Citizenfour

I recall reading about Edward Snowden‘s revelations concerning the NSA and the surveillance apparatus only AFTER he arrived and set up camp in Hong Kong. The reality for me was that despite living in the US all my life, I knew far more about Hong Kong than I did about either Snowden or ‘big brother IS listening’.

That said, I spoke to a trusted source who said he had seen Citizenfour and considered it one the best films he had seen in quite some time. So to get this review up and running with only a little more background, I had spent about 4 plus days in South Carolina during the week before last week. But I left Beaufort, SC, on Saturday the 21st of February, to make the 425 mile drive back to Sarasota, so I’d be sure to be home for the Oscar broadcast last Sunday night.

When they announced that Citizenfour had won the Oscar for Best Feature Length Documentary I learned the name Laura Poitras. Hers was not a name that I knew. In fact, before Citizenfour, I was completely unfamiliar with any of her works. For the record, I had no knowledge of the names Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, or William Binney either.

Then I was lucky enough to be able to see Citizenfour the very next day, Monday the 23rd when it aired on HBO.

What I did know was the Mira Hong Kong Hotel. The hotel is located on the corner of Kimberly Road and Nathan Road, literally just a few steps from the most northerly exit of the Tsim Sha Tsui, MTR stop in Kowloon. I’d walked past the hotel on numerous occasions and I’m sure it was conceivable that I might have gazed up, at the upper floors of this hotel,where much of the film was shot, from standing on either a walking path in Kowloon Park (across the street from the hotel), or from the corner of Haiphong Road and Nathan Road, where the MTR exit was, and just 3 very short blocks away.

For me, the impact of the film was far greater than whether or not the film was either entertaining, or something to see for its style or amazing cinematography. The fact is that Poitras’s film showed, at least to me, what I hadn’t previously known. Yes I knew that Edward Snowden had revealed via copied documents, the inner workings of the security and surveillance apparatus ; and when he touched down in Hong Kong – it made the front page of newspapers all over the world.

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Ida

You are a young woman named Anna. For nearly all of your life, just about 18 years, you have lived in the convent that you were brought to as an infant. You know very little to nothing about the world out there as your world is the convent. Long ago you decided to join the order and become a nun.

Now, as a novitiate, you are just a few weeks away from taking your vows. Ahead is a life of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

But before then, you have been called to the office of the Mother Superior. I’ll let the images speak for themselves because this is how the film opens.

So off Anna goes. A bus journey, and Anna sees for the 1st time life away from the convent. When she arrives at the address of Wanda Gruz, she is admitted to Wanda’s apartment.

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Focus

If I were doing one sentence reviews I’d go with this:

Focus tries hard but ultimately fails because it is stingless.

Yes, you heard right, and that was… pun intended. The brand new Will Smith con man movie begins, really, with a small con within a minute of starting, and then works its way up the ladder of higher risks and greater rewards. Unfortunately for us – the only people who will be reaping the rewards are the film makers, because they share in ticket sales.

However, opening this film at the end of February should be a big clue about this films’ worthiness. So it is my guess, that the film makers and producers, they too will be short-changed.

I expected some fun – and got some – but far less than I expected. Laugh-out-loud moments were few and far between. I expected to enjoy Will Smith, the erstwhile Fresh Prince. At one time he was the king of blockbusters. When a Will Smith film opened it was either a Memorial Day Weekend (Men in Black 3), a July 4th weekend (Hancock, Independence Day, Men in Black 2, Wild Wild West, and Men in Black), or a Christmas Day (Ali) or Christmas season (The Pursuit of Happyness) opening. He got those dates because he sold tickets, And he sold tickets because he was good. Like money in the bank.

Not this time.

The set up goes like this. Will Smith is called Nicky, and his family tree includes con artists going back at least as far as Nicky’s grandfather. Nicky learned from the best, and it will surprise no one that he is very good at what he does.

Soon enough, Margot Robbie, who wowed everyone in The Wolf of Wall Street, shows up an attaches herself to Nicky. She’s called Jess, and truth be told, she’s a grifter. She even tries one on Nicky, but it goes no where.

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Looking Back Twenty Years – Casino (1995)

Last month, I told myself that this is 2015 and it is time for an addition, or new feature, to my blog. So I inaugurated a feature called Looking Back Twenty Years. What I will do with this feature is to review a film from 20 years ago, on a monthly basis. So, for the rest of this year, you can look forward to a once-a-month review, of a 1995 film.

I won’t be paying the strictest attention to the exact release dates – for now we will call it films from 1995, and leave it at that. Last month’s Looking Back Twenty Years feature was The American President, a film directed by Rob Reiner, who once-upon-a-time was TV’s original Meathead back in the days when Archie Bunker made everyone laugh.

Since this is February, and much of the country is having to deal with the severities of winter – I thought I would take us to a place where night and day have merged together to become a glittering city of neon dreams. That city could only be Las Vegas, and if ever there was a place that has been built on broken dreams – it would be this city which stands on the sands, or desert, of the American West known as Nevada. The film is Martin Scorsese’s Casino.

The film opens on a crescendo, or should I say an explosion. A car has just exploded in what could be called an assassination. From our vantage point, we weren’t sure of that until the intended victim of the assassination told us himself. He was able to tell us because:

Whoever it was, they put the dynamite under the passenger’s side. But what they didn’t know, what nobody outside the factory knew, was that model car was made with a metal plate under the driver’s seat. It’s the only thing that saved my life.

That was our introduction to Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein played by Robert De Niro.

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Chinese Puzzle (2013)

The third film in French Director Cedric Klapisch’s trilogy is called Chinese Puzzle. The first was released in 2002 and was called (in English) The Spanish Apartment (in French – L’Auberge Espagnole). That film is described in IMDB as follows:

A strait-laced French student moves into an apartment in Barcelona with a cast of six other characters from all over Europe. Together, they speak the international language of love and friendship.

Klapisch followed up in 2005 with a film called Russian Dolls aka Les Poupées Russes. The characters were five years older, supposedly smarter, and they now lived in and around St. Petersburg, Russia.

Eight years later, in 2013, Klapisch directed this film, Chinese Puzzle. The main character Xavier is now at just about 40 years of age, and already has a successful best-selling novel to his credit.

In case you were wondering, I have not seen the first two in this trilogy, and I’ll state up front that this film holds up well enough as a stand alone viewing experience.

Here is the brief précis to get you acclimated about what the film is about:

A 40-year-old father’s life is complicated when the mother of his two children moves to New York. Since he can’t bear them growing up far away from him, he decides to move there as well.

Of course that is a simplification. As the lead character will tell us later in the film – life is complicated. How complicated might that be?

I’ll answer that by giving you a short list of the main characters:

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Wild Canaries

I reviewed Wild Canaries all the way back on April 10th of last year. I saw the film at the 2014 Sarasota Film Festival. I now see that the film will open tomorrow February 25th. The fact that the film is finally opening after what was almost a year long adventure of being shown at festivals across this land means that you will get an opportunity to see it. There is a brand new poster (above), which wasn’t available last April, and I have smoothed out some of the bumps in the writing from last time.  So since the film might be showing up on your screens soon, I am re-posting my review.

Back in the 30’s and 40’s a very popular film series called The Thin Man became a favorite of film goers. Starring Hollywood legends William Powell and Myrna Loy, the original which was titled The Thin Man was shot in 12 days in 1934, and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture. This film spawned five sequels. While I am uncertain about The Thin Man being the first screwball comedy, I am fairly certain that it was the first screwball comedy murder mystery.

Between 1957 and 1959, The Thin Man was a successful TV series and starred Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. The screwball element was still present as was the sophisticated repartee and dialogues. In all 72 episodes aired.

In the 1970’s we had McMillan & Wife on our TVs. Starring Rock Hudson and Susan St. James, the series played 40 episodes over the period of 1971 to 1976. The episodes were 90 minutes each. We still had the man and woman solving murders, except this time he wasn’t a retired private detective – he was the Commissioner of the San Francisco Police Department. St.James kept the role of the kooky wife created by Myrna Loy in play.

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Bosch – Amazon Original Series

“Every murder, every psychopath is a tale of the city” – Detective Harry Bosch

Just a few days more than a year ago, I opted to tune in the pilot of Bosch, a detective series that was a part of Amazon’s Original Series lineup that debuted at that time. What they did was to premiere six pilots at once, and then depending on the feedback, a few would be made into a series.

Well Bosch passed muster, and the entire first season of Bosch dropped into the Amazon Instant Video lineup a couple of days ago. Season One consists of 10 episodes. the lead character is the titular LA (Hollywood Division) Homicide Detective Harry Bosch who is the creation of the Tampa based author Michael Connelly.

There are 19 Harry Bosch novels which means the novels have been quite successful and yet, this is the first time that Detective Bosch has been portrayed on-screen. Veteran TV actor Titus Welliver has the role, and from the looks of these 10 episodes, Welliver comes off as a natural for the role. It seems as though we are perfectly comfortable with Welliver as Bosch. Your mind can be tricky, somehow we think that it is as if Welliver has had the role for a long time.

Truth is he’s only 10 episodes in. Just seems like longer and that’s because Titus Welliver is a familiar face to us. We’ve seen him in shows like Murder One (1996), Brooklyn South (1997-1998), NYPD Blue, Deadwood, Sons of Anarchy, and The Good Wife. That’s in addition to guest roles in a multiplicity of top rated series.

So a new case drops on Detective Bosch, and as it turns out, it is a very cold case. The remains of a 12-year-old boy have been unearthed in a wooded and hilly area of LA called Wonderland. Forensics determines that the remains are of a case from 20 years ago. As we learn this, we also learn that Detective Bosch is currently facing a civil suit about a man he shot a few years ago.

In the internal police investigation, Bosch was cleared of any wrong doing – in police parlance – it was a good shoot.

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Better Call Saul

Better-Call-Saul3

Better Call Saul had its premier on AMC tonight. I tuned it in with only the slightest of background. First I knew that Bob Odenkirk, who stars as Attorney Jimmy McGill last appeared on my TV as the empty-headed police chief in Fargo, the series. And second I knew that this same character was a regular on Breaking Bad. Third this new series was created by Vince Gilligan who was the creator of Breaking Bad, along with Peter Gould. This series is conceived as a prequel to Breaking Bad. At the same time it is a sequel as well. Our ‘hero’ Jimmy McGill would become ‘Saul Goodman’ after these sordid situations were settled.

But that’s as far as it goes for background.

I tuned in with the expectation of some funny moments – as in laugh out loud moments. You see, Jimmy McGill is a two-bit lawyer who is not very good at the law. He’s all about bravado and bullshit rather than brains. And he’s desperate for money. He sees the court room as a stage upon which he plays to cheering multitudes. As the series opened, the courtroom was twiddling its thumbs as McGill was rather late. He was down the hall, in the Men’s Lavatory practicing his opening speech – or maybe it was his closing speech. Not sure.

While some lawyers fall into the category of ambulance chasers, Jimmy McGill is at least two jumps ahead of them. Jimmy McGill creates the accidents which of course will require his services as the attorney of record. McGill was all about his pay-day. If his clients got convicted – well, that would be their problem, not his.

Jimmy McGill faces the jury

Jimmy McGill faces the jury

So my expectations were for a funny show. What I got instead was a televised version of the Theater of the Absurd. No one named Godot showed up, and certainly no one was waiting for him. Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet, and fellows of that ilk are not standing up from their graves to applaud. Of course.

But I mean – if they could, they wouldn’t. Is that absurd enough for you?

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Jarhead 2: Field of Fire

Short on water, short on ammo, and everybody in this province is gunning for us – what’s not to like … Navy Seal Specialist Fox.

Jarhead 2: Field of Fire is a 2014 movie that didn’t get a theatrical run. In the old parlance, it went straight to DVD. In the new movie speak, something like this is called non-theatrical. And Netflix has it on disc for you. This film no connection, aside from the term Jarhead, and the fact that it is about US Marines, to the 2005 Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx actioner called Jarhead. So calling it Jarhead 2: Field of Fire seemed a shameless money grab to me.

Or more succinctly – this is a Jarhead in name only.

Cole Hauser as Navy Seal Specialist Fox

Cole Hauser as Navy Seal Specialist Fox

This film stars Cole Hauser as USN Seal Specialist Fox,

Josh Kelly as Cpl. Merrimette

Josh Kelly as Cpl. Merrimette

Josh Kelly as Cpl Chris Merrimette who will be promoted to Sgt., if he can survive this mission,

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