REVIEW: Good Kill

22 06 2015

Good KillUsually, we consider a film a success when its form matches its content.  In the case of Andrew Niccol’s “Good Kill,” though, the opposite is true.  The movie, which tackles the escalation of drone warfare in the Middle East, takes on the form of a droning screed itself.

It should have felt particularly damning that Niccol chose to make a film set in the present day, since his features – which include “Gattaca,” “The Truman Show,” and “In Time” – tend to take place in dystopian futures.  But rather than expanding the discourse around the U.S. military’s increasing reliance on unmanned aircraft to do its dirty work, he chooses to preach to the choir with surface-level platitudes.  The target audience for “Good Kill” probably knows the basic philosophical and existential arguments around drones, and Niccol does nothing to explore our complicity in their perpetuating existence.

He sets the film in 2010, the apotheosis of drone strikes in the Middle East, and follows the slow evolution of Ethan Hawke’s jaded Air Force pilot Thomas Egan against the increasingly unethical tasks assigned to him by the CIA.  Of course, he would not arrive at those conclusions without a spring chicken of a female pilot, Zoë Kravitz’s Vera, who does little other than spout off the film’s core message.  Vera is not a character so much as she is a personified Washington Post column.

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F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 11, 2013)

11 01 2013

Melquiades Estrada

Most people recognize Tommy Lee Jones’ calling as an actor.  The Academy sure does, giving him one Oscar in 1993 for “The Fugitive” and a chance at another one in 2012 for “Lincoln.”  But what few people know is that if Jones gave up his day job and took up directing full-time, he would be incredibly successful.

Just take a look at his debut feature, “The Three Burials of Meliquiades Estrada,” and tell me the man does not have serious talent.  While I was watching it, I kept thinking about all the reasons why I shouldn’t like it or that it shouldn’t be working.  But it did, and for that very reason, it’s my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

Jones’ film is based in a strong script from Guillermo Arriaga, one full of tenderness and deliberation.  And perhaps the best sign of a good director is to let the story shine brightly and take precedence.  Though maybe Jones’ style isn’t flashy, the appropriately ambling pace and quaintness of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” feels like just the right fit.

Jones also lends his acting talents to the film, bringing the movie an undeniable sense of Texas gallantry and steadfastness.  As Pete Perkins, a noble ranch hand, he goes to whatever means necessary to ensure that his friend Melquiades Estrada gets a proper burial.  It takes him across the border, crosses his paths with various interesting people, and entangles complicated alliances.  But he will keep his word to Melquiades at all costs.

He also manages to get fine performances out of his cast, which includes a very physically committed Barry Pepper along with January Jones and Melissa Leo well before they were mainstream names.  But the real triumph of “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” is, well, Tommy Lee Jones himself.  He makes the film feel so natural and easygoing, almost as if every other movie is a NASCAR racer and his is a horse clipping along.  It’s that kind of brilliant direction where you almost think the film is directing itself.  Pretty impressive for a first film.





REVIEW: Unknown

23 06 2011

Half “Taken” and half “The Bourne Identity,” Liam Neeson’s latest thriller “Unknown” lacks the scintillating sizzle of such like-minded thrillers but will pass for decent entertainment.  If you want a rental that offers a tiny bit of mental involvement, a fair bit of thrills, and beautiful women named Diane Kruger and January Jones, this might be a decent way to spend a Monday movie night at home.  You won’t complain or be disappointed; you’ll just be content.

The high concept thriller follows Martin Harris (Neeson), who awakes from a coma after a car wreck in a Berlin taxi driven by Gina (Kruger) to find that his wife Liz (Jones) doesn’t recognize him.  In fact, there is nothing other than a lost passport to prove his identity.  In order to get his life back, Martin must get to the source of this deep running conspiracy, and he will stop at nothing to reclaim what was once his.

It’s really an intriguing premise, and if you watched the trailer (or saw it a million times in theaters during December 2010), you can basically skip the first hour.  The set-up was done perfectly in two minutes there, and it was a little unnecessary to prolong the trailer.  The second hour is where things get interesting, yet by the time the movie’s “twist” comes around, I was just ready for it to end.  The movie squanders an opportunity to really cash in on the idea, which is a little disappointing, but at least it doesn’t totally tank.  There are much worse thrillers than “Unknown;” then again, there are also much better.  C+ / 





REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

9 06 2011

I’m not quite sure how “X-Men: First Class” fits in to the universe created by the other 4 films (like “Superman Returns“), or if it’s supposed to create a whole new universe in itself (like “Batman Begins” or “Star Trek”).  This confusion makes it hard to write about the summer superhero tentpole movie.  However, rather than worry myself with such fanboy concerns, I’ll review it like I chose to watch it: as a fun, entertaining reintroduction to the mutants that provides some interesting background on their origins (as well as shining some light on the REAL events of the Cuban Missile Crisis).

Matthew Vaughn makes it easy to forget your worries about the movie’s place in the series by keeping a smooth pace through a script that balances big explosions with character development.  It’s like a two hour pilot that introduces you to a fantastic ensemble while also fleshing out the conflict between its two biggest stars.  He’s no Christopher Nolan behind the camera, but he’s certainly much better than Michael Bay or whoever made the horrific “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (which I still think was just an excuse for Hugh Jackman to prance around naked on camera).

Vaughn also makes some very savvy casting decisions; rather than filling out the large cast with marquee names or falling stars, he casts up-and-coming stars who make up for what they lack in marketability with their impressive acting chops.  James McAvoy (“The Last Station“) and Michael Fassbender (“Inglorious Basterds“), Xavier and Magneto respectively, are two incredibly reputable actors who bring drama and dynamism to the roles that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen made campy and stale. Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone“) brings soul and heart to Mystique, two things Rebecca Romjin did not endow her character since she was too busy being sexy.  Nicholas Hoult (“A Single Man“) is a warm-hearted and lovable big-footed scientist.  January Jones provides some nice eye candy for those who might miss Halle Berry, although she will always be Betty Draper of “Mad Men” for me, while fans of Rose Byrne (“Bridesmaids,” “Get Him to the Greek“) will also rejoice to see her featured as mutant protector Moira MacTaggert.

It’s like he’s trying to have the 25 year reunion of this cast be on the cover of “People” with the title LOOK HOW FAR THEY’VE COME in big bold letters (while Lindsay Lohan is arrested for the 30th time in the sidebar).  Vaughn uses these superheroes to create superstars, many of which will be touting above-title billing after this movie.  His choice not to overload with actors who we already associate with other roles makes us more drawn in to the characters and less distracted by the people portraying them.

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