an asteroid or dealing with any disaster.

The crew is unavailable to help in the event of an asteroid or other disaster. They are hibernating behind impregnable doors. Despite being a technological marvel, there is no way for our two main characters to return to blissful hibernation. The corporation that launched the ship is light years away on planet Earth, unable to being contacted in case of an emergency.

Lawrence Fishburne appears briefly as GUS, a crewmember released from his hibernation, when a passing meteorite strikes the ship. His role appears to be more of a plot device than a full scale character.

He informs Jim and Aurora that their ship is facing destruction with the malfunction of the computer systems. He gives them instructions on how to save the ship from pending disaster before conveniently dying of a heart attack.


This script supposedly ranked high on the BLACKLIST website. It was directed by the highly regarded director of THE IMITATION GAME. Surprisingly, this script did not receive a Pass from the many executives or their readers during its journey to the big screen Notes should have included lack of action, lack of secondary characters for the main characters to interact, and meaningful character development. This should have sent it back for a major rewrite.

The biggest mystery of all is how two A-List talents were convinced to star in this movie. The final voiceover sends the movie off on an optimistic note, but it is not enough to save it from tepid word of mouth reviews and sinking at the box office.

Lew Ritter is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about him here.

Diana Vacc sees “Snowden”


by Diana Vaccarelli

              *If you haven’t viewed this film yet be warned this review may contain spoilers!*

As another step in our march through the Awards Season, I went and saw Snowden.  This film follows a story some of us are quite familiar with: NSA analyst Edward Snowden and how he leaked the NSA’s illegal surveillance techniques.


  • The performance of Joseph Gordon Levitt as Edward Snowden is Oscar worthy as he not only got the voice and speaking rhythm right but physically changed into this man. 3rd Rock from the Sun is long gone from him now. Way to go, JGL!
  • The writing of this film by Oliver Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald is a thing of beauty.  Stone and Fitzgerald bring this controversial news story to life. Watching this film made me think long and hard about the reach our government’s eyes and ears have and how all of us need to fight for our privacy.


  • This film does present a few key questions, but the most important one is this:  How authentic is it? Especially regarding Snowdon’s attitude and motivation. Was he a patriotic hero or a traitor? A little bit of both? In terms of humanity, that’s possible; none of us, after all, is all good or all bad. But legally? Morally? Ethically? How can we know? Where can we find facts to support or explode the film’s POV on the matter?


Do you want to see a film that centers around our right to privacy and how we need to protect it? Snowden offers that.  But is this entertainment or propaganda? It’s an Oliver Stone film, after all, and this aspect of his track record is mixed.

This time around, the entertainment factor definitely is present. But be careful. If you do not want to be provoked into re-examining some very thorny issues, tread with caution. If you do – this film is a must-see.

Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE

Diana Vacc sees “Ghostbusters”


by Diana Vaccarelli

*If you haven’t viewed this film yet be warned this review may contain spoilers!*

It has been thirty years since the original Ghostbusters was released into theaters and instantly became a classic.  Paul Feig, famed director of Bridesmaids and Spy, took the helm in this reboot for a new generation.  This film finds a new cast of characters headed by Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth investigating paranormal activity in Manhattan.


  • Even though the writing by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold follows the same formula as the original they added a fantastic twist.  Casting all women in the lead roles.  It is funny and entertaining. I laughed out loud throughout the whole film.  The first scene in the haunted mansion made me both laugh with pleasure and jump with surprise.
  • Not one of the ghostbusting lady stars stands out in this film, Kate McKinnon comes close. Her turn as Holtzmann is both quirky and humorous and reminds me of Bill Murray’s beloved character of Venkman from the original.
  • I quite enjoyed the special effects in this film.  The ghosts were truly realistic and scary. One of the scariest scenes took place in the New York City Subway. The ghost that appears to the ghostbusters out of nowhere induced a genuine, heartfelt “EEKK!” in the audience I saw it with. (To be fair, those of us that live in NY know the subway can be a scary place even without ghosts.)
  • The film paid homage to the original by having Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, and Ernie Hudson all have cameos.  My favorite of all the cameos is Bill Murray as the famous skeptic trying to disprove the findings by Erin (Kristen Wiig) and Abby (Melissa McCarthy).


  • Melissa McCarthy’s performance as Ghostbuster Abby and Chris Hemsworth’s turn as Kevin the Assistant.  McCarthy, as much as I love her and find her comical in everything that she does, just wasn’t as funny as the other ladies in the cast.  Hemsworth’s character appeared to be a combo of Rick Moranis and Annie Potts character, but Hemsworth played him as so stupid that I couldn’t get invested in his character.


If you loved the original Ghostbusters you will appreciate and at the very least like this reboot.  Be warned, though. There’s enough lacking that I suggest you save your dollars and wait for the DVD or On Demand.

I give this film 73 Vaccs out of 100 as a theater experience!

Happy Summer Blockbuster Season!

Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE