Eye in the Sky – Review

There’s something wonderful about watching a movie without reading or hearing any reviews. You have no expectations and haven’t been told what to think, but given the calibre of the cast, you hope they won’t let you down. Such was the case with Eye in the Sky, a taut thriller about ethics and morality in 21st century warfare. The presence of A list stars such as Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman is usually a good sign, while Aaron Paul, Jeremy Northam, Iain Glen and Monica Dolan didn’t hurt matters either. 

The premise is simple. When assorted terrorists collect in one African house, the desire to take them out with a single drone strike is tantalising. However, the fact a little girl is selling bread in the blast radius means the remote warriors have a clash of conscience. Can they justify sacrificing one girl’s life if it means a bunch of terrorists will be erased in one go, and save the lives of potential victims in a pending suicide bombing? 

Juggling the numbers to minimise fatality while constantly “referring up” to different VIPs means this could be one of those yawnsome movies involving assorted phone calls, video conferences and the like, but it’s a testament to director Gavin Hood that he manages to make this as gripping as he does. 

Another strong aspect of the movie is Barkhad Abdi from Captain Phillips as the ground agent spying on the terrorists while trying to keep his cover. Not that easy when there’s a curious villager wondering if he’s playing a game on his mobile instead of operating a minute flying camera. For an actor that held his own in a scene with Tom Hanks in that movie, he’s proved once more to be an outstanding complement to a film, adding authenticity to the proceedings. 

Though the movie could work as well on the stage, it’s well worth a look on the big screen as events unfold in real time, a bit like that 12 part UK run of 24 which also focuses on hot button topic, drone strikes. 

Obviously as this was Alan Rickman’s last on screen performance, it’s hard not to watch the film without a poignant twang. The fact he signs off with the best scene in the movie reminds us of what an immense talent we have lost, and what a great actor he was. 

Laced with flashes of humour, great editing and a tense score, EITS is a thriller that engages the brain as well as the heart. 

Like the remote weaponised plane at the heart of the drama, this locks you in its sights and hits its target with pinpoint accuracy. 


The Jungle Book (2016) Review

Everyone loves the cartoon version of Kipling’s most famous tome. It was a 1960s classic with lush animation and some great songs. We didn’t really need a new version, though Disney seems determined to revamp its classics with a live action spin and 21st century effects. 

Sadly Jon Favreau’s new, live action version of Disney’s take on The Jungle Book is a massive let down. I spent half the film trying to stay awake and the rest of the movie trying to make out what was going on. 

One of the problems is its so dark, visually and tonally; it looks like it was shot with a night time Instagram filter. 

Okay, purists might argue that the original was equally dark, but this is just murky. 

The vocal cast is excellent, from Ben Kingsley (Bagheera) to Bill Murray (Baloo), but Christopher Walken is mis-cast as the Godfather-like King Louie. 

Idris Elba, Disney’s current go-to guy when it comes to vocalising creatures with authority (after Zootroplis), is excellent as always; his one-eyed Shere Khan spot on as the big bad, while Scarlett Johansson does a good job as the sinuous, seductive snake Kaa. 

Alas, Neel Sethi’s Mowgli is a bit of a let down also, lacking that magic quality. 

I’d like to see it again without an army of kids running to and from the loo, and with a better print where I knew what was what. 

It comes alive in the closing credits, with some fabulously inventive work, but obviously too late in the game. 

Let’s hope Andy Serkis’s pending take on the Rudyard Kipling classic is more on the money.  

Doctor Not That Strange

Many years ago, in an era before video recorders, (imagine that kids!), I stayed up late one Friday night to watch a 1978 movie. That film was Dr Strange, a forgettable TV fantasy epic starring Peter Hooton and John Mills, based on the classic Marvel comic of the same name. I was never a fan of the comic, but hoped that one day we would see a lavish big screen version. So when the news arrived at that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing the eponymous sorcerer, like millions of fans around the world, I was thrilled by the news. 

Now the trailer has arrived, I’m not so sure.

Thanks to the success of films like The Avengers Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy, we are in an era where Marvel are taking some serious risks on the lesser known properties. 

One problem with Dr Strange is it looks like it was ghost directed by Christopher Nolan.

Consider the scenes: maverick hero staggering around a Nepalese wintry location? So far, so Batman Begins. A city folding in on itself? Didn’t we see that in Inception six years ago? Even the score sounds like it was composed by Hans Zimmer.

Obviously as these movies cost hundreds of million dollars, the producers want to make it look like the blockbusters we’ve seen before, so we know we are in safe hands. But are we? 

Director Scott Derrickson was responsible for The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, which was not a bad take on the classic 1950s Michael Rennie sci-fi offering. However, the third act turned into a generic orgy of pixels and CGI jiggery-pokery. In short, it was a massive letdown.

If Deadpool taught us anything this year, it’s that fans of Marvel movies are a bit tired of sci-fi fantasy epics that take themselves a bit too seriously. 

We are about to embrace, or run from, the epic that is X-Men: Apocalypse, another of those Bryan Singer movies in which Magneto hovers around, lifting things up and dropping them from a great height. 

The twist this time is that the ubiquitous Oscar Isaac plays the purple bad guy, who looks like he’s stepped from a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie.

Judging by the trailer to that movie, there’s not a single laugh in the offing. 

Obviously in the DC camp, there have been reports that Suicide Squad, the Dirty Dozen of superhero movies, expensive re-shoots have been taking place to inject more comedy into the proceedings.

Why? Because many fan boys and girls thought that Batman versus Superman: Dawn of justice was a bit too serious for its own good, and obviously with Deadpool costing a little over $50million and grossing almost $800million, comedy was the way forward.

Marvel’s next big movie, Captain America: Civil War, (or should that be Avengers 2.5?), is with us in the next few weeks, and that also looks like it will test the patience. 

Shoehorning even more Marvel characters into the good guys versus good guys concept, it reminds me of that classic Python sketch in which a world of Supermen is not that special, but one man steps out from the masses – Michael Palin’s Bicycle Repair Man.

And if you exclude excuse the obvious segue, we are in a cycle of costumed hero flix that have outstayed their welcome.

What we want from our heroes is something super, but because there are so many of them Dr Strange is going to look more like Doctor Mundane as he fights for his place in Marvel’s rather crowded cinematic universe.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War/Midnight Special reviews

 I all but slept through 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, partly because I’d been to the midnight screening of Prometheus a few hours earlier and partly because it was so dull. 

The fact it starred Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, two of my favourite thesps and still made me nod of was an indication of how mediocre it was. 

So four years later I was far from desperate to see the prequel/sequel, and given the woeful reviews, went in expecting another two hours of dullness. 

However, with Hemsworth, Theron, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon and Sheridan Smith on board, there was plenty of high calibre talent involved. And to my surprise turned out to be a fun, engaging pantomime with a touch of Frozen filtered through the lens of The Lord of the Rings. 

Starting with a prequel to SWATH, we fast forward past events from that movie and the meat of the film which sees the eponymous warrior and his mission to usurp the evil ice queen (Blunt) and retrieve the magic mirror from film one. 

The gags are funny, the set design impressive and though the action scenes a little too frenetic, it knits together well. 

The CGI effects are annoying, clearly rendered by an army of uninspired keyboard wizards. But it scarcely matters. 

While no fantasy classic, there are enough lavish set pieces to make it worthwhile. 
Midnight Special

Imagine a road movie with a Close Encounters vibe but all the cast had been told their best friend had just died. That’s the tone of Midnight Special, a slow, sombre, occasionally annoying Twilight Zone-style adventure which sets out an intriguing Akira-like premise (gifted lad on the run with a few guardians) but drags through a yawnsome second act. Okay there is one shock moment that wakes you up, and a great scene at a gas station, but on the whole it attracts more Zs than a dictionary-compiler’s final chapter. 

Yet the likes of Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton ensured I stayed with it the whole time the trio in front of me were checking their phones and discussing every scene. 

By the third act I was craving the ’special’ element, fearing I had been sold a dud, and remarkably it was something to wow at. I’ll not reveal it here, but safe to say it pays off. 

A great score helped but the whole thing was so earnest it hurt. Nice to see Adam Driver adding a little levity, but it needed more to work. Great punchline but the set up was a trial. 

Had I seen it at the eponymous time I’d have been asleep after half an hour. 

Jaeden Lieberher is quite rightly the star of the show as the young lad at the heart of the drama, but at 1hr 52, this is a good 20 mins too long. There’s just not enough story to justify the running time.