Tag Archives: Helen Mirren

Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky

“Never tell a soldier he doesn’t know the cost of war.”

Sometimes a film comes out of absolutely nowhere and blows you away. Sometimes you go see a film based on, I don’t know, the awesome looking cast or because the synopsis makes it sound interesting or, like this for instance, timing just happened to mean you were seeing Eye in the Sky because there wasn’t a convenient showing of The Jungle Book when you got to your local flicks.

I plonked my arse in the chair having not seen a trailer (amazingly!) or really heard anything about what I was about to watch. Sometimes that’s my favourite way to go into a movie.

Gavin Hood – director of the okay Rendition and the pretty crap X-Men Origins: Wolverine – has put together an awesome cast for what may be the most tense drama I’ve seen in quite some time. British army Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) has led a years long charge after a couple of violent extremists in Kenya, the sum of all her work culminating in a multi-national operation to apprehend and interrogate them. She soon comes to blows with her commanding officer, Lieutenant General Benson (Alan Rickman) and the politicians he answers to when her mission goes sideways and it quickly goes from being a target capture to an execution from afar.

Things are complicated further when the pilot of the drone that’s watching Powell’s targets (Aaron Paul), who has suddenly become the man with his finger on the trigger, refuses to pull it when the question of collateral damage isn’t one that is answered in a way that satisfies him. Demanding the Colonel and the General rethink their strategies and come back with a safer alternative, they all find themselves in a race against time trying to get a safe solution before their very high value targets, and the men they are grooming to be suicide bombers leave the building they are holed up in making them impossible to track.

I don’t know where to begin with this film. Almost everything about it is outstanding and I’m genuinely confused about where to start. Let’s talk for a second about the pedigree of two of the three main characters. We have the outstanding Helen Mirren, a woman who won an Oscar playing the Queen for Christ’s sake, sinking her teeth into a part that was clearly written for a man. Nevertheless, she grabs that ball and runs hard with it as the colonel at the end of her rope. We get to see this stoic military woman try desperately to hold it together as the last few years of work starts to slip away and she has to wonder where she can draw her line. On the other side of her monitor is the truly amazing Alan Rickman. A man who has dedicated his life to the military and, like it or not, he has to convince politicians on both sides of the Atlantic of the right thing to do. He has to fight with these men and women who’s priorities are skewed around protecting themselves first and everyone else second.

Bringing up the rear, in a way, is Aaron Paul. A man I was never really a fan of (yeah, I know he was great in Breaking Bad, but what else?) but is definitely on the road to converting me after this role. As the man with his finger on the trigger, his reaction to the situation on the ground is what makes this such an important film. He’s us. He’s the guy asking if he’s doing the right thing and making sure those giving the orders are doing the right thing too. It’s not a question of legality, it’s a question of morality; we know it, he knows it, and damn he’ll make sure his superiors know it. Ok, so maybe I am bigging him up a bit. Mainly he does that silly crying thing he always does and looks very sad, but I’m pretty riveted with every line he utters.

Hood’s direction, which in the past has left a shit load to be desired, is near perfect here. With the perfect pace the ramps up the tension to nail-biting levels and a beautiful editing job that never lets you forget all the players in this game, there’s no way you get to the end of this surprising little flick without gripping the arm of the chair. Not one minute of screen time, not one frame of film is wasted in the telling of this story. It’s a story of men and women that have to decide to kill people, or not. It’s a story of the decisions that are made probably more often than any of us want or care to realise and it’s the story of people that have to go through this hell, and come back the next day and do it all over again.

It’s the story of decisions that none of us would ever want to make.

In an impressive feat, Mr. Hood has taken a film with almost no explosions, fewer guns, and gone and made one of the greatest, most compelling war films of the last few years as the question of the morality of not just the war on terror but that of long-range drone warfare are brought to the forefront and a spotlight put on them like never before. Each person involved brings everything they have to convincing us of the turmoil they are going through. It would be awful of me not to mention the late, great, Alan Rickman in what is his last role on screen. There’s a certain melancholy to his part and a real sad feeling to watch him bring his driest of dry humour up there for the last time, but it’s one of his most memorable parts and as shit as it is that he’s not with us anymore, this is a great send off.

Eye in the Sky is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. It’s an almost perfectly formed drama that leaves a knot in your stomach long after the credits have rolled. It’s pulled-from-the-headlines subject matter puts questions none of us want to answer up there in bright lights for us all to discuss and isn’t afraid to make you wonder which side is right. It’s a serious, grim story to tell; but it’s an affecting one. I can’t remember ever seeing such a quiet, somber audience as a cinema empties.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Hundred Foot Journey is exactly what you’re expecting it to be from its premise, trailer and poster.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

hundred foot journeyI will not spend more than 700 words reviewing The Hundred Foot Journey as, quite frankly, I don’t need to.  It is exactly the film that you are expecting.  It is a comedy-drama based on a novel, directed by Lasse Hallström (post 2000s Lasse Hallström, so the man who brought you Dear John, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen and Safe Haven), about an Indian family who move to Europe in an effort to get away from a revolution in India and to open a restaurant.  The father of the family (Om Puri) settles them in a restaurant in a quiet French village right across the road from a respected Michelin starred restaurant, headed up by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), which puts them into direct competition with one another.  Casual racism, classism, sabotage, respect, acceptance, success and, yes, romance all ensue whilst Papa’s eldest son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), experiences great success and yada, yada, you know exactly what’s going to happen.

This is not exactly a major, film-ruining problem in and of itself; I just gave a glowing review to The Guest, a film that was exactly what it looked like it was going to be.  The problem is that the film is so utterly mind-numbingly boring.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s decently made.  It’s got some decent shots, the tone doesn’t lurch about too much, Helen Mirren is Helen Mirren, and it’s all nice enough, as “nice” movies are wont to be.  If you have an affinity for inoffensive “nice” films, this one should be right up your alley.  I, however, was literally bored to tears.  No, really, this genuinely happened!  I rested my head on the armrest for a short while and found myself tearing up randomly.  Nothing sad was even happening on screen!  I didn’t even know it was possible to be genuinely bored to tears until it happened!  The more you know, eh?

Look, folks, I tried.  I really did try.  I tried to be engaged, I tried to like it, I tried not to roll my eyes when the slo-mo and the lens flares and the soft focus and the sudden burst of threat to keep proceedings from being too treacly were busted out one after another, like a bingo card was being filled somewhere on the production sheet.  Sometimes, one really does just need a “nice” movie to counterbalance the loud blaring of big blockbusters.  But, man, did I ever find this one dreadfully dull.  At around about the 75 minute mark of this inexplicably two-hour movie, I checked out.  I didn’t walk out, but my mind did and I spent the remaining hour of its time thinking about quite literally anything else.  The Kasabian gig that I’m off to in December, this one new The Juan MacLean song that has been stuck in my head forever, whether I really want to go this gaming expo at the end of the month, how my cousins are doing, how long it is til I get back to uni, if my friend Jackson is having a more productive and engaging day than I am… stuff like that.

I only really snapped to attention about five minutes before the end, and that’s only because the film made it very clear that it was finally wrapping up.  Look, I’m sure that there are people out there who go bananas for inoffensive treacle like this.  The kind of film that is competently made yet wholly uninspiring but it’s a nice alternative to what else is on so it’s not a waste of time.  Hell, I often count myself amongst that group (obligatory reminder that I positively reviewed The Love Punch a while back).  But, sorry, I just found this one mind-numbingly boring and I wasn’t engaged once.  If you like this kind of thing, and you’ll know if you are because it almost literally does what it says on the tin, then go for it, you’ll probably enjoy it.  But I didn’t laugh, I wasn’t moved, I was pretty much never engaged, and there is nothing going on under the surface.  It’s the most boring film I’ve seen all year, if nothing else.

Callum Petch is stood here naked with the junkies thinking “margaritas”.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

Hitchcock

Hitchcock Anthony HopkinsBased on the book telling the inside story of the making of Psycho, Hitchcock attempts to delve into the mind of the man that scared, and possibly scarred, generations of cinemagoers. The biopic is similar in tone to another film about a short period in the life of one of this country’s greatest talents; a genius that ultimately never quite achieved the universal acclaim that he craved. For Hitchcock, read The Damned United, and for Alfred Hitchcock, read Brian Clough.

Like The Damned United (the film, if not the book), Hitchcock’s strengths lie in the remarkable true story it’s based on, but suffers when trying to guess at the thoughts and motivations of a dead man. The director is to be admired in his attempts to understand what made Hitch tick, and the moment Alfred rhetorically asks his wife Alma “what if somebody made a really good horror film?” sends a shiver down the spine. Anthony Hopkins imbues his role as the Master of Suspense with both arrogance and a surprising vulnerability at times. His struggles to make the kind of film he wants to make are heartbreakingly portrayed, as an industry that made untold riches off of the back of his talent beg him not to make this “nasty little film”.

Sadly, the fascinating story of the making of one of the great works of art of the twentieth century soon takes a back seat to a plot straight out of a soap opera, as Hitchcock’s loyal and supportive wife finds herself drawn to a hack writer who shows her the attention that Alfred is withholding, as he becomes more and more obsessed with the young female stars of his film. Although Helen Mirren does sterling work with this role, the film really drags during the second act. That this narrative is largely fictitious makes its inclusion doubly disappointing.

Thankfully the film rediscovers itself in the third act, and the audience is rewarded with a strong and satisfying finale. Excellent support is provided by Scarlett Johansson in an uncanny portrayal of Janet Leigh, as well as a mature turn by Jessica Biel as Hitchcock’s former obsession Vera Miles. Film geeks will be overjoyed to see Ralph ‘Karate Kid’ Macchio make a cameo, not to mention Michael Winslow’s turn as Ed Gein; the real-life serial killer that the character of Norman Bates is based on. Danny Elfman’s score also provides some playful echoes of the famous Bernard Herrmann Psycho violins.

Hitchcock is a very enjoyable film, and it has a lot of things going for it. Sadly its ambition to be both realistic biopic and playful character study hold it back from being truly great. More Topaz than Vertigo.

Hitchcock is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th February.