Tagged CIA

11.22.63 – Episode 4: “The Eyes of Texas”

Hulu’s 11.22.63
Episode 4: “The Eyes of Texas”
Directed by Fred Toye
Written by Bridget Carpenter

* For a review of previous episode, “Other Voices, Other Rooms” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Truth” – click here
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Back in the past again! Jake Epping (James Franco) and Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) are hard at work trying to crack into the big mystery of Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber) and the enigma that is his life.
We start now watching Oswald with his rifle. He times himself putting it together, piece by piece, screw by screw. He cheers himself on slightly as he works. “Youre in the Marines now, son,” Lee says to himself: “Lets see it.” Clearly, he is preparing himself for something important. Then he begins the entire exercise all over again, starting with taking the thing apart this time. Or is it just Marine behaviour? Either way, he stops what he’s doing to go tend to his crying child. “Im going to hunt fascists,” Lee tells his wife Marina (Lucy Fry) and George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne) who take the famous picture of him with his gun in the backyard.
Across the way, Jake and Bill watch closely. They never miss a beat. But Bill has a little more than surveillance on his mind, which catches the gaze of Marina slightly. Could this come to be something more? A problem?
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At school, Jake is getting closer to Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon). However, not everyone is too keen on him doing so, which brings up a conversation on “discretion” with the overly-involved principal.
Back at the house, Bill plays Jake a recording – the first in English from Lee and George, suggesting an attempt on General Walker’s life, plus mentions of the CIA, et cetera, all under wraps. Plenty of conspiracy theorizing between Jake and Bill. Nevertheless, they determine a need to follow them both. Not without a little arguing first, though. Out of nowhere, Ms. Mimi Corcoran (Tonya Pinkins) arrives at their door – she claims Jake is not who he says. Seems she’s “investigated” Jake, his degree, past addresses and so on. More wrenches being thrown in the works. At the same time, Ms. Corcoran doesn’t appear to be throwing Jake to the dogs either. He reveals his real name, claiming to have been put in “Witness Proectionin 1959“, then laying out talk of Mafia except he uses The Godfather as his fairytale plot. Hilarious scene, Franco plays it out so perfectly.


Mimi: “For some of us, dignity matters.”
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Jake decides on using that discretion mentioned earlier. He invites Sadie out to a little getaway, in order to reveal his true self. Or that’s how it seems. And outside, it also seems someone may be watching Jake.
Meanwhile, Bill is getting a little too close to Marina Oswald. The smile on his face makes clear he’s got a shine for her. Not only are they pushing against the past, they’re slowly getting too involved with people in it. Certainly liable to spell disaster along the road.
Over at the cabin, Sadie has slight suspicions about Jake, that he may not be fully divulging the truth about himself, who he is. “I feel like Im an impostor in my own life, everyone thinks Im one thing, but Im something else,” Jake explains to her: “But I dont want to be that way.” Before he can go any further, Jake notices an envelope on the floor by the door. It contains pictures of them through the window, someone spying from outside. Creepy, foreboding moment. This sends Jake into a frenzy, as he and Sadie have to leave. Quick. Jake tells Bill he believes it’s the CIA trying to tell them “back off” – Bill advises leaving Sadie, though, Jake’s not thrilled on that idea.


Heading into a shady building, George and Lee are followed closely, quietly by Jake and Bill. They believe it could be George introducing Oswald to CIA contacts. Inside, the place is a lounge, a whore house, a bar; all in one. Music plays, drinks flow. Jake tries to figure out what’s really going on, as Bill gets jealous and angry because Lee has a woman that isn’t his wife hanging off him. Uh oh. But they continue their little mission, doing the best they can to keep track of Oswald and Mohrenschildt.
Jake goes upstairs with a young lady sporting a wonderfully Southern drawl – “I dont do nothinstandinup on account of my bad leg,” she explains while they work their way towards a room. Yet Jake’s more interested in spying on his two targets. He ends up causing a commotion after breaking one of the girl’s shoes. That is, before the police bring a raid down, and Jake is caught up then taken to the station. This puts him in a position where the principal at his school has to bail him out; definitely not impressed now.
This brings Jake back to school, without a chance to wash, or change his clothes. He witnesses a quick moment between the principal and Mimi, the latter having some sort of coughing fit. Is there trouble for Ms. Corcoran? I’d hate to think so, she is a wonderful woman. Also, there’s Sadie receiving a visit from her ex-husband Johnny Clayton (T.R. Knight), which doesn’t appear too happy. Jake tries to help comfort Sadie afterwards, but there’s more going on: Johnny won’t give her a divorce, tracking her down in the town of Jodie after she left. A loaded situation, between Jake’s situation and hers, each with their own tricky complexities. Added to that, Johnny is not a normal man; he has strange, unnatural desires, as well as a heavy hand for his wife.


News from Bill, as Lee and George are on the move. They’re preparing to follow the two men separately; Jake on George, Bill on Lee. At the house, Bill is forced to listen in on the Oswalds having sex, which drives him mad. He feels too much for Marina, which is sooner or later going to cause an issue. But as for Jake, he’s trailed George to a loading dock, and tries to pick up on what’s being discussed, as George meets with some suited men near the back.
And then, Johnny Clayton shows up to talk with Jake, surprising him. Turns out, Johnny’s been doing a bit of trailing on his own. It was Clayton who took the photographs of Jake and Sadie: “Youve been bad,” he warns Epping. Still, Jake has his own threats and makes his point clear. Unfortunately, Johnny believes Sadie is his property, that he owns her. This Clayton is an eerie character, with the clothespin thing and all; an undercover sadomasochistic man in the early 1960’s. More to come from this awkwardly tense encounter, no doubt.
Immediately after, Jake heads with flowers and chocolates to see Sadie. He talks about how things can get “messy” and “broken“, but that he “loves everything” about her. They’ve connected. Despite Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) warning him, Jake has gone and gotten involved with somebody deeply in the past.


Bill’s at home drinking, clearly upset, and also fed up with the Russian talk. When Jake gets home, upstairs a commotion starts when Lee is obviously beating on his wife. Then suddenly, silence. This situation is brewing into a rocky relationship for Bill and Jake. Making matters worse, Bill continually injects himself into Marina’s life. He tries consoling her outside on the steps, which leads to the two of them becoming closer, even just a little.
Next day at school, Mimi is out sick. Worse, Sadie receives a note claiming Jake is not who he claims; though, she hides it from Jake. The note came along with divorce papers, which Johnny signed and delivered. Will we see more of Clayton disrupting the life of Jake? I’m sure of it.
A renewal of trust comes for Bill, as Jake lets it be known he couldn’t make the journey through the past without him. They’re back on the same page, mostly. And that’s the best thing for them both.


The finale of this episode brings a devastating scene. Sadie heads to see Jake, food in hand. Only Jake’s nowhere to be found. The place is dark and totally quiet. Then, she finds recordings of the Russian chats, the surveillance on Oswald and his wife. Particularly, she hears the moaning and lovemaking. Very suspicious indeed: “Who are you?” she desperately asks Jake, as the credits cut in.


Can’t wait for the next episode, “The Truth”, which promises lots of fun and excitement again. Excellent one again this week. Solid adaptation all around.

Villeneuve Crosses the Border of Criminality with Sicario

Sicario. 2015. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan.
Starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Victor Garber, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Raoul Max Trujillo, Julio Cedillo, Hank Rogerson, Bernardo P. Saracino, and Kevin Wiggins. Black Label Media/Lions Gate Films/Thunder Road Pictures.
Rated 14A. 121 minutes.
Action/Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTERThe opening of Sicario provides us a definition of the term. The first involves Romans, the Jews killing people who invaded their homelands. The second offers up the term as Mexican for ‘hitman’. Immediately, along with the pulsing pound of the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (who worked with director Denis Villeneuve previously on Prisoners), the film sets us up for a grim story. In fact, the initial 3 or 4 minutes are dark – unbelievably so – and the tone is set.
One of the things I admire about Villeneuve, from his early feature Maelström to the most recent Prisoners, even Incendies, is the fact as a director he sets the atmosphere, mood and tone of his work so smoothly and so quickly that it’s almost ridiculous. Not in a bad way. He immerses us in the bleak lives of the characters sitting in the middle of his stories. We’re right alongside them. In Prisoners, before the main action of the plot even takes place you get this frightening sense of an ominous story to come. Similarly, Villeneuve draws us into Sicario‘s web with a dark and brooding landscape, plus a heavy dose of nihilistic action set within the morbidly electrifying world of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Mexican cartels. Never once does this film let go. Always tense, never ceasing with its suspenseful atmosphere, filled by doubt and an almost raw animal quality. The agents who inhabit this story, everyone involved, they are each predators; all fighting to rule the jungle.
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During an FBI raid of possible kidnappers, Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) and the rest of the team find corpses stashed in the walls of the house. Kate and others take a breather, as the investigation team starts a crime scene. Then an IED explodes in the back of the house, which kills two officers on the scene. Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) later recommends Agent Macer to a CIA Special Activities Division, and undercover officer/DOD adviser Matt Graver (Josh Brolin). He and a group of operatives are tracking down those responsible, including a hitman for a Juárez cartel named Manuel Diaz. Willingly volunteering her time, and possibly life, Kate takes part in the team.
Once Kate meets a partner of Graver, Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro), she’s told they are headed to Juárez. This changes everything. Suddenly her journey with the team becomes more likely to be deadly. After they finally land in Juárez, we follow Agent Macer and the others closely, right alongside the action. The drug wars are running high, hot, heavy. The blood is not done flowing, on the streets of America nor certainly is it anywhere near finished in Juárez. Kate has to transform into a different, tougher, more brutal agent if she is to survive the job with which she’s been tasked.

Kate: “The fuck are we doing?”
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One reason I walked away from this film thoroughly satisfied is because, while certain elements are things we’ve all seen before, the screenplay from Taylor Sheridan contains a lot of good stuff. It isn’t a ton of cliched CIA/FBI nonsense jammed together with the tired view of cartels with which we’ve been inundated in the movies. Sheridan provides solid dialogue, as well as paces the film pretty well. For an action film that contains a nice helping of dialogue, there doesn’t feel like any points where the pacing lags. That’s always a downer for a movie relying on action to drive the audience’s attention span. But it isn’t predominantly action. This film has so much intrigue and mystery, specifically pertaining to Benicio del Toro’s character, his backstory and origins. Not to mention the already infamous scene where Alejandro in the interrogation room most likely rapes a man; that’s debatable but I believe a running theme in this film, pertaining to the cartel and also the methods of CIA/FBI Agents, is that the horrors we do see are nothing compared to the ones we don’t see. It’s all about the surface, appearances, and the hidden underbelly. So Alejandro as a character embodies much of that theme himself. Overall, the writing is very subtle in places where it could easily have gone over-the-top, typical, or just full-on cliche.
Next is the fact I thought a female protagonist in Sicario works perfectly. We need more strong but also flawed female characters in cinema. Not to say Agent Kate Macer is flawed in a negative sense. Although, in terms of having to become part of this dangerous drug war world Kate has flaws – she is too human. Throughout the film we watch her struggle with the weight of moral ambiguity in the face of trying to attain the greater good. A man is usually who we see in this situations, whether on television or in the movies. Nice to watch Emily Blunt play an interesting character, especially thrown into this typically male-dominated environment, and we follow along to see how she either fits in, or falls out. And she is not perfect, again, I repeat, not perfect. Just like male characters we see who are allowed to be tough and also ridiculously flawed, Blunt plays Agent Macer as someone not perfect, even if she is tougher than nails. It’s the duality that needs to be allowed to female characters, much as it is for the men. Because they are just as interesting, if not more so depending on the situation. Personally, I dig how she navigates the patriarchal world of law enforcement and particularly the one concerning cartels, eventually proving her worth in the part she plays.SICARIO Day 16 S_D16_04262.NEFPic3
There are a wealth of great characters in this film. Aside from that, again I have to say, Villeneuve does a fantastic job making everything look so dark and murky, even in broad daylight. There are a few elements to all that. First, the cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins is slick, rich, it has a vibrant quality in every kind of light, whether among the shadows or in the dusty sunlit streets of Mexico. Deakins is a master behind the lens and his work with Villeneuve only continues to affirm that, every damn time. They are a perfect pairing, almost with the same sensibilities in terms of how subject matter ought to be captured through the cinematographer’s eyes. Regardless, they work so well as a team. Secondly, as I mentioned at the start Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score provides the appropriate music at every last turn. At the start the opening sequence is driven by his foreboding music, throbbing in our ears and right through the chest. Later, the intensity amps up when the action gets frenetic, or generally swells, gets deeper and more gloomy when the story turns darker, darker still. Jóhannsson compliments the story in the best way, which only helps the work of Deakins and Villeneuve look/feel better along the way.
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If I said Sicario were anything less than a 5-star film, I’d be lying. I’m not saying it has to be perfect. I’m saying it does an amazingly impressive job with every aspect of the film, from music to production design to the writing, the direction and the cinematography. Every bit of this movie is enjoyable. It enthralled me from beginning to end. Seeing it in theatre is worth it, as the visuals look even more gorgeous on a big screen. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing it on Blu ray, which will absolutely be a whole new experience. This is written well, captured well. Denis Villeneuve is a fantastic and fascinating director who is worthy of watching, film after film. I hope he keeps making things with an edge, a darkness in them. He manages to bring across those tough stories so well, with a shadowy yet human quality. This one is a furious, enjoyable romp through drug war territory with a deep and fractured look into the people who fight it, how they do, as well as the lengths to which they’ll go under the guise of a ‘greater good’. At times nihilistic, Sicario is always a treat for the eyes, the ears, and that dark spot in your soul where only little tiny bits of hope cling.

The Solid Action & Suspense of Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible. 1996. Directed by Brian De Palma. Screenplay by David Koepp & Robert Towne from a story by David Koepp/Steven Zaillian; based on the television series created by Bruce Geller.
Starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Béart, Henry Czerny, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, and Rolf Saxon. Paramount Pictures.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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There are certain movies out of the 1990s I remember fondly because they’re titles I’d rent on the weekend and watch with my parents. They were always pretty good about letting me watch a lot of things, as long as my little sister wasn’t around, and depending on how crazy it was they would probably watch it with me. But even before that, when I lived with my grandparents – my grandfather was a member of Columbia House when it was in its prime and he’d get like 9 VHS tapes for such a low price. So their place was full of old movies on VHS; I saw tons of stuff I probably shouldn’t have seen at ages 7-8.
Mission: Impossible is one of those movies I remember seeing after it came out on video. My parents and I rented it, I remember enjoying it so much it was one of those films I’d watch over and over. Honestly, I think Brian De Palma did an excellent job directing this with a great deal of suspense and tension, plus there’s the fact I think it’s a pretty damn good adaptation from the original 1966 series. No doubt hardcore fans of the original television series might not enjoy it, however, I think they modernized it, updated things just well enough while keeping the spirit of the original to make it something interesting.

When Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) heads to Prague on another mission with his IMF team – including wife Claire (Emannuelle Béart) and top agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) among others – things begin as per usual. Unfortunately, there is an incredible failure during this new mission; a fatal failure. But no one is sure who did what to cause the chaos.
After he is left the sole survivor in a massacre which sees Phelps and Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas), among others, all die at the mysterious hands of an outsider, Ethan Hunt is accused of mutiny and the failure of their mission is pinned on him. With the help of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno), and even a shadowy arms dealer named Max (Vanessa Redgrave), Hunt goes underground, using everything and everyone at his disposal in order to uncover exactly what has been happening. Most importantly, he hopes to find out who laid waste to his colleagues from the IMF and why they hoped he would be framed.
still-of-tom-cruise-and-kristin-scott-thomas-in-mission--impossible-(1996)-large-pictureAbove all else, I think De Palma does well by crafting a genuine atmosphere of suspense because while there’s action here, it would come off like any other action film were there no such feeling to the movie. It follows along with the flow of the plot well. As we start, things are light and fun – the team feel in sync with one another, joking, laughing, generally acting as if being secret undercover agents in a dangerous high stakes type of game is no big deal. However, this quickly cuts from that lighthearted feel to one of tension. As the IMF team, one by one, are dispatched, the tension gets thicker. Even the way in which De Palma has the scenes go, the fog on the night air almost seems to intensify with the plot’s movement. Everything is shrouded, until finally it’s Ethan left; things clear off, he is the only one living, and then there are the police. This sets up how the next segments will feel, as we move into the heavy mystery of Mission: Impossible.

Something I’ve always loved about this movie is how there’s a ton of action, but it’s not a load of gunshots and muzzle flares and smashing objects, walls and other set-pieces filled with bullet holes. I find it’s all intense action while not having to resort to the typical gunplay with which so many other American action/crime/thriller movies seem to be obsessed. This is where that ever present air of suspense and tension helps.
While many films might’ve flubbed the scene where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) suspends himself down over the lasers, in that high tech security room from Thieves Hell, De Palma makes this so insanely tense you can almost feel Tom’s butthole clench just watching it. It’s great stuff because what could be so simple and visually unappealing at the hands of another director becomes the stuff of action movie legend under the guidance of Brian De Palma. He doesn’t have a perfect track record as a director – but honestly who in the hell does? Not even Kubrick for those typical film fans who say he’s perfect; he was amazing but not perfect – but I think De Palma is absolutely one of the greats of American cinema. No doubt in my mind about that. Here, he shows why he’s a master of the craft.
The entire sequence leading up to the ‘suspended above lasers’ moment is classic. Well filmed, nice pace, and the set they used for that is very cool. Always loved the way De Palma includes the shot showing a drop of perspiration slipping off a plastic cup, setting off the alarm in the laser protected room; such a perfect zoom in close on the cup as Ethan Hunt describes the security inside. Not sure why I particularly enjoy that little moment, but it’s always one that strikes me for whatever reason.
still-of-tom-cruise-and-henry-czerny-in-mission--impossible-(1996)Ever the fan of Alfred Hitchcock, as so many are, De Palma has a magnificent shot a little over 30 minutes in which reminds me of the staircase in Vertigo (which is my personal favourite Hitchcock). I don’t know if that was intentional, or simply a wonderfully coincidental shot that came up from the use of that location, but either way it is awesome. A wonderful homage. The camera rotates opposite the staircase and it creates a neat effect. Disorienting slightly, in a good way.
One of my favourite scenes is when Ethan uses his explosive gum. The way it’s shot, the angles De Palma frames each one, there’s a good pace of suspense up until the explosion, then Hunt is gone again. Not a long scene, it’s just well executed. De Palma goes for a lot of interesting low angles and tight close-ups in those suspenseful moments. Another great example is when Ethan first meets Max (Redgrave) and they’re watching for a signal – something simple, once more, becomes impressive because of the precise, honed direction. Has all the earmarks of a fabulous thriller.
mission-impossible-DIThough I do like a couple of the other Mission: Impossible films, it’s easy to see the distinction between this and every other one. I was even a huge fan of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, though, there is still no comparing it the original in this series of films. I mean, there’s such a genuine measure of tension built up throughout almost every scene, or every second one, that the movie never seems to let you go. Start to finish. From those opening bits, as the IMF team watch Ethan Hunt do his thing – mask and all – to the incredibly subtle, suspenseful moments as Ethan is being lowered into the ultra secure room at Langley a.k.a CIA Headquarters in Virginia; every important piece is shot in such a way that the maximum suspense comes out. Most of the franchise after the first movie seems to rely heavily on massive, epic-style set-pieces alongside fast paced action sequences and gunfire, as well as the odd explosion and demolition. I’m not saying that’s no good because with movies such as Mission: Impossible, you do come looking for a certain degree of explosive, big Hollywood budget type action movie stuff.
However, Brian De Palma gives us so much more. Almost each shot is deliberately framed which aids in setting the pace, and in turn the tension. Even in Ghost Protocol which I enjoyed to the fullest, there’s not the same type of tense atmosphere and tone created in any of the sequences, it’s mostly balls to the wall sort of filmmaking. Again, nothing wrong. Just different here. De Palma makes this more than another action flick, and more than a reboot of some old television series (something ALL too familiar now in 2015) – this is a genuine thriller, with mystery to boot, and there’s a bonafide sense of old school filmmaking from an old school director.
screen shot 2015-07-27 at 2.00.12 pmWhile my only complaint is mostly a bit of the acting (mainly Jon Voight who I find personally is either hit or big miss), I think the script itself is pretty solid. Lots of good twisty-turny corners and red herring-like activity going on, which fits perfectly with Brian De Palma who, as I mentioned, comes from the school of directors who pretty much worship Hitchcock. Overall, I’ve got to say this is a solid 4.5 out of 5 star film. A few things could’ve been improved on, but I think ultimately so much of this is pure excitement, thrill, and suspense/tension that it’s hard to deny how great of a film it is. Not to mention De Palma’s direction elevates this above all the general tripe we get calling itself action these days.
Naturally, there are some over-the-top elements absolutely. However, I think the way De Palma plays with everything, plus the fact the script knows exactly what it is and what it aims to do, really helps make it all so very worth it. Boasting an impressive performance by Tom Cruise, including his penchant for trying to do as much of his own stunt work as possible, Mission: Impossible is one of my all-time favourite action movies; it has everything from intensity to a drop of humour, and don’t forget there’s an expertly cultivated atmosphere at the hands of De Palma which would never have made it to the screen had this film been helmed by anyone else.