The Berlin File

I watched this 2013 film, The Berlin File, about a shipment from Macau to Berlin. A film about arms deals, spying, assassination and defection. And it’s set in Berlin. The CIA, the Mossad, Arabs, Russians, North Koreans, and South Koreans are all a part of the story.

What or who is missing? Right, there’s no sign of Jason Bourne the man, but certainly present are the Bourne style fights.

The Berlin File comes to us from South Korean Director Seung-wan Ryoo. He’s gathered some of Korea’s top action actors along with female star Gianna Jun.

The film opens in the midst of an arms deal being discussed. We are in The Westin Hotel in Berlin. Someone is attempting to infiltrate the meeting. And from the looks of him and from what follows, he’s the hero. Or is he?

While ostensibly an action thriller, this is also a terrific spy film. It’s not so much about spycraft, coded messages, electronic surveillance, and dead drops, although we do have some of that. Instead we are asked to consider that loyalties change. The character we penned as the hero turns out to be working for the North Koreans. The character we deemed as the villain, apparently is working for the South Koreans.

And then there’s a third guy who could be working for either side. If you aren’t familiar with the actors, it does take a while before you can figure out who are the black hats and who are the white hats.

But wait, there’s more. One of the characters is apparently betrayed. Was it his wife, or was he sold out by his own country.

Okay all of the above means you do have to concentrate; you can’t doze off and expect to be awakened by the next gun fight. The action is quite fierce and exciting and I mean the the roof top chases, the shoot outs, and the hand-to-hand fighting.

Now I’ve seen a rather large number of films from Hong Kong that are about the triads, gang-warfare, financial crimes, and cops chasing down crooks. I’ve also watched a number of films from Japan that involved the Yakuza. But this one is my first Korean action film. I must admit that the action is superb, but there are more than a few negatives.

Guns are apparently the weapons of choice, but everyone’s marksmanship is horrible. But even with that, targets are hit, yet they struggle on – this film contains very little in the way of kill shots – at least for the principal actors.

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Transcendence opened today. Not quite with a thud but almost. Johnny Depp has little to do except think, dream, die – and  once that’s done, then the whole process begins again. Think of the fact of men, machines, and God; then roll them into one entity – as in sort of a new wave trinity, then upload this new being to the Internet, and you have a transcendental event or the theme of this film.

Now this film may sound as something provocative, or important, or even worthy of your time, money, and consideration. But really it isn’t. While not quite as numbingly bad as Depp’s turn as The Tourist in 2010, this is a film with little action, so-so dialogue, and a lot of philosophizing about the current natural order of things, and a new way to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Depp’s character Dr. Will Caster is not quite saying – We have met technology, and now we are technology. But that’s what the film is about. You see, as one of the world’s foremost authorities on Artificial Intelligence, Caster is set on building the ultimate Siri. Only he’s not talking about a mobile phone – instead he’s filled with terms like nannites, neural networks, AI, and more of the same.

Of course there are opponents. To wit, an anti-technology faction with Kate Mara as the Queen Bee called Bree. She’s not the least bit like a physical bee,  but don’t be fooled, she can surely sting as she’s the head of the opposition.

Now Caster has his allies as well. One of which is his wife Evelyn, played nicely by Rebecca Hall, another is Max Walter played by Paul Bettany, and a third is a think tank buddy/colleague/fellow scientist called Joseph Tagger and Morgan Freeman has the role.

So as the film begins we find the earth is mostly powerless, and since this is the case – we are back in the dark ages literally. We are told that Denver and another city have some power, but that is it Quickly we flash back five years and Dr. Caster is about to present his findings to an august body of some sort, or at least a packed auditorium, as opposed to a few guys at a corner pub.

He gives his speech and hallelujah, we all should embrace his benevolence and ways and means of not only protecting us from our own follies, but also, by doing so, we, along with AI, shall save the world. As he puts it, Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world.

He means that all of that intelligence would now be available to us, and would now be at our finger tips, or actually he means a keyboard.

But then, those bad folks, those anti-technology folks, gun him down in the lobby of the auditorium while he’s signing autographs – yes, geeks have groupies in this film. He doesn’t die of the gunshot. But that bullet was actually a very small projectile that might also be considered a dirty bomb. He’s given four or five weeks to live before he will die of radiation poisoning.

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Fargo – The New TV Series on FX

Lorne Malvo: Your problem is that you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t.

So says Billy Bob Thornton as the latest version of a killing machine, unlike The Terminator, this one is human and not only answers to the name of Lorne Malvo, but also answers questions in the same way we all do. He is a character you won’t admire, yet he’s one that you can’t help but love. I’m talking about the brand spanking new TV series called Fargo that premiered on the FX channel last night.

In case you are wondering, this series, which will run 10 episodes, is an adoption of the famed Coen Brothers film from 1996 called Fargo. In fact, the actual Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, are on board as Executive Producers of this series. They’ve adopted the same format as we’ve seen in True Detective – a one and done season with new characters or cases next year.

But while the TV series has definite reminders as well as something of the style of the film, this is more of a filtered reflection than any thing else. The characters are not the same – though the weather is. For example, the pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in the film) is now the not pregnant Molly Solverson (played by Allison Tolman). And the manic car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in the film, is now an insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard (played by Martin Freeman).

The aforementioned Lorne Malvo is on hand to do some of the wet-work for the series.

Fargo may be the title but the show is set in Bemidji, MN – with Calgary and environs serving as the location of the production.

Like Fargo, the film, Fargo the TV Series. has its assortment of peculiar people, some as dumb as door knobs, and others not too far above that. We are also ‘treated’ to some unusual violence.

Why just in the first episode, a man was frozen to death while fleeing a captor, another was stabbed in the back of head while enjoying the services of a hooker,

yet another was bludgeoned to death with a hammer,

and lest I forget, a sheriff was shot down with a double-barrelled shotgun.

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The Lunch Box

In Mumbai, India, there’s a system of delivering lunches that are picked up from home kitchens and restaurants then delivered to workers in their offices (right to their desk) via bikes, trains, and pushcarts with errors only being the remotest of possibilities. After the lunch breaks are over, the tiffins (lunch boxes) are picked up, then transported back to the exact point of origin. Every day, nearly 175,000 such lunch boxes are picked up, delivered, and returned. The rate of error for lunches either being lost or delivered incorrectly, is so low that once in a million deliveries applies. This system has been in use since the latter part of the 19th century.

This film is about one such lunchbox and it is no surprise that film is entitled The Lunch Box. This lovely film was written and directed by Ritesh Batra in his first ever work on a feature film and has won awards at film festivals from Reykjavik to Sao Paulo, from such diverse places like Oslo, London, Ghent, and from Tribeca to Telluride to Dubai. Just a few days ago, The Lunch Box opened at Sarasota’s indie/art/foreign theater, the Burns Court Cinema.

Batra is only 35 years old and studied film in New York. But his touch is fine. He knows his craft, and the film flows by in a brief 104 minutes. This is an Indian film that has made the box offices light up all over the world.

Nosheen Iqbal, writing for The Guardian newspaper in the UK has noted that the film reflects India’s new taste for realism. It’s not really new, as years back, in the 60′s and 70′s, this style of film making was called India’s Parallel Cinema. In that era, those practitioners made films with serious content, naturalism, and an eye on realism rather than commercialism. So the Parallel Cinema has been around for a while.

Here’s the story of The Lunch Box, condensed of course.

Nimrat Kaur plays the housewife Ila. Her husband commutes to work each day from a Mumbai suburb, and Ila gets her young daughter off to school in the morning. She loves her husband, and tries hard to please him. But he doesn’t notice or care. So Ila enlists the help of a neighbor upstairs, called Auntie, whom we hear, but never see. An extra special lunch is prepared. The door bell rings, and there’s the dabbawallah to pick up the lunch. She watches as he loads the lunch box on to his bike, and rides off the train station where the lunches are organized and sorted before being sent to the city for delivery.

Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) plays Saajan Fernandes. He is an older man, a widower who is approaching his retirement from his job as an accountant in the Claims Department of a large insurance company. He too receives his lunches on a regular basis via the same system, only his lunches are prepared by a restaurant.

On this particular day something is different.

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The One I Love – Day Nine at the Sarasota Film Festival

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 two above this line – 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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The Heart Machine – Day Nine at the Sarasota Film Festival

[Some SPOILERS AHEAD] The Heart Machine is fresh off its world Premier at SXSW a few weeks ago. The film is so new, that at this time, there’s not even a film poster available, so pardon the make-do image on the right used for this piece.

The Heart Machine isn’t about new medical machinery or bio-tech. Rather it is about love in the digital age. These days, one asks for a way in by saying, What’s your Skype address?

It’s still the same as can I call you, only the hardware/software is different. The Heart Machine was screened at the Sarasota Film Festival today, and yours truly was in attendance. Starring John Gallagher Jr (The Newsroom) and Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards), this film wasn’t the comedy, the romance, or even the rom-com I was expecting and hoping for.

Rather it is a look at one-night stands, e-stalking, angst, skypurbation, and hovering over all of it, is the hollowness and fleeting (over just after it begins) of today’s relationships. The onscreen version is the relationship began and end as easily as opening a wrapped bit of chocolate then tossing the wrapper into the trash bin.

Gallagher plays Cody. He lives in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn. Sheil plays Virginia Walker. They met on line and communicate via Skype. For some reason (she’s somewhat insecure which may be the case but isn’t clearly apparent), Virginia tells Cody that she lives in Berlin, Germany. We soon learn otherwise, as she really lives on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside. Or as she describes it – ‘really way east of the Lower Eastside’.

But as these things go, the internet allows for an intimacy that an old-fangled telephone does not. So things progress. But Gallagher’s Cody is not just a guy looking for love. We soon find out that he may be paranoid and that he’s definitely obsessional. He takes screen captures of the Skype talks, and then starts blowing up the backgrounds in these images – is he just inquisitive, or what exactly does he expect to see? What is he looking for why is he looking so far beneath the surface are the questions that will come to you.

Then he starts listening to background sounds on the recorded Skype calls. He looks at the audio graphics of dog’s barking, and what he calls German sirens. This is not good. We begin to be concerned for Virginia. Because we know she’s in the city.

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God’s Pocket with Philip Seymour Hoffman – Day Eight at the Sarasota Film Festival

Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks are the big names who go small town and small time with in God’s Pocket – the debut feature film directorial effort by John Slattery (Mad Men, The Adjustment Bureau). God’s Pocket is not really a small town. Rather it is just a rundown and ugly section of mean streets in Philadelphia which can be more accurately be described as a neighborhood.

Richard Jenkins portrays the newspaper columnist Richard Shelburn in the local paper, and we open with him doing a voice over at a funeral. We get a look at the townsfolk, a sorry-looking bunch,  attending said funeral, and, as they are exiting, a fight breaks out. The screen flashes a text: Three Days Earlier – so we know we are heading for a lengthy flashback of the events leading up to the funeral.

The deceased is one Leon Scarpato, the son of Jeannie Scarpato (Hendricks) who is the wife of Mickey Scarpato (Hoffman). He’s a low-level crook who will soon be participating in a small time heist of a meat delivery truck with his pal Arthur (Turturro) who needs to steal the truck to sell the meat as he’s 20K in debt to Sal – the local bully, goon, and loan shark.

They pay off the driver of the meat truck – Here’s your money, go have a nice breakfast, and come back in not less than an hour. When the truck driver asks one too many questions he gets a punch in the gut which sends him to the ground. Then he gets a warning.

You have your job, and we have our job. Now take the money and go have breakfast.

Meanwhile, Leon, on the job at a construction site, runs his foul mouth, flashes a knife far too often, and eventually nicks some one with it. Moments later his head and a piece of pipe wielded by the man Leon nicked, and called the N-word, collide, and Leon will soon be pronounced dead at the scene by the medics.

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