Tagged Steven Zaillian

The Night Of – Season 1, Episode 7: “Ordinary Death”

HBO’s The Night Of
Season 1, Episode 7: “Ordinary Death”
Directed by Steven Zaillian
Teleplay by Richard Price & Zaillian

* For a review of the previous episode, “Samson and Delilah” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “The Call of the Wild” – click here
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Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) is at the scene of another homicide; one that bears a striking resemblance to the murder of Andrea Cornish.
In court, Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed) has to see the pictures of Andrea’s bloody, desecrated body along with everyone else. District Attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) does her best to steer the evidence where she hopes the jury will see it go. Her Medical Examiner pal, Dr. Chester, repeats the line he’d been working on the last time we saw him. Once Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan) gets at the doc things start slipping. The whole testimony on his part does not look good after she pokes holes in both what he’s said, as well as his reputation. She is a sly lawyer in her own right, even compared to Weiss.
Meanwhile, John Stone (John Turturro) has become honed in on Don Taylor (Paul Sparks), stepfather to Andrea. He’s keeping a close eye on the guy. Especially after Chandra, in court, makes clear the wounds on Andrea’s corpse look like a crime of passion; a personal one. And though we don’t know everything, Naz did not know Andrea before that night.
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Sadly it’s Safar Khan (Poorna Jagannathan) who suffers most, it seems. She is torn up having to see the pictures of the supposed crime Naz committed. She seems adrift, alone even within her own family. Salim (Peyman Moaadi) isn’t having any better of a time. He finds himself an object of derision in his own community, as other Muslims don’t look pleased with his family bringing shame on them all. Worse still, his own business partners Tariq (Mohammad Bakri) and Yusuf (Nabil Elouahabi) are essentially turning their backs on him. They’ve blamed Naz for bringing shame “on all of us,” they tell him. “You are the father of a killer,” says Tariq. Now that is brutal. I like that the series shows the good and the bad of the Muslim community. While trying to show the positive aspects, they also don’t shy from showing how within their own communities there’s so much of this type of thing; guilty before proven innocent.
Lots of anger being thrown at the Khans, from graffiti poised towards the community in general right down to rocks tossed through their windows.
All the while Stone keeps his eye on Don as he woos women for their money. Plus, Johnny gets to keep his feet moving since they’re no longer wracked by the bubonic plague. He’s got all sorts of information rolling in on Don. He even gets in contact with an older woman that was once romantically involved with him. She actually had to call the police because he strangled her. A bit of money and then the Don problem went away. So he’s got himself a history of nastiness.

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A witness for the prosecution tells the court he bought Adderall off Naz at school. Turns out the young Muslim had customers. He has secrets in his past. Not so innocent after all. But a murderer? Nah.
With his feet fixed, John’s already got a new rash started on his neck. In other news, his family – what’s left of it – is falling apart. One thing gets better, another gets worse. The tragic life of a Greek-like figure, that Stone.
At Rikers, Naz is getting along well enough. At least he’s not doing sexual favours like Petey (Aaron Moten) whose mother smuggles in the drugs that Naz takes in for Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams). Then again, having to swallow drug balloons from a strange woman’s vagina isn’t exactly glorified behaviour. Especially considering Naz does it now without hesitating, not a single choke. Similar to how his behaviour is described in court, by a man on the witness stand testifying about Naz’s incident of violence years ago nearly killing another student.
And yet again, another secret. A second act of violence, not known by the defence. Naz threw a full Coke can at someone’s head and busted him up good. Hearing this in open court like that rocks Chandra. Her idea of Nasir seems to constantly be changing.
Poor Salim and Safar. They’re giving up everything to pay for their son’s defence. They pawn off jewellery, anything possible just to keep their boy with a lawyer. What’s sad is that Safar is really beginning to doubt the illusions of her son; they’re becoming just that, a mirage.
Finally, Don confronts John. He does so in fairly violent fashion, though not enough to freak anybody out, other than Stone. A threat’s been made. Easy to see that Andrea’s stepfather might have more rage in him than anybody knows.

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In court once more, Dt. Box is on the stand. He is a pretty rational, sensible talking man. He doesn’t beat around the bush, even as Chandra gives him a proper going over.
Alone together, Naz and Chandra talk. He wonders why she defends him, lamenting that his father is the only one who believes him. Not even his mother. There’s an air of sexual tension, and then Chandra leans in to kiss Naz. Images of the night Andrea died flash, her and Naz embracing. Ah. No good for their professional relationship, that’s for damn sure. This can only complicate things further.
Chandra has Dr. Katz (Chip Zien) on the stand. He talks about a missing knife from a set found in the brownstone. He also testifies that the wounds on Naz’s hand were not from stabbing. That it came from a game of five finger fillet (though she incorrectly calls it mumblety-pegs). Katz pokes a lot of holes in the evidence of the prosecution, as best he can. Remember that odd picture he took in the apartment? Well, he’s got an answer for that one, too. Smart chap. Weiss gets hold of him then to try poking her own holes, such as attempting to link Naz and O.J. Simpson in a snide remark. She goes at him head-on. Admirable. But clearly she’s only trying to sneak one past the goal post.

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John finds the picture of Naz’s inhaler. He wonders what happened to it, then the young Muslim tells him about Box having given it to him that night in the holding cell. So John goes to see the retiring detective, along with a subpoena.
Quickly, Stone and Chandra have him back on the stand. She asks him about the interviews, witnesses, all sorts of things. She eventually brings into question Box’s mishandling of the inhaler. He willingly admits to having given it to Naz. Chandra spins it to look as if Box took the inhaler from the evidence in order to ensure their narrative fit; can’t stab someone 22 times and take hits off your puffer, right? Box does his best to deflect. However, there’s no guarantee this won’t reflect badly on him, or the prosecution.
Back at Rikers, Naz finds Petey dead in the shower. He cut his wrists to pieces, to not suffer the sexual abuse any longer. That’s terrifying tragic. Naz looks on in desperate sadness. In Freddy’s cell, the big man doesn’t know about the real reason for the kid dying. And the rapist, he sits there trying to keep Naz silent. Even sadder.
In private, Naz confides in Freddy the reality of Petey’s suicide. This precipitates a shiv being made. The rest, you can guess. Criminal justice within the criminal justice system.
What about the real justice?

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Another fine episode from HBO’s excellent series. One last episode left! Its title is, fittingly from Jack London, “The Call of The Wild” – will the truth all come out? You can be sure of it.

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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.