The Night Manager

For years, I’d see a review in the newspaper or a find a book-seller  prominently displaying something hot off the press, and said to myself, ah, a new book from John LeCarré. I pronounced his name like this – Lee Car. Only recently, in the promos on TV for The Night Manager, the new mini-series on AMC, did I hear this name pronounced as Leh Car Ray. So I learned something.

As this mini-series, The Night Manager,  concluded last night (just six 90 minute long episodes – actually 60 minutes of content and 30 minutes of commercials) I came to the conclusion that I had watched a very fine series.

We open with a quick glimpse of Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie) a super successful businessman with side ventures into philanthropy (refugee aid). As he states to a breathless audience at a seminar – What good is my success if I don’t share it [with those who need it].

We then cut to Cairo, Egypt. The streets are filled with protesters. The date is January 11th , 2011. The Egyptian Revolution would begin in two weeks on January 25th. Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is the Night Manager at the swanky Nefertiti Hotel. This is a bit of stage management as the actual Nefertiti Hotel is in Luxor, in the shadows of the pyramids, a bit south of Cairo, just a quick  six hours and change drive actually. And where they filmed the scenes in this hotel were really shot a resort in Marrakesh, Morocco. But that’s okay, it is actually a fairly routine happenstance in television production.

One look at Hiddleston’s Pine, and you’ll be saying something along the lines of – How could this guy NOT be in the movies. Yes, he’s that good-looking. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as a successor to Daniel Craig as James Bond  – at some point down the road, after he adds some more muscle.  He doesn’t convey toughness, or have a brawny masculinity. Rather it is his stillness and composure that conceals the steeliness inside him.

Anyway, the mistress of Freddie Hamid, a Cairo playboy, who is a rich guy who dabbles in the arms market, takes a liking to Pine, and gives him a shipping manifest. We’ve no idea why – but what ever the reason, she deemed it necessary to have a copy of this document in someone’s hands. Pine forwards this to a pal at MI-6, still housed in River House in London. Don’t believe those stories that it was blown to smithereens in a Bond film.

It comes to the attention of one Angela Burr (played by Olivia Colman who was terrific in two seasons of Broadchurch). She’s the leader of a very secret wing within MI-6. And, you guessed it – she’s been trying to get the goods on Richard Roper for the better part of a decade. Of course without success.

Roper, when he’s not spending lavish amounts of money living the high life, is a major player in the arms trade. Burr is kind of a rogue. She needs Pine inside Roper’s gang, but she can’t tell the higher-ups in MI-6 because – well… this is LeCarré, so no one can be trusted.

When Hamid’s mistress turns up murdered in the Nefertiti, Pine decides to make a new life for himself. Some years pass and we find Pine. This time at an elegant Swiss Hotel in Zermatt. Pine works as the Night Manager at this hotel too, and lives a quiet life in a cottage with views of the Matterhorn.

You do know what comes next don’t you. Right. Roper and his entourage arrive by helicopter at the very hotel where Pine is working. Roper’s entourage includes his girl friend Jed Marshall (Elizabeth Debicki), 

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All The Way – HBO Presents Brian Cranston as LBJ

Politics is war. You’re not running for office.You’re running for your life.

Check out the newspaper front pages and headlines. I was around back then, but I wasn’t very interested in politics. Certainly the JFK assassination was meaningful and impactful. And like most of the country, over the next few days we were glued to our sofas as our eyes watched our black and white televisions as the events unfolded.

I guess I’m saying that once Johnson assumed the office, little by little, I lost interest in keeping on top of the news of politics.

Today, more than 50 years later, the impact of Johnson’s presidency, or as he described the circumstances in the HBO Films presentation All The Way which screened tonight – [I’m] the accidental president, that’s what they’ll say, can still be felt.

Johnson’s legacy can be debated – some call him one of the country’s worst Presidents) – included getting the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights bill signed into law, taking on the war on poverty by means of programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start that began under the umbrella term of The Great Society, and the continuation and escalation of the US involvement in Vietnam. All the Way with LBJ was Johnson’s campaign slogan in the 1964 Presidential Election Campaign. But Johnson would choose to not run for President in 1968.

All The Way is an adaption of Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award winning stage play also called All The Way. Brian Cranston stars in LBJ just as he did on Broadway in 2014. The film is directed by Jay Roach, and Steven Spielberg is an Executive Producer.

The supporting cast includes a nearly unrecognizable Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) as Senator Hubert Humphrey, Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr, Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson, Todd Weeks as Johnson’s long-time Administrative Assistant Walter Jenkins, Steven Root as J.Edgar Hoover, and Frank Langella as Senator Richard Russell.

For the record, the film is just about a very short period of time – from JFK’s assassination in November 1963, to Johnson’s re-election to the presidency in November 1964. This is a walk through history and most of the names that you may have forgotten are portrayed in the film.

From Strom Thurmond to Robert McNamara, from Ralph Abernathy, Roy Wilkins, and Stokely Carmichael to Senator Everett Dirksen. From J.Edgar Hoover (portrayed creepily by Steven Root) to LBJ’s wife Lady Bird Johnson. Then we saw archival footage of Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Barry Goldwater, as well as Governor George Wallace. 

There was Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman. and James Chaney, the young civil rights workers who were murdered, on June 21st, 1964 near Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi, in this film as well. While these three young men were historical figures who should never be forgotten, in this film we learn nothing about them.

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Neerja (2016)

MV5BYzMxM2EwMzctOWUzYy00ZTNkLWE3ZjYtYjI5NWUzZTMwZDAwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTE0MDc0NTM@._V1__SX1217_SY543_It is early in the morning of September 5th, 1986. If you had booked this flight, Pan AM 73, likely you were unhappy about the departure time, but since you’d bought the ticket, you had no choice but to be prepared for the 4:00 AM takeoff from Sahar Internationall Airport which was Bombay’s primary international airport at that time.

The flight was scheduled to stop in Karachi, Pakistan, then Frankfurt, Germany, before heading on to JFK Airport in New York.

The film is called Neerja, and was released just a few months ago in mid-February. Neerja is a reference to Neerja Bhanot who was the head purser on Pan Am Flight 73.

As the film opens, we are going to see, via cross-cuts, two separate and ongoing events occurring in real-time. The first is to introduce us to Neerja, played by Sonam Kapoor.

She is a lively and spirited woman, just 22, with a birthday just a few days away. She’s been working with just some success as a part-time model doing print ads and TV commercials, and she has navigated her way up the ladder for Pan Am. This flight, Pan Am 73 will mark her first flight as Chief Purser.

She was more than that. She had left a horrendous marriage because her husband had verbally and physically abused her as they lived in Doha in Qatar. This was noteworthy as most Indian brides do not return home from a difficult marriage.

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While Neerja’s mother, played by veteran Indian film actress Shabana Azmi, was not thrilled by her daughter’s breaking of tradition, Neerja’s father called her heroic.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, we watch as a small group of terrorists also prepare for Pan AM 73. Their plan was to dress and pass themselves off as Pakistani Airport Security. They intended to board the plane from the tarmac, then in a classic high-jacking, meaning at gun-point, force the pilots to take them to Cyprus where they would barter the lives of the passengers and crew in exchange for the release of their countrymen from a Cyprus prison. Though we didn’t know it at the time when we met them, they would turn out to be Palestinians rather than Pakistanis.

Well, we stay with the concurrent stories. Neerja is loved by her family, and is wonderful with kids. The terrorists strap on their gear. Neerja is driven to the airport by her current boyfriend. The plane is boarded in Bombay. Counting passengers and crew the total is 379 people aboard the flight.

Pan Am 73 departs Bombay on time, and an hour and half later touches down in Karachi. Soon enough, the terrorist are on board brandishing weapons. Eventually, the news reaches India. Azmi, as Neerja’s mother calls her husband to tell him that she has had a ‘sinking feeling’.

The husband and father, Harish Bhanot, played by Yogendra Tikku, gives his wife, the bad news.

The rest is, as they say history.

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Money Monster

From Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust:

I got God on my side
I’m just trying to survive

Got my finger on the trigger
But I don’t know who to trust

Want some good news?

I paid just $5 to see a matinee of Money Monster. And yes, it was worth the money.

More good news? The film wraps in a tidy and brisk 98 minutes.

The film was directed by Jodie Foster, working from a script by Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf. In an interview in Entertainment Weekly, Foster said ” I was happy to make the film for 20 cents” meaning “However we could get it off the ground.”

Foster and Clooney on the set

Foster and Clooney on the set

In the same interview, George Clooney responded that he got wind of the film because “She sent me a letter. She offered me, like, $12 bucks.

Julia Roberts signed on because George Clooney had sent her the script. She had time to read it, she liked it, and she had very few scenes with Clooney.

Well you can be sure the actual numbers on their paychecks were considerably higher for both Clooney, Roberts, and Foster. But that’s really besides the point.

The real topic of the film is of course – money. George Clooney plays Lee Gates, a cable network TV talking head, with his own daily TV show that is filled with schtick and graphics, and jokes. If Gates hadn’t knowledge and skills, along with a track record of successful picks, he would’ve been bounced off the air long ago. So we can assume that he knows, in the main, what he is talking about. We might say that he is a cross between a carnival barker, a huckster  in the days of the Old West who sold bottles of a ‘magical elixir  – to cure what ails ya‘ from the back of a covered wagon, and at the same time comes off about as well as Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy from The Newsroom.

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Talvar (Guilty) 2015

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Talvar (Guilty) opened last September at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). So what is it about?

Per the Storyline at IMDB:

The story revolves around the mysterious murder cases of a 14-year girl, Shruti Tandon and the domestic help, Khempal who worked at her place. The film is based on the real life Noida Double Murder Case of 2008, where the parents were said to be the prime suspects of the murders. The film showcases three perspectives to the case which emerge as the investigation moves forward.

Which squarely places this film into the classification of being Rashomon-like.

The film stars Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Jurassic World, Slumdog Millionaire) as a senior homicide inspector working for India’s CDI (a made up acronym for India’s CBI – the equivalent of our own FBI).

When the first responding police were summoned, the cops on the scene paid no attention to forensics, or at minimum keeping the crime scene sealed.

The lead cop called it an open and shut case. The butler did it, he stated with assurance. Of course there was no butler. Instead there was the houseboy, and it came to the cops attention that he had a thing, or what we might call a strong desire for the Tandon daughter, Shruti.

So this theory was hoisted up the flagpole and fluttered in the wind. A search (what we call here in the USA an APB) was set in motion. When Khempal was not found, it was stated that he had absconded and must be the killer. That is until Khempal himself was found dead, and decomposing, on the roof of the very apartment building where the Tandons lived.

So it wasn’t as open and shut as was first announced. Theories began to show up in the media, in the press, and in the police HQ. It was an honor killing (the parents being the killer of their own daughter because of the shame she brought on them by ‘taking up’ with Khempal.

Let’s skip ahead for a moment. Then it was called a revenge killing. Then a conspiracy. Eventually as in much later the terms incompetent as well infighting in the hierarchy of the police would come into play

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Hinterland Season 2 On Netflix

When you hear the terms The Wild West, what do you think of? Well if you are of a certain age, and grew up watching westerns at the movies, or shows featuring gunslingers, sheriffs, and gangs of bad dudes in long slickers that rode into a town, terrified the locals, and created havoc on TV, then you are likely to be thinking of America’s old west. Covered wagons, settlers, cattle ranchers, panning for gold, and then later, wildcat drilling for oil.

There were tons of open spaces, isolated settlers’ homes, hard scrabble land, and most folks had to find a way to live off the land.

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But the American Old West as in the Wild West is now for most of us a distant memory. Oh westerns still get made, and we dutifully take them in. But if you take a look at Hinterland Season 2 (available on Netflix) you can see a newer west. Actually it is far older than the American West, in terms of how long it has been settled, but that’s just facts.

I’m talking about Wales on the west side of Britain. And more specifically, I’m talking about  the second season of this detective series shot entirely in and around Aberystwyth, Cardigan, in Wales, of the UK. We’ll follow as our detectives drive down lonely lanes into what seems the middle of nowhere. We watch as they enter ramshackle, run-down homes looking for evidence, or at least something that might become a clue or a lead. And we listen as they question people quite down on their luck – all similarly garbed in what one might call country rustic – you know, big checked flannels, rough boots, jeans on occasion. And through four of the five 90 minute episodes, I’ve seen no sign of camo styled clothing, or even down parkas or vests. Edit: In the third scene of episode 5 a man working in a shipyard repairing a boat is wearing a camo jacket.

DI Mared Rhys, played by Mali Harries, is the lead female. She’s basically in vee-necked sweaters and slacks, and she’s worn a red, fur-trimmed parkas for outerwear throughout. Richard Harrington plays Tom Mathias and he wears rumpled denim shirts with a tie (he must wear a shirt and tie per the regs). jeans, boots, and a windbreaker jacket.

As this season begins we find Mathias in a rented trailer set high above the sea. on a hilltop.

He’s a wreck. Unkempt would be a kind description. He’s been on a leave of absence from cop work. He lost his young daughter to the dangerous riptide of the sea, and as his massive depression set in (he blamed himself for his child’s death); he simply has let himself go.

But his boss, Chief Superintendent Brian Prosser needs him back on the job. It is a simple choice  – come back to work tomorrow, or never come back.

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Fan

The dictionary tells us that a “Fan” is an enthusiastic devotee of either a performing celebrity or a sports star; experience has taught us that one might also be a fan of various activities, like playing a musical instrument, painting, or reading thrilling novels about spies . The dictionary goes on to define ‘fan’ as an ardent admirer.

But circling back to the first definition offered above, in most cases, such fans are happy to watch their idols as a spectator, or from a distance.

But as we know, a fan can become a fanatic, or even worse an obsessed fan who desires to be in contact, as in close contact.

Some times they go so far as to stalk the subject of their fandom. This isn’t good.

Now have a look at the trailer (with English subtitles) of this new film from India which has had a five-week run in select theaters in the USA. The film is called Fan.

This film stars Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) as the both the fan and the huge movie star. That’s right. Through the magic of CGI tweaks and the magical skills of make-up artists, SRK can appear on the screen in two roles at once. You can see that the likenesses are so very similar but quite clearly ‘different’.

The film begins in Delhi, where a young boy, named Gaurav Chandna first becomes aware of this Indian superstar actor named Aryan Khanna.

For Gaurav, Aryan Khanna was the larger than life super star who would soon occupy all of Gaurav’s time and attention.

By the time Gaurav became a young man, for him there was nothing else. He was beyond scrapbooks and photos. He had literally no wall space in his bedroom that wasn’t already covered by Aryan. Gaurav knew all the lines of dialogue from all of his idol’s movies. He knew the gestures, the expressions, and the set of the shoulders, or how and where each of the moving parts of Aryan  would be when he walked and talked.

Gaurav would enter and win contests where people would imitate celebrities. His plan was to go to Mumbai on the occasion of Aryan’s birthday and present Aryan with the latest trophy he had won. He would stay in the same hotel, even the same hotel room where Aryan stayed when he came to Mumbai years ago as a nobody looking to break into the Bollywood film world.

Of course this was easier said than done. Outside of Aryan’s home, on the birthday, were throngs and throngs of people. All avid to catch even a glimpse of Aryan.

But Gaurav had done more than just push his way to get closer. He had done a nasty trick against a young and rising movie idol, one Sid Kapoor, who was now getting the roles that Aryan used to get. When Aryan got wind of this, he had the police arrest Gaurav and lock him up for a couple of days.

Ultimately Gaurav did meet his idol, but it didn’t go as planned. Aryan Khanna had a lecture for this fan, but no time for his biggest fan.

Can’t I have five minutes of your life? asked Gaurav.

It is my life, replied Aryan Khanna. Why must I give you even five seconds?

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Marseille (2016) – Netflix Goes for the Global Market

Ever been to Marseille? Marseille is France’s second biggest city after Paris.

Marseille is France’s main Mediterranean port city. My very first trip to Europe was 30 years ago. We flew into Nice, and when the idea of visiting Marseille came up, I was told that it was a dirty city, filled with drugs, hookers, and the Mafia had a strong presence there. In short, way too dangerous.

So we skirted around Marseille. Even though we virtually traversed all of France’s southern coast and coastal areas; we visited Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nimes, Beziers, Narbonne, and Perpignan – we did not set foot in Marseille.

Now, Netflix has premiered an original series entitled Marseille, just four days ago, on May 5th. Billed as a tale about the long time Mayor of Marseille who is preparing to hand over the reins to his protegé when a sudden and ruthless battle erupts for control of the city; this may make you think of the Kelsey Grammer show, Boss, about a fictional Mayor of Chicago, which aired on Starz a few seasons back.

We can call Marseille a cousin of that show, and we’d also be forgiven if we attempted to compare Marseille to House of Cards. But in either comparison, Marseille falls way short. Robert Taro is no Frank Underwood.

In fact, Marseille cannot and should not be mentioned in the same breath as those other two series. Starring one of France’s most famous actors – Gerard Depardieu as Mayor Robert Taro, this is a series with high production values. Watch for the breathtaking shots taken from high above Marseille, and the multitude of on-location shoots. In fact I’d venture to say that very little of this show was shot in a studio.

It is almost as if the city of Marseille is a character itself. Only most of these shots are simply transitional. There are no long range zooms taking us from the sky right into a conversation on a park bench.

Netflix wants desperately to gain a lion’s share of the global market, and this French production is the latest of their ventures.

Depardieu is now nearly 30 years older, and maybe 40 to 60 pounds heavier than he was when he starred as a city man who brings his family to the South of France in the wonderful 1986 film Jean de Florette.

But aging and gaining weight is not a phenomenon (or a crime). It is the natural order of things. As the Mayor of Marseille, Taro is more of an institution than a new face on the horizon. His Deputy Mayor, Lucas Barres (played by Benoit Magimel) was hand-picked, and groomed as Taro’s successor many years ago.

Now Magimel has a face that is not unique in fact, if you look at the quad image above, you will see that Magimel looks like a he could be the offspring of David McCallum who starred as Illya Kuryakin in a tv series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and/or the British rock star Rod Stewart.

Now Taro is ready to leave the political arena and has worked quite hard to set in motion a new development project as his outgoing gift to the city. He wants to convert a section of the port to an area that would contain luxury apartments and hotels, top-drawer restaurants, upscale shopping, and of course a casino.

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Eye in the Sky

 

Eye in The Sky is a film about the moral dilemmas about prosecuting a war or targeting specific individuals via drone aircraft that are capable of unleashing, with pinpoint accuracy, missiles from 22,000 feet to take out terrorists, and hopefully, limit what is known as collateral damage – meaning the civilian lives. that were inadvertently killed in the attack.

This is Helen Mirren who portrays Colonel Katherine Powell. While she may not be a modern version of  Robert Duvall‘s Col. Kilgore from Apocalypse Now (1979), in her own way, she’s just as fierce.

These are the targets. They are near or very close to the top of the British Most Wanted list. Powell has been tracking Ayesha Al-Hady for six years without success. Al-Hady is a British national who was once known as Susan Danforth. Powell is working at a command center in Sussex.

Meanwhile, back in London, in a mahogany paneled conference room, sit Powell’s commander – one Lieutenant General Frank Benson played by Alan Rickman in his last film role, a top Minister, Britain’s version of our own Attorney General, a female member of Parliament, a couple of aides, and a Communications person.

For lack of better terms, we shall call Powell and her staff – the Operational Command for this mission, and the London-based people – The Legal, Compliance, Ethics, and Authorizing Group. But there’s more.

Since the targeted for capture are in a building in Nairobi, Kenya – there’s a sizable contingent of armed uniformed soldiers just a few klicks away. Those soldiers, and their commander, are under the command of Col. Powell.

Then there’s the covert staff, on the ground, literally steps away from the building where the terrorists are meeting. These operatives control remotely small flying cameras hidden in what appear to be a small surveillance humming bird, and a flying insect which will be used to get directly inside the building. Watch for Barkhad Abdi (from Captain Phillips) as the operator of the faux airborne beetle.

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