The Infiltrator

More than twenty tears ago, actor Bryan Cranston had a small recurring role on the Seinfeld show. He played Tim Whatley, a dentist. While Seinfeld has retired from broadcast TV (he now visits friends and takes them out for a coffee and some chuckles). Cranston on the other hand, has moved on to bigger and better roles.

Like Walter White, the ubiquitous every man who became the ruthless King of Meth in Breaking Bad. Like the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in Trumbo. Like former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson both on stage and in the TV movie All The Way.

Cranston’s latest film, called The Infiltrator, opened today. Cranston plays Robert Mazur, an agent for the U.S. Customs Department who comes up with the idea that instead of tracking the drugs to lead them to cartel leaders, they would follow the money instead.

Mazur poses as one Robert Muselli, a big-time money launderer. John Leguizamo plays Emir Abreu, an undercover agent who has the necessary street creds and lower level connections to get the introductions that Muselli/Mazur needs.

Benjamin Bratt plays Roberto Alcaino who is Pablo Escobar’s main drug distributor. Diane Kruger plays Kathy Ertz who poses as Muselli’s fiance.

Amy Ryan (The Wire) is on hand as Mazur’s tough boss. Yul Vazquez is on hand as another of Escobar’s front men, his investments manager to be precise – one Javier Ospina.

Yul Vazquez also had a recurring role on Seinfeld as a 'street tough'. We're taking the armoire and that's all there is to to it. Okay?

Yul Vazquez also had a recurring role on Seinfeld as a ‘street tough’. We’re taking the armoire and that’s all there is to it. Okay?

The rest of the cast is the usual suspects – crooked bankers, cartel muscle, family members (kids and wives) and assorted fringe US Customs agents and lawyers.

The setting is the mid 80’s during the Ronald Regan era. Mazur is nearing his retirement but he agrees to go undercover after his boss lets her guys know that the word has come down from Washington DC. They want the biggest bust ever with the ultimate target being Don Pablo (Escobar). The fact that Mazur has agreed to this ‘last’ job is severely disappointing to his wife (played by Juliet Aubrey).

Okay, the premise is not new, and the film isn’t about excesses in anyone’s life-style. Yes, there are private jets but not so much in the way of luxurious mansions, yachts, and expensive cars. In fact, apart from Mazur/Muselli having to look like a successful businessman on occasion, the film, while decidedly not a low-rent production, definitely lacks the glitz and glamour that you might associate in a film about drug lords and cartels.

While I won’t go as far as saying that the film isn’t any good, I was disappointed. Cranston, Bratt, Kruger, and Leguizamo are all effective. Mazur/Muselli is tough when necessary (I don’t do business under threat) and tender with his wife and family when needed.

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Fever

fever

For there to be a crime, there has to be a personal reason, a personal motive. But if it happens by chance…

From this textual opening we then see the feet of two people quickly heading down the steps of a Montparnasse (Paris) apartment building. They hit the street, and the camera tracks up from their feet and they appear to be a tad nervous. But they start to walk off calmly.

There’s a small collision with a young woman coming from the opposite direction. She drops her bag, and one of the young men, without realizing it, drops a single black woolen glove.

She turns to look at them, and one of them the boys looks back at her twice before they rush off.

We next see these two young men, actually they are high school students – in the school cafeteria.

I know why you’re scared. You’re scared you’ll dream about her.
Aren’t you?
She was just a whore.

This is the opening few minutes of a 2014 French film, directed by Raphael Neal, that has just been released here in the US. I mean the DVD has been released by Artspoitation Films, a Philadelphia based outfit headed by Ray Murray.

Without seeing anything of the event, we will come to learn that these two high-schoolers have murdered a woman. Also we will see nothing involving the police search for the killers beyond some newspaper headlines, a quick shot or two of uniformed cops on the street,  and some conversations by local shop-keepers.

For a film about a murder that is quite unusual. As you can see, in the film’s poster at the top, the tagline reads: They executed the perfect crime…until they got away with it.

But there’s the rub. Knowing they ‘ve gotten away with crime, how do they deal with that? Will they go back to being teenagers in high school with all the stresses and anxieties that go with that territory. Or will they be influenced by external factors that have nothing to do with the crime such as a frank talk with one of the boy’s grandfathers that ties in with what they have on their plate in their high school philosophy class.

I hear your questions:

What about the grandfather? And what are they studying in that class? And your third question – what about the woman who saw them on the street and picked up the dropped glove?

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Here’s a major hint – a book written by Hannah Arendt, a controversial book – Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil is the philosophy course topic.

Here’s a second major hint – the infamous French collaborator Maurice Papon.

Martin is the blond in the light jacket. Pierre is the boy in the dark clothes.

Martin is the blond in the light jacket. Pierre is the boy in the dark clothes.

The boys are Damien (Martin Loisillon) and Pierre (Pierre Moure). They’re not particularly special. They are just rich kids in an elite high school. The woman who collides with them and finds and keeps the glove is called Zoe (Julie-Marie Parmentier).

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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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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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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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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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