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Good Kill

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MV5BMTQyMjQzMTg4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDk3NTY2MjE@__V1__SX1217_SY602_Released: 10th April 2015

Directed By: Andrew Niccol

Starring: Ethan Hawke, January Jones

Certificate: 15

Many of the scenes are emotionless, repetitive and detached, set in a claustrophobic room without windows. These scenes involve the audience looking at monitors, switches and controllers, and are filmed mostly in medium or close shots of the actors’ faces. In most films this would perhaps be disagreeable and boring, but in Good Kill they are exactly what make the film work. This is modern warfare 7000 miles away from the combat zone.

In his third collaboration with director Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke plays Tom Egan, a US Airforce drone pilot who is on the brink of breaking point. Through the day to day life of Egan Niccol’s film is rewarding and stakes its place in the pantheon of modern war movies; Niccol is unafraid to show the life of a man in modern warfare unlike that of any soldier I’ve seen before on film. Niccol presents Egan’s life like any man who works a blue collar job; he works shifts in the same location every single day, doing the same process every single time, repeating the steps before, during, and after a strike like he’s part robot such is the systematic nature of what he does. After the shift is done, he drives home, picks up his groceries, helps his kids with their homework.

Unlike most men, however, Egan’s profession is to deliver military strikes on targets which, intelligence says, are terrorist targets. Egan begins to question the orders and the legitimacy of his job when orders begin to come from the CIA – shown by Niccol as speakerphone button on Egan’s telephone. They are just a voice, we never see them. This heightens the stress Egan feels, how can he fire a missile at a crowd of men on a live feed when the person giving the orders cannot qualify the reasons for doing so?

Like many war films where the main character is a long serving soldier, they are often drawn back into service because life outside war no longer makes sense. With Egan we have a man who can no longer serve the purpose of his training and his true skill – a fighter pilot – but he wants to believe in the good the US is doing regardless. Yet with the increasingly blurred lines between right and wrong, one line stood out for me amongst the rest, capturing the tone of Niccol’s film perfectly:

“Don’t ask me if it’s a just war. That’s not up to us. To us it’s just war”

Most war films want to show the surroundings and atmosphere of the war zone where our heroes are deployed, but Niccol only ever shows Afghanistan and Yemen on a monitor. Not once does the action leave the control room where Egan and his co-pilots sit day after day, not once do we hear a sound from the explosions (let alone in deafening surround sound) and not once does the angle change when we’re looking at the foreign land – it’s forever an overhead shot from a mile in the air and the focus is decided by the drone camera, not a cinematic flourish. Furthermore I liked the parallel establishing shots of the Las Vegas desert and the Afghanistan towns – both are a place of turmoil for Egan. This may not look like a clever directorial choice on first glance but Niccol makes some very brave decisions here, and sticks to them.

Ethan Hawke shows once again why he is such a dependable leading actor, he has the ability to take on so many varied roles but always manages to bring a realism to each part he takes. Think how different he is to Denzel Washington in Training Day yet stand his own against Denzel’s scenery chewing; compare this to his work with Richard Linklater’s outstanding ‘Before’ series or recent genre films like Assault on Precinct 13, Before The Devil Knows Your Dead, or even the lacklustre Sinister. In Good Kill we believe the emotional torment he is going through by just an expression or look of resignation, but what we do not need are the clichéd moments which surround Hawke and weigh the film down with familiarity when the exact opposite makes it so appealing.

Egan is an alcoholic, his marriage is breaking down, he and his wife argue constantly and she may be having an affair. We’ve seen this far too many times for Good Kill to offer anything new on the matter, and there are far too many scenes like this which bog the film down. As a study on the impact of war on a man, Niccol shows enough promise with the military side without having to fall back on old troupes in the family side, and some of the dialogue between Egan and his co-pilots is too obvious and direct in the questions of war to ring true. Add to this January Jones opposite Hawke as his wife and the drama fails to ignite when they argue – Hawke is at another level and Jones’ range is stretched too far. There is also a character moment in the final few minutes which was pure nonsense and totally out of sync with the rest of the film’s believability. It’s there to give Egan one final and clear ‘good kill’ after perhaps dozens of questionable strikes, but the reality of his actions would amount to all kinds of consequences. We see him walk away and drive off and Niccol pastes on a redeeming ending which a better film would never have gone anywhere near.

Good Kill may find a wider audience in the years after this war is over and it’s one which I will certainly revisit. Like so many post 9/11 war films, it’s a story the audience might not want to hear and a lead character they may not want to see; but Andrew Niccol may just have given us one of the most important war stories of a generation, if not an entirely successful film.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

Movie Reviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Ol Parker

Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.

Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.

Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).

Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).

Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.

Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.

Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.

It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.

Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…

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Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.

On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.

On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.

On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.

Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★

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Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.

 

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