Eye In The Sky Review

With drone strikes becoming a more and more hot-button issue in the modern world, it would only be a small amount of time before the film industry would jump on the situation. While we’ve had films about drones before (2013’s Drones and 2014’s Good Kill), But Eye In The Sky looks to be the first mainstream film on the subject.

Eye In The Sky stars Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman and Barkhad Abdi and is directed by Gavin Hood. The film follows several military personnel and politicians who are attempting to follows all of the moral, legal and ethical guidelines while still trying to eliminate high ranking terrorists using drones.

Eye In The Sky has a great collective cast. Alan Rickman, in his last on screen is doing what he does best, looking and talking with withering disdain. It’s not a bad role to end a great career on and could be a posthumous Supporting Actor nomination. Helen Mirren and Aaron Paul do well enough, it must be hard to act to a computer screen but they manage to make it work. Paul is still mostly known for Breaking Bad and it’s nice to see him break away from that role. The other standout besides Rickman is Barkhad Abdi. Abdi is known for his breakout role as the lead kidnapper in Captain Phillips and just like in that film, here he plays a very complex character for a relative newcomer. His role, which again is more looking at screens is layered and leads him into confrontation with terrorist militia, leading to an incredibly tense chase sequence.

The films characters are dotted all across the world and each of them plays a major role in the film’s story. While we start in Nairobi, Kenya where the terrorists are stationed, we are soon switching to Surrey, Whitehall, the Nevada Desert, Pearl Harbour, Singapore, Beijing and back again on the turn of a dime. You have to be ready for the quick jumps between each setting because there were even times when I had to take a couple of seconds to try and keep track of each one, especially since there are long breaks in between the lesser used locations of Pearl Harbour and Singapore. Most of the film is confined to rooms and people arguing over computer screens and phone calls, but it’s somehow really tense. Many for the characters who have the authority to call the drone strike, from the politicians to the less gung-ho commander’s want to “refer up” to a higher ranking official to take the heat off themselves, to the point where it becomes a bit comical. But each referral adds another layer for information and passcodes to be filtered through, all under the ticking clock plot device of the terrorists being able to leave their compound at a moment’s notice armed with suicide vests and bombs.

To talk about my problems with Eye In The Sky, I may slide into minor spoiler details since my main gripe is at the end of the film. The film tries to pull at the audience’s heartstrings, but it goes overboard in the last scene. It didn’t need to go so far, the two women who were sitting next to me were already in tears before the last couple of scenes, and these added moments just felt like the film was bashing the audience over the head with its message. The build-up to those moments were good and grapples with the audience’s morality as well as the characters, but for me it ended up looking like pandering.

In conclusion Eye In The Sky is a gripping, politically charged thriller. If you liked the Bourne franchise or something recent like 13 Hours, then think of Eye In The Sky as their older, smarter brother. It comes highly recommended.

Score: 8/10 Tense, topical and full of great performances.

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Trumbo Review

I missed Trumbo in its first cinema run, but it luckily was on a late run back home. It was nominated in the 2016 Academy Awards, sadly not winning any though. Now that I’ve seen it, did it deserve the nominations, and should it have won instead?

Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Elle Fanning and is directed by Jay Roach. Set during the 1940s, the film follows the real life story of Dalton Trumbo (Cranston), who was blacklisted from writing scripts for Hollywood films. He starts to write under pseudonyms to continue working.

The films performances are alright. Bryan Cranston obviously owns every scene he is in as Dalton Trumbo. I’m not sure if it is worthy of an Academy Award nomination (Cranston was nominated in the Best Actor category) but nevertheless it’s a solid performance. Elle Fanning as Trumbo’s eldest daughter Nikola is also good, and the interactions between her and her on-screen father are great. Helen Mirren and John Goodman are chewing the scenery every time they are on screen, while Diane Lane is the complete opposite, as the quieter side of the Trumbo household.

The film mixes characters made up for the film and the people who were there at the time. Last year’s Suffragette also did this, but here it works a lot better. Suffragette‘s real life encounters sometimes felt quite forced, while here a lot of it blends together well. The casting department did a good job, as a lot of the people they chose look almost identical to the actors they are portraying, such as Dean O’Gorman as Kirk Douglas or Michael Stuhlberg as Edward G. Robinson.

The script has some funny moments but I wish it had a bit more bite. I did laugh through several moments and Dalton Trumbo as a character has a way with words, confusing the authorities and making them look like fools when questioning him, but it leaves the rest of the film quite flat. Things are happening but not a lot of it is engaging. There is lots in the background, the civil rights movement, the Rosenberg’s, McCarthyism, but none of it explored at a much deeper level. I know that the film is focussing on Trumbo and the rest of the writers, but after a while it becomes repetitive just watching the same types of scenes play out over and over again. Trumbo just needed some variety.

The film also is incredibly long for the story it tells. Trumbo is over two hours, but it could easily be cut down to a ninety minute film. As I said before, too many scenes are repeated and some scenes just feel like padding for the sake of it. The film is set over several years as to hit all of Trumbo’s successes and failures, as well as his acceptance speech in 1970 at the WGA’s Laurel Award ceremony, but in between these moments, it falls below par.

Even though I do have problems with the story, it feels like something I should be interested in. As a Film Studies/Creative Writing student the film speaks to two things that I’m passionate about. Sadly, it’s not much more than an average film. If you watched Hail, Caesar! and were put off by the genre silliness of the Coen brothers, or you have a passionate interest in the story of the Hollywood Ten and America during that time, then Trumbo might be a film for you. To everyone else though, especially people who don’t know much about the Blacklist, this is one to miss.

Score: 6/10 Has some good moments and characters, but it’s length smothers it.

Woman In Gold Review

I can already tell this film is going to be at the Oscars for 2015. Let’s look at the facts. Is it a biopic? Yes. Does it have big name stars in the lead roles? Yes. Is it from a nearly unknown director? Yes. Those are the three things that make you virtually get given an Oscar, so let’s look at the rest of the film.

Woman In Gold is directed by Simon Curtis and stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer Randol Schoenberg and Daniel Bruhl as an investigative reporter, Hubertus Czernin. The film follows Maria and Randol, as they investigate and then legally battle for a painting of Maria’s aunt, the titular Woman in Gold, stolen by Nazi’s which is currently being held in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna.

When I first heard about Woman In Gold, I was a bit sceptical. Of course Helen Mirren is known for her “talkie” films, yet Ryan Reynolds is not known for his serious drama work. I was thinking it was going to be, to borrow another reviewer’s phrase, “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot” all over again. Yet Reynolds pulls off the lawyer role, in one of his strongest roles yet. Helen Mirren as well does a role she could do in her sleep, although her Austrian accent drops in and out of the film. Daniel Bruhl is his usual lovable self, although doesn’t really add anything to the overall plot in the film, he just drops in to add a few titbits of information and expertise. And it’s always nice to see Jonathan Pryce in films, even though if his role consists of barely five lines and ten seconds of action.

The story is a dual narrative, with Tatiana Maslany playing a younger Maria during the initial stages of the Austrian invasion and then cutting to present day now and again. It makes the film one of two halves though, one part historical drama and the other a sort-of courtroom drama (since we hardly spend time in the courtroom yet have many discussions between lawyers), but around two thirds into the film the historical part ends and we are firmly rooted in the courtroom, until the final few scenes transport us back to Maria’s final moments in Austria. It has a similar resemblance to Russian Ark, and I know that is the most obscure reference that could be ever made but it does draw similar styles to Alexander Sokurov’s masterpiece. (If you haven’t seen Russian Ark then please find a way to watch it, it’s a marvel of filmmaking.) The final scene is a beautiful montage sequence of Helen Mirren’s Maria walking through all of the historical Maria scenes we have previously watched, with a small addendum to one of them, which is easily the most emotional scene in the film even making me nearly shed a tear.

The film, like all other films, has some problems. At 109 minutes the film feels a bit overly long, with some pointless scenes that were added for historical accuracy. Another problem I had with the film is with its use of foul language. The BBFC at the beginning of the film labelled it a 12A for “infrequent strong language”, yet there is only one word in the entire film that could constitute that. My problem with it was that it wasn’t needed, it didn’t add anything to the scene or the film and if it wasn’t included then the film could have moved down to a PG, which I think would have been good since I believe this is a film an entire family should watch at some point. Some characters are glossed over as well, such as Maria’s husband Fritz (played by Max Irons) or Randol’s stay at home wife Pam (played by Katie Holmes). Apart from a few lines from Helen Mirren, we hardly find out about what happened to Fritz at the end of the historical part of the film and we only see Katie Holmes in conjunction with her on screen husband.

In summary, Woman In Gold takes both the historical drama and a small bit of the courtroom drama and adds them together to create a thought provoking and moving real life tale about identity and lineage.

Score: 7/10 Just like the eponymous painting, Woman in Gold is a worthy piece of cinematic art.