Eye in the Sky

A powerful and reflective examination of the cost of warfare. 

Very few films are this good. It’s well-acted by a truly terrific cast, impeccably shot with a thrillingly taut script. It also poses such incredibly cerebral and difficult questions without copping out and providing easy answers. Then again, war itself doesn’t provide any easy answers.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) arrives at a military base in Sussex to oversee a high-level mission, to capture Al-Shabaab extremists who are meeting at a safe-house in Nairobi. Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is one of numerous undercover Kenyan field agents on the scene using covert surveillance. In Nevada USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) takes his seat alongside rookie Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) to provide aerial surveillance (the Eye in the Sky). Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) arrives at his work, an office in London, taking the seat at the head of a table with members of the government to oversee the operation. What starts of as a seemingly routine capture mission soon becomes deeply complicated when it’s discovered the extremists are preparing to send two suicide bombers into the busy city streets. The only option appears to be to drop a hellfire missile on the safe house, but a little girl is out on the street nearby who would be fatally injured in the process. Those involved are deeply conflicted about what to do, and time is quickly running out.

I do not say this words lightly, but I firmly believe that everyone should see this film. Far beyond the fact that it is superbly acted and written, things I will discuss shortly, few films about war are this suspenseful and affecting.. The very term ‘collateral damage’ is a term complicated enough when you reflect on the fact it is a label used for human beings  caught in the crossfire but having the film truly immersing the audience debate generates a new level of soul searching. This is a genuine nail-biting thriller, with moments of true edge-of-your-seat-ness and wringing your hands in despair.

The cast for this film is awe-worthy and all of their performances justify completely justify that awe. This is one of two posthumous roles for Alan Rickman and serves as a reminder of what a genuine talent we lost this year. His iconic tone and manner are both fully in display here, truly serving his character and the film itself very well indeed. Helen Mirren is wonderful and fully believable as the stoic Colonel who watches her mission escalate from out of her control yet never losing her calm or nerve in the process. Aaron Paul is extraordinary as a man with two years experience in the job who is finally being told to pull the trigger, torn between duty and morality. Barkhad Abdi is one of the characters we know least about yet the strength and depth of his performance allows the audience to truly understand his role in events.

The script, cinematography, sound and performances of Eye in the Sky align to make this easily one of the best movies of the year so far. A riveting, fully entertaining yet equally chilling study of the morality of warfare. The questions it raises are not and cannot be truly answered yet will continue to haunt long after the credits roll.

This needs to be seen by all.

five star

Spotlight

A subtle masterpiece of an exposé cinema

This film is proof, were it truly needed, that to invoke emotion from a viewer you do not needed to forcibly bulldoze them emotionally. You do not need people screaming at each other about how they really care about something and think it’s important; you do not need violence to prove someone’s inner rage; you don’t need monologues that reflect on social injustice. This film will grab you and drain you entirely. You will experience burning anger for those who used their positions for powers for unimaginable crimes; hopelessness at how dire at how things have and continue to still be; and cheeks so sodden with tears even when you hadn’t realised you were crying. All of these responses were generated without needless melodrama. Instead the absence of overwrought sentimentality  puts the events of the movie and the subsequent emotional response in bold, underlined and italics. A truly crucial and powerful movie. The fact that these are true events is the ultimate sucker punch.

In 2001 Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) joined the Boston Globe as its new editor. The fact he is Jewish was viewed as something of a notable scandal, considering the influence of the Catholic church. In his early introductory meetings with his new staff he meets Walter ‘Roddy’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) who is head of  the Spotlight team, a small group of journalists who undertake investigative projects that take months to research and publish.  The rest of the team is made up of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams).  In his new editorial role Baron urges the Spotlight team to follow a lead, a lead which suggests that the Archbishop of Boston knew of a priest who was sexually abusing children and doing nothing about it. A small-time lawyer called Micheal Garabedian (Stanley Tucciis seemingly the only person doing something about it. However Garabedian is on his own against the entire Catholic church, so after his initial reluctance and a lot of persuading he agrees to work along with Spotlight. A terrifying prospect soon becomes clear, this is not just about one priest but is instead about a huge cover-up of far more and dating back longer than can be imagined. But these secrets have been hidden for so long,  and with so many desperate to keep them,  it will be far from an easy journey.

Within all of that, and the remaining 3/4 of the movie, there is only one scene of loud, embittered shouting. Only one scene where one character, haunted by the true horror of what has gone on, lets rip at the hoops he will have to continue to jump and dive through. That one scene is made all the more climatic and devastating as a consequence, packing more potency than the entirety of Joy. The storytelling here is superb, the way each revelation unfolds is shown not told. The information is not forcible spoon-fed, instead delivered with little fanfare or fabrication, and is all the more absorbing for it. The suspense created is unlike much of recent cinema, with an awful sense of inevitability and foreboding that doesn’t take away any viscerality from watching the character’s gradual comprehension of their story’s terrible breadth.

However, the emotional impact of the script would be nowhere near as traumatising were it not for the performances of the cast. ‘Ensemble cast’ is a phrase too easily banded-about, but the cast of Spotlight is a true ensemble. Every actor gives the role their all. ‘All’ does not mean flapping your arms about and saying how angry you are. ‘All’ is, and perhaps should be, a simple look at another person that reveals unobjectionable horror. A gaze into the distance with eyes that expose a haunting that will never be forgotten. The ‘heroes’ of this story are not embellished, nor martyred or hero-worshipped. They are real human beings, forced to comprehend and expose systematic abuse from an institution that had such an intrinsic role in all of their lives.

Though it may have only been released in the first month of the year, this will be one of the greatest films of 2016. A fact-based thriller with a beating heart.

The 5th Wave

The worst film of 2016 (well, 23 days in at least…)

Did you know that discount retailer Poundland (for those outside the UK it’s a shop where everything costs £1, which is roughly 1.32 euro or 1.43 dollars) stocks its own brand of Lego Star Wars? It’s called Battle of the Galactic. It’s an incredibly cheap and tacky-looking rip off of the original. That is what ‘The 5th Wave’ is to franchises like ‘The Hunger Games’ or even ‘Maze Runner’ and ‘Divergent’. It’s cheapily made, poorly constructed and steals the best bits from other films/books then regurgitates them into a mediocre mess. What makes this film even more ‘impressive’ is that it is not even ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just really really bad and remarkably boring.

Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) was a ‘super normal teenage girl’. She had friends, went to parties, had a 2.2 family and had a crush called Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) who she spent most of her time day-dreaming about. But then… ‘it’ appeared. Some sort of alien space ship came from nowhere and started hovering above America. For ten days nothing happened. On the tenth day the first attack happened (the 1st wave) and destroyed all electric currents, followed shortly after by waves 2, 3 and 4. Most of the Earth’s population has been killed, with Cassie going with her family to a refugee camp. It’s at the camp that she is separated from her young brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur).  Nobody knows when the Fifth Wave will strike, or in what from it will strike, but it will happen. Against a backdrop of mistrust and fear Cassie makes a desperate journey to find her little brother, on the way meeting mysterious stranger Evan (Alex Roe) who may just be her only hope.

I would like to apologise in advance if, when you read that plot summary above you thought ‘Hey! This doesn’t sound quite so bad!’ Upon rereading it I have made the film sound far more interesting than it actually is. Between each of those events there is so much talking, needless and endless mundane talking, and dire reflecting. Whenever the action picks up it’s then forced to slow again by some pitifully-lacking, poorly-scripted, cliche-ridden sentiments.  For a film that is supposedly the end of the world, the world it features is so dreary and mind-numbingly boring that you do end up wishing for armageddon to happen so the film will end and you can go home.

Considering this film is a 15 (Hunger Games interestingly is a 12A) there is little to warrant it. The action here is so minimal, so bland and lacking in emotion compared to the superior franchise. The set pieces the film possess are so ineffective, clunky and predictable that there is little chance for escapism. The film becomes more and more absurd with each mind-numbingly boring sequence, yet remains utterly lacking in enjoyment. There is an occasional some-what amusing joke that gets shoe-horned into the narrative, but these moments are few and far between.

However, there was one factor about this film that was really reassuring – that will allow me to sleep a little lighter at night. The one thing I did learn from this film was that no matter how bad the alien apocalypse gets, I can still get my beauty products. There’s Moretz’s survivalist with the perfect hair, the sergeant (Maria Bello) with the perfect lipstick/foundation combo, and the smoky kohl-rimmed eyes (a pretty bad-ass Maika Monroe). It’s immensely reassuring to know that no-matter how desperate my battle for survival may get, my look will still be on-point. 

This film is not entertaining enough to hate-watch, or to watch ironically. There’s not even enough to make a drinking game out of it. I can’t even be bothered to turn this into a film rant. It’s just bad. It’s cheapily made, lazily shot with adequate-enough acting. The obvious intention is for this to be the start of a new franchise, one which nobody will want. In a week where I got to see ‘The Revenant’, a film which proved the potential power that film can have, I endured this film which shows that not everyone can handle the responsibility that the great power of cinema can have.

Watch it. Or don’t. Either way – it’s bad.

 

Creed

A new era. A new generation. A new legacy has begun.

First, to address the elephant in the room. I didn’t really want to see this movie. I had no real intentions of seeing it and was more than happy to let it pass me by. But when Cineworld announced a a preview screening for Unlimited card holders I booked a ticket, yet remained uncertain. Then Cineworld had to throw its toys out the pram and refuse to show ‘Hateful 8’. To maintain this weekly cinema-going challenge I almost had to attend.

Now that may be slight information overload, but hopefully it has served a narrative purpose – in establishing the disinterest, bordering on disdain, I felt upon entering Screen 7 at the CIneworld at the O2 arena (have I painted a clear enough picture yet?) Now you should be able to understand the surprise I felt, and admittedly still feel,for how I much I loved this movie. I expected a run-of-the-mill hero’s journey story arc, a mundane blend of drama and people getting punched in the face. But ‘Creed’ truly and utterly defied my expectations – instead being an incredibly emotive feel-good movie will some brutal and realistic fight sequences.

1998. Adonis Johnson has been caught in the middle of a fight in the Los Angeles youth facility and been put in isolation. Again. However this time the young boy has a visitor – Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the wife of deceased former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. Adonis was conceived during an extramarital affair that Apollo had. Mary Anne offers to take in Adonis as he has no-one else. Seventeen years later and Adonis( Michael B. Jordan) still feels conflicted in his love of his father and his love of boxing. Deciding to pursue his instincts Adonis travels to Philadelphia and gets in touch with his father’s old friend and rival Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) in the hopes of persuading him to be his coach. In Philadelphia he also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a woman who also has a passion that drives her. Philadelphia may provide Adonis with a new start but it is also haunted by his father’s legacy.

Rather disarmingly, ‘Creed’ shares much with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. Both are the seventh films in the franchise. Both belong to franchises which possess recent additions that were of poor-to-awful quality. Most importantly – both of the new releases are successful post-modern sequels that reinvigorate the stalemate series. ‘Creed’, in a joyfully unironic manner, shows a human being with a passion that consumes him. Adonis has an innate need to box, yet remains constantly aware and is frustrated by the fact he must remain in his father’s shadow. A man he never got the chance to meet. What makes the film so marvellous is is that this conflict is not overly reliant on the dialogue to convey this conflict. Yes the dialogue itself is crisp and realistic, but it’s not the only provider of exposition.

It’s built upon with fantastic performances from all the cast. It’s brilliant to finally see Sylvester Stallone is a good movie after years in the cinematic wilderness. Then there’s, rather unexpectedly perhaps, the cinematography. The camera-work on this film is astounding. The choices that have been made are so clever and convey so much. For instance, very early on, we observe Adonis watching a projection of his father in the ring. Adonis then gets up next to the screen and imitates the punches of his father’s opponent. Not only does the camera-work in this sequence make the scene intensive, but the lighting reinforces the notion that Adonis constantly lives metaphorically in the shadow of his father. The scene that is truly stand-out is one of the fight sequences: an entire fight sequence that is one shot – no cuts, no breaks and no respite from the action. The camera places us at the heart of the action, the fighting itself is brutafully (new word I’ve made up for this purpose) choreographed, but it’s the decision to let it play out in one-shot that is remarkable.

The story itself isn’t particularly complicated, often following expected beats and rhythms.Yet somehow, with the aforementioned blend of cinemagic, it’ll manage to capture your heart. You may even find yourself cheering at the end.

 

Joy

What is ‘Joy’?

The question above does not refer to eternal philosophical ideas, but is a question posed to director David. O. Russell. What is ‘Joy’? Is it a comedy, a tramedy, a somewhat biopic or an ironic look at the American Dream? In theory is shouldn’t be a bad thing that a film defies generic classification, that it is something new, fresh and different. However in this case this question is raised by how irregular in tone and pace the film is. The film is remarkably uneven, drifting from one genre to another. However, an incredible performance from Jennifer Lawrence anchors a film that overall doesn’t quite gel.

Joy (Jennifer Lawrence) is a divorced mother of two young children. Her ex-husband and failed musician Toni (Édgar Ramírez) lives in the basement. Her seemingly-agoraphobic divorcee mother (Virginia Madsen) doesn’t leave her bedroom and whiles away the days watching soap operas. Her lothario father Rudy (Robert De Niro) briefs comes to stay before finding love with rich but uptight Trudy (Isabella Rossellini). Her half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Röhm) works with their father and constantly passively aggressively attacks Joy on a daily basis. All this is overseen by her loving Grandmother Mimi (Diane Ladd). Joy’s days are spent dealing with all of her family’s dramas, with life not having handed her a very even deck. Having spent the first half of childhood being incredibly creative, designing multiple inventions, her enthusiasm was crushed the day her parents split up.  17 years later Joy is not particularly happy, stuck with being her family’s errand girl. It is during one of these errands that Joy makes a new invention that she is sure will make a fortune. But persuading the world of the value of her idea, let alone even her family, will not be so easy. Yet a chance encounter with Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) could be one step closer to the success she has always deserved. 

A great cast does not always make a great film, as some may view is true of ‘Joy.’ Though it does have some extraordinarily powerful scenes, some emotional hold-your-breath moments, that’s all they are – moments. For the film itself is rather meandering – moving in unexpected and somewhat underprepared ways. It muddles through the key events in Joy’s life in a rather lacklustre fashion – never quite achieving its potential. This could be for multiple reasons. One could be the source material, as this is not a biopic of real-life inventor Joy Mangano, but a blended narrative of multiple women O. Russell admired. Another could be the fact the film used four different screen editors, a decision that without true collaboration can result in four differently edited films being shoehorned together. Tonally the film aims for a quirkiness that seems remarkably forced, from the rather unrealistic quirks of the characters to the voiceover narration from Grandma Mimi, to the various time hops to some oddly-placed soap opera themed dreams.

Obviously once Joy has come up with her fantastic new idea it will not be easy to make it a reality, but the disequilibrium – Joy does something badass to fix it – temporary equilibrium – another bout of disequilibrium – does become rather repetitive after a while.  However is is that phrase ‘Joy does something badass to fix it’ that feels like the real point of this film. This is Lawrence’s third time at working with O. Russell and most of this ensemble cast and the benefits of that really shine through. The director knows how to help his lead achieve a star turn. And also her legacy in badass GIFS. Her performance is remarkable. Considering that she is potentially too young for this role Lawrence is incredible in how she interacts with the other characters, uses her voice to convey all manner of emotions and portray a world weariness that is beyond her years.

Overall ‘Joy’ in a enjoyable enough romp of a movie.  Though the film itself is rather direction-less Lawrence herself is a ‘Joy’ to watch.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

AKA. Seven reasons for why I loved the seventh Star Wars movie.

I realised quickly on when planning this review that it would turn into a list of why I liked it so much so I thought, for what will probably be my last review of the year, to write that list. I acknowledge that it is not the perfect film, and I’m sure there are enough valid (the narrative near enough a replication of ‘A New Hope’) or invalid (*ahem that Rey is Mary Sue bollocks*) reasons to dislike it or be disappointed by it. But I liked it and this is my blog so…deal with it! WARNING: There will be spoilers. Ready? Now let’s head off to a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

1) Rey

The character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a natural progression from Princess Leia. Though Carrie Fisher’s character was way ahead of the times upon her first introduction in 1977’s ‘A New Hope’, with her fierce wit and her fearlessness, she is frequently away from the main action. Rey is for the most part where the action actually is within ‘The Force Awakens’. Established as having been abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself on the harsh landscape of Jakku, Rey is clearly independent and able to handle herself. When attacked by scavengers who are after BB-8 she fights two off successfully on her own. Finn comes to her rescue but is not needed or wanted – his then insistence on grabbing her hand when running away is instantly rebuffed. She sees no reason for it. With that small gesture JJ. Abrams sets Rey up as a female character we rarely see in Science Fiction – one who can handle herself and fight her own battles. From thereon Rey’s characterisation further develops her awesomeness and potential power which is a total joy to watch.

rey

2) Kylo Ren

Since first appearing in the trailer with *that* lightsaber the possible/probable villain of the new trilogy has been the focus of much speculation.  Adam Driver gives the man behind the mask the right balance of vulnerability and power. The revelations of his origins add not reduce this capacity, leading to pondering about how much he will take after his grandfather. His fiery temper along with his unconventional charisma make him everything that Anakin Skywalker should have been. He has also led to one of the 2015 funniest twitter accounts, with a teenage Emo Kylo Ren sharing his frustrations with the world…

kylo ren

3) Chewbacca

Of all of the seven (and counting) Star Wars films, this might be Chewbacca’s best outing yet. The source of many of the (unexpectedly) funny film’s gags he is given more to do than just be Han Solo’s sidekick. And if your heart did not break at his reaction to a certain someone’s demise then you have a heart of stone!

chewbacca

4) Finn and Poe

Along with Rey, Finn and Poe are excellent additions to the franchise. Individually they are great characters – a pilot so legendary he makes it into *those* opening credits and a stormtrooper whose PTSD leads him away from the darkside – but it their bromance which is currently breaking the internet. Their bromance will be undoubtedly be shipped by many worldwide and provide a focus for much fan-fiction. There is an instant rapport between the pair, their introduction, separation and eventual reunion are glorious to watch. Though they shared relatively little screen-time we are provided with more than  enough to hint their pairing will provide much joy in forthcoming movies.

kylo and finn.jpg

5) Leia and Han Solo

J.J Abrams is hugely successful in achieving a balance between old Star Wars and new Star Wars. The roles Leia and Han Solo play in the events of ‘The Force Awakens’ is no exception. Han’s ‘Chewie, we’re home now’ is air-punch worthy, as is his roguish arrogant charm when handling the mercenaries.  But it’s his brief reunion then parting with Leia that really tugs at the heart strings. Who knows what fate awaits this coupling considering the jaw-dropping fate of one of the pair..?

leia han

6) BB-8

Going into ‘The Force Awakens’ it is unlikely you were looking for a new droid to love but if you were, this would be the droid you were looking for. Just like R2-D2 BB-8 communicates with a series of beeps which are then translated by on-screen characters, but those beeps along with his manerisums communicate so much with so little. Favourite moment has to be when John Boyega’s Finn gives BB-8 a thumbs up, to which our spherical droid responds with a flame that resembles a less than polite gesture.

bb-8

7) Maz Kanta

Maz is a worthy wise and wizened successor to Yoda. The hints to her wide and varied knowledge will undoubtedly be furthered in future films, but for now there is more than enough to mark her out as a character to watch out for. Her bespeckled gaze in terms of ability to induce inner truth is only equalled by ‘Harry Potter’s Professor Trelawney.maz

What truly worked about this film, along with the seven points above, are the amount of questions carefully raised and left unanswered.  J.J Abrams used the familiar narrative of ‘A New Hope’ to both introduce the new and pay tribute to the old. But to truly succeed with this franchise it will have to step out of the mould and not rehash ‘Empire Strikes Back’.

Though next year brings another Star Wars movie, ‘Rogue One’ starring Felicity Jones, it’ll be two years till we return these characters. I for one cannot wait!

 

The Lady In The Van

British Cinema at its finest

This film is so warm, kind-hearted and endearing. Whilst on the surface it looks to be a meek and mild comedy about a nutty old lady it is so much more than that. It’s full of witty observations about society – the  lens is pointed firmly at liberals who have earned enough to become middle class yet feel a degree of guilt about their new-found  wealth – and how we do/don’t look after each other. Maggie Smith as the eponymous ‘Lady’ is magnificent,  bringing a richness and poignancy to a fiercely opinionated powerhouse of a figure. Should this be 80-year old Smith’s last leading role, it is one to be proud of. Her performance in this ‘Mostly True Story’ both perverse and profound in equal measure.

In the 1970s playwright Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings) moved into an affluent street in Camden. He swiftly became acquainted with his neighbours and the nomadic interloper Ms Shephard (Maggie Smith) known by many as the infamous ‘Ms Camden’. Ms Shepard, as Alan insists on calling her, lives in a van. The neighbours do not know why she lives in the van, or even who she is. Is she called Mary or Margret. What they do know is that she is homeless and prone to dictatorial ravings. Due to a mixture of guilt and territorial conviction they protest little (at least to her face)  as she drives around and parks up where ever she fancies. However, after council and double yellow line interference, she can no longer continuing temporarily pitching up where she choses. Loathe to offer too much help to the cantankerous old woman Alan lets her use his drive temporarily to park her Van. 15 years pass, with an often-reluctant Alan slowly-forming a bond with Ms Shepard. As time passes and takes its toll on Ms Shepard Alan begins to learn of the past that continues to consume her. 

This is the type of story that could only be true, it would be nigh-on impossible to create a character like Ms Shepard. The majority of her views were left in the dark ages and the way she treats those who try to help her is often despicable. And yet, when personified by Dame Maggie Smith, she is made almost loveable. Her hidden pain and turmoil often explaining some of her brusque character traits. Jennings is superb as her friend and foil, presenting the conflicted feelings Bennett himself had towards helping the formidable Shepard. The supporting cast are also extraordinary: Frances De La Tour, Jim Broadbent and Claire Foy to name just three, all bring various degrees of support to the grande dame of squalor that is Ms Shepard. The slow and tragic realization that Ms Shepard was more sinned against than a sinner is heart-breaking yet handled with such caution and care.

Considering the topic matter this film is ultimately uplifting, almost joyful in its exploration of what draws people to care and look out for one another.