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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Five Nights in Maine – Day Four of the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival

Five Nights in Maine screened at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival on Day Four. Written and directed by Maris Curran, this is a true ‘indie’  as Maris received a large amount of funding via Kickstarter.

Maris Curran

Maris Curran

Described as an intimate film about love, loss, and compassion – the film stars David Oyelowo as a young African-American man (Sherwin) who is reeling from the tragic loss of his wife. He travels to rural Maine to seek answers from his estranged mother-in-law (Lucinda), who is herself confronting guilt and grief over her daughter’s death.

Lucinda is played by the always marvelous dramatic veteran Dianne Wiest.

The film is mostly a two-hander with Oyelowo and Wiest dueling verbally and emotionally throughout. Rosie Perez plays Ann, Lucinda’s nurse/companion/care-giver. Rosie is also the film’s emotionally steady rock at the core of the film.

As Maris Curran told us in the Q & A after the film screened, she brought the characters to us with out much in the way of backstories. The effect of this is that both Oyelowo’s Sherwin and Wiest’s Lucinda had to develop as the film progressed and eventually some slight backstories seeped into our thoughts. Now when you compound the heavy use of closeups, focusing on people that we don’t really know much about, I think it creates a distancing between the viewer and the character. Almost as if we have a great and urgent need to comfort them, but we cannot, as we don’t know them.

Oyelowo’s performance was the more nuanced and steely of the two leads.

More often than not we had to see his pain through his expressions, or grimaces, or the controlled anger that he had to deal with. As if losing his wife wasn’t already a huge problem, now he was faced with Wiest who was both frightening, chilling, and at the same time, desperately in need of care and affection.

In her own words, she said she shut off life, at least life as we know it and want it to be, after her own husband died.

Then she said, I hope this doesn’t happen to you.

Wiest’s role was really a challenge for the actress. She had to leave everything that was good within her elsewhere to bring forth this harriden of a mother-in-law. Suffering from an unnamed cancer, Wiest glowered and exhibited withering looks with a force of will that likely could bend steel, but couldn’t really penetrate Oyelowo’s grief.

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20 Matches – Day 2 of the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival

Do you like Short Films.. I’m not talking about shorter feature films. I’m talking about short (in terns of time) films. On Day 2 of the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival, I attended one such film.

Now they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a picture from the film –

in fact, this is both the film’s poster, as well as nearly all the content from the film.

The film is called 20 Matches. It runs for about 10 minutes. The action of the entire film is almost exactly like what we see in the image. Only the camera angles change (albeit slightly) as do the angles in which she holds each burning match. Here is the synopsis of the film, from Cassava Films.

A young woman (Nina Rausch) sits alone in a pitch black room and lights twenty matches, one at a time.

Her face illuminated only by the flame from each match, the woman tells the story of a Viennese serial killer who kidnapped and murdered twenty immigrant women – one per year.

Over 20 years, and each murder involved 20 wooden matches just like the one in the actress’s hand in the image above.

This is not a cheerful film. In fact, the details will make you squirm in your seat. And if you ask me, making the viewer uncomfortable is the point of the film.

But here is the rub. There are no other actors in the film. There are no sets and no props aside from the matches that are struck one by one. All of what we hear is the actress’s voice, and the sound of each match being struck. So when we are told of the true horror behind these murders, there’s no way to avoid ‘seeing’ this activity conceptually in our mind’s eye.

And that is why this is indeed a very scary film. Without blood, and also lacking weapons and screams – the story is told to us by this woman on-screen.

The film was written, produced, and directed by Mark Tapio Kines. The auteur got the idea back around 2010. And while he originally intended to make the film in conjunction with another film maker Susanne Wuest, their schedules did not align properly, and so, via crowdfunding, Kines was able to raise about $6,600, which enabled him to make the film himself.

So the film was finally shot in July of 2015, and finished by September of last year. Kines is working to get the film on the festival circuit, and so I was able to see it last night.

There’s no way to write a compelling review of the film. What you see is what you get. But, on the other hand, if you want to let  your imagination run with the idea – then this is indeed, a strong film.

Here is a list of the upcoming (following Sarasota) festival dates for 20 Matches

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Disorder/Maryland: Day 2 at the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival

Day 2 at the Sarasota Film Festival was Saturday April 2nd. The feature film tonight was from France, and in France, the film was called Maryland – which was the name of a grand estate villa located in the south of France near Antibes.

For American consumption, the title was changed to Disorder, and technically speaking, the film had nothing to do with our own state of Maryland, so a new title was created for the American market to help avoid confusion.

Written and directed by Alice Winocour, the film stars Matthias Schoenaerts, who you likely have seen in such films as Rust and Bone, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Drop, and The Danish Girl. His co-star is Diane Kruger who was the inscrutable Sonya Cross in the US TV version of The Bridge.

Schoenaerts plays Vincent, a French soldier (he served in Afghanistan) who is currently home in the south of France and is being treated for PTSD. He’s on certain meds and is a somewhat alienated combat veteran who has found it difficult back at home.

Between missions, or until Vincent is cleared to return to action, he and this group of French soldiers are free to pick up free-lance security work. Vincent gets a call and is more than eager to serve in a security detail for a huge party at this estate called Maryland. The state is owned by a Lebanese called Imad Whalid.

Diane Kruger plays Whalid’s wife Jessie.

Okay as the film gets up some speed (and it takes a while), we get the impression that Vincent knows what he’s doing, has sharp instincts, and is quite likely to be excellent is a security detail.

This particular assignment will be using a five man security detail. Whalid is hosting a huge soiree and the terms tres chic definitely fit. Security will cover the grounds, the front gate, and various points within the house itself in a kind of revolving manner.

While we don’t see much of the party, we know that there are many moguls, ministers, and other movers and shakers in attendance. Most of the time we are either trailing Vincent or seeing what he sees in a standard point-of-view perspective. Plus there’s the eaves-dropping, intentional or otherwise, that we (and Vincent) overhear.

Vincent is edgy and effective, and yet he seems both scary and serious. People arrive who are not on the guest list provided to security. But a phone call, possibly to Whalid, gets them in. We overhear bits and pieces or snippets of conversations. We watch as groups of men splinter off to the sides, away from the main ebb and flow of the party, to talk; and seemingly they’re aware of being overheard, and don’t wish to be.

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Happy Valley Season 2: Now on Netfllix

Way up in the North of Britain lies the beautiful Yorkshire County. North of Manchester and north of Leeds, this area is closer to Scotland than it is to London. West Yorkshire and the Upper Calder Valley is the setting of the Netflix/BBC TV drama Happy Valley.

Season 2 of Happy Valley aired in the UK beginning in mid-February; and when its run on the BBC ended, this six part series arrived on Netflix. If you recall, I wrote an enthusiastic review of Season One back in September of 2014. Well in the series, as well as our own calendars, 18 months have passed.

Actress Sarah Lancashire as Police Sgt. Catherine Cawood returns in the lead role. Returning from

Season One are James Norton as the sociopathic killer Tommy Lee Royce, who now spends his days incarcerated, Catherine’s sister Clare Cartwright portrayed by Siobhan Finneran, and a few of the local constables are also returning.

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New this season are Kevin Doyle who played the beloved Molesley on Downtown Abbey for many years. Here, he is the Homicide Inspector DS John Wadsworth.

Also new for this season are Sean Balmforth (as a suspect) and  Shirley Henderson (as an ally of Tommy Lee Royce), both of whom acted in some of the Harry Potter films,  Vincent Franklin as DSI Andy Shepherd who heads up the CID investigation of a serial killer, and Katherine Kelly as DI Jodie Shackleton,  round out the more prominent new members of the cast for this season. In the above photo, beginning with Balmforth in the upper left, the rest follow clockwise.

Despite the idyllic and bucolic surroundings, the residents in the Upper Calder Valley are not, generally speaking, a happy group. Drug use, alcohol abuse, and prostitution, all of which lead to additional crimes, keep Cawood and her colleagues quite busy. You’d think we were in some of the tougher and rougher neighborhoods of  London, Leeds, or Liverpool instead of the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.

And that’s not even mentioning a batch of brutal killings of women which has all the signs of a serial killer being in the area. There are plenty of broken homes, rape victims, mental instabilities, sex offenders, as well as human trafficking going on.

But wait there’s more. Tommy Lee Royce, who raped and impregnated Cawood’s daughter Rebecca, is incarcerated. But his mother, a known drug addict has been murdered. Cawood had left threatening messages on her phone. And now she is a suspect in the demise of Royce’s mother, and apparently has no alibi.

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HBO’s Vinyl: Episode 1-07: The King and I – Recap & Review

Richie and Zak hit Vegas to land the Big Fish aka The King

Richie and Zak hit Vegas to land the Big Fish aka The King

This a recap/review with some spoilers and some opinions.

The promise was there. After all, hadn’t Richie Finestra hit rock bottom in the previous episode (Episode 1-06 – Cyclone). Non-stop blow and other abuses had pushed him so far down into the sink-hole that his wife had taken the kids and left him. His life now included the hallucinatory imagery of an old friend that Richie had killed in an auto-accident caused by drugs. That would be Ernst.

But it went beyond just that. His relationship with his business partner and the co-founder of ACR, Zack Yankovich, a relationship that was already on the rocks because Richie had backed out of the Polygram deal, was in the midst of sinking into the abyss.

Richie had shown up way too late to Yankovich’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and Zak had thrown Richie to the floor in a fit of anger.

Go destroy your own family, you’ve already destroyed mine. Oh wait, you’ve already done that, said Yankovich.

Where else could Richie go? Surely, when you hit rock bottom, a turn-around usually happens. Or is supposed to happen. Maybe not so much in real life, but in television….?

At the monthly business meeting, Skip announced that, despite the cutbacks and staff reductions, they wouldn’t be able to make this month’s payroll – a figure quoted as $33K.

Someone suggested that Richie give up his apartment in the city.

Richie: I need that place, I’m out to all hours of the night, and it’s not my apartment – it’s the company apartment.
Skip: Then how come I never get to stay there? What’s the rent?
Richie: $1100 a month.

By the standards of living in the city at that time – that was a luxury apartment. Me? I lived on the Upper East Side – and paid just $200 a month in 1973 for a small one-bedroom.

So a plan was hatched. They would sell the rights to the corporate jet that they were leasing for $100K and the buyer would take over the lease payments.And that took them out to LA. And the $100 K they’d come away with would almost cover three months of the ACR salaries.

Sounds like a plan and things immediately brightened. We heard and watched Jan & Dean’s Surf City. You know the lyrics – Two girls for every boy.

What we didn’t know at the time we heard it, that those five words would be a huge clue as to what would happen later in the episode. Then we heard Jackson Browne singing – Doctor My Eyes

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
Now I want to understand…

‘Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I’ve been waiting to awaken from these dreams

While this Jackson Browne song wasn’t really an optimistic song, it did signify a spiritual search was in the works.

Did that mean that Richie Finestra would turn the corner? He was already off the blow and had also given up booze. It was a beginning, wasn’t it?

The buyer of the plane had invited them out to his beach pad in Malibu. We saw Gram Parsons, Stephen Stills, and even Neil Young plus Mickey Dolenz  and Mama Cass – not really, but at least the actors used had a likeness to the originals.

Also at this party, we overheard that The King – Elvis Presley – was unhappy with his label RCA. That got Richie’s attention. Presley was now doing his thing in Las Vegas. In 1973 he was 38 years old. He now performed for an older crowd, and although Vinyl didn’t go into any of Elvis’s problems (he’d be dead four years later in 1977) – the show did show us that Elvis was far from happy, that he had become something of a caricature of his younger days, and he was still under the control of Col. Tom Parker.

So Richie and Zak, along with two bimbos they picked up at the pool at the hotel in LA , were soon touching down in Las Vegas. Richie had a plan – they would promise Elvis a return to what he loved = rock ‘n roll music, and sign him to their label American Century Records.

When Zak stated that Elvis was big and made BIG BIG money, Richie said – We’ll worry about that AFTER we have him sign the contracts.

Richie meets Col. Parker in the Vegas hotel lobby and it is all arranged. Parker would call them later, and Richie would then meet with Elvis after the show. But Elvis was now doing songs like Polk Salad Annie, and was beginning to look a bit bloated, and in truth, Elvis wasn’t a happy camper. Speaking of which, he wasn’t a camper either.

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Occupied – A Norwegian Geo-Political Thriller Airing on Netflix

Occupied is set in Norway in the not distant future. The main thrust of the story of this 10 episode series is that the Norwegians have elected an environmentalist who heads up the Green Party as the Prime Minster. This followed in the wake of a series of events:

1) Turmoil in the Middle East has compromised oil production.
2) The USA has achieved energy independence and has said adios to NATO.
3) A catastrophic Hurricane has devastated Norway.
4) Europe is in an energy crisis.

The newly elected Norwegian PM, Jesper Berg, has shut down all fossil fuel production. The country will no longer use oil as an energy source. Instead, thorium, a nuclear-based energy product will be used.

This sets off panic in the EU (European Union). And shortly after the opening ceremonies at Norway’s spanking brand new thorium plant, the Prime Minister is kidnapped and spirited away in a helicopter.

The PM’s bodyguard, Hans Martin Djupvik, chases the helicopter in a police car.

Okay, that is the bare bones opening. We will come to learn that the EU, in conjunction with the Russians, want the PM to capitulate and return to fossil fuel energy.

And to help him decide, the Russians promise a ‘soft’ occupation at least until the oil production is resumed, and if not, Norway will then face a full-scale invasion.

Berg, played by Henrik Mestad, as the Prime Minster is between a rock and hard-place. His country is on the wrong side of the EU, The US has withdrawn from NATO, and little Norway, with no support from former allies, would stand no chance against the superior Russian military if it came down to war.

I’ve completed all 10 episodes of this series which is screening on Netflix here in the USA, Australia, India, and Canada. The series has also been sold to the UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. As expected, Russia was none too happy about this TV series.

But here’s the rub. This is not simply the good guys vs the bad guys. If anything, the Russian ambassador to Norway, Irina Sidorova (played by Ingeborga Dapkunaite) comes off as a rational, fair-minded, and nearly sympathetic figure.

The Norwegian PM is somewhat of a more complex figure. He is indeed a patriotic Norwegian, but his countrymen do not all see him that way. They think his capitulation to the Russian demands, is both disloyal, if not traitorous, as well as misguided.

So a resistance movement called Free Norway comes into play.

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2016 Sarasota Film Festival Kick Off Event for Sponsors, Supporters, and the Press

Sitting on the edge of Sarasota Bay, the Marie Selby Gardens are indeed a very fine and beautiful venue for the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival to hold its Press Kickoff event.

I arrived at 5:55 PM for the 6:00 PM opening of the gates. There was available free parking across the street in the Selby lot; or Valet Parking was there if that was your preference. It was a beautiful setting that only lacked a view of the bay and the anchored boats as the sky was overcast and dark, and fog had already obscured the view.

But there was plenty of glamour on view and that was just within the ranks of the attendees. The bar was open, and finger food properly sized to be finished in one bite were available via strolling servers.

Though we didn’t know it at the time, we would have an hour to kill. At just a moment or two before 7:00 PM, Mark Famiglio, the Sarasota Film Festival President stepped up to the podium and off we went. We were greeted and welcomed and then sponsors had to be thanked as well as major financial contributors, festival volunteers, and the hard-working staff of the SFF.

Eventually, Director of Programming Mike Dunaway would appear at the podium, and that meant that we would then learn about this year’s film Festival. Dunaway is kind of a dashing figure resplendent in his white sports jacket, rolled up denim trousers, and his trademark blue-lens glasses.

A joyous Michael Dunaway the director of programming of the Sarasota Film Festival during the kickoff party at Selby Gardens, who announced this year's lineup for festival. (March 16, 2016; STAFF PHOTO / THOMAS BENDER)

With his thick and bushy white/gray beard, Dunaway looks like a cross between old-time cowboy actor Gabby Hayes and a peacock.

The theme of this year’s festival is called Find Yourself in Film. And the underlying issues for this year are Mental Health, politics, women film makers as film-fatales, Making LGBTQ  films, the changing face of Documentary Film, and acting for Television.

Special screenings will be Mommy Dearest from 1981, with Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter Rutanya Alda on hand to discuss the film. Also receiving a Special Screening will be Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Actor and author Matthew Modine will be on hand at the Florida Studio Theater on Saturday April 9th at 10:00 AM to discuss the film

Full Metal Jacket, and his new interactive e-book Full Metal Jacket Diaries.

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An Evening with Sophia Loren

Her film career began way back in 1950. She’s won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1960. She has starred in films with the greatest and best leading men in the history of films. In 1991 she was given an Honorary Oscar for he indelible contributions to world cinema.

She literally burst into the consciousness of American film goers in the 1957 film called Boy on a Dolphin.

Her leading man was Alan Ladd. Later in 1957 The Pride and the Passion hit the screens in American film theaters. Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra were her co-stars.

She starred with John Wayne in the 1957 desert adventure film Legend of the Lost.

Her name is Sophia Loren, and as 1957 ended, Loren’s film career had barely started, but was already memorable. That was nearly sixty years ago. Loren would go on to become one of the most recognizable film stars all over the world.

Here is a list of some of her notable films:

1958 Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Loren starred with Anthony Perkins

1958 Houseboat with Cary Grant as the co-star
1960 It Started in Naples with Clark Gable


1960 Two Women – Loren won the Oscar for her performance in the Best Actress Category
1963 Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow with Marcello Mastroianni
1964 Marriage Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni
1965 Lady L with Paul Newman and David Niven
1966 Arabesque with Gregory Peck
1967 A Countess from Hong Kong with Marlon Brando
1972 Man of La Mancha with Peter O’Toole
1974 The Voyage with Richard Burton
1994 Grumpier Old Men with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Ann-Margret

Now that is an impressive list of films, roles, and co-stars.

On this March 31st, Sophia Loren will be feted at the Sarasota Film Festival. She will be awarded the 2016 Legend Award. The event will be called An Evening with Sophia Loren.

This event, to be held at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, here in Sarasota, will kick off the 2016 Sarasota Film Festival which begins on April 1st and continues through April 10th.

Here is a quote from the Van Wezel:

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