Posts Tagged ‘helen mirren’

eye-in-the-sky

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of a joint British/American mission to arrest Al-Shabaab militants in Kenya.  The drone to provide visual conformation of the suspects is controlled in Nevada by Air Force pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon.  (Phoebe Fox) The mission changes when a Kenyan asset on the ground, Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) uses a camera shaped like a beetle to see the militants planning a suicide attack.  The drone, now armed with Hellfire missiles, must fire on the compound imminently.

The mission is complicated when a little girl named Alia (Aisha Takow) begins to sell bread in front of the militants’ compound.   The British MP’s in charge of overseeing the operation, George Matherson (Richard McCabe) Brian Woodale, (Jeremy Northram) and Angela Northman (Monica Dolan) are already concerned about collateral damage, and the sight of Alia selling bread nearby as they prepare to bomb the compound only heightens that concern.  Steve Watts and Carrie Gershon, the drone operators are also concerned.  The MP’s avoid making a decision by asking the British Foreign Secretary (Iain Glen) who defers to the Prime Minister.  The General in charge of the operation, Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) is tired of all the hand-wringing and argues that a lot more than one child will die if they abort this mission. What does the Prime Minster decide?  Do the British go ahead with the mission or do they call it off?

I didn’t know whether I would like Eye in The Sky or not, but I did.  It was suspenseful and argued both sides of the collateral damage very well.  What this movie did extremely well was humanize the concept of collateral damage.  Many people think of collateral damage as numbers of people, this movie puts a name and a face with that number, and that makes the decision even harder to make.  The viewers see a little girl playing with a hula hoop and that image immediately gives the viewer pause about the efficacy of the drone strike.  The ending is effective too, not sugarcoated at all.  The girl in front of the militants’ safe house is a little contrived, but most of the movie is very well done. The politicians passing the buck is also true to life, no one wants to be blamed if anything goes wrong.  Congratulations to the writers for giving the Kenyan characters some depth and nuance, and not just making them mindless terrorists. That adds to the pleasure of this movie, a serious movie that wants to be taken seriously.

Helen Mirren is very good as Colonel Powell, she has a mission to do, and she wants to do it, but she maintains the stoic nature of her character, and never betrays any emotion, which is very hard to do.  Alan Rickman gets a break from playing his usual bad guy roles, Snape in Harry Potter and Hans Gruber in Die Hard.  He plays a very logical general, who is looking at the big picture, and not just thinking about his immediate future, it is a great performance.  Kudos to the African actors, especially Barkhad Abdi, he was a bad guy in Captain Phillips, but here he is a good guy, under cover who must behave like an ordinary merchant, to keep his cover in-tact. He shows a wide range of emotions in this film, as do the other African actors in this film.  Aisha Takow is undoubtedly cute as Alia, the happy-go-lucky girl playing with a hula hoop, and selling bread on the street.  The viewer can’t help but empathize with this little girl.

Gavin Hood, who directed Ender’s Game, which I liked a lot, and the fist Wolverine movie, which I also liked.  He really paces this movie well, keeps the suspense at the forefront and keeps the viewer guessing throughout. Congratulations also to the casting director too, for casting real African actors to play the Kenyans in the movie.  There is no Will Smith doing a bad African accent here.  This movie earns an A for authenticity. Colin Firth is a producer here, congratulations to him for bringing a thoughtful, serious film to the screen.

Eye in The Sky:  Doesn’t drone on.

Trumbo

In the mid-1940’s Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was the most highly paid screenwriter in America, and a card carrying member of the Communist Party.  In 1947 Trumbo and 9 of his friends were summoned to testify to the House Un-American Committee, but refused to testify to Congressman J. Parnell Thomas. (James Dumont) Trumbo and his friends were charged with contempt of congress, and jailed.  When he came out of jail, Trumbo and his associates were blacklisted by Hollywood heavyweights John Wayne (David James Elliot) who was aided by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. (Helen Mirren) Despite the blacklist, Trumbo was determined to work, re-writing low budget movies for B-movie maven Frank King. (John Goodman) Sometimes, Trumbo wrote uncredited scripts sometimes he wrote with a front name.  Trumbo stopped writing B-movie scripts long enough to write The Brave One under a pseudonym, Robert Rich, for which he won his second Oscar.  Would Trumbo ever be allowed to come out of the shadows, and use his own name to write a Hollywood screenplay?

I first learned of Dalton Trumbo in a film class I took in college, and I thought it was an interesting subject.  Somehow Hollywood took this interesting intersection of film and politics, and turned it into a dull melodrama with too much focus on Trumbo’s home life.  Also, the writer couldn’t decide whether this was a comedy or a drama, the comedic scenes work, the dramatic scenes come off as preachy or treacly.  The ending is predictable.

This is a case where the acting exceeds the material written on the page.  Bryan Cranston does a superb job as Dalton Trumbo, and handles the comedic and dramatic scenes with equal aplomb. He received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and deserved one. Helen Mirren is also incredible as Hedda Hopper, Trumbo’s chief nemesis.  Mirren clearly enjoys playing someone who makes the Hollywood studio execs and Trumbo himself squirm.  John Goodman is fantastic as smarmy B-movie king, Frank King.  Goodman uses his gifts of physical intimidation, deadpan delivery, and perfect comedic timing to deliver a great performance.  Louis CK also turns in a surprisingly good performance as fellow blacklisted writer Arlen Hird.  Michael Stuhlberg also deserves mention here for a great performance as Edward G Robinson, he doesn’t do an impression, but tries to delve deeper to explain why Robinson did what he did. On the other end of the spectrum was Elle Fanning as the older version of Trumbo’s elder daughter, she was robotic and unemotional.

The direction, by Jay Roach is inconsistent, he clearly knows how handle the lighter scenes, but the pacing of the drama is slow and boring He did get many good performances, but that’s not hard with a cast like this. Roach is mostly known for light comedies like the Austin Powers movies, and Meet The Fockers, which could explain the trouble with the more serious scenes.  Roach ties to imitate Robert Zemekis’ groundbreaking work in Forrest Gump, by having actors in the foreground asking questions while the actual HUAC hearings are going on in the background.  Somehow it’s less effective, because it’s been done before.

Trumbo:  A lot of mumbo-jumbo.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

After his wife (Juhi Chawla) dies in a spate of religious violence, the patriarch of the Kadam family (Om Puri) moves his family to Europe, where they finally settle in a small town in France.  Papa Kadam finds a plot of land, which he spontaneously buys without consulting his children.  Papa Kadam plans to build an Indian restaurant on the plot of land he just purchased.  There is a fly in the ointment, however, and the problem is that a world renowned French restaurant resides 100 feet away from the place where Papa Kadam wants to open his Indian restaurant, and the people in the small French village have never eaten Indian food before.  The owner of the French restaurant, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) thinks her new neighbors are noisy and plans to crush the new competition to her restaurant.  Papa has a secret weapon, his son, Hassan (Manish Dayal) has learned all his mother’s recipes, and a pretty sous-chef, named Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) from Madame Mallory’s restaurant helps Hassan learn French cooking.  Can Hassan and his skill as a chef challenge the award winning French restaurant 100 feet away?

The 100 Foot Journey is a decidedly mixed bag of a movie. It handles the lighthearted themes of the competition well, it handles the heavier themes of immigrants in a new land, and a son trying to gain the acceptance of his father well, but it takes too long to develop the main character, every character should have a dramatic arc, but the main character in this movie, Hassan, seemed very gradual in learning about cooking and life, and that was to the movie’s detriment. The movie has its share of ludicrous scenes as well, like the ubiquitous montage, where the Indian restaurant goes from an idea to a fully functioning restaurant complete with Taj Mahal-esque wooden façade, in the span of the montage.  The Indian restaurant goes from empty to a full house on the first day, that would certainly never happen.  There is a clunky romance between Hassan and Marguerite, that seems forced, and the ending is predictable.  It tries hard to be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but is not nearly as good.

The acting ranges widely in this film.  Helen Mirren is very good, and she modulates her performance from nasty, uptight competitor to likable, helpful friend, and she does it so subtly, that it’s fun to watch the transformation.  Indian actor Om Puri has the deep voice and the gravitas to pull off the patriarchal role well.  Manish Dayal is unfortunately dull and flat as Hassan, in a role than needed charm and a light touch, his performance comes off as heavy handed, and since he is the center of the movie, his performance drags the movie down.  Charlotte Le Bon is vibrant and pretty, she doesn’t have the acting chops of Marion Cotillard yet, but she was refreshing to watch.  Unfortunately, Dayal and Le Bon have no chemistry, and that hurts the movie as well.

The cinematography is wonderful, the beautiful shots of that picturesque village in France made me want to visit there.  The external shots of a vegetable market in India were inviting and full of color.  But the movie is too long, and the pacing is too slow, a half hour of this movie should have been edited out.

One final note, there was nobody in the theater to watch this, save an elderly couple, who were decidedly not Indian.  If Indian people do not support Indian themed movies made in Hollywood, there will be no more Indian themed movies in Hollywood.  This movie was only made because of the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, if studios see no profit in movies like this, they won’t make them.

The 100 Foot Journey.  A long, and sometimes enjoyable journey.

hittchcock

In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is looking for a new story to direct.  His assistant Peggy (Toni Collette) brings him the book Psycho to read.  He decides this is going to be his next film.  After an initial revulsion for the story his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) starts writing the screenplay.  Paramount pictures reuses to fund the film over concerns about nudity and violence, Alma stops writing Psycho’s script because she’s writing a screenplay with Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston) a screenwriter, who she might be falling in love with.

After Hitchcock agrees to fund the film himself, Paramount agrees to distribute the film, but he still has to get the material past a Hollywood censor, named Geoffrey Sherlock (Kurtwood Smith).  Once that is done, he has to cast the film.  Alma suggests Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Hitchcock is quite taken by the buxom blonde, and might be falling in love with her, or is it just another voyeuristic obsession with a blonde starlet?  He also casts Anthony Perkins, (James D’Arcy) who’s tired of playing romantic leads and is looking forward to the challenge of playing a psychotic killer.  Does Hitchcock ever make this complex film?  How do audiences react? Is Alma by his side or is she off with Whitfield Cook?

Well, you know some of the answers to those questions.  Psycho was made, it is one of Hitchcock’s best movies, and it is wildly popular.  I wish I could say the same for Hitchcock.  I am at a loss as to how the makers of this film could take such an interesting man as Hitchcock, and an interesting movie as Psycho,  squeeze all the life out of it, and make a movie as profoundly dull as this movie is.  It plays like a bad soap opera, I really don’t care about whether or not Hitchcock’s wife was having an affair.  And they downplayed Hitchcock’s obsession with blonde starlets.  According to this movie, Janet Leigh enjoyed being stalked by her director, somehow I doubt that.  The only truly interesting parts of this movie are Hitchcock’s visions of Ed Gein, the psychopath who inspired the book and the movie.  There should have been more of those scenes and less scenes about Alma contemplating an affair.

The acting is subpar Hopkins does an impression of Hitchcock, and while it’s a pretty good impression, it never goes any deeper than that.  Helen Mirren is the only actress who shows any life in this film with a barb or quip, or a good kick in the pants when he needs one. Scarlett Johansson plays Janet Leigh as if she’s sedated, as if the whole experience is just another day at the park.  The other parts are too small to mention. Poor writing leads to a dull story which is fed by lackluster performances.  I wish I could have watched “The Girl” HBO’s Hitchcock film instead.

Hitchcock.  Full of hitches.