Fort Bliss

Fort Bliss opened at just three theaters this weekend. One in Manhattan, one in Burbank, and at one in Fort Bliss, Texas. But if you are not living in the vicinity of those places you can catch the film on demand.

The skinny is that Michelle Monaghan plays US Army Staff Sergeant Maggie Swann, and as the film opens, she is in Afghanistan serving as a medic. She’s pretty good at her job, and by the time she gets back stateside, she will have won a Bronze Star.

She is a single Mom and her 15 month tour has shattered the bond she had with her young son Paul (Oakes Fegley) who is now five years old. While Maggie was overseas, the boy bonded with his father (Ron Livingston) and his girlfriend Alma (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and doesn’t really remember all that much about his birth Mom.

But Maggie is a can do kind of person, and so, now that she’s back, she drags Paul off to come live with her in her Fort Bliss apartment. But none of that works too well. The boy needs time and care to warm up to his real Mom, and Maggie needs to time to adjust to living back in the USA. Her overseas deployment may be over, but she still replays events from over there in her dreams, which come to her when she is able to sleep, which isn’t often.

Written, directed, and produced by Claudia Myers, the film lacks what you might call cinematic polish. Maybe that is because Claudia Myers has not been a director all that long. Or maybe it is because the film is a low-budget indie. Much of it is slow or meandering, and we get plenty of signals as to what should be coming next. Only it takes its time, and here and there, you might find yourself getting fidgety.

But this is a film that works dramatically and is carried by the strong performance by Michelle Monaghan. As Sgt. Swann she’s tough without being brash, and you’ll believe it when you see it that she still has to prove herself on more than a few occasions both in combat as well as stateside.

Swann is not a Private Benjamin (1980) played by Goldie Hawn, nor is she a G.I. Jane (1997) played by Demi Moore. She’s also nothing like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in the Alien Franchise. This is a brave and courageous woman who will say pretty far into the film:

“I love my son and I love my country and I don’t think I should have to choose between them.”

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

In my travels across the south of France from Nice to Frejus to Brignoles to Aix-en-Provence, and then on to Arles, Nimes, Beziers, Narbonne and Perpignan, I don’t recall seeing even one Indian restaurant. We certainly didn’t find one in the medieval fortress at Cite de Carcassonne. But the point is that in the film The Hundred-Foot Journey, an enterprising Indian family, the Kadams, decide to open an Indian restaurant in the south of France in a town called Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val.

The Hundred-Foot Journey in the title refers to the distance from the front door of the Maison Mumbai to the entrance of an elegant traditional French restaurant directly across the street. The Michelin starred French restaurant is named Le Saule Pleureur’s.

But the film doesn’t begin in France. The film opens in the open air food markets of Bombay, as a small boy follows his mother as she makes her rounds shopping for that night’s meal. Flash forward to the recent past, as the small boy has now grown into being a young man, Hassan, played by Manish Dayal.

He’s a now cooking for his family’s restaurant in Mumbai – that is until communal riots consume both the family restaurant and his mother in cauldron of flames.

The family relocates to London, but do not like the weather, and are soon on the roads of Western Europe. A near accident on a hilly road in Saint Antonin- Noble Val knocks the family car out of commission for a while.

Fortunately a local woman, Marguerite played by Charlotte Le Bon, takes them in and offers temporary lodging and a meal while the car is being repaired.

The family patriarch called Papa and played wonderfully by the veteran Indian actor Om Puri takes a liking to the locale, and is soon gazing at an empty shell of a building. As enterprising people can do, he immediately sees this space as the new home for his next restaurant.

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A Five Star Life

Ever stay in a five-star hotel?

What if your professional life required you to travel and stay in the leading hotels of the world on a regular basis? What if you got paid to stay in those hotels?

In the film A Five Star Life we meet such a person. Her name is Irene Lorenzi. She’s a single Italian woman in her forties and she’s portrayed by Margherita Buy. To many of us, she has a job to die for. Directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi with a screenplay by Tognazzi, Francesca Marciano, and Ivan Cotroneo – Margherita Buy walked off with the David di Donatello Award (Italy’s Oscar equivalent) as Best Actress in 2013 for her performance in this film.

It is a simple story. She goes to the best hotels with her changes of clothing and her toilet articles, a computer, something to read, and most importantly – her work kit bag. The kit bag contains white gloves to check for dust/dirt, thermometers to test the temperatures of the hot tea or coffee, stop watches to track the amount of time it takes for the room service to deliver, and so forth.

She notices if the bellman who brings the luggage to the room is well-groomed with a pressed shirt, ironed uniform, and polished shoes. She’ll take notice of the concierge’s attitude, knowledge, and even how often he smiles and if he remembers her name. She’ll notice much about the way the maintenance people, the dining room staff, and the housekeeping staff who make up the rooms each day, go about their duties.

Are the sheets crisp or scratchy, are the towels fluffy or tired, how often are the flowers are changed. How long do room service trays remain in the hallways. She even checks beneath the beds to see if the housekeeping people routinely check beneath the beds.

Then she has her computerized check-list where all the data is recorded with check marks for success, and x’s for failures, and free form text boxes for commentaries. When all is said and done – she will report her findings to the hotel manager.

What is at stake – the five stars of course.

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The Drop

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Most of the attention given to the new Brooklyn gangster film called The Drop has been given to the fact that this was the last performance by the late and great James Gandolfini. But from the jump I must state that this film belongs to the British actor Tom Hardy. Tom has shelved his UK accents and has submerged into the role of Bob Saginowsky, a neighborhood bartender in Brooklyn.

He’s quiet, slow of speech, and he seems to be not so quick on the uptake. He’s a neighborhood guy, working in a neighborhood bar. He goes to church regularly, and knows to keep his head down, even in church as he doesn’t take communion. There’s no glitz in this film at all, and no one, other than the Russian mob guys, including the lead, Tom Hardy, shows any kind of fancy clothes, fancy cars, bling, or high-tech weapons.

This is blue-collar Brooklyn. The mob guys are not Irish or Italians, they’re Chechens. But don’t let that fool you. They are as scary as any film villains you’ve ever seen.

The screen play was written by Dennis Lehane, who adapted his own short story Animal Rescue, into this film. The milieu has changed from Boston to Brooklyn. For those of you who may not know, and I was one of them, a description of what a drop bar is given by Hardy as Saginowsky in the opening minutes. Mob activities like numbers, bookmaking, shylock, or drug trade all produce cash. This dirty money needs to be someplace – so on any particular night, a bar serves as a temporary holding area for this cash.

They use time release safes which means the ‘vendors’ drop their cash off at the bar, and it ends up in the safe, rather than the cash register, and then the mob guys come by and pick it up later. The drop bar changes on a regular basis.

The film has a low-key feel to it. There’s some action, but this film is character driven rather than action oriented. The screenplay takes its time to reveal the multiple layers of each character, and as such, this is more of an actors film that a story driven by the plot.

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The Leftovers – the HBO Drama Ends it First Season

Now that HBO’s The Leftovers has concluded its first season – the major question that occurs is what can they do for an encore. Thanks to Lindelof and Perrotta, we’ve spent the last 10 weeks pondering the mysteries of life and death, morality and mortality, good and bad, as well as the divide between grieving and moving on to name but a few.

Actually a very key question was spoken by Scott Glenn as the older Garvey to his son Kevin Garvey – and that was, Is this it? Is this all there is and is it enough?

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Applying the same questions to The Leftovers itself, we are stuck for a concrete answers. As Mapleton, New York, was consumed in the terror of a single night of the complete breaking down of society – is it possible to achieve a happy ending? Let’s take a look:

Wayne the Lord of the Frauds has perished. In his last act of kindness he granted Kevin’s unspoken wish. At least he said the word – granted. But while we didn’t hear Kevin say the words of his wish, it seems obvious that he wanted his family back (in one form or another) but we had to flash back to the Departure itself to recall that Kevin had hated his family situation. In fact he was breaking his marriage vows as The Departure occurred.

So who killed Wayne? This is a mystery that might be a topic of concern in the second season. But isn’t strange that Tom, Christine, and Wayne all ended up in Kevin Garvey’s orbit at the end of the first season? And what do you make of Tom abandoning the baby on Kevin’s porch.

The GR – aka the Guilty Remnant – they weren’t quite blinded by the light, and still their whole existence is a mystery. It took ten weeks for us to discover the true goal of the Guilty Remnant – was ‘to make them remember‘. This is a question in its own right. Why did the GR do what they did… and how is how any of us deal with grief and remembrance their concern?

What gives the GR the right to insist that I, or you, and all the other members of Mapleton remember their lost loved ones by the GR recreating those very people in the form of life-like replicas. And the self-abnegation by the GR itself – the absence of color , the silence, and the whole aspect of living within a cloud of smoke. I don’t get them at all. This is not even considering how they were funded?

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Happy Valley

I’m Catherine. I’m 47 years old. I’m divorced. I live with me sister who is a recovering heroin addict by the way. I’ve two grown up children. One dead, and the other I don’t speak to, and a grandson.

That’s our lead character in the brand new Netflix Mini-Series called Happy Valley. Set somewhere in a rural Yorkshire County valley, in the UK, she’s Catherine Cawood. In the local parlance she’s a copper. Actually she’s the uniformed sergeant in the local constabulary, and she’s in charge of a team.

She’s a no-nonsense kind of sergeant who believes a strong word here and there is better than a soft or mild dressing down for the staff when appropriate. With outsiders, she’s polite, fair, and fearless. In Episode Two, watch how she arrests a city-councilman who refused a breathalyzer test after an automobile smash-up.

With her ex-husband, Richard, she gets along well. They’re divorced and maybe it was them, or maybe it was her job as a homicide investigator, bad hours and all, or maybe it was the death of their daughter that pulled them apart. However, the fires haven’t gone completely out for either of them.

There’s a moment when she had met her ex-husband for a drink, and one thing led to another and Sgt. Cawood tells Richard, “You’d better come in. I’m too old to be shagging in a car…”

Then there’s the dead daughter to consider. She was raped, got pregnant as a result, and once the child was delivered, Catherine’s daughter took her own life. The good Sgt. is still haunted by it.

Of course there’s a case, and without giving away too much:

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Hinterland – New TV Mini-Series on Netflix

Netflix unveiled its latest series today September 1st. They didn’t make this one, it is from the Wales in the UK and it aired there last fall in Welsh, and an English language version in January of this year. The series is called Hinterland. It consists (the Netflix version) of four episodes with each episode running 90 to 95 minutes.

IMDB describes the series: A noir crime drama set in Aberystwyth, Wales, where the knackered and troubled but intense DCI Tom Mathias [is] in search for redemption, while solving hate crimes.

And from Netflix: Forsaking London for the rustic landscapes of Wales, a police detective with a troubled soul finds himself in a place with secrets as dark as his own.

Now if this sounds somewhat familiar, I’ll gladly respond that yes, this is something like Broadchurch which took a whole season to solve one murder. This show is the opposite with a new case each week. The setting is in coastal Wales, and this is a place with mountains, and hills, and sea cliffs, and wet, cold, and damp weather. The terrain is the same as the weather – difficult and is best suited for people who can be described as hardy.

Deputy Chief Inspector Mathias is played by Richard Harrington, and his right hand is Deputy Inspector Mared Rhys played by Mali Harries. So, like Broadchurch, the two police leads are a man and a woman. Mathias lives in a ramshackle house high on a bluff overlooking the sea. He’s bearded, in his early 40’s, and is of medium height. We aren’t quite sure why he’s been posted to this part of Wales – which is across the sea and opposite Wexford, Ireland.

He lives alone and all we know of him is that he keeps a picture of two girls in his house. Likely his daughters – but there’s no sign of a wife. Each episode begins and ends with him doing his early AM run – and that he does this come rain or come shine on a daily basis. He’s not a big or imposing fellow, but he looks, judging from his running, to be quite fit.

In the first episode called Devil’s Bridge we meet Mathias on his first day on the job. Of course he’s an experienced homicide detective, but he can’t even get his tail into a chair before getting a call. He meets his right hand at the crime scene. An elderly woman has disappeared under what is likely violent circumstances; if the amount of blood found in the out-of-the-way sea-side bungalow is any kind of indicator. Besides the forensics there is one solid clue – a painting in a smashed glass frame. The painting (famous in this locality) depicts the face of the devil which seems to appear in the light and shadows formed by the folds of a scarf on the painting’s subject.

The missing woman, a Helen Jenkins, is a former mistress of a home for wayward children that is now a hotel. It’s location is in a nearby hamlet called Devil’s Bridge. We are not surprised when Detective Mathias finds the body of Helen Jenkins in the river bed in the gorge below.

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