Monday, August 29, 2016

The Night Of ... HBO/BBC Mini-Series

First, I have to apologize for not posting this sooner as last night the final episode of this amazing mini-series aired. I was so enthralled, I wanted to watch the whole thing before reviewing it. Sorry about that. However, I'm sure it will be available in its entirety for HBO subscribers On Demand and will land on other viewing services soon.

Based on a BBC series, this one takes place in the New York City area. A young Palestinian-American, Nasir Khan (Naz), played by Riz Ahmed, is a college student. One Friday he has an important exam, which he aces.  Some of his friends urge him to come to their party in Manhattan. He politely declines as he's not the type who goes out much.  He is a practicing Muslim and stays close with other Muslims and Palestinians. He lives in one of the boroughs, I don't remember which. He rarely is in Manhattan at all.

But after his whole family goes to bed at 10:00, he decides he'd like to go to the party, after all. So he grabs the keys to the cab his father, uncle, and cousin share. He drives into the city. On his way to the party, he has to fend off a couple of men wanting a cab.  He tells them he's off-duty and finally persuades them he's not for hire. Later, at a stoplight, an attractive young woman gets in to the back seat.  He tries telling her he's off-duty, but she pays no attention.  She asks him to stop at a gas station/convenience store to buy beer for her, so he does.

When he comes back to the cab she says she wants to go to the beach.  He refuses saying it's much too far. He asks her if the river would be okay. So she agrees.  They end up on the riverbank drinking beer.  She is obviously under the influence of something she took earlier. She gives him a pill which turns out to be Ecstasy. Then they get back in the cab and go to her home.

There she gives him something else which turns out to be Ketamine, a major horse tranquilizer, which is sometimes used to put dogs to sleep. They begin to have sex. He passes out.

A couple of hours later, he wakes up in  her kitchen with no idea how he got there from the upstairs bedroom. High and fearful about getting home so late, he goes up to the bedroom. He finds her lying on a blood-soaked sheet, with blood spatter on the walls, and major stab wounds on her body.

In full panic mode, he grabs his clothes, dresses and runs out the front door, only to realize he left the keys in the brownstone. The door locked after him when he went out, so he must break the glass in the door to get back inside. Unfortunately for him, he is seen by the voyeur neighbor across the street. The man calls the police and the inevitable happens.  He identifies Naz as the man he saw running from the house.

Naz is taken in for questioning while the police enter the house and find her body. The forensic team follows and you can guess what happens.

Veteran actor John Turturro, plays a small-time attorney, Jack Stone, who sees Naz sitting in the holding cell in the station. So he says he's his attorney and is admitted to the cell to talk to him.

I must say Turturro's performance is perfect. His role is an actor's dream and he fulfills that dream on every level. I'm predicting an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for him next year. His performance is astounding in this one. Always a favorite character actor of mine, I loved him in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" one of the funniest films I've ever seen. I could watch it over and over. This performance tops that one in every way. Amazing job.

The supporting cast are all spot on in their roles including Glenn Headly, the high-powered attorney Naz's parents hire instead of Jack Stone. Trouble is, she wants him to take a plea and doesn't care he may well be innocent. She quits the case when he refuses before the judge. Amara Karan plays a young attorney who takes his case next, with Turturro aiding her. Jeannie Berlin plays Helen Weiss, the assistant DA who prosecutes Naz's case. Jeff Wincott plays Detective Lucas, the retiring NYPD detective who doesn't believe Naz did it, but he is in the minority.

Michael F. Williams, the late Slappy White of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, does an excellent job as Freddy Knight, the powerful prisoner/lord of Riker's Island.

Paul Sparks plays Don Taylor, the husband of the victim's late mother who will inherit a nice estate which includes the $10,000,000. brownstone where the victim was murdered.

Paulo Costanzo, late of the series Royal Pains, is another suspect. He was the victim's financial advisor.
Apparently he was embezzling from her accounts.

Neither of the above suspects are seriously considered by the NYPD nor the DA's office.

This series is a powerful piece of drama, which reflects the injustice often found in America's courts and prisons.

With incredible performances and a surprising end to the story, this is an award worthy series. Don't miss it, if you can take drama at this level.

Oh, one more thing, watch for the last appearance of the cat...just sayin'.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Angry Birds the Movie

I don't know about you, but lately I have been inundated with serious films, sad ones which bring you down. Last week I saw Anthropoid and wrote a treatise similar to a dissertation, giving my readers a history lesson of WWII.  Sorry about that, but I call 'em as I see 'em.

On Friday night I happened upon a movie entitled Infamous. I've been disturbed by it since then. Starring Toby Jones and Sandra Bullock, it is another version of Truman Capote and the case that inspired his masterpiece In Cold Blood. Hardly a barrel of laughs...Interesting casting, though, with Daniel Craig (our current James Bond) with black hair playing one of the killers, Perry White. I remember the film Capote in which the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman gave an Oscar winning performance as the title character. As magnificent as he was, I like Toby Jones better.  He brought more pathos and humanity to the role. They explored the relationship between Capote and White. It was magnificent but a real downer. As in real life White and his partner on the crime spree, are executed in the end.

I give kudos to Jones, best known for the evil doctor, sidekick to the Red Skull, in the Marvel Avengers movies. Who knew?

Okay, okay, we're done with the downers right now.  After seeing endless promos for Angry Birds the Movie when it released earlier this year, I was mildly interested. Yes, I know about Angry Birds, many of my friends are hooked on it or were. I don't keep up with the latest game crazes.

Anyhow today I watched it on pay-per-view. It's child friendly (for the most part) but filled with sly winks and nudges that grown-ups enjoy.  It's funny,colorful, and a bit of a mystery about where some of the characters fit into their least it was to me.

I laughed like a loon as I watched it. I laughed harder when I read the cast list. To think Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones fame voices the Mighty Eagle. He was wonderful and very funny.  The rest of the cast includes: Jason Sudeikis as Red, Josh Gad as Chuck, Bill Hader as Leonard, Maya Rudolph as Matilda, and Danny McBride as Bomb.  The list reads like a Saturday Night Live reunion with Kate McKinnon added to the mix. Also included is Keegan-Michael Key.  Talent, funny folks whose line reading leaves you laughing.

My favorite though was the bird mime (French style) who would only voice "Oh. My. Goooood!" at appropriate times.

This one is almost completely mindless, but hey, that's the point, isn't it?

With all the stuff we are exposed to in the media in this election year, it's easy to get mired in all the negative press on both sides.

We NEED Angry Birds for some light-hearted insanity once in a while.

Last night I watched The Peanuts Movie and howled my way through it, even though it was a rehash of things I'd seen over the years in the television specials.

Do something fun...we all need  it these days!

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Well, it's another movie marathon as today I went to the cinema to see Anthropoid. Haven't heard of it? I'm not surprised. It's based on a true story of the Czech Resistance and the successful assassination of (SS) Schutzstaffel Obergrupenfuhrer Reinhold Heydrich in Prague in 1942. Third in the line of his command after Hitler and Himmler, Heydrich was the highest ranking SS (Schutzstaffel) officer assassinated during the war. Several other German high-ranking NAZI officers were hung after the Nuremberg Trials.

Brief history lesson - in 1938 Hitler called together the European Allies, who defeated Germany in World War I twenty years earlier, for a conference in Berlin. During the conference, he swore to them he didn't want another war.  If they would only agree to cede Czechoslovakia back to Germany, he would be content. See, there were lots of people of German ancestry living in that country. After World War I, the German Empire had been stripped of much of their territory. Many German speaking people found themselves in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Hitler asked only for the Saar back (the region renamed as Czechoslovakia.) He promised them peace if only Germany could get that region returned.

Poor Neville Chamberlain (English Prime Minister at the time) flew back to London and proclaimed "Peace in our time!" Bless him, within the year, Germany declared war on England and her European allies. He was replaced by Winston Churchill and you know the rest...

There were several high-powered Czech Army Officers who made it to London, just like Polish Officers who got there later.  Anyhow the resistance was run from London, whether it was the Czech, the Poles, or the French as the war progressed. So the Czech officers in London decided to send a team of resistance fighters to Prague. Their target was Heydrich. The creator of the Final Solution - the planned extermination of every Jewish person in Europe, along with Gypsies, LGBTQ people (known in the NAZI world as  "deviants"), insane people, criminals, and anybody else they didn't like (or who didn't like them).

Anthropoid is the story of the mission. It is atmospheric, bleak, and dark at times. With the subject matter it couldn't help being dark and bleak. But there are two romances in the storyline, borne out of the desperation of the times. The resistance fighters manage to execute their plan. Heydrich is badly injured but not killed in the attack. As you can imagine, the Germans are furious and begin searching Prague for the culprits. After Heydrich dies of his injuries, many innocent citizens are killed in the reprisals.

Eventually the Gestapo (which is a German acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei -Secret State Police) tracked down some people who helped the team. With savage efficiency they extract the knowledge of the hiding place after brutalizing a teenage boy. There is a last-ditch battle with none of the resistance fighters left alive. They had all been furnished with cyanide capsules as a last resort and most used them.

In the impotent rage of having no one for a show trial which could be filmed and shown to the German people at home, the NAZI's destroyed a Czech village in retaliation, killing every living thing there.  In all they killed over 5,000 people in their manic killing spree. You see the murder of Heydrich put a chink in their much publicized armor of invincibility. Other resistance groups began murdering NAZIs whenever possible. That and the allies bombing raids on the Vaterland (Fatherland - they would never call their home Motherland) (Insecure much?) marked the beginning of the end.

Of course Hitler's insane plan to open a second front by going into Russia ended in Germany being surrounded by oncoming enemies and the pincers closed. Otherwise, my German would be lots better than it is...

The cast comprised of mostly British actors is excellent in the film.  Notable are Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan as the two resistance fighters who are the main characters. Toby Jones (the sinister scientist of the Captain America films) plays a straight role in this one. He is one of the Prague contacts for the fighters. His suicide is poignant as his glasses drop off and he drops the cyanide capsule when the Germans break into his apartment. Feeling all over the floor, he finds it.  When they break the door down, he is already dead.

Most of the people at the movies today were my age or older, i.e.Vietnam era vets and their wives. It's sad that WWII is fading into the past as most people who lived it pass away. As many of you know, my dad was a WWII vet. I grew up watching archival footage of some of the battles with him. It taught me how insanity can overtake a country and run rampant.

Please you younger folks out there, it is important to remember your history. Remember the words of George Santayana:

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Until next time...

Monday, August 15, 2016


Nominated for several Oscars earlier this year, Brooklyn, is a lovely film, an atmospheric piece set in the late 1950s.

Starring a luminous Saoirse Ronan as Eilis Lacey. Living with her older sister and their widowed mother in Ireland, there is little opportunity for her there. With the assistance of her priest, passage is arranged for her, as well as lodging, and a position when she arrives in Brooklyn, NY.

The trip is harrowing at first as the sea is rough, but with the help of her cabin-mate, an older Irish girl, who isn't making her first voyage, Eilis makes it through.

The local priest, played by the versatile Jim Broadbent, has arranged for her to live in an Irish widow's boarding house. He has also arranged a job in a local department store in the cosmetics department. As the months go by, she becomes acclimated to her new surroundings and job.

Her landlady, Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters aka Mrs. Weasley in the Harry Potter films), herself an Irish immigrant, takes a shine to Eilis, ultimately giving her the best room in the place.

Encouraged by the priest, who pays for the first semester, Eilis enrolls in bookkeeping courses at night.  She does very well.

With some of the other girls at the boarding house, she attends a dance or two sponsored by the church. It is at one of those she meets Anthony (Tony) Fiorello (Emory Cohen). Instantly attracted, they start a sweet courtship which consists of walking home together, then graduates to going out for meals, and movies. He asks her to dinner at his family home. She has never eaten Italian food, so two of the girls coach her in the art of eating spaghetti.

He takes her to Coney Island where she wears a new swimsuit. Tony whistles when she emerges dressed in the suit. He takes her to empty lots on Long Island, where his family is going to build five houses. He asks her to marry him. She accepts.

Suddenly, her sister dies of an illness no one ever knew she had. Their mother calls Eilis home.

Back in Ireland she faces conflict as she is charmed by a local man (Domhnall Gleeson), encouraged by her mother and her best friend. But I won't spoil the story for you by revealing anything else about the storyline.

This film is beautifully shot, expertly acted, and very well-directed. A story of coming of age in a different time and place, in a sense, their experience is more gentle than ours today.

It is a picture postcard of America in the late 1950s. For those of us who are old enough to have been sapient lifeforms in 1958, it is like looking through gauze in an era far more restricted than ours now. Did I chafe at those restrictions back then? You bet I did. Now I marvel that I made it through those days.

The performances are wonderful. Looking at Jim Broadbent's kind and caring Irish priest, you'd never believe he once camped his way through "Like a Virgin" in the film Moulin Rouge.

See Brooklyn, it is a wonderful water-color tribute to a time of innocence, the like of which we will never know again. Enjoy.

Until next time...

Saturday, August 13, 2016


I'm planning to go back to the movies this next week. In the meantime, I caught a movie from 2007 on cable this afternoon.

The film is entitled Breach and is based on a true story of the FBI investigation of one of their own. The performances in this one are of the heavy weight acting calibre, so are the stars.

Chris Cooper plays Robert Hanssen, an enigmatic man, though clearly troubled, with a wife played by Kathleen Quinlin and several grandchildren.

Ryan Phillippe plays the young man, Eric O'Neill (who hopes to become a FBI Agent) put in place as Robert Hanssen's clerk. He is to report to Agent Kate Burroughs (played by Laura Linney.) Her superior is in charge of the operation, Dean Plesau, (played by Dennis Haysbert).

The main cast is completed as follows: Caroline Dhavernas as Juliana O'Neill (Eric's wife.); Gary Cole as Special Agent Rick Garsey; and Bruce Davison as John O'Neill (Eric's father.)

Eric is initially told Hanssen is being investigated by the Bureau for being a "sexual deviant." (Shades of J. Edgar!) They have pornographic films he watches, and others he made with his wife. A devout Catholic, regular attendee at mass, he is a complicated man.

Eric becomes close to Hanssen, going to dinner at his home, and going to church together with their wives. He's supposed to do that in his role for the FBI. But it becomes clear he is conflicted as he gets to know the man.

Hanssen is suspicious of Eric and keeps testing him. But finally decides to trust him.

The film's pacing is taut, as the FBI keeps trying to get the goods on Hanssen only to have him do the unexpected and wriggle away.

With Eric's help, he is eventually caught. Eric pays a heavy price emotionally for the deed he did. Though the Bureau is grateful and he is assured of his appointment to agent, he does not accept. Instead he leaves the FBI.

There is a chilling scene at the end when Eric is leaving his former office with a box of his possessions and catches an elevator as the doors are closing.

Hanssen is in the elevator with Dean Plesau and an armed guard. Hanssen is cuffed behind his back. He looks at Eric with red-rimmed eyes and says "Pray for me" as the elevator closes.

As I wrote earlier, this was a real case. Hanssen is spending life in a maximum security Federal prison.  He is under solitary confinement twenty-three hours a day. They said in the film, Robert Hanssen was the most dangerous spy in the history of the U.S. He was active for decades. It is classified how many American agents were killed because he betrayed them. The film credits at the end stated 3 American agents were executed by the KGB.

This film is hard-hitting, one of those OMG-I-want-to-look-away-but-I-can't movies. I wanted to read email on my iPhone, but kept getting drawn back to the film...

If you like a good tight mystery that chills the viewer in its reality, check out Breach on the premium cable channels or rent the DVD/Blu-Ray.  It's worth it.

Chris Cooper is a phenomenal actor and gives an Oscar worthy performance in this one. Ryan Phillippe is no slouch either.

Check it out!

Until next time...