Tag: CIA


Pawn Sacrifice

September 28th, 2015 — 5:58pm

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Pawn Sacrifice -rm

This is the story of Bobby Fischer, the American boy wonder chessmaster, who at the age of 29 in 1972 beat Russian champion chess player Boris Spassky to become the best chess player in the world. We meet young Fischer as a preteen growing up in Brooklyn where his preoccupation with chess makes him a very unusual brilliant young man. It would appear that his limited social skills matched with his total preoccupation with chess and a genius mind that could visualize and memorize numerous chess games in his head, suggests that he had Asperger’s disorder. As we follow this brilliant genius into preparation and ultimately arriving at the classic series of matches in Iceland, we see how he became preoccupied with the belief that he was being spied upon. He took apart a telephone looking for listening devices and even insisted that the venue for the match be moved to a basement setting instead of the large stage where it was to be held. He limited the number of TV cameras demanded a certain distance from him. The film does suggest that this classic famed match had great significance to both the United States and Russian governments. We even see that the CIA may have been involved in meeting Fischer’s demands for money and other requirements in order for him to participate in the match. However the film also points to the probability that Fischer’s mental functioning was much more than the political paranoia of the time. In fact, we think that a case can be made that Bobby Fischer had a schizophrenic mental disorder.

This well done film is a recounting of one of the most important and widely followed chess matches in history. It is also a sad story of a tortured soul. Tobey Maguire who plays Fischer as an adult did a fine job although it was a one dimensional view of this man as we never saw any evidence of him having any joy or meaningful relationships which we would expect even with a severe mental disorder. Liev Schreiber was quite good as the large contemplative Russian master Boris Spassky who barely said a word in the film.

Even though most of the movie audience probably knew the results of the match, seeing how it developed and went down was filled with suspense and drama. The subsequent downhill slide of Fischer which was not shown in the film and only told to us in a post-script at the end of the film, with a few newsreel clips, might have taken the movie to a more dramatic and interesting conclusion had the writers Steven Knight, Stephen Rivele and director Edward Zwick chosen to extend the film to this subject. (2015)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History

Last Days in Viet Nam

August 21st, 2014 — 7:00pm

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Last Days in Vietnam-sp– Even if you were around in 1975 during the U.S pullout from South Vietnam, the true story of how it went down is probably not the way you remember it. Even that iconic photograph of people climbing up a ladder into a helicopter from what you thought was the U.S Embassy was not the U.S. Embassy. Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker who realized that there was an interesting story here to be told. Together with her co-producer Keven McAlester and their team she researched the subject, dug out archive documents and film footage, followed leads, set up interviews with former CIA agents, American soldiers, as well as Vietnamese who got out and some that didn’t. She also was able to interview one of the key surviving players who surrounded and advised President Ford during those final days. That was none other than Henry Kissinger who had been Secretary of State for both Ford and President Nixon. Nixon actually looks quite good in the view of the historical circumstances, which are presented here. It was under his watch that the peace accord of !973 was signed which was followed by the withdrawal of US Troops. We are then shown in 1975 shortly after Nixon resigned from office that the North Vietnam troops began the march towards Saigon. The implication was clearly stated that they would have been afraid to do so if Nixon were in office. We then see how President Ford was not able to get Congress to raise money to support any effort to stop this new aggression.

The real story here was the denial by U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin of the threatening attack that was underway, spilling down towards Saigon with the ultimate evacuation of all the Americans and the desperate attempt to get out bythe South Vietnamese who were connected to the Americans. Rather than use an authoritative narrator, the filmmakers chose to use the faces and the voices of the Americans and Vietnamese who lived through those harrowing days who told their own stories. The latter group knew that if they did not get out, they stood a good chance of being killed or severely punished. In fact in the final credits we learn that some of these narrators subsequently spent years in “ reeducation camps” before making their way to the United States. We learn that the final dramatic evacuation was not only by helicopter but also by sea. The helicopters flew out thousands of evacuees to a flotilla of ships led by the USS Kirk.

A good documentary often relies on some fresh views of the historical event. In this case, that was not only provided by American and Vietnamese survivors of this unusual evacuation telling their tales but also by the discovery of a box full of 8mm movie film taken by one of the sailors aboard the USS Kirk almost 40 years ago. These movies provided a vivid picture of the thousands of civilians packed aboard these ships as they attempted to get to Manila. They also showed a never to be forgotten sequence of movie scenes of a gigantic Chinook helicopter that was too large and heavy to land on the US ship. Instead the Vietnamese pilot who was trying to save his family and others had to do a remarkable maneuver where he hovered so his young children could be dropped and caught by the sailors below. He then did what experts feel was an extremely difficult task of climbing out of his pilot gear, ditching his gigantic helicopter into the sea with its spinning blades disintegrating, while he jumped out into the water and swam to safety of the nearby vessel. This amazing accomplishment was narrated by his now grown son who had been seen as one of the young children being dropped out of the Chinook.

There were several moral questions raised by this film. The big question was did the U.S. have a commitment to its ally, South Vietnam when the North Vietnamese broke the Paris Peace Accord and invaded South Vietnam. What was the meaning of the refusal of Congress to provide funds and the failure of the President to send troops back there? Did the U.S have a commitment to the many civilians and their families who had worked for the US and would be targets if they were not evacuated? Were several U.S. officers within the embassy wrong when they disobeyed orders and organized secret “ black opps” plans for evacuating civilians when the Ambassador had not authorized this to be done.? There also was a promise to all those Vietnamese who were allowed to enter the U.S. Embassy grounds for evacuation, that they would definitely be rescued. However once the Ambassador left, after most of the people were evacuated, there were 420 Vietnamese left behind who had been promised evacuation. Finally, is there any lesson here that we can glean that can be applied to the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan where the U.S. has left and now the situation is deteriorating?

When a documentary film can prevent a fresh view of history and stir up new questions, which even pertain to our current time, we have to view it as a successful endeavor that should be seen.(2014)

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, History, War

Zero Dark Thirty

January 8th, 2013 — 11:44pm

****

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The last time Director Katherine Bigelow and Screenwriter Mark Boal collaborated they made the Hurt Locker which was one of the finest war  films we have ever seen. Since the subject matter this time was the story of the tracking down and killing of Osama ben Laden, it seemed like a natural for them to duplicate their great work.  They ended up doing a very good  job but in our opinion it wasn’t a “repeat”. They initially tug on our emotions by starting the film with frantic phone calls coming from the doomed World Trade Center on 9/11. We then are exposed to the United States  waterboarding suspects who might lead us to Osama ben Laden. This element while uncomfortable to watch, may not be telling the complete story in regard to how key this was to what was to come. The film centers around Maya (Jessica Chastain) a CIA agent who doggedly persists when all the other CIA honchos have their doubts including Leon Panetta CIA director (James Gandelfini)  We are told in the credits that she is a real person who can’t be identified since she is still an active agent. It is too bad that we couldn’t know anything substantial about her other than to watch her determination  despite no one believing her. Nevertheless Ms Chastain carries the film with her riveting portrayal of this American heroine. There also was a great deal of mumbo jumbo on the radio, agents talking back and forth, numerous Arab names mentioned as suspects or people who might have known people. You were never really given enough information to appreciate who they were and what role they played. We also never really get to know the numerous CIA agents, Bureau Chiefs, operatives or whatever. Even the Navy Seal team stays a team and they all blend together in their military fatigues and being viewed through night vision goggles. We will admit that the 2 hours and 40 minutes did go by quite quickly and it was exciting to watch the attack on the compound. It was quite authentic and you felt and thought you were there.  If the real Maya ever writes a memoir, we will be sure to read it and get to know what she was really like and how she brought about the slaying of this dragon. (2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Action, Drama, History

Argo

October 12th, 2012 — 7:47am

****

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If you are old enough to remember the Iran hostage crisis of the late 1970s or are a student of history of such events , this movie will remind you of those turbulent times in vivid detail. On the other hand you just have to recall the horrific details of a short a time ago when our embassy in Libya was stormed and the US ambassador was murdered, to get into the mind set to appreciate this movie. In fact, even if you knew nothing about recent or past history you could very easily get caught up in this exciting, suspenseful, thrilling, heart pounding movie. When the movie audience cheers and claps for joy at certain parts of the film you realize that they are feeling tension that is  is being built up and released. This film stars Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez a CIA agent, who actually in real life was was awarded a secret medal by that agency (everything is a secret in the CIA) for what he did which was depicted in this movie. The task he took on was to try to sneak out of revolutionary Iran,  6 Americans who had fled to the Canadian embassy and were hiding there,  when the Iranians had stormed  their embassy and made hostages of the other Americans . The plan revolved around the making a fake movie which was to be produced and directed by Hollywood mogul types  played respectively by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. This gave the movie a comic relief and a little spoof of Hollywood. This real movie Argo which had the same name as the fake movie, was directed by the star of it, Ben Affleck who also co-produced it with George Clooney and Grant Heslov.  Well deserved credit for this movie should also go to the screen writer Chris Terrio and award winniing editor William Goldenbery, Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto and music by Alexandre Desplat. The realism that was achieved with this reenactment of those dramatic days was shown at the end of the film as  part of the credits. Photographs torn from the newspapers of that time were put side by side on the screen with still images from  this film and many were nearly identical. This included  a photo of people climbing over the fence and into the embassy grounds, a man being hanged in the street as well as the real faces on the passports of many of the characters. This film may not surprise you but you will come with a away  with a reminder of how easy it can be to become swept away with a thrilling Hollywood  movie.(2012)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

Fair Game

December 11th, 2010 — 5:47pm

****

Fair Game-rm– This movie retells the well known story of Valerie Plame and how she was exposed as a CIA agent by the Vice President’s office because her husband Joe Wilson decided to write an op-ed piece in the N.Y. Times and tell the story how during his fact finding mission for the U.S. government he found absolutely no evidence of the sale of uranium to build nuclear weapons being sold by Niger to Iraq.  The Bush administration was motivated to do this because they had decided to attack Iraq on the basis that they believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and this supposed sale was an important part of the case, which they built for the US entry into this war. They tried to discredit Wilson by claiming his wife really sent him there on a boondoggle mission, that he was unreliable and that she was just a middling CIA agent. The opposite was the truth and the criminal act of exposing her as a undercover CIA agent actually endangered many lives who were part of the overseas operations that she was conducting and ruined her career as well as nearly destroying her marriage. Naomi Watts plays Plame who on one hand lives the life of the housewife next door, taking care of young kids, having evening get-togethers with other couples and discussing current events. However, instead of going to work at her cover job with a financial management firm and taking occasional overnight trips, she is at a fairly high level in the CIA going on overnight dangerous missions. Her husband Joe Wilson, former ambassador to Niger as well as having had other State Department jobs now has his own struggling company and doubles as the housedad when his wife is out of town. He is very well played by Sean Penn, who must have especially relished the role of the guy trying to expose government lies.  Director Doug Liman achieved just the right balance in  showing us the everyday life of this housewife spy, mixed with the frightening missions which she undertook. Watts and Penn brought intensity to the outrage and the despair, which their characters experienced. The location shots were very realistic as were the all too familiar cast of characters including the politicians and the media. The film captured an important piece of history mixed with the drama and the human emotions, which were part of this story. It is not a part of history that we should be proud of but what is encouraging is that this film can be made in this country and this story can be told and talked about as much as we choose to do so.(2010)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, History

RED

October 15th, 2010 — 4:09am

***

Red– sp- Retired and Extremely Dangerous is what the title of this movie stand for. This cast of actors, while some are a little long in the tooth, are far from retired but  their characters in this movie are certainly dangerous. While you probably can picture Bruce Willis toting a deadly machine gun can you picture Dame Helen Mirren blasting away with an up to date Kalashnilov or whatever they are called? This is what you get in this delightful fun spoof of all the shoot em up, kill lots of people, blow things up,  smash cars,  CIA , FBI movies that you may have seen in the past few years plus some shades of James Bond. In addition to Helen and Bruce, you have great star power from  John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Mary-Louise Parker, Ernest Borgnine, Richard Dryfuss as well as excellent performances by Karl Urban, and Brain Cox.  Basically the plot is that the old team has to get back together because they are all on a hit list related to some “ work “ they did in Guatemala 20 years ago. The plot thickens and involves the modern day CIA and maybe the Vice-President in a not such a good way. The story and the actions are completely unbelievable as they are played out, but  you never know about the real secret lives of secret agents. Malkovich plays a delightful character who appears to be completely paranoid but everything that he is concerned about seems to happen with a vengeance. Lorenzo di Bonaventura, veteran movie producer, was at our screening and took us through how he put together this cast and how much fun they all seemed to have making the movie.  He is hoping that older crowd will identify with the RED component and that the younger crowd will be drawn in for the action. We doubt that it will make the Oscar list but a good time can be had by all. ( 2010)

Comment » | 3 Stars, Action, Comedy

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