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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?

Featured Review

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ★

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Released: 16th October 2018

Directed By: David Yates

Starring: Jude Law, Johnny Depp. Also Eddie Redmayne.

Reviewed By: Van Connor

The magic’s well and truly faded with this second instalment of the erstwhile Harry Potter prequel series, as The Crimes of Grindelwald shifts the action to Paris, but its own sensibilities entirely too far into the franchise world-building spectrum that could threaten to unravel it. It never does quite unfurl from the exhaustion of it, that would, after all, suggest there were anything of note at its core. There isn’t. The Crimes of Grindelwald is precisely the patronising box-office-centric cash-grab any decent cynic’s always accused the Harry Potter series of being under the surface; all that’s changed is that, this time, they really can’t be bothered to attempt to mask it beneath any kind of fun.

One of those sequels you can rather obviously tell was never meant to exist, this very-much-a-part-two kicks off unceremoniously (it has no other setting, as you’ll discover over the course of a mind-numbing two and a quarter hours) by setting about undoing literally every closing plot mechanic of what’s come before. Did a character end up in Point A last time? Well, this time they’re going to be reintroduced via what’s either an interesting and poorly lit set-piece or clunky exposition in order to set themselves up at Point B instead, regardless of whether or not it makes sense for them to do so. Only then may the plot of The Crimes of Grindelwald begin. And plot it has. Lots of plot. Tons and tons of plot. In fact, it has very little else but plot. So, it’s somewhat mystifying that David Yates’ sixth venture into what’s evidently now branded as the Wizarding World should ultimately amount to so little.

From what little you’re able to glean of the plot, proceedings involve the immediate escape of evil wizard Gerrett Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) from the prison to where he was sent last time. On the loose once more, Grindelwald sets about exacting his master plan to ensure magical dominance over the human race, a plan that involves the formation of a dark wizarding army and the utilisation of one Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller), with the latter’s death evidently no obstacle for the likes of his contract’s sequel options. The only wizard capable of stopping Grindelwald, we’re told, is that rebellious master wizard Albus Dumbledore (now played in a younger form by Jude Law), but Dumbledore can’t, you see, because… reasons, and despatches a reluctant Newt Scamander to do so in his stead. Because, again, reasons.

Now, you can be forgiven for taking that plot in and wondering just how in the hell Eddie Redmayne’s Newt need in any way be present for any of this, and, frankly, you’d be right to do so. Certainly, Eddie Redmayne appears to be wondering the same – his contingent of the cast (essentially the main four from the last movie) each make what can charitably be described as diminishing returns, offering more outright effort in their performances to a film that really can’t be bothered to do much with them. They’re not important, you see, Dumbledore is. Grindelwald is. And creator/screenwriter/living cash hoover J.K. Rowling genuinely cannot be bothered to pretend otherwise. That movie snotty naysayers claim they always somehow see whenever there’s a new superhero movie out? The one that’s nothing but nonsense, world-building and a half-hourly set-piece? That movie actually does exist. And its title is The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Losing the magic of even its own musical arrangement, The Crimes of Grindelwald is an outright disaster not just of a seasonal tentpole release, but of a franchise picture full stop. Its script works exhaustingly to tie itself in knots to go essentially nowhere, its culmination consisting of literally nothing more than two pieces of unceremonious lore being shouted about in canon, each essentially lionised by Rowling so that at least one of them can no longer be called out as the laziest, most cynical, and ethically bankrupt product of the entire franchise. She fails in this endeavour, as, indeed, does Yates in delivering a dreary and uninvolving film to which his cast aspire to inject life, only to reanimate the narratively dead instead.

Legions of Potterites will doubtless flock to the nearest multiplex the moment the doors open, and, to be fair, that is absolutely the power the brand has and ours is not to question. If the priority of this series, though, genuinely is the continued pumping of revenue into the Rowling estate landscaping fund, would it really be too much to ask to even attempt to make it a good time? Can we not at least get some enjoyment out of this? A big ask, I know. But it’d behove Rowling, Yates, and everybody involved in this shill of a series to at least consider we might want some excitement next time around. Maybe when the second act stops dead for ten minutes to give us a canon origin story for the damned sorting hat.

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Featured Review

Hell Fest ★★★

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Released: 16th October 2018

Directed By: Gregory Plotkin

Starring: Amy Forsyth, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards

Reviewed By: Van Connor

In the pantheon of cinema, the slasher movie sits alongside only really Die Hard and the western as being unfathomably easy to retrofit for any occasion with “…but with this unique location instead!” Hell Fest is a textbook case of this. It has no ambition beyond merely being a slasher movie set within a specific gimmick-driven environment, no desire to offer up anything more than stock Hollywood teens being violently murdered one at a time, and is under no illusion about whether or not you’ve ever seen this movie before or even care. What it is concerned with, though, is fun. And it has that in spades.

It’s literally nothing more than “the slasher movie at an adult horror theme park”. A concept, it turns out, that you can make a fair amount of mischief with, as our group of six abhorrently gorgeous twenty-eight year-old teenagers find themselves fixated upon by a sinister figure in a wooden mask and brandishing a kitchen knife. This being the eponymous theme park, naturally there are a multitude of places for our teens to hide, but, as is par for the course in Hell Fest, where you hide could just as easily be the very means by which our masked murderer will gut you. Fun!

Though none of the cast leap out as being particularly noteworthy (Arrow’s Bex Taylor-Klaus and MacGyver’s Reign Edwards are arguably the biggest geek pulls here), each serviceably handles their limited place within the story. Amy Forsyth’s a perfectly fine Final Girl, not memorable, but likeable enough, and the rest of the cast conduct themselves to more or less the same standard. Blumhouse alum Gregory Plotkin shifts to the big chair for this one, proving he’s got pretty lively chops for a good ol’ down n’ dirty slasher flick, and Seth Sherwood and Blair Butler’s script knows just how to play with the mechanics of the formula that everyone involved can unashamedly enjoy themselves without the overwhelming need to reinvent the genre wheel.

By virtue of being set within a merchandised horror world, Hell Fest has great fun in exploiting that set up for some wonderfully cheap scares, making for an enjoyable and OTT bloody night at the pictures that will never challenge, but certainly entertain. There’s no mythology to this, no franchise being built before us, and there’s even a genre icon making an almost obligatory appearance to sanctify it all. Sure, you won’t lose your head with Hell Fest, but you will whoop and cheer. It’s just a shame it had to arrive three weeks after Halloween.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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