REVIEW: Eye in the Sky

20 04 2016

Eye in the SkyMore than a mere morality play, Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” displays an impeccable representation of how we fight now, particularly in the later years of the Obama administration. The film goes farther than the largely character-based drama of Andrew Niccol’s 2015 drone-related flick “Good Kill,” demonstrating both the individual and the collective effects of conducting warfare on a screen in a remote room.

“Eye in the Sky” mostly depicts a single mission conducted as a collaboration between the United States, United Kingdom and Kenya. Together, their militaries scope out Al-Shabaab terrorists from an unmanned aircraft flying high above the ground. From this vantage point, they scope out a large quantity of explosives getting ready to leave a safe house – attached to the chest of a suicide bomber.

The decision to strike seems like a no-brainer to British Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren). Even though they started tracking a citizen-turned-extremists for the purpose of capture, the clearly observed threat raises the stakes. Her position far from the battlefield would seem to make her, as well as her superiors, more likely to make the informed and rational decision. Yet with all the details they can observe, they also see their potential collateral damage up close and personal: a young girl, unrelated to the terrorists, sent out to sell bread in the streets.

Rather than take swift action, everyone now tries to kick the can up the road to their supervisor or boss. No one wants to be the last voice or the final finger on the trigger with a child likely to die as a result. In scenes of rapid succession that resemble a one-act play more than a film, Guy Hibbert’s script depicts a kind of bureaucratic nightmare unfolding in real time. Eventually, “Eye in the Sky” takes on the tenor of “Dr. Strangelove“-esque farce.

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REVIEW: The Butler

17 08 2013

ButlerBased on the trailer for Lee Daniels’ “The Butler,” I had prepared myself for “Forrest Gump: Civil Rights Edition.”  It looked to be in a filmmaking tradition of heavy-handed, cloying, and over the top shenanigans designed to easily trigger emotion.  As it turns out, I didn’t even have to resist because the film was not any of these things.

It was just a plain, bad movie.  “The Butler” is poorly written, unevenly directed, and meagerly acted.  It vastly oversimplifies history, both that of our nation’s struggle for civil rights and also the remarkable life of one man who served many Presidents with honor and dignity.  And in spite of its golden hues and stirring score stressing the importance of every moment, the film just fell flat the entire time.

Screenwriter Danny Strong writes the story of Cecil Gaines, Forest Whitaker’s titular character, into a parade of presidential caricatures – leaving out Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter since they apparently never grappled with civil rights.  (I’m ok with a narrowed portrait of history, just not a narrowed portrait of the people who made that history.)  Each man is a waxwork figure, a set of immediately recognizable traits tied up in a bow by a crucial civil rights decision, that happens to be served tea by the same man.

And every president is somehow swayed by the mere presence of Cecil, who will make a passing remark to each.  He’s apparently the perpetual Greek chorus of the White House or even the nation’s most influential civil rights adviser.  It’s a little ridiculous to infer causality here, even with a generous suspension of disbelief.  This trick worked in Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump” because it was done with a wink and a sense of humor.  It fails in “The Butler” because no one can seriously believe Cecil was an actual policy influencer.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 15, 2011)

15 07 2011

With the final installment of “Harry Potter” now in theaters, millions of Americans will see Snape’s finest hour, which wouldn’t be nearly as compelling without the incredible talent of Alan Rickman behind Rowling’s well-crafted character.  His creepiness and eeriness for the past decade in the role has introduced him to a whole new audience, few of whom know him as the nefarious Hans Gruber for “Die Hard.”  However, the role that even fewer recognize him for – and everyone should – is his hilarious turn in “Galaxy Quest,” a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek satire on the “Star Trek” show and fan base.  It’s been a favorite of mine since I was seven, and now is the perfect time to feature it as my “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Rickman plays Alexander Dane, a peeved British supporting actor in the “Galaxy Quest” television series whose character happens to have some unfortunate gills on his skull.  He and the rest of the cast, which includes the hilarious Sigourney Weaver as the show’s sex appeal, are at the mercy of their drunk leading man, Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith, when it comes to maintaining their show’s cult appeal.  Doing a great Shatner rip-off, Allen so nails the fame-crazed has-been that we so love to lampoon – and thankfully, Rickman and Weaver are there every step of the way to give him a light slap when necessary.

But one fateful day, the cast of “Galaxy Quest” gets drawn into the universe that they only knew on studio lots.  The actors find themselves totally hopeless in the face of actual peril but must exude some aura of control to keep the Thermian aliens under the impression that they know what they’re doing.  Their quest through strange worlds in space gives a new meaning to science-fiction and acting for all aboard.

It doesn’t matter if you are a Trekkie or not, whether you are a crazily obsessed fan of something or just know someone who is, you will totally be able to laugh along with “Galaxy Quest.”  It sends up obsession and taking anything too seriously to hilarious effect.  Not to mention it holds up exceptionally well on repeat viewings!





REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

12 07 2011

I was only nine years old when the “Harry Potter” films first cast their spell on me.  While I was old enough to realize that the series was, unfortunately, fictional, I wasn’t blind to the magic of J.K. Rowling’s series.  Only a fool couldn’t see that every aspect around Harry Potter and the universe of wizarding he inhabits doesn’t possess some fantastic sorcery.  How else can you explain the millions of children (and adults alike) who have rediscovered the power of reading thanks to the books?  How else can you explain the millions who come out in droves at midnight … to celebrate the release of a novel?

It’s only appropriate that the final film adaptation, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” should capture that magic with such perfect grace, making us at once entranced by the action on the screen, heartbroken that we no longer have another movie to look forward to in the series, and filled with joy that the series has, for the past 10 years, taught us all to believe in the magic of cinema.  The “Harry Potter” series has been such an integral part of my childhood and adolescence, and as it concludes as I head off for college, I can’t be more thankful to have such a fantastic film mark the end of a big chapter of my life.  I’m so grateful that my generation, along with countless other fans, has rallied eight times to celebrate the power that writing and filmmaking can possess when done so incredibly right.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 26, 2010)

26 11 2010

It’s Black Friday!  While my shopping today was limited to Amazon.com, there’s something more to celebrate … IT’S CHRISTMAS TIME!  (Officially, at least!)

What better way to celebrate than by watching a Christmas movie?  May I propose “Love Actually,” my pick for this week’s “F.I.L.M.”  It gets you in the holiday spirit like no other with its abundant tales of all sorts of different loves in the Christmas season.  This isn’t a traditional Christmas movie in the tradition of “Elf” or “The Santa Clause,” but the holiday plays such an integral role in the storyline that it’s hard to call it anything else.  It reminds you of the joys of the Christmas season so well that it’s become a sort of traditional holiday kick-off for my family.

Platonic love, impossible love, irresponsible love, mourning love, familial love, interlingual love, desperate love – you name it, this movie offers it.  Some might call it overambitious or cluttered, but I think Richard Curtis’ script is an enormously satisfying blend of love that makes flawless connections between its characters.  He packs the movie full of humor and heart, tied with a bow of such irresistible charm that you’ll wish every gift under the Christmas tree could provide such joy.

All your favorite Brits (and Laura Linney) are feeling the bliss and pain of love in overdrive with all the madness surrounding the holidays catches them.  The perpetually single Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) is undeniably attracted to one of the women working for him (Martine McCutcheon), which makes for a difficult situation.  The clumsy writer Jamie (Colin Firth) finds himself falling for his Portuguese housekeeper while working France, despite the fact that neither can speak the same language.

Sarah (Linney) is madly in love with her co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) but can never work up the courage to say anything.  Daniel (Liam Neeson) is mourning the death of his long-suffering wife while trying to help his young stepson get noticed by his crush.  Karen (Emma Thompson) is trying to put on a happy face for her family while her husband (Alan Rickman) isn’t being entirely honest about his affairs.

And playing behind it all, there’s washed-up and rehabbed rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) trying to reclaim his former glory by shamelessly converting an old song into Christmas jam, “Christmas Is All Around.”  He’s a hilariously self-depracating mess, making ill-advised remarks like, “Kids, don’t buy drugs; become a celebrity and they’ll give them to you for FREE!”  Nighy delivers one of those divine, once-in-a-decade comedic performances, and he absolutely steals the movie.

I didn’t even touch on about half of the storylines in the story, not to mention the subplots.  There’s just so much there for everyone in “Love Actually” that it’s practically irresistible.  While you might not click with one storyline, there are a dozen others that you are bound to love!  Like the poster says, it’s the “ultimate romantic comedy,” and you’ll be amazed at how entertaining and fun Richard Curtis and his army of British actors can make the dying genre.





REVIEW: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

6 08 2009

I don’t even know why I’m bothering to write a review for the latest installment in the “Harry Potter” franchise this late in the game.  The movie opened 4 weeks ago, and by this point, you have either seen it or you haven’t.  If you love the books like me, you rush out and see it the first day or even at midnight.  If you don’t dig the books or the movies, you aren’t going to see it because the movies don’t allow time to stragglers to catch up.  What I will say about “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is that it is one of the best in the series.  The key element to its recovery from the horrifying previous film is an expertly crafted script.  Director David Yates returns and seems to find his stride this time.  His “Potter” is darker than we have ever seen it, and it works remarkably well.

Usually I give a plot summary in the second paragraph, but I think only a brief one is called for here.   The villainous Lord Voldemort is back, and tensions are high in the wizarding world.  But the tension is  higher with Harry and his pals are finding the pain and beauty of teenage crushes.

I love the books, but I am not one of those purists that is furious when they omit subplots.  I think that this is one of the best adaptations from book to movie.  However, I was intrigued by the shift in focus.  Rowling’s brilliant novel focuses more on Harry and Dumbledore trying to discover the dark secrets of how Tom Riddle came to be Voldemort by collecting memories from people who knew Tom.  The movie plays up the teen angst angle of the story, and I had no problem with that.  It gives a light, humorous side to balance out the bleak darkness of the rest of the story. Read the rest of this entry »