Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Films Offer Political Intrigue

I am really looking forward to this year's batch of holiday films.  For those of us who love action packed adventure, December 2011 offers a stocking full of intrigue and fast-paced drama.

At the top of my list is the latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise --- Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Click on the link to see the trailer. 

The new version of the John le Carre novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman as George Smiley looks like a great way to begin the month (December 9th release date).  Watch the trailer to see if I'm right.

While not exactly a political thriller Sherlock Holmes - A Game of Shadows is another film that I'm looking forward to.  Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law returns as his formidable colleague, Dr. Watson as they chase Dr. Moriarty across Europe.  But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead as he spins a web of death and destruction --- all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history.   With that order of magnitude, maybe the second edition of Holmes is more than a mystery.  Its coming out on December 16th.

Invite your movie buddy, get your tickets, buy some popcorn and get ready for an action-packed holiday!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Carlos - The Jackal

It may come as a surprise to some of you, but their really is a Carlos. The mythetical figure of many spy pictures is alive and in captivity.

According to news reports from Paris, Carlos the Jackal, one of the most dreaded terror masterminds of the Cold War, is on trial again accussed of four deadly attacks in France nearly three decades ago.

The defiant and smiling 62-year-old Venezuelan, whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, appeared before a special Paris court on terrorism-linked charges Monday. He is already serving a life sentence handed down for a triple murder in 1975.

Ramirez, who sowed fear across Western European and Middle Eastern capitals during the Cold War, is charged with instigating four attacks in 1982 and 1983 that killed 11 people and injured more than 140 others in France.

Ramírez Sánchez joined the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1970, when recruiting officer Bassam Abu Sharif gave him the code name Carlos due to his South American roots.

After several bungled bombings, Ramírez Sánchez achieved notoriety for a 1975 raid on the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, which killed three people. This was followed by a string of attacks against Western targets. For many years he was among the most wanted international fugitives. Carlos was dubbed "The Jackal" by The Guardian after one of its correspondents reportedly spied Frederick Forsyth's novel The Day of the Jackal near some of the fugitive's belongings.

Arrested in Sudan in 1994 and flown to France, Ramírez Sánchez is now serving a life sentence in the Clairvaux Prison for the murder of two French agents of the DST (counter-intelligence) and an alleged informant.

He is the subject of numerous films as reported by Wikipedia. The most recent film is the French mini-series produced in 2010. Carlos won the 2010 Golden Globe award for the 'Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television.

Intrigued by the background information, I decided to download the 5-hour miniseries from Netflix.

The story presents Carlos as “terrorist rock star.” A charming ladies man, who dialogues with his captives trying to explain his motives while assuring them that they will be killed. Carlos embraces political ideologies more as a matter of expediency than of well-thought out examination. His activities seem more an attempt to advance his career as an assassin than martyrdom in the cause of a Palestinian homeland.

The fictionalized account blends news footage with dramatic recreations and invented conversations to present a vivid account of Carlos’ twenty-year reign of terror. Twentieth-century history geeks, like me, will find the mini-series fascinating. We see the multinational connection of the terrorist community with Japanese, German, Iraqi, Libyan, Sudanese, and Syrian working together to advance their own schemes. Carlos is protected by these same nations who give him carte blanche to carry out his missions as long as they are not in their country. Sheltered by these countries, international authorities appear impotent in their efforts to arrest him.

The story reveals how European nations cave in to pressures by Socialists and Communists. The appeasement like behavior foretells the sad state of European economies especially Greece and Italy.

Unfortunately, the details, while appealing to history geeks, make for a confusing and slow moving drama. Adding to this problem is a series of semi-pornographic scenes involving Carlos and a series of earnest female terrorist groupies that add little to the story. This leaves us with a central character that is neither tragic, heroic, nor committed. The mini-series reveals Carlos as a vain, morally bankrupt killer dedicated to his own image rather than a noble or evil cause.

We rate the series as two out of four stars.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Hanna Heller (Saoirse Ronan) is a 16-year-old girl who lives with her father, Erik Heller (Eric Bana) in the wilderness of Finland.  Her father has trained her in survival skills to prepare her to leave hiding and seek revenge for her mother's murder.  Erik trained Hanna in several languages and military skills.  Their isolated and primitive live in Finland has prevented Hanna from experiencing friends her age and modern technology.   

Finally, Hanna tells Erik that she is ready to leave, and he gives her a box containing an old transmitter that will alert the outside world to their presence.  Hanna flips the switch, sending a signal from their location to Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), a CIA officer.  Marissa sends a assassination  team to their hideout, where Hanna is captured and taken to a CIA safe house in Morocco.  Marissa is anxious to capture and kill Erik to hide a secret project.  Hanna easily escapes her captivity and flees into Moroccan desert.  

The search is on for both Hanna and Erik. Erik makes his way to Germany to meet with Hanna.  Hanna meets an English family vacationing  in Morocco and becomes friends with their teenage daughter Sophie.  Hanna hitches with them to Spain and Germany. Meanwhile, Wiegler hires a night club owner called Isaacs (Tom Hollander) to capture Hanna while she goes after Erik.

The pursuit continues until Isaacs and his men corner Hanna and the family, but she manages to escape.  Isaacs learns that Hanna is heading for Berlin to meet her father.

Hanna learns that Erik is not her father.  Erik met Hanna's mother during his assignment as a recruiter for a program in which pregnant women were conscripted from abortion clinics so that the CIA could alter their children's DNA, enhancing their strength, stamina, and reflexes while suppressing emotions like fear and empathy in order to create a batch of super-soldiers. The project was deemed a failure and all the women and their genetically-modified children were eliminated.  Erik tried to escape with Hanna and her mother, but Wiegler murdered Johanna before Erik could escape with her and Hanna to the wilderness of Finland.

I have seen this movie twice and liked it both times.  Hanna is a fast-paced movie with lots of violence.  At times it seems like a coming of age story with Hanna double-dating with her friend Sophie as she experiences a terrifying journey to Germany and the truth about herself.  There are some quirky characters like Sophie's parents, Isaacs, and her father's clown friend , and Wiegler.  Cate Blanchett seems to enjoy playing the villain,  perhaps finding an outlet for her arrogant and haughty side that emerges in interviews.  Although at times predictable, the fast pace distracts and pulls you to the ultimate conclusion.