Hand of God

Amazon.com does more than simply sell everything.They noticed what Netflix has done, and joined in to not only distribute films and TV shows via their streaming service, but they also create their own content in the form of TV shows that they’ve labeled Amazon Original Series. Among the five new pilots now available to see, today I watched Hand of God which starred Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) and Dana Delaney (Body of Proof and Desperate Housewives).

From the Amazon site for this pilot we get this description: A psychological drama about a morally corrupt judge who suffers a breakdown and believes God is compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice.

Actually, I have no gripes about that as a description. Ron Perlman, who just wrapped the still unseen final season of Sons of Anarchy, plays a criminal court judge named Pernell Harris. Dana Delaney is his wife Crystal Harris. When we meet Judge Harris he is naked in the fountain in the town square of the fictional town named San Vicente, CA. He’s chanting in what can only be called ‘tongues’.

Judge Harris thinks he is undergoing a baptism, and on or off the record, he calls himself ‘born again’. From our perspective, the Judge looks like he’s run off the tracks. But there’s a reason. His family has had a very recent and very dark event befall them. Judge Harris’s daughter-in-law had recently been repeatedly raped right in front of her husband, the Judge’s son. The son, in despair, attempted to take his own life, but he survived his own gunshot into his head, and now lies comatose in a hospital.

Mrs. Harris is seen telling it to the judge

Mrs. Harris is seen telling it to the judge

Somehow the Judge thinks he is being spoken to by God through his comatose son. He hears the voice of God, and has hallucinations in which he is told to follow the trail of blood, which he sees but no one else does.

So the judge is against turning off the machines which keep his son alive, and arrives at the hospital with a last-minute court order to prevent the hospital from following the instructions by next of kin the wife.

And there’s Part One of your set up.

Perlman is corrupt up to his eyeballs, and we see him in a lengthy hot and heavy session with a high-end call girl who services him right in his judicial chambers at $1500 per ‘date’. He says he can’t do this any more but it remains to be seen if this ‘vow’ holds up. There’s also a bit of shady business with an equally corrupt mayor,. Let’s not leave out a former soap opera TV star who is now an evangelical minister,

and there’s a violent criminal (Garret Diiahunt) who the judge lets off based on a ‘born again’ defense for the sole purpose of using this thug to do the ‘wet-work’ the judge needs in his chosen path of vigilante justice and revenge.

And that is Part Two of the set up.

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The Cosmopolitans

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If you are a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s novels, then you know that he wrote The Sun Also Rises in 1926. It was about a group of American and British ex-pats who travel from Paris to Pamplona Spain. In Hemingway’s own words it was his notion that the ‘Lost Generation’ considered to have been decadent, dissolute, and irretrievably damaged by World War I, was [actually] resilient and strong. The theme of the book besides love, death, and renewal in nature, and the nature of masculinity, also included Paris and how it attracted droves of the Lost Generation.

The Sun Also Rises was made into a movie and it was released in 1957. Some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest stars of the 1940’s and 50’s appeared in the film – Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, and Errol Flynn were the headliners.

cosmos

I never read the book, and never saw the film either. But flashing forward to today, we have The Cosmopolitans which was written, directed, and produced by Whit Stillman. Now Whit Stillman is not a name that readily comes to mind. I’ve seen (and reviewed) just one of his films – Damsels in Distress which came out in 2011. It was about of a trio of privileged girls who set out to change the male-dominated environment of the Seven Oaks college campus, and to rescue their fellow students from depression, grunge and low standards of every kind.

l to r: Hal, Jimmy, Aubrey, and Sandro in the Paris Metro. They're heading for the pary at Fritz's place.

l to r: Hal, Jimmy, Aubrey, and Sandro in the Paris Metro. They’re heading for the pary at Fritz’s place.

In short these girls want to make things better, and have a great time doing it, just like Hemingways characters Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, and Robert Cohn did so long ago. In The Cosmopolitans which premiered its pilot today, Stillman takes what he can from both Hemingway and Damsels in Distress and sets us up in Paris, with three guys Jimmy, Hal. and an Italian guy named Sandro. Then there are three girls – Aubrey, Vicky, and Camille. The wild card is guy named Fritz who is wealthy, tosses parties, and knows every one.

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The November Man

Once upon a time, Pierce Brosnan played that world-famous British secret agent known as Bond, James Bond. He played that role in four films; the last time was in 2002’s Die Another Day. Since then he’s worked in a large number of films – and has been on-screen EVERY year since he and Bond went in different directions.

Once upon a time, Roger Donaldson was an A-List director. Donaldson worked with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in The Bounty (1984), with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman in No Way Out (1987), Tom Cruise in Cocktail (1988), Robin Williams in Cadillac Man (1990), which were followed by White Sands, The Getaway, and Species. Donaldson and Brosnan worked together in Dante’s Peak (1997) – a film best described as a critical disaster of a volcano movie, in which the volcano out performed the actors.

Donaldson’s career took a definite down turn following Dante’s Peak. In the 17 years since 1997 Donaldson has directed just five feature films, which brings us to The November Man which was adapted from the Bill Granger 1987 novel called There Are No Spies from his book series, The November Man, and produced by Brosnan’s production company Irish Dream Time.

Simply, Brosnan is back into his secret agent mode and as the film begins we learn he’s an ex-CIA agent, now retired and living in Montenegro, who is asked, by his former handler, John Hanley

(played by Bill Smitrovich) to go into Moscow and ex-filtrate a woman who’s been in the employ of a leading Russian politician/mobster who could become the next President of Russia. Simultaneously, she’s been serving as the eyes and ears for the CIA.

Luke Bracey

Luke Bracey

As the ex-filtration plays out with bullets, drones with cameras, and an automobile chase – we meet other characters, a young CIA agent Danny Mason (played by Luke Bracey), and an even higher senior CIA guy Perry Weinstein who is played by Will Patton. Patton also played in No Way Out back in 1987.

This time, Patton is buried beneath a glaringly obvious wig and huge eyes glasses so much so – that you’ll probably recognize him by his voice before you recognize him visually. And maybe there’s something to way his character simply is in the film and then isn’t. Maybe that’s why I haven’t found even a single picture of him from the film. The above image is a screen capture from the trailer.

The story then takes us to Belgrade, Serbia and most of the film occurs there. It is in the city that we learn of Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko – a former ‘Bond’ girl has the part) who works for a small agency to aid and help girls who have managed to break free from the sex traffickers.

That’s about all of the lead-in I can manage without giving away too much of the story.

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The One I Love

The new film, The One I Love, starring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass opened on Friday, August 22nd. I actually saw this film back in April at the Sarasota Film Festival. At that time, the film was so new that there wasn’t even a film poster available. As long as I am looking backwards – there was no trailer available back then either. I had to illustrate the review with stills that I pulled from the one available clip. But now that the film is officially released complete with a film poster and a trailer…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Dk1QdNq4E

… I’ve decided to reprint the review, with two pieces of new information. At the time (April 13th, 2014) that I watched this film and reviewed it, I had not seen even one episode of Mad Men. Adding to that fact, I must also admit that I hadn’t watched very much of The West Wing. But  for all of the past 11 days, I have been playing catch-up or said another way, I’ve been immersed, for the last 11 days, in watching the Mad Men series. As of this morning, I am at Season 6, Episode 7.  This morning, as I was driving to Morton’s, a food emporium here is Sarasota, I heard a brief interview with Elisabeth Moss on the radio, and it was in this interview that I learned that in The West Wing, Moss had played the daughter of President Bartlet. She appeared in 25 episodes over the 7 seasons the TWW ran.

Seeing that Moss was born in 1982, making her 32, that means that almost half of her life has been spent on just these two TV series. Now that I’ve seen Moss as Peggy Olsen in Mad Men, her performance in The One I Love is seen in a different light. But I digress. Forthwith, here is the review as published on April 13th, 2014.

The Closing Night Feature Film at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival was The One I Love. Directed by first-timer Charlie McDowell, and written by feature film first timer Justin Lader, the film is basically a two-hander starring Elisabeth Moss (Top of the Lake, Mad Men, Darling Companion) and Mark Duplass (The Mindy Project, Zero Dark Thirty, Darling Companion & Your Sister’s Sister). Acting vet Ted Danson has a small role as a marriage therapist.

Now this is a very, very new film. There’s not a poster, nor a trailer to be found. But there is a clip out there. Prior to Sarasota, the film has screened only at Sundance this past January. Further festivals on the horizon include Newport Beach, Tribeca, Montclair, and San Francisco. So the film makers will be on the move.

By the way, all the images that you’ll see in this review, with the exception of the one above this line, and the newly minted film poster – are stills pulled from the clip.

ZZZ - ZZZZ -This man spent the night on the sofa

ZZZ – ZZZZ -This man spent the night on the sofa

Here’s the skinny. Moss as Sophia, and Duplass as Ethan, play thirty-somethings. They’ve been married long enough for Ethan to have strayed, and so their marriage is on the rocks, at a crossroad, about to hemorrhage, or burst at the seams. Pick one or all of the above as all apply. So they’ve chosen to consult with a marriage counselor, played by Danson.

Danson elects to send them off on a weekend retreat – away from their familiar surroundings, a place where they can just concentrate on finding the spark they once had. Or as Streisand and Redford once called it – The Way We Were. But this new film isn’t anything like that one. It all takes place over one weekend. Years don’t fly by. There’s just one brief flashback and it basically opens the film.

Good Morning, handsome

Good Morning, handsome

So off they go, to an unnamed in the film, location which turns out to be up in the hills above Ojai, California. You won’t find that fact on IMDB, but McDowell, Lader, and Moss were on hand at the SFF for a post-screening Q & A, and that’s how I know. More on the Q & A later.

Suffice it to say, things go smoothly for a while. It’s a lovely home – fully stocked, fully equipped, and it even has its own separate guest house which is slightly smaller than the main house, but as fully loaded as it needs to be. They have the whole place to themselves.

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Legends: New TNT Series

TNT rolls out its brand new undercover series called Legends later tonight. Starring Sean Bean as a deep cover undercover operative for the FBI, the series has a strong production team behind it. Howard Gordon of Homeland and the X-Files is on board, as is Brad Turner of 24 and Hawaii Five-0. That looks like an impressive lineage.

As the pilot episode begins, Bean as Martin Odum has been deep undercover with a right-wing militia group called the Citizens Army of Virginia. His cover ID is Lincoln Dittmann, a disillusioned construction worker who has lost his family and his job due to the recession which he blames on the US Government. He’s itching for payback/revenge in the form of action and starts to agitate to do something more important than deliveries and maintenance. But before he can be admitted to the covert action wing, he must undergo more vetting and be granted approval by the founding father.

The local head roughs him up a bit, and plays with his head to see if he’ll break under pressure. He doesn’t, but just then, this outpost is raided by the ATF.

Odum/Dittman and another guy get busted (for show) by the ATF. Next thing you know we are back in the San Fernando Valley in California. Odum is called in by his handler Crystal (Ali Larter) and she reports to Yates of the CIA who is played by Steve Harris. While at HQ in LA, we meet the rest of the crew, Odum gets a call which he takes as Dittman and is told to report to Chicago for an assignment, and he will finally meet the ‘founding father’.

So inside of the first 15 minutes, we’ve gone from Virginia to California to Chicago. The CAV is going to blow up a meeting of the IMF (International Monetary Fund) which would place all of the world’s leading bankers in one place. That sounds ominous and that’s your set up.

I like Sean Bean. I think he carries plenty of menace when’s he’s supposed to be bad (Patriot Games) and plenty of rough-hewn charisma when he’s supposed to be good like when he played Boromir in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Ned Stark in Games of Thrones. Here he has the role of a smart and tough operative who needs a new cover and back story for each assignment that he takes. Which brings us to a problem. A mysterious stranger asks Odum, Who are you? Which means, Who do you think you are?

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Murder in the First: Season Finale – Blunt the Edge

So Murder in the First wrapped the cases and the season tonight. The final episode was called Blunt the Edge. I’ve got two questions – did you notice that the po-po interviewed Salter (once) and Mrs. Harbach (twice) in this episode, but they did not show us any interview with Bill Wilkerson. That’s the first question. The second question is bit easier to answer. The phone that was used to capture Blunt’s confession to Wilkerson, belonged to who?

I’ll answer that one myself – Wilkerson. But considering that we did not see Wilkerson hand the phone off to the police, it seemed a bit underhanded. Enjoyable? Of course. But still it was a bit of dramatic sleight of hand. Conceived in such a way, that we could not have seen it coming, whereas the fake bug in Wilkerson watch was easy to expect. Of course that woman standing on the steps as Blunt walked in to police HQ had the phone. If they hadn’t had made a point of showing her to us, I wouldn’t have wondered who she was. That is, until she handed the phone to Hildy Mulligan. Then again maybe it was simply a micro-recorder as there is a likelihood that the voice recording could have been overheard, captured and then downloaded to a recorder rather than a cell phone. Then again, the warrant did specify that a cell-phone would be in play.

Okay, we already knew that a) Blunt killed Strauss as he had admitted it to English and Mulligan. We also knew that English had told Blunt that he would get him for the Nyers murder. As I watched the dominoes marched in like a processional, it was clear that the script would end with Blunt in the police lockup. If any one was going to kill him it would have happened early on.

Right off the bat, the episode opened with Blunt and the lawyer Hertzberg giving Mrs. Harbach the half million. So I knew that would be one of the fatal flaws. I just didn’t expect the police to get on to that so fast. And talk about dollar wise and penny foolish. Blunt is giving Mrs. Harbach a half million – did they have to make the Harbachs pay for the medication (and the entry was dated before the Nyers murder) and well before Mrs. Harbach got the money.

Second – the business about the gun. Didn’t that seem far too easy? The gun was traced back to a detective who gave it to Salter who gave it to Blunt who gave it to Wilkerson who gave it to old man Harbach. I can hear the dominoes falling.

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New Thoughts on the Final Season of The Killing

I’m still digesting the last two episodes and the overall Final Season of The Killing. But I can offer some insights. Please consider that these are not meant to be all-inclusive or absolutes. As you all know, they’re just opinions. First the Positives or Pro reactions.

About the cinematography – I really liked the slow-moving aerial shots which served as the indicators of the transitions of both time and place. Yes, they were repetitive, but they brought forth the tranquility that exists outside when you step away, and place yourself ‘above’ the fray. While often the transition was bringing us toward a cauldron like St. George Academy, or the Stansbury home, or even Linden’s ‘set apart’ island home, the aerial shots served as a respite, by breaking the tension. With the silence of elevation with just an occasional bird noise along with some mild musical scoring, it was like a brief easing off the gas pedal emotionally speaking. A chance for the viewer to grab some light and lightness of feeling which always follows the dark and the darkness.

And the closeups. One of my readers liked the aspect of the closeups which seemed to come with far greater frequency in Ep 5 and Ep 6 than earlier. Probably different directors. You know, closeups are really a dual mechanism, or offer an alternate perspective.

On the one hand, closeups brings us right up close to the actors or characters and we see everything – a tremor, a tic, and a quick insight in that instant when the characters eyes change according to what they’re thinking. Like a smile that starts but is halted before it is noticed. Or the downturned mouth. We see with a greater clarity their hesitance to say something, or even we know visually that they struggling with their thoughts. An example that offered a complete silence as a reaction was when Linden pulled a gun on Holder. She needed the release of violence, or a chance at violence because a storm was brewing inside of her. She couldn’t hold on to that thought as she collapsed under the weight of her own action.  Holder’s face conveyed shock, anger, revulsion, and more than a trace of pity. It was straight forward. His partner hadn’t trusted him. His disappointment as well as all the other emotions  were so obvious on his face while he said nothing. He just left.

On the other hand, the closeup pushes everything else out of the picture. The loss of the depth of field which creates a blurred and indistinct background gives us only the character to focus on. The external distractions simply blend in to nothingness. I think it heightens the intensity and is a very powerful stylistic choice.

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