Haute Cuisine

Ever been to the Crozet Islands?

Ever heard of the Crozet Islands?

No? Neither have I. In any event they’re located in a sub-antarctic archipelago in the South Indian Ocean. That would be the really, really southern part of the Indian Ocean. Yes, I wondered why a film, entitled Haute Cuisine, or in France it was called  Les Saveurs du Palais, ostensibly about the woman who cooked for Francois Mitterand, the two term President of France, would begin there. Sadly, we never quite find out. It remains a mystery.

As the film opens, we learn that Hortense Laborie, is the outgoing chef at the French Research station in the Crozets. Actually, we weren’t really in Antarctica, as Reykholar, Iceland, was the geographical stand-in. So Laborie is the outgoing and beloved chef.

Flashing back a number years, we follow from a helicopter as an automobile wends its way through the back country roads of the Perigord Region of France. It’s rather exhilarating to do this. But it is not a new thing in films. Alfred Hitchcock did this in the film To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in 1955, and more recently, we followed Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance from the air as he drove towards the Overlook Hotel in The Shining (1980).

But I digress. This car had been dispatched from France’s Palais de l’Elysee on the Rue du Fauborg Saint-Honore, in Paris to pick up Hortense Laborie, and bring her back to Paris. It seems that she has been recommended for the job of Head Chef in The President of France’s Private Kitchen.

Now Laborie was not a chef of international renown, but within French cooking circles, the regional cuisine of the Perigord was considered classic, and was well-loved. Especially by Mitterand. So she’s been called to duty, and she must take on the job.

Only cooking is never just cooking. Especially when you are working so close to the top of the country’s government. The corridors of power, just above the basement kitchen, are not the only minefields that Laborie must navigate through. It is even worse downstairs in the kitchens themselves.

All of The President of the Republic’s private meals, family meals, and non-political meals would be her responsibility. Of course, she was resented by some of the chefs within the Private Kitchen, and then even more so by the staff and head Chef of the Main Kitchen. The Main Kitchen was responsible for the State Dinners and for feeding the staff to the tune of 7,000 meals a month.

But Laborie was a tough and cool customer. She possessed an indomitable spirit. She was also a great chef. Quickly she side-stepped many of the traps, pitfalls, and stumbling blocks purposely placed in her way. After just one luncheon with the heads of the Main Kitchen, she calmly announced to the Liaison between the President’s office and the kitchens – That is the last time I will dine with those ‘machos’.

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The Counselor

Mojitos anyone?


Oh, you were talking about bolitos. Sorry. Not the same thing at all. In fact, once you run into a bolito, you get an immediate sensation of how different it is to be dead drunk in the gutter as opposed to the simpler and empirically final – dead in the gutter.

Ridley Scott is back in a Directors Chair with a modern-day action-suspense-drama called The Counselor.

Starting with a big name cast, a screenplay written by a Pulitzer Prize winning author, Cormac McCarthy, and an impressive budget, the movie alternates between action set pieces and plenty of talking – the kind that can most accurately be described as pseudo-profundities.

By that I mean words that make you think, but are rarely parts of any conversation that we might have. But here we get them over and over – along with guns, glitter, carnage, conspicuous consumption, as well as some old-fashioned sex, and another sex act that hasn’t quite become part of our standard norms of sexual behavior, or even our vernacular. Bardem’s Reiner called it Too gynecological to be sexy.

The result? A film that is often dazzling, yet disappointing. A film that is both bloody and boring, And finally a film that takes avarice and evil to both new highs as well as new lows.

Michael Fassbender begins the film making love with Pénelope Cruz as his girl friend Laura. There’s a certain purity to this scene, meaning everything is spoken and implied rather than displayed. He is the unnamed titular character – The Counselor.

Seemingly he’s got it all. But it isn’t enough. Later we will see him doing a throw back to Michael Douglas in The Game – you know, lost and broke across the border.

Javier Bardem is on board for another property stemming from McCarthy. The first was No Country For Old Men. This time, Bardem as Reiner, portrays a rather successful night club owner, who has a grand spread somewhere near El Paso, and a drop dead girl friend Malinka, played with just the right amounts of slinky and slutty, by Cameron Diaz.

Penelope Cruz is The Counselor’s girl friend, and she’s the most likable character in the film.

The final, listed above the title, role goes to Brad Pitt as Westray, a middleman, or a deal maker. Pitt wears his hair long, and is usually decked in a western cut suit, a Stetson, and cowboy boots.

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Talking About The Fifth Estate – A Film Review/Discussion

You can’t expose the world’s secrets without exposing your own.

That’s the tagline for the new film The Fifth Estate. Directed by Bill Condon, this is the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks — especially Assange, up close and personal, warts and all.

Expectations for the film were high, especially with star Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, and packaged as a fast-paced global thriller that traces the relationship between Assange and his early collaborator, Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl).

But the film crashed and burned. It opened in a whopping 1769 theaters across the USA a few days ago, but earned only $1.7 million over the weekend — a truly awful number. This was the worst box office debut for any film opening in at least 1500 theaters this year. What went wrong?

Didion of the Feminéma blog and I sat down to try to figure it out.

JMM: I hate to tell you this, but I was one of just two people who saw this movie at the 10:45 AM showing today. How many people were in attendance at the screening you attended?

Didion: There were four of us at the 1:40 showing, but hey — it’s a Monday! it’s mid-afternoon! I’m not sure the weak audience numbers necessarily reflect anything. And the two guys next to me loved the film.

I’m still processing, to be honest. JMM, do you think this film was written for a broad audience, or for people with particular views of WikiLeaks?

The not so thrilling opening - four people watching a monitor

The not so thrilling opening – four people watching a monitor

JMM: Great question. The film looked like it was marketed as a thriller. Proponents of transparency in government and media would be the standard bearers. But it played out much differently. I failed to detect any thrills, and I failed to learn anything about the process. What I came away with was that WikiLeaks (the organization) was a good idea, but that Assange himself turned it into being more about himself, than what he was trying to accomplish.

Which leads to the question (for which I have no answer) was the film fair to Assange?

Didion: It’s hard for me to answer that because I keep asking, would this film look any different if Assange had made it? Isn’t it very much to his advantage to be at its center, the way he is here? Isn’t it to his advantage to be portrayed as a complicated figure? Perhaps Assange would have portrayed himself as more heroic than he appears here, but I think he’s enough of a publicity savant to know that an ambivalent character is more interesting than a purely heroic one. (The one thing about the film that’d be different is the absence of the Daniel character, as the two men have had a devastating fallout.)

So in that regard, the film is more than fair; it lets Assange be the main character. Moreover, it wants us to believe that WikiLeaks truly is a fifth estate, a new guerrilla means of exposing the truth behind our institutions — also very much Assange’s message.

JMM: Well that certainly fits. A guerrilla means of bringing the truth out into the light. However it is also true that his methodology could be called something like Egotistical Anarchy. Or we might call him an Informational Insurgent. Maybe that’s the problem with the film – people would prefer to have learned more about the process and less about the guy behind the curtain.

Which leads me to another point. I really didn’t care for the first hour – at least once the opening montage concluded, we had no place to go but down. Did you see the film as two distinct and separate halves?

Didion: Hm. I’m not sure I can answer that. You’re right that it presents a gradually more problematic view of Assange in the second half. But I thought the biggest drama in the film — the lead-up to the dump of the 90,000 documents on the websites of the Guardian, the NY Times, Der Spiegel, and other publications — was nicely handled. That is, those scenes portrayed nicely all the competing interests, motives, and worries, including by two US State Department heads (Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci).

It was good, I thought, because it forced everyone in the theater to consider all sides of the question about this form of exposure — not only the question of whether the dump of documents might lead to blood being spilled, but also whether it’s more honest to dump documents unredacted. It was fascinating. You’ll have to tell me your opinion of this too, JMM.

But in addition, there’s another question I find important: does this film ultimately send the message that WikiLeaks would have been a fine and dandy new mode of communication but for its egomaniacal leader?

JMM: Exactly.

Assange stressed again and again that he was primarily concerned with protecting the whistleblowers, the so-called sources. Anonymity was crucial, otherwise no one would leak anything to them. And that was an honest and accurate appraisal of the process. But as you said, he was totally dishonest about everything else. Even Daniel was deceived.

So the question of his character is something that none of us, not even Josh Singer the writer, or Bill Condon, the director, can answer.

Actually, I couldn’t believe that Assange was so gung-ho to publish the docs without any redacting. Did that send Assange’s credibility out the window for you?

Didion: Honestly, I’m still on the fence about how I feel about the film being a referendum on Assange’s character, especially as it’s been told by a former associate. On the fence, because I’m more interested in the establishment of WikiLeaks as an institution with the potential to achieve a greater degree of transparency than our profit-driven fourth estate has managed recently. All the attention to Assange seems like a red herring; shouldn’t we be asking harder questions about the institution rather than its colorful central figure?

But maybe that’s the problem — it’s hard for me to think of this simply as a film with its own internal logic, rather than as a comment on real-life institutions and people.

I must say that the way the film portrays Assange’s growing sense of urgency and paranoia — his eagerness to publish the documents so hastily — was badly handled. The film played it as a sign of his recklessness; but is it so wrong to argue that censoring any part of the docs, even a person’s name or the location of a battle, might limit the documents’ usefulness? In other words, even though the film played it as part of Assange’s messianism, I found his point worthy of a conversation.

JMM: Sure. It is an interesting question. That could have been the whole point of the film. But I’ll ask you about the usefulness. Who would benefit from the knowledge that Agency X, in Country Z, did this or that? It would all be after the fact of the events, and could precipitate following events. I’m saying that it is a slippery slope – and the real life stuff that followed now has Assange living sequestered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. So who benefited? – the usefulness can’t really be quantified.

On the other hand, I really do like that you were able to leap from the cinema that we saw and take that information and apply it to the real world. I’m still more grounded to the film itself than the worldly aftermath.

Didion: that’s what makes you such a good reviewer! that’s what we’re supposed to do!

It occurs to me that my refusal to see this merely as a thriller, but also as a film with real-life implications, springs from some essential disappointments. I don’t mean to suggest the film is bad; far from it. But as you can see, I’m disappointed that it was so much about Assange, even though I recognize what a compelling character he is.

On that note, I must say that Cumberbatch did a fabulous job — I had to google the real Assange afterward to remind myself what he actually looked like. Cumberbatch not only got the charm and the deceiving back stories right; he also got Assange’s methodical manner of speaking, his tics…those beady eyes, darting around a room, over-thinking everything. It was a terrific performance. What did you think of the acting overall?

JMM: Sorry Didion, I’m not much of a Cumberbatch fan at all. He wore wigs and false teeth to look the part, and he just doesn’t impress me. Which is not to say he wasn’t good in the role. Personally, I enjoyed Brühl more. Maybe it was the deceptive manner by Assange that kept me from either liking him, or being partial to him. Brühl, on the other hand, was a far more open character, one that was infinitely more accessible.

I liked Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci better. But I just couldn’t get my arms, or my head around Cumberbatch.

Didion: I wonder — was it the acting or the character?

I liked Brühl too (and had only seen him in The Fall, the Gillian Anderson series, before now), but for the most part, he just didn’t do a lot with the character except function as a nice window through which to see Assange.

Linney and Tucci were great! Taking on smaller roles like these must be such a treat for seasoned actors like them. I swear, I’d pay to watch Stanley Tucci read the phone book.

We probably can’t answer the question of why the film hasn’t succeeded at the box office, but I’m curious: do you think the film should have done well? is it worth the big budget, the big advertising campaign?

JMM: Another great question, Didion. I’m thinking that the film is disappointing in so many ways. I’m also thinking that Assange is not particularly important at the moment, even though WikiLeaks still exists. I’m also thinking that Dreamworks made a mistake with Cumberbatch. I just don’t see him selling tickets. Granted, Redford and Hoffman are now in their 70s, but when you think of All The President’s Men – a great film about revealing the truth – you can say that film was a great film with great stars who sold tickets on their names.

We can’t say that about the actors here in The Fifth Estate can we?

The story had all the relevance and importance – yet – no one wants to see it.

Didion: And All the President’s Men was such an uncomplicated story in contrast, wasn’t it? Crusading journalists uncovering increasingly fraught information that leads them farther up the chain of command. Whereas it’s hard for anyone but the most zealous to find WikiLeaks to be straightforwardly heroic. These two films would make fascinating counterpoint in a college class about the public’s views about the media, actually!

Cumberbatch might not be your cup of tea, but you frame the problem exactly: focusing the story on Assange is going to turn people away from the film. Tell me, purely on the subject of the film as a thriller, you’ve mentioned that you were disappointed. Do you think this is the fault of the storytelling, the filming, or something more pervasive about the film?

JMM: As I said earlier – the first half of the film was kind of tedious, not at all to my liking. Guys at keyboards, typing furiously isn’t scintillating film making. Then factor that what we saw on their screens wasn’t the least bit accessible to a standard viewer. So even if we give them the first hour to establish the characters and the narrative – it left me cold. It gains some traction in the second half, but by then the two main characters were going in opposite directions.

Condon handled his cameras quite well, and Singer did manage to make the film have some excellent pace – but only in the second half.

Didion: The fact that all of us spend all our time in front of screens these days is going to make modern thrillers incredibly boring, isn’t it? I don’t feel as negatively about the online screen time the characters engaged in; I actually thought about whether there’s a way to make that stuff riveting for future audiences. (Actually, the series Sherlock did some interesting work with graphics onscreen representing texting.) But it’s not the same as Robert Redford walking into creepy parking garages, or Dustin Hoffman on the phone and frantically taking notes on his interviews, is it?

In the end I think Hollywood hasn’t quite figured out how to make real-time computer/internet exchange exciting. And in the end, isn’t that really what films like The Social Network and The Fifth Estate are all about? and they’re a sign of things to come.

JMM: Smart phones, tablets, and the like get more and more intricate and evolve every month. But filmmaking? Not so much. At least not in this one.

Didion: Exactly! I wonder if they’ll find a more elaborate kind of personal viewing experience — high-tech 3D glasses that interact with the film’s story, for example — to enhance our sense of what’s going on onscreen? A sort of Google Glass experience for the theater.

Meanwhile, back here in October 2013, I have to pronounce myself slightly disappointed overall. If pressed, I’d give the film something like 3 stars out of 5 — a perfectly watchable thriller, but one that doesn’t do anything very interesting or new. That’s ultimately what gets me about this film. On the one hand, it does a nice job of convincing me that WikiLeaks is a thoroughly new institution worthy of a moniker like The Fifth Estate. On the other hand, it’s an old-fashioned story about a follower who grows disillusioned with his cult of personality leader. Neither the story nor the filmmaking are innovative or particularly thought-provoking, even as the film raises some good questions about WikiLeaks’ central aims and motives.

JMM: Nice summary Didion. I’ll agree to a 3.0 out of five as well. There’s nothing wrong with old stories if told well, And we don’t need a whole lot of innovative technical wizardry if told well.

What was it that Berg’s girlfriend Anke called Assange – an asshole? Well, you can make a good story about one of those too.

Didion: Okay, one final question for you, JMM. At the very end of the film — and I promise, this doesn’t spoil anything — Cumberbatch appears neatly coiffed, sitting in a chair, as if for a televised interview. He’s answering questions, including about “the WikiLeaks movie,” and he frankly dismisses the project. In other words, the film allows Assange to have the last word. What did you think of that filmmaking choice?

If you want the truth, you should seek it out yourself. That's what they're afraid of. You.

If you want the truth, you should seek it out yourself. That’s what they’re afraid of. You.

JMM: You mean the coda at the end when Assange disavowed the film? I have two thoughts on that – it seemed tacked on as an after thought. At that point – or should I say before that – the film was over. It wasn’t necessary.

Didion: Honestly, I kind of liked it. It seemed so … oddly eager to have Assange weigh in, even if he disavowed it.

JMM: Would you have liked it better if they used the real Assange who was interviewed by Stephen Colbert?

Didion: No, actually. I liked it that Cumberbatch remained our version of Assange… and he was just as ambivalent a character in those scenes as he’d been earlier in the film. I think I found it so weird because on some level Condon wanted to show Assange’s opposition to the film as a film. I thought that brief scene really did add something oddly self-conscious about this being a film.

JMM: Yes, in that context, as a directorial choice by Bill Condon, it did add a dimension. But it didn’t increase my appreciation on the overall film.

Didion: So, we weren’t entranced … and the film left us with some fairly damning evidence about Assange’s character. But as always, talking with you about the film — particularly so soon after seeing it — has been both highly enjoyable and useful in debriefing about its qualities. Thanks, JMM, as always for the pleasure of a happy-hour movie chat!

JMM: I’m happy to have the opportunity to discuss film with you at any time. And it was a particular pleasure this time as neither of us was gushing with praise. Until next time…

Homeland 3 x 04 called Game On! – Things are Getting Intriguing – At Last!

Carrie: Dad, why didn't you show up for my hearing? Dad: I got a call yesterday saying it was cxled. Carrie: Who did you speak with? Dad: ....

Carrie: Dad, why didn’t you show up for my hearing?
Dad: I got a call yesterday saying it was cxled.
Carrie: Who did you speak with?
Dad: ….

Thoughts on Homeland 3 X 04 called Game On!– spoilers follow.

You were right Saul, they went for it.

Wow, didn’t see that one coming.

Judge: Sorry, my hands are tied. I can't issue a release order today

Judge: Sorry, my hands are tied. I can’t issue a release order today

And so Carrie Mathison is out of the psych ward. That doesn’t mean she’s okay, and healthy, but it does mean that she’s back in play. As are Dar Adal, Farah, and even Mike Faber. But if Faber is back on the scene, that means that Brody is not far from re-appearing.

Four weeks in, and Brody has been limited to just the one episode, last week. He was a no show this week. But now at least we understand the Caracas deal.The terrorist known as the Magician had a boyhood soccer idol, who was Venezuelan. And that name figured prominently in Farah’s investigation.

Farah Gives Saul the Good News

The only thing is that the football hero is dead, and yet that name has shown up in Caracas on two key occasions. Bingo – the missing 45 million (from earlier this season) has been siphoned off the top, and likely is the funding source for the terrorism. Saul now knows how it works.

And now Homeland has a target – not to kill, but to capture. Saul wants to get him in a room, rather than have him blown to bits by a missile. My thoughts too.

Okay now we know where we are headed, and what we are going to be watching for over the next few weeks. However I still have questions.

Carrie and Bennett

How does a Maryland judge get to decide a case with the J.D.’s fingerprints all over it. The hospital wasn’t in Maryland. Okay, we know that the big shot lawyer lobbyist Leland Bennett played by Martin Donovan bought that judge off, but where was the Justice Department while that writ of release was being issued. Where were they, and how did it happen?  Saul asked this same question.

Second, who called Mathison’s Dad, and told him the hearing was off. Was that Dar Adal? And how does Mathison take this call as gospel and not even get a name?

Third – if the whole hospitalization thing was a pre-arranged set up between Saul and Carrie, then why go through the bs of having Carrie ‘discover’ that her car was stolen, that her bank account was frozen, and her credit cards blocked?



Fourth – the code sentence “Say hello to your Mom” spoken by Virgil (David Marciano) Mathison’s former tech guy was clearly meant to convey that he was under duress, and don’t come here – they’ve got me. Okay, that worked for me, and it worked for Carrie. She got it. How come the two agents standing over Virgil, didn’t figure that out?

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Dancing on the Edge

Don’t know if you like jazz, or if you like period dramas. If you do like either or both, then you should check out Dancing on the Edge, an original TV-mini-series which had its USA premier on Starz last night. It was previously broadcast on the BBC last February/March.

Dancing On The Edge

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Louis Lester, a band leader and song writer/composer. On its surface, and in the briefest of descriptions, per IMDB, the story is about a black jazz band that becomes entangled in the aristocratic world of 1930’s London as they seek fame and fortune.

And that is a simple overview. What is really going on is that this is a murder mystery and it a story that pulls back the curtain to reveal the stark, corrupt, and dark side of British society at that time. I’ll toss in the word bigotry as well.

Without revealing the ins and outs of the plot, I think an introduction to the characters and the actors portraying them should be sufficient to attract your interest.

As I stated at the outset, Chiwetel Ejiofor is the lead. His Louis Lester is a brilliant musician, and a principled man devoted to his friends, as well as the members of his band. In 1933, not only was jazz new to Britain, but the British society remained distinctly class driven.

John Goodman plays Masterson. He is a beyond rich playboy. He’s always in search of a good time, and it has been said that he never goes to bed. Early on, Masterson hires Lester’s band to perform at a picnic in the country. Actually, the picnic is aboard Masterson’s private train, and the train has no set destination. Sort of like the popular ‘cruises to nowhere.

Matthew Goode portrays Stanley. Now Stanley is almost a one-man show with regard to a British publication about entertainment and nightlife called The Music Express. He writes most of the copy, does the art work for a cartoon series, and is a man about the town. He is instrumental in getting the Lester band some performing opportunities.

To begin, he gets them a job at the old  (and stodgy) Imperial Hotel. Yes, it is in London, and yet it is so very British. This hotel is almost cartoonish, but you will believe what you see.

Lester asks Stanley, Have they ever had a colored band here?
Stanley replies, No, they haven’t and its even better than that. They’ve never even heard jazz before.

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Homeland: Episode 3 x 03 – Tower of David

So Homeland switched gears on us. Quinn, Saul, Dana, even the forensic financial wizard in the hijab, Farah, all had this, the 3rd episode off. It was all Carrie and all Brody.

Of course, Carrie was still in a locked psych wing, and Brody… somehow, he washes up in Caita La Mar, Venezuela, which is in reality quite far from the Columbian border with two fresh bullet wounds in his gut supposedly put there by the Columbians. Someone picks him up in a truck, then hands him off to some gang, and they ferry him overland to an unfinished and abandoned by the developers, apartment tower, in a nasty slum area, now occupied by squatters, and protected by armed gunmen.

There he is given medical aid. From anyone’s perspective, a standard MASH set up anywhere in Nam would have been a step up from where Brody was. Anyway, the medic extracted the two bullets, and had some pain suppressant cooked up to help Brody manage the pain (not too much – we don’t want to stop his heart).

Eventually he wakes up to the sound of a muezzin’s call to prayer. While that was familiar to him, he still had no idea where he was. He struggles to his feet and hobbles over to where a window should have been and looks out. It is a massive urban area. “Where am I” he asks.

Caracas is the answer.

I guess it is a small world. Not only is Brody in proximity to a mosque, but also the head of the gang, a dude called El Nino,  who has brought him back from a near death experience knows Carrie Mathison.

Not only that, they know he is a wanted international terrorist – alleged terrorist – and he has a $10,000,000 bounty on his head. But yet, they show no interest in turning him over to the Americans at the Embassy.

Guess they’re keeping him around as a trading chip for  the future. We aren’t told this, but I am making it my guess.

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Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips, the new film from director Paul Greengrass, is the kind of film that I just know I will watch again and again when it is on TV. Today I saw the film on the ultimate big screen – an IMAX.

For a film that was based on a real-life story that took place in 2009 and attracted world-wide attention, it was certainly one helluva a pressure-packed, suspenseful, thrill ride.

Starring Tom Hanks, our modern-day Jimmy Stewart, as Captain Richard Phillips who was aboard the Maersk Alabama as it steamed through the Somalian Straits off the coast of African. Phillips had flown in from Burlington, VT, to pick up the ship in Oman and take it out of port passing through the Gulf of Aden, rounding the Horn of Africa, heading for Mombasa, Kenya.

The ship was not carrying cars, or consumer electronics, or boxes of treasure. Among other things of its cargo which was stuffed into more than 1100 railroad box car sized containers, were relief items like food stuffs, medicines, and clothing.

So as the ship steamed on its course, Captain Phillips was reading some advisories about the rapidly increasing number of pirate attacks in these very waters. So Phillips ordered a walk through of what their standard course of action would be if they came under attack. The ship carried no armaments or weapons, so they were limited to evasive tactics and water hoses to defend themselves. If boarded, ultimately they could ‘go black’ or as they put it shut down, go dead, in the water, and wait for help.

The advisories called for maritime vessels to stay at least 600 miles off the Somalian coast

When two skiffs showed up on the radar, the Maersk Alabama was only about 240 miles off Somalia. Phillips swung into action. First he tried a 5 degree turn to starboard to see if the approaching vessels made a similar turn. Which they did.

Phillips then contacted the Maritime support agency to report that the Alabama would soon be under attack. When they suggested that the approaching boats could be fishermen, Phillips said that these boatmen were not there to fish.

Despite the evasive tactics, the rapid course changes to roil up the sea, and the fire hoses – the Alabama was boarded by 4 Somalian gunmen.

These men did not board the ship, and make their way to the bridge to announce, Hi – we’re the Millers. What’s for dinner? It was far more ominous and onerous than that. The group leader, a young man called Muse, spoke English, and said to Captain Phillips – Look at me, look at me! I am the Captain now.

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Gravity (2013)

I always wanted to see a sunset over the Ganges, I just didn’t think it would be today.

Actually, I didn’t see it. I only heard about it from George Clooney as Matt Kowalski in the film Gravity. He had a unique perspective when he saw it. You know, jet-packing around in space. He along with Sandra Bullock who plays Ryan Stone, are out making some repairs to their space shuttle.

They are linked to earth via radio transmissions. From Earth, we hear what Ed Harris as Mission Control in Houston is telling both Stone and Kowalski. Until they lose the radio connection. Which occurs after they and their craft were severely impacted by debris from a blown up satellite hurling towards them at unimaginable speeds.

You see as we are told, In space there is nothing to carry sound. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible.

Which meant, in regard to the debris hurtling at them – there is nothing at all to slow it down. After the debris has shredded them, both literally and figuratively, Kowalski and Stone have become un-tethered to each other, and separated from the shuttle.

Kowalski’s jet pack is running low on propulsion, and Stone is running low on oxygen. Will they reconnect and even if they do – what next?

That’s your setup. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, from a script that Cuarón and his son Jonas wrote together, this is a monster of a film that lacks oxygen, gravity, and space aliens yet is as thrilling as can be.

Yes, the overall story is about the will to survive and get home, which is anything but new, but for we viewers, this is a remarkable cinematic experience. I can’t even begin to imagine how labor intensive this must have been to produce a film of this scope with live actors, special FX, CGI, and built for a 3D IMAX screen.

Truly this is a stunning visual experience. The film also has an involving musical score which adds to the experience. Cuaron has also pulled a few rabbits out his director’s hat in the form of long takes – in fact the opening take runs for about 17 minutes without an editorial cut.

When you factor in the disorientation we feel – as I said – there’s no up or down, horizontal or vertical. Our view perspective remains in place as this activity is happening in front of us, but for the onscreen actors, all of those terms have no meaning.

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Hostages 1×03 – Recap /Review


Last week I stated that I thought that the new CBS TV Series Hostages was heading downward. I pondered if they could maintain the suspense, you know – kill the President or else.

This week, the show didn’t sink any further but it got a whole lot more complicated. Said another way, there are many more moving parts now than we saw in the first two episdes. Mucho spoilers follow.

Carlisle wanted the blame shifted away from Dr. Saunders, so he instructed her to blame her long-time friend; the nurse who handled the medication. Result – the nurse committed suicide. Okay, that story line didn’t have much life to it anyway.

Starting with Saunders family – their son pleaded with his Dad for the so-called ‘beer’ money. Dad wasn’t coughing up pocket change much less $1200. Result – the son gotten beaten up by the guy he owed money too. It was rather brutal if I may so.

The Daughter is all over the place, She’s pregnant you know. Finally, her BF Boyd corners her. He wants things to be all nice again because she’s been antsy lately – as in not being able to see him because of the family predicament. She blurts out that she’s pregnant and runs off.

Result – the BF heads to the family home to tell her father how much he loves her and he’s able to support her. Only instead of the father he meets Duncan Carlisle who says. Take a hike. My daughter is going to college not getting married. The kid says “What if I don’t?” Carlisle replies, I’ll give you this, kid, you’ve got guts.

Later when the daughter (after hearing from Boyd about the encounter) is talking with her real Dad, he has no clue or idea of the conversation.

FBI Investigator or is it Secret Service investigator Stan Hoffman played by Paul Calderon, looks like he doesn’t trust Dr. Saunders at all, but he keeps it from spilling out. We don’t know it yet – but for all we know – he’s had her followed, and knows for a fact that she’s lying.

Internal friction among the bad guys . Sandrine doesn’t trust the Rhys Coiro character Kramer Daly. She’s also pushing the 4th member, Archer Petit, to talk to Carlisle. It seems she’d like to be paid.

Later, Dr. Saunders over hears Carlisle talking to his daughter Sawyer on the phone. She hears the word art-fair. Not only does she lose her tail at the hospital, but she’s located the school with the art fair (thank you Google). Not only does she know which school it is but she also is able to bluff her way in by claiming she is the aunt of little Sawyer.

Sayer: Who are you? Dr. Saunders: I'm Jane,  a friend of your father

Sawyer: Who are you?
Dr. Saunders: I’m Jane, a friend of your father

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