The Night Of (Season 1, Episode 1)

The Night Of is an eight-part HBO miniseries written by Steve Zaillian (Moneyball) and Richard Price. It is an American adaptation of the British show Criminal JusticeThe Night Of stars Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) as Nasir Khan, a man accused of murdering a girl on the Upper West Side of New York. John Turturro, an extremely talented actor who is, rather unfortunately, widely known by my generation for playing an eccentric Jewish government operative in the Transformers film series, plays Nasir’s lawyer Jack Stone. The series is set to have its broadcast premiere on July 10th. The pilot episode was released on June 24th via HBO’s on-demand streaming services.

I discovered this show while browsing social media when someone posted a link to this trailer, commenting that it gives off vibes reminiscent to the brilliant first season of True Detective, and it does. (The less that can be said about True Detective’s second season, the better.) I hopped on HBO Now planning to find something to watch, and conveniently, the first episode of this series popped up when I logged in.

Nasir Khan is a young college student with a loving family. One night, he steals his father’s cab to go to a party and ends up meeting a beautiful young woman who gets him out of a sticky situation. They grow romantically close throughout the long night, and they eventually go to bed together. Nasir wakes up to find the young woman dead and escapes in the cab, but is picked up for reckless driving and a DUI. Ironically, the patrol car that picks him up also responds to the call for the dead woman, taking Nasir back to the scene of the crime. No one suspects anything more than drunk driving, though, and he is taken down to the station for booking. Through circumstance at the station, they figure Nasir was at the scene, and he is suspected of murder, arrested, and interrogated. What will follow in the upcoming episodes is Nasir and Jack Stone attempting to clear his name whilst Detective Lucas follows up with the investigation of the young woman.

The Night Of’s premiere episode shows tremendous promise and, though it’s not Matthew Mcconaughey nihilistically philosophizing about the cyclical nature of time, it should very well fill the hole left by the best drama of 2014. The cinematography of this show is excellent, and may very well be the best camera work I have seen on television since True Detective itself. The actors are excellent and Nasir is an empathetic, if somewhat naive and foolish character that audiences will feel for. Also excellent is Jeff Wincott as Detective Lucas, the man assigned to investigate the death of the young woman Nasir is accused of killing. John Turturro is awesome, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Richard Price is known for writing HBO’s The Wire, and the realism and groundedness featured in that show returns here. In some ways, this show feels like a spiritual successor to the realistic cop drama that changed television standards forever. The circumstances surrounding Lucas’ initial investigation feel very real, and Price is to thank for that, I think.

The Night Of will probably go places. The premiere episode was nigh outstanding and I hope it continues to be.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut (Spoilers)

Blade Runner is a 1982 science-fiction neo-noir mystery film directed by Ridley Scott, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based upon the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.  The film stars Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Joanna Cassidy, Daryl Hannah, M. Emmet Walsh, and Edward James Olmos. It features a very distinct, fitting, and iconic soundtrack from Vangelis.

I am reviewing a specific cut of this film. Before a film is released to theaters, but after the film is complete and ready to potentially be shown, a film studio will screen the film. Since the studios are the ones providing the money for a film to get made in the first place, an overwhelming majority of the time, they have the final say over what will and will not be in the film. They can force scenes to be cut out, that new scenes be put in, that a certain scene is modified or edited a certain way, etc. This can all be done while overriding what the director of a film may want. Sometimes, directors of films have what is called “the right to final cut.” This is when the director of the film is given complete artistic freedom and the studio executives can’t say or do jack to change or modify the film before it’s released. The right to final cut is reserved for bigshot directors like Kubrick, Hitchcock, Spielberg, etc. So odds are, if you see a movie, there’s an original uncut version out there that the director wanted you to see, but you probably won’t. After a film comes out on home video, there will sometimes be a director’s cut. A director’s cut is just like it sounds, it’s not the one you saw in the theater, it’s the one that the director WANTED to show you, but couldn’t. Blade Runner is the best example of what a director’s cut can do.

In the 1980’s when working on this film, Scott only had two other films under his belt: The Duelists in 1977 and Alien in 1979. Despite Alien being… well…. FREAKING ALIEN, Scott did not have the right to final cut. Upon Blade Runner‘s release in 1982, it was met with a lukewarm, bordering on negative, reception from critics and audiences. Also released in 1982 was Steven Spielberg’s beloved classic E.T. The executives at 20th Century Fox were worried that Blade Runner would get crushed by E.T. because Scott’s story was dark and not very happy at all. They were also confused at some plot points in the story, so they forced the star, Harrison Ford, to come back in and record voiceover lines explaining the plot. (Video contains potential plot spoilers.)

If you have seen this film or ever do see this film, that narration should annoy you. Almost everything about Blade Runner is meant to be ambiguous and unclear, from character motivations, to symbolism, to the ending of the movie, speaking of which…

They also forced Scott to change the ambiguous ending of the film into one that was happy and upbeat. Scott was not pleased with any of the decisions the studio executives made, and was very mad about changing the ending. He called up his friend Stanley Kubrick, and the theatrical ending of Blade Runner ended up being mostly unused B-Roll from The Shining. Unhappy about having his artistic vision compromised, a director’s cut of the film was released in 1992. Considered to be the true version of Blade Runner, this cut led to the film’s place as one of the best films ever in the genre. There have, in fact, been seven different versions of this film since its release in 1982. For the purposes of this review, I am viewing The Final Cut, which is the same as the 1992 cut in almost every way, but with remastered special effects and audio.

Rick Deckard is an eponymous Blade Runner, elite policemen assigned to execute escaped replicants, androids created for slave labor in off-world colonies. Replicants have minds equal to that of the men who created them and possess near-superhuman abilities. They think and act like real human beings, but they aren’t. Because of their highly advanced nature, even though replicants do not possess human emotion of their own, they begin to develop what Dr. Tyrell (head of the Tyrell Corporation and original mastermind of replicants) describes as “their own unique emotional responses.” Due to a revolt some time ago, replicants are to be considered highly dangerous and should be executed if they escape. Deckard is recently retired, but is begrudgingly forced to hunt down a group of replicants lead by Roy Batty. Roy is the smartest, strongest, fastest, and most ruthless of the group. There is also Zhora, a replicant who was formerly a member of a covert kill squad, Triss, a pleasure model used as entertainment who possesses superhuman strength and athletic abilities, and Leon, ridiculously strong and used as a frontline soldier. According to the film, Roy is the only one of the group who possesses “A Level Intellect” as well as “A Level Strength,” the others all possess lower levels of intelligence. This is due to Roy being a top-of-the line, cutting-edge Nexus 6 model. Nexus 6 models are extremely advanced, but have a lifespan of four years as a failsafe.

Deckard is informed that Roy and his cronies attempted to break into the Tyrell Corporation and failed, and have since attempted to infiltrate the corporation as workers. This is what is shown in the opening of the film. It involves Leon being interrogated by a Blade Runner using the Voight-Kampf Test, a survey of over 100 cross-referenced questions designed to distinguish human from replicant.

Blade Runner is a neo-noir film.Literally translated as “new black,” neo-noir films are contemporary films (read: color) that take many elements from noir films of the 1930’s and 40’s. Citizen Kane and Mildred Pierce are two noir films I have viewed for film class. Noir films commonly use low lighting (for the purpose of exaggerating shadows to add a layer of mystery or suspense), a dramatic soundtrack, and skewed or dramatic feeling camera angles. Noir films are dark and mysterious in both the literal and figurative senses.

Some neo-noir films include 1974’s Chinatown and my favorite film of all time, 1995’s The Usual Suspects.

Science-fiction neo noir has also been popularized in recent years, with Blade Runner being the film that kickstarted interest in the genre mashup. Other examples of sci-fi noir include 12 Monkeys, Gattaca, Alien 3, and Minority Report. An even more recent example would be the 2015 film Ex Machina. It is very clear throughout the film that it was heavily inspired by classical noir works.

Blade Runner also has several elements reminiscent of hardboiled detective stories of the 1940’s.Through a brilliant screenplay and masterful directing by Scott, the film succeeds at taking an unlikely combination of several genres, including mystery/neo-noir, thriller, cyberpunk, science fiction, romance, and horror (to a certain extent) and turning it into a truly thought-provoking and thrilling film.

The cinematographer behind Blade Runner was Jordan Cronenweth, the father of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth, a brilliant master of the camera who is a frequent collaborator of the equally brilliant director David Fincher. Though I personally feel that Jeff has outdone his father, that doesn’t make Blade Runner any less of a beautiful looking film. When viewing The Final Cut, I was pleasantly surprised that the set design and props from this 1982 film still hold up remarkably well, in my opinion. Yes, having been more than thirty years since release, there are things that unavoidably look dated, but it actually isn’t classic Star Trek bad and I’m really surprised it still looks so good. I do not have any of the other cuts to compare side-by-side, but if this brilliant opening always looked this explosively awesome, consider me impressed.

Blade Runner is a very deep film that explores a multitude of issues. The most obvious issue is “What does it really mean to be human?” As it turns out, Roy and Pris have fallen in love. They escaped to Earth in order to coerce Dr. Tyrell into removing the four-year lifespan failsafe so they can live as real human beings. This leads to Rutger Hauer’s most emotional, and certainly most terrifying, moment in the film.

Keep in mind that since I am reviewing The Final Cut, several gruesome and grotesque alterations were made to this scene that make it all the more effective and creepy. Blade Runner, and Roy’s confrontation with Dr. Tyrell in particular, is evocative of a very twisted version of Pinocchio. Although the viewer is never given much time with Roy and Pris when they aren’t doing something monumentally creepy, I am very much empathetic to their wishes to live longer, which brings me back to the theme. No, Roy Batty is not a human, neither is Pris or Rachel. At what point though, does that not matter? It is stated that Nexus 6 replicants are meant to be human in every way except emotions. Roy and his crew have evolved to the point where they have emotions, so has Rachel. Does that, then, make them human? This is again driven home by Roy’s emotional ending monologue, which I have taken the liberty of reinserting here sans Ford’s forced and stupid voiceover dialogue near the end.

Another theme which is not really discussed anywhere else but was picked up on in my class was that of slavery, revolution, and punishment. The opening text scroll of the film explains:

Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human – known as a Replicant. The NEXUS 6 Replicants were superior in strength and agility, and at least equal in intelligence, to the genetic engineers who created them. Replicants were used Off-World as slave labor, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of other planets. After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death. Special police squads – BLADE RUNNER UNITS – had orders to shoot to kill, upon detection, any trespassing Replicant This was not called execution. It was called retirement.

Of course, we are not told in the opening text scroll that the replicants can in fact develop human emotion, but they can and do just that. Does that make them slaves and the Tyrell Corporation their slavers? If they revolt against what they are arguably forced to do, they are executed. Are the Blade Runners the good guys… or the bad guys? Philip K. Dick, as well as his psuedo-predecessor and the man many consider to be the godfather and progenitor of modern science-fiction, the legendary Isaac Asimov, used the science fiction genre to explore many complex philosophical and even theological issues such as predestination and predeterminism in Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau, altered states of consciousness and transcendental experiences in Total Recall and A Scanner Darkly, as well as the nature of government with The Man in the High Castle. While using literature to explore very deep themes and ideals is not at all uncommon, it can sometimes be difficult to effectively translate these to film, which is probably why film adaptations of his work are hit or miss. (All of the works I mentioned have been adapted for film, television, or both) Blade Runner, a modified adaptation of the short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is definitely a hit thanks to Francher and People’s excellent work.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut is truly the definitive version of a film that succeeds, due to great work by all involved except the inept and moronic studio executives, at genre-bending almost every genre available to bend in 1982. This film made Ridley Scott a true household name following his previously monumental success with Alien. Looking back, it’s extremely ironic that Ridley is now one of a very select group of directors to get final cut privilege today. It may have taken ten long years to get the original director’s cut of Blade Runner out there, but it was worth it for both him and viewers, and expanding it even further by adding more polish with 2007’s Final Cut, released on the film’s 25th anniversary, was a smart move. Blade Runner was the start of Scott’s tradition of releasing director’s cuts of his films, and it makes me want more directors to go that route. Blade Runner is getting a sequel in 2017. It is not directed by Ridley Scott, with the brilliant auteur Denis Villeneueve, director of the brilliantly dark and twisted thrillers Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, taking the reins. Scott not returning to direct is somewhat of a disappointment, but Sicario was one of my favorite films of last year, and 2013’s Prisoners was absolutely brilliant. With a tentative cast which now includes the returning Harrison Ford, Mackenzie Davis, Robin Wright, Ryan Gosling, and Dave Bautista, all being directed by the guy who made this friggin’ scene?

(To be honest, I had an immense amount of trouble trying to pick out the best scene from Sicario BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL SO FRIGGIN’ GOOD!!! I also don’t wanna spoil the movie, so after much deliberation, I decided to simply go with the opening…)

I think the sequel to Blade Runner, with this amount of immense talent involved, does have the potential to be even better than the original. Even in the early stages of production, it is one of my most anticipated films of the near future. Of course, we would be nowhere without Scott and the original Blade Runner, for sure. Go watch The Final Cut. (and Sicario!!!)

The Silence of the Lambs

The Silence of the Lambs is a 1991 psychological thriller film directed by Jonathan Demme based upon the second novel in the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris. Though not a sequel, the first novel in the series, Red Dragon, was previously adapted to film in 1986 with Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which may explain why it’s sequel was chosen to be readapted as the first entry in what was to later become a film franchise. The Silence of the Lambs stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Scott Glenn.

Before this film, Jodie Foster was known as child prostitute Iris in the famed 1976 psychological thriller Taxi Driver, and not much else, so her role here as rookie federal agent Clarice Starling was a transformative one in her career. Anthony Hopkins had already been established as one of the world’s greatest living actors at this point, having been performing on stage since 1960 and receiving praise and attention since his film breakout in 1968 playing Richard I in The Lion in Winter.  In 1980, he played Dr. Fredrick Treves alongside John Hurt as John Merrick in the David Lynch film The Elephant Man. Lynch’s first mainstream success  following the 1977 cult classic horror film Eraserhead, The Elephant Man also cast the established Hopkins and Hurt into even further fame. Hopkins was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1987. His role in Silence of the Lambs as Hannibal Lecter would come to be, to this day, his most well-known film role, eclipsing all previous works, and for good reason.

Following the events of the opening of Red Dragon, Doctor Hannibal Lecter, famed psychiatrist, ametuer gourmet chef, art patron, classical music lover, and high-class society figure, is serving consecutive life sentences in a maximum security psychiatric institution after it is revealed he was, in fact, The Chesapeake Ripper, a cannibalistic serial killer who cooked his victims and would serve them to unsuspecting patrons as a gourmet meal prepared by a exceedingly well-mannered and well-educated medical professional with a love of fancy food. The head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, Jack Crawford, sends the inexperienced and young but brilliantly gifted trainee Clarice Starling to interview and survey Dr. Lecter for a “psychobehavioral profile” of all serial killers currently in custody.

Unbeknownst to Starling, this is a ruse. Crawford actually wants Lecter’s assistance in capturing Buffalo Bill, a serial killer who captures overweight women and skins them. Crawford lied to Starling because if she went to see Lecter with an actual agenda, he would have toyed with her, chewed her up and spit her out, and sent her back with jack squat. Unfortunately for both of them, Lecter realizes Crawford’s true agenda straightaway and does just that, leading to one of the best conversations in film history.

I hate horror films and admittedly haven’t seen many. (No, I don’t like roller coasters, either.) Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite films of all time, however.I dislike classifying it as a horror film. This film as well as Seven (also a favorite) isn’t all that graphic on camera. All the violence, gore, and disgusting stuff either occurs off screen or the camera is angled in such a way that the viewer doesn’t see it. I have no idea why this choice was made, it was already a rated R film. Sure makes it easier for me to sit through, though. Like Black Mass, this film is made on the strength of its actors. Anthony Hopkins only has about 15 minutes of screen time, but he owns every single minute. Watching these two actors go back and forth, one a seasoned veteran with more than 40 years of acting under his belt, the other a 29-year-old former child actress struggling  to transition to adult roles, is something marvelous to watch, and also draws parallel to the nature of the characters in the film.

Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs have almost an identical setup. Red Dragon follows FBI profiler Will Graham. After being nearly disemboweled after realizing Dr. Lecter’s true nature, the veteran agent is coaxed out of retirement by Crawford to hunt “The Tooth Fairy.” He realizes he must go to Dr. Lecter for insight. The primary difference between these two stories comes from the primary difference between the two protagonist. Graham has done this for years and knows how the game is played, whereas Starling has absolutely no experience at the beginning of the story.

Another standout here is Scott Glenn. Glenn’s getting there in age and I haven’t seen him in too much aside from this, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Stick in Daredevil, but I’ve always liked him. He plays a great Jack Crawford. He’s manipulative, but for the right reasons. He wants to get his man and he bends rules to get him, but he also cares about Starling and you never get the sense he would do anything too skeevy. One interesting fact is that, when Glenn was preparing for the role, he consulted with real-life former BAU chief John E. Douglas, one of the very first criminal profilers who has written several books on the subject. Douglas was the model for Crawford’s character, as well as that of Jason Gideon on Criminal Minds. While researching his role, Glenn was given audio tapes of two serial killers raping and murdering a victim in a van. When Glenn asked why on God’s Green Earth Douglas gave him the tapes, Douglas simply said, “You’re in my world now.” Glenn refused to reprise the role because he never wants to be put in that mindset again. He has nightmares and anxiety about it to this day.Dude just wanted to be in a movie, jeeze.

The Silence of the Lambs is the best film of its genre.It is a truly disturbing psychological thriller backed up by truly amazing performances that have since become a part of cinema history. Its sequels sucked, but we can always go back to the original.

Power/Rangers

Power/Rangers is a 2015 short fan film by produced by Adi Shankar as part of his “Bootleg Universe” series of short films; it was directed by Joseph Kahn and surprisingly stars well-known actors Katee Sackhoff and James Van Der Beek . This film coincidentally released around the same time a 2017 feature length film based off of the Power Rangers franchise was announced. Despite the short being extremely well-received, it was soon hit by copyright notices and disappeared from the internet for three days until Shankar won a brief legal battle. Its thunderous entrance and sudden quiet exit seemed only to add to the film’s viral popularity. When this film released in February 2015, my friend texted me “You need to go watch this Power Rangers thing RIGHT NOW!!!” Power Rangers is a ridiculous children’s franchise that neither of us enjoyed; we thought it was stupid even as kids. I was surprised when he sent me that text, so I, with extreme skepticism, jumped online and watched the short.

The Power Rangers franchise concerns a group of teenagers recruited by someone to fight as the Power Rangers, superheroes with special abilities (including piloting giant mechanized battle suits). The different rangers are all different colors.

In the short, it is revealed that the Rangers lost the war against the Machines and a truce was negotiated. Rocky (Van Der Beek), the former leader of the Rangers (Red) has defected to the machine empire and is searching for his predecessor, Tommy Oliver. He has captured Oliver’s former flame Kimberly (Sackhoff), the former Pink Ranger. Rocky reveals that their former teammates are being brutally assassinated one by one, and he thinks Tommy is behind it; Kimberly is bait to lure Tommy out of hiding. Tommy shows up and defeats Rocky, only to find that Kimberly is Rita Repulsa in disguise.

The first Power Rangers entry, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, premiered in 1993. The principal audience of that series are now in their late 20’s and early 30’s. They don’t want this anymore…

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Or at least I don’t…. I want this.

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But I don’t think we’re gonna get that in 2017. Power Rangers is definitely a children’s franchise… I’m not saying it isn’t. But it is a 1990’s children’s franchise. Those kids have grown up, they’re the same people that love John Wick, Mad Max, and Kingsmen; movies that are violently gritty and hilariously self-aware at the exact same time, just like this short. I dunno if kids today even know who the Power Rangers are. I understand why the Power Rangers can’t be this way in 2017, but it would probably net a lot more money than it will as a child-marketed movie. The casting for the 2017 film does look very good with Bryan Cranston along for the ride, though. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I’m predicting.

The Night Manager

The Night Manager is a 2016 miniseries jointly produced by BBC and AMC. It is based upon the novel by prolific spy fiction writer and former British Intelligence author John le Carre. The miniseries stars Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Olivia Coleman (The lead in the excellent BBC police drama Broadchurch), Hugh Laurie (House on House), and Elizabeth Debecki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). The plot of the novel takes place in 1993; the miniseries was adapted for present-day 2016 by David Farr. All episodes were directed by Susanne Bier.

I have always had a peculiar fascination with the world of espionage. It has been extremely interesting to me from a very young age, it’s my version of your Dad’s American Civil War figurines. I have read a few of le Carre’s novels and really enjoyed the 2011 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Gary Oldman. When it comes to the mainstream audience, though, many find le Carre adaptations to be slow. They are, but slow does not have to mean boring. Let me explain by talking a little bit about le Carre’s career in espionage.

David Cromwell was born to a petty criminal in Liverpool, England and had a very tumultuous home life. He was academically gifted, though he dropped out after butting heads with a school headmaster. Cromwell studied language at the University of Bern in Switzerland before joining Military Intelligence as an interrogator of Germans who crossed over the Iron Curtain via the Berlin Wall. Afterwards, he returned to teach at Oxford where he covertly worked for MI-5, observing radical leftist groups for information on possible Soviet operatives. He became an official MI-5 officer in 1958. He ran agents, tapped phone lines, conducted interrogations, and effected break-ins.While an active agent, Cromwell wrote his first novel under the pseudonym John le Carre (French for “John the Square”).

In 1960, Cromwell transferred to MI-6 (commonly known by the euphemism “The Circus”, conducting operations while working under the cover of “Second Secretary” at the British Embassy in Bonn, and was later transferred to Hamburg. While in Hamburg, he wrote his breakout hit, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was adapted into a 1965 film starring Richard Burton. The film won and was nominated for several awards. It won Best Film, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards in ’66 and was nominated for Best Actor and Art Direction at the ’66 Oscars, and won several other awards at other publications. In 1964, due to the damage caused by Kim Philby, Cromwell had all of his covers, assets, and active operations compromised by the KGB, and retired from the Service to become a full-time author.

The unique thing about le Carre’s novels (that make him, in my personal opinion, the best in the genre) is the unflinching dedication to realism. Le Carre’s most famous protagonist is George Smiley. Smiley was introduced around a time when people were more welcoming of realistic depictions of espionage, in contrast to James Bond and more “exciting” spy stories. He is wiry, unassuming, unattractive, and distinctly average. Smiley is, however, a master of tradecraft with stunning intellect.

Most of le Carré’s novels are spy stories set in the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents—unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama. Le Carré’s books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence. Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible. (Wikipedia)

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold tells the story of a disgruntled Circus employee, Alec Lemas, who defects, revealing secrets to the East German Intelligence Service. Lemas is, in reality, still working as a triple agent  The story is a complex tale of deceptions and lies with little to no action or violence, filled to the brim with equally complex tradecraft terminology.

le Carre’s magnum opus, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first in a trilogy of novels detailing Circus spymaster George Smiley’s hunt for his sinister Russian counterpart, Karla. In the novel, Smiley hunts for a mole at the top of the Circus. His recently deceased boss Control had it narrowed down to five people, codenamed “Tinker,” “Tailor,” “Soldier,” “Poor Man,” and “Beggar Man.” The story is an equally complex and confusing tale grounded in the real world of espionage with le Carre’s distinctly accurate terminology.

All of le Carre’s tales are slow-burning and methodical, as they should be. Unfortunately, this leads to many mainstream audiences (who thought they were to be thrilled out of their seats) to dismiss both The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which was nominated for over 100 awards from various outlets during the 2012 awards season, winning several) as slow, boring, dumb, and overrated. I rather enjoyed this film, as I mentioned, but when my parents watched it, I remember my Mom asking incredulously “Didn’t this get five stars?”

I was worried The Night Manager miniseries would be a similar situation. I am happy to report that it is not. The plot of The Night Manager involves Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier now working as a night manager for a hotel in Cairo. He meets Sophie Alucan, the mysterious and seductive mistress of Freddie Hammid, a member of the royal family. Sophie tips Jonathan off to an arms deal involving billionaire Richard Roper. On the surface, Roper is a charismatic, charitable, kind philanthropist with a loving wife and child.In reality, Richard Roper is a brutal and pragmatic international arms dealer who will exploit both sides of a conflict as long as there is money involved.

Pine relates information about this arms deal to the proper authorities. Angela Burr is an MI-6 counter-terrorism operative that has been hunting Roper for quite some time. Her attempts to get the intelligence community to investigate Roper have been continually stonewalled. Burr contacts Pine and tells him to get Sophie to safety; she is found murdered, leaving Roper and Hamid in the wind. The event traumatizes Pine, who leaves Cairo for the Swiss Alps.

Two years later, Pine encounters Roper in person for the first time and alerts Burr. Butt senses the anger and rage inside the former soldier and uses that to persuade the young man to go undercover and infiltrate Roper’s inner circle. Burr, aware of the corruption in the intelligence community, assembles a very small team of people in order to carry out this operation. While Pine attempts to work his way into Roper’s good graces and gain information, Burr must keep the operation a secret from prying eyes in both the British and American intelligence communities.

Unlike most of le Carre’s spy tales, The Night Manager, though fairly complex, is extremely simplistic in comparison to his other stories. Though still grounded and filled with accurate spycraft, this story, the first post-Cold War story le Carre published, is free of many of the geopolitical complexities that came with that era. Whereas most of the protagonists of that time period were morally ambiguous, tired, and cynical (as I’m sure was true back in the day), Jonathan Pine is a charming, attractive, fit protagonist with his heart in the right place. This adaptation has ample tension and suspense throughout, relying on the familiar but refreshing built in tension that comes inherently with a character who claims to be something that they are not. It is perhaps the most accessible to mainstream audiences an adaptation of a John le Carre novel will ever be. The locales are vibrant and beautiful, all the cast gives great performances, especially Hugh Laurie.

The Night Manager seems to take aspects that were once a staple of le Carre and turn them on their heads. The characters are young and passionate instead of old and cynical, the locales are colorful and full of inherent beauty,  swapping the murky streets of West Berlin for an island in the Caribbeans. I believe this sudden change in le Carre may have come from the conflict that engulfed the entirety of his professional intelligence career and the majority of his life finally coming to a close.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that, with near universal acclaim, this miniseries is a contender for several Emmys in the 2017 awards season. Le Carre has stated that, while the miniseries does take some liberties with his novel, he found it very enjoyable, and so did I.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is a 2015 American biographical drama film starring Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Jeff Daniels. The film features a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and was directed by Danny Boyle.Boyle is known for the films Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire, and Sunshine. The film is based upon the biography of the same name by Walter Isaccson as well as interviews personally conducted by Sorkin.The film is separated into three acts, with each act beginning before the launch of a major Apple product: the Apple Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.

I feel I must get this rant out of the way. As someone well-versed in technology with basic programming skills and an enjoyment of technological experimentation, I despise Apple products. They have polish and they look nice, but that’s it.They all run on closed systems, so no ability for any sort of experimentation or basic customization (they all look exactly the same, there is no room for anything creative, cool. or practical). The desktops are non-upgradable and non-modifiable (I’m currently running a custom built PC, FYI). iOS 10 is just now introducing features that Android has had for years now. All of their products are extremely overpriced given the hardware specifications. They are not the revolutionaries you think they are. I’m watching this film because I am interested in the talent in front of and behind the camera.

There’s no denying Steve Jobs was a very smart man who knew what he was doing. He knew marketing and was honestly a very good computer engineer. He was also a raging dick, by most accounts. Cult of Mac, a publication dedicated to all things Apple, in their review of Isaccson’s biography, said:

Walter Isaacson’s book is an unflinching biography of a manifestly great man. But it’s not a fun read. In fact, sometimes it’s a lot like being locked in a room with a borderline sociopath. Powering through Isaacson’s bio will give you unique insight into how Steve Jobs changed the world, but it’s not necessarily a comforting one.

Jobs was an adopted child, given up by his first family after one month before ending up in the care of the Jobs Family. He met a girl his senior year of high school, got her pregnant, and denied responsibility. This came back to bite him in 1984, when someone tells the press about Lisa. Jobs develops an algorithm that speculates that 28% of American men could be the father.

Yes, Steve Jobs is a dick. He is a brilliant, self-centered, narcissistic, egotistical, loving, distant, damaged, complicated man. To my surprise, the lack of customization featured in Apple’s products was a large part of this film. The product featured in the first section of the film, the Apple Macintosh, at Jobs’ insistence, unlike the extremely successful Apple II (not designed by Jobs), was built as a closed system, with end-to-end control.

When arguing with Wozniak in his garage, Jobs argued that all computers of Apple’s design would be closed system. Jobs says this is because he doesn’t want hackers and hobbyists messing around (keep in mind that is EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE), but in truth, it stemmed from Jobs’ need to control the things in his life.

Wozniak tries to tell his friend that computers aren’t art.Jobs’ response?

“F*%k you!”

Jobs predicted that the Macintosh would sell a million units in the first 90 days. It was expensive, a closed system, and it didn’t do anything special. So this happened.

The argument about the ad concerns Apple’s famed “1984” ad shown at that year’s Superbowl.

In 1985, Jobs founds Next, Inc. along with key people from Apple who left the company with him. In 1988, he holds a product launch for the Next Computer. The interesting thing about the Next Launch? The PC was not running an Operating System. Jobs knew Apple had stopped innovating, so he was going to wait until Apple showed their hand, and then build them exactly what they needed so he could win back his company. The Next launch was running off a tech demo developed by Avie Tevanian.

I heard a lot of people say “I am not a fan of Steve Jobs, but I love this movie.” This is a truly excellent and stylish film. Boyle is a great director. I could watch Michael Fassbender read those little “learn to read” children’s booklets and still be entertained. He is, without a doubt, one of the best actors of this generation. Kate Winslet gives a wonderful performance as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ friend, assistant, and confidant through the years. Seth Rogen is also great as Steve Wozniak, who praised the film.

Deadline was able to catch up with Woz.

When I caught up with him Wozniak told me that, unlike the Jobs  biopic with Ashton Kutcher, this one is totally authentic. “I saw a rough cut and I felt like I was actually watching Steve Jobs and the others (including Rogen’s dead-on portrayal of Wozniak), not actors playing them, I give full credit to Danny Boyle and Aaron Sorkin for getting it so right,” he enthusiastically told me. Of all the actors in the film he thinks Winslet might be the most likely to garner awards attention. I would add Fassbender to that list for sure. It’s a dazzling display of acting and he is almost never off the screen.

Indeed, Steve Jobs has won countless awards from multiple outlets, including several best actor noms and wins for Fassbender, several best supporting actress credits for Winslet, and several screenplay credits for Aaron Sorkin. One thing I find brilliant about the film from a production perspective is that cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler, in order to distinguished between the three time periods featured in the film, actually used three different film formats: 16mm for 1984, 35mm for 1988, and digital for 1998. It is a very interesting and unique way to signal a change in time. I also found the projections on the wall in the Skylab clip to be extremely interesting.

I detest Apple products (for reasons that are surprisingly discussed at length in this film) and I’ve never been a fan of Steve Jobs. This film, however, is brilliant and engrossing, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good drama, regardless of whether or not you know or care about technology or Apple. It is very, very, very good.

Black Mass

Black Mass is a 2015 American biographical crime drama film starring an ensemble cast including Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Peter Sarsgaard, Rory Cochrane, Adam Scott, and Corey Stoll. It was directed by Scott Cooper and written by Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk. It is based upon the 2001 novel of the same name. The film chronicles the story of Whitey Bulger from 1975 to the mid-90’s.

Whitey Bulger was the head of the Irish-American Winter Hill Gang. John Connolly was an FBI agent and a childhood friend of Bulger’s. Bulger sees an opportunity to eliminate his rivals and turns informant, giving Connolly information to eliminate opposition in exchange for protection from prosecution. Using the FBI as a weapon, Bulger is able to reign supreme as the most powerful crime lord in Boston for years. Due to widespread corruption in the Bureau, nothing was done to prosecute Whitey Bulger or any members of the Winter Hill Gang until a DEA investigation into Bulger in 1994. At that point, Whitey was tipped off by Connolly concerning an impending indictment by the federal government. Whitey remained on the run for 16 years until being captured in 2011. Connolly was arrested in 1999 after, two years earlier in 1997, various media outlets revealed the FBI’s involvement with Bulger.

This is a film that lives and dies by its cast.Gangster films today, for the most part, lack originality. That isn’t the fault of the screenwriters or the directors, it’s just that, after Goodfellas, arguably the last truly original gangster flick, we’ve seen it all before. Just because a film lacks originality, it can still be a great film. Scorsese’s own 1995 film Casino relied heavily on the formula set by its spiritual predecessor, but was still just as engrossing. Depp’s own Donnie Brasco and Public Enemies managed to bring interesting stuff to the table despite the extreme familiarity.

Here, Depp gives his best performance since before he was tapped for Captain Jack. Although Depp achieved fame with my generation playing eccentric characters in ridiculous costume and makeup, he made his bones playing real-life characters like Ed Wood, Hunter S. Thompson, and Joey Pistone. Still a pretty good-looking guy, Depp’s performance as the not-so-good-looking Whitey required extensive makeup and prosthetics.The makeup department did a truly wonderful job here and have received an award nomination for their work. Depp has also won and been nominated for several Best Actor awards for his portrayal of Bulger.

Bulger is straight up terrifying. He is a truly nasty piece of work that I hope never to meet in my life. Someone put it this way “[Depp] looks more like a vampire here than he did in Dark Shadows.” It’s like he’s looking into your soul.

Whitey makes every scene he’s in extremely uncomfortable. You have no idea what he is going to do next and you hold your breath waiting to find out.

Of course, a brilliant actor is nothing without talented actors backing him up. I have always enjoyed Joel Edgerton since I first saw him in the excellent MMA drama film Warrior back in 2011. In summer 2015, his directorial debut The Gift (which he also starred in, wrote, and produced) really impressed me, and may have been one of the best films I had seen all year. He, as usual, gives an amazing performance along with pretty much the entire cast. There isn’t one performance I didn’t enjoy here, and that is the main draw of this film.

The story isn’t original, but it isn’t slow and the screenplay is very good. As I said, the acting is phenomenal from all involved. The cinematography is very well-done, as well. It isn’t a legendary film and won’t be remembered two decades from now, but it is supremely entertaining due to phenomenal performances and I really enjoyed it.