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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Eye in the Sky

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War has featured on film since the dawn of cinema, and both have been hugely influenced by the development of technology. Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a hugely relevant film that demonstrates much of modern warfare is to do with seeing and visualising. Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in command of a mission over Nairobi, where an airborne drone tracks several known extremists to a house where they can be eliminated with a missile. Within the blast radius, however, is a young girl selling bread, Alia Mo’Allim (Aisha Takow). Powell must persuade her superiors, including Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in his final onscreen role) and assembled politicians, that she fire on the terrorists’ despite the risk of civilian casualties. Thus begins a nerve-shredding debate between multiple locations, including Powell in Eastbury, Benson and the politicians in London, USAF pilots Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) piloting the drone from Nevada, Kenyan undercover agents in Nairobi including Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi), and US image analysts in Hawaii, as well as additional contributions from the British Foreign Secretary James Willett (Iain Glen) in Singapore and the US Secretary of State in Beijing. The constant crosscutting between these different locations emphasises the global nature of military operations, and the sheer number of referrals and deferrals at times becomes almost absurd. Yet the film remains deadly serious in its engagement with the issues of combat. Debates about risk assessments, propaganda, political fallout and humanitarian concerns fly back and forth across tables and the world, while personal consciences are writ large across the faces of the characters. Hood, who also appears as Lt. Colonel Ed Walsh in Nevada, has repeatedly engaged with military ethics, from Rendition to X-Men Origins: Wolverine to Ender’s Game. Eye in the Sky is one of his most accomplished films, as it foregrounds the various debates but never feels staid or overly dependent on expository dialogue. The stakes are emphasised from every position, including the drone, other surveillance devices, Farah on the ground near the house and the operatives viewing on their various screens. The viewer is therefore placed into an uncomfortable proximity to the events, the film asking what we might do when faced with such decisions. Eye in the Sky offers no simplistic judgement of those involved in the decision-making, merely presents their dilemmas in gripping dramatic form. It is a tense and compelling portrayal of modern warfare, which uses its meta-cinematic conceit to engage with these discourses to great effect.

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The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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Recent film adaptations of fairytales are a mixed bag. For every Frozen there is a Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Snow White and the Huntsman was a decent expansion of the Snow White story, turning the ‘fairest of them all’ into a Joan of Arc-esque warrior. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is both a prequel and sequel, explaining how Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) came to where we first see him in the earlier film. The backstory also raises points that are then developed following the events of Snow White and the Hunstman. And that’s about it. While the fantasy world is prettily designed and there are some interesting formulations of the magic of sister sorceresses Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt), director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan fails to give the film an epic sweep or battle scenes that are more than functional. On the smaller scale, Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain) are passably engaging as romantic swashbuckling heroes (despite distracting faux-Scottish accents), but their story similarly lacks heft and impetus. The film swings unevenly between romance, action and comedy, the last of which is largely provided by dwarves Nion (Nick Frost), Gryff (Rob Brydon), Mrs Bronwen (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexandra Roach). This unevenness is the main problem – the film never seems sure of its agenda and, as a result, the handsome production design and sometimes stirring music has little dramatic meat to add to. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is passably pretty, but ultimately (and not in a good way) leaves the viewer just a little cold.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

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There is a widely held misconception that BVS: DOJ is about an epic physical showdown. It isn’t. What the title refers to, and what the film portrays over its sometimes ponderous running time, is an ideological debate between saviour and vigilante. Perhaps surprisingly for a filmmaker best known for bombastic action set pieces, Zack Snyder grapples valiantly with this political debate, resulting in a film where the most interesting sequences are those that feature actual debates. A brooding, melancholic and traumatised Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) debates with reluctant but loyal Alfred (Jeremy Irons); an idealistic yet doubtful Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) debates with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne); senator Finch (Holly Hunter) debates with fellow politicians as well as twitchy billionaire Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Meanwhile, the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) seems to have more answers than everyone else, yet raises questions herself. In-between the debates are immense set pieces, many shot in Snyder’s trademark slo-mo that recalls 300 and Sucker Punch (other references to Snyder’s back catalogue also appear). DOP Larry Fong lenses the film in gloomy shades, especially the ruin of Wayne Manor and the urban wastelands in which our ‘heroes’ battle. At times, the grand portentousness does overwhelm the drama, the wit of Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script hamstrung by Snyder’s lumpen pacing. Yet while the film lacks the lean muscularity of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy or even the more focused bombast of Man of Steel, it does make a strong contribution to the fundamental questions of superhero cinema – what does it mean to be a hero and what does it mean to be super? Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice may not be the zippiest superhero film, but it is one of the more thoughtful.