EYE IN THE SKY (UK/12A/102mins) Directed by Gavin Hood. Starring Alan Rickman, Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Phoebe Fox, Barkhad Abdi. THE PLOT: Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) is in charge of a routine surveillance operation in the UK, with the drone pilots based in the US as part of a joint operation. With government Minsters watching the operation’s every move, events become complicated when a bomb plot is discovered and a young girl enters the kill zone. THE VERDICT: Alan Rickman’s final live action role could not be less different than the ones we came to know and love him for. Far from a villain, Rickman’s performance of Lt. General Frank Benson shows that the true villain in ‘Eye in the Sky’ is fear, and those who perpetrate it.
Helen Mirren also takes on an unusual role, as the Colonel in charge of making tough decisions. Mirren makes Powell a pragmatic woman, with more consideration for the lives of the many than those of the few. Rickman is on splendid form as a no-nonsense army officer, and the two are joined on screen by Aaron Paul as a drone pilot, Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Northam, Barkhad Abdi, Richard McCabe and Kim Engelbrecht.
Guy Hibbert’s screenplay ties together the many elements of this operation, that takes an unexpected turn. The choices made in the UK, the US, China and Kenya affect the lives of potentially dozens of people, but Hibbert makes sure that the drone’s physical removal from the space does not mean that these soldiers and ministers are not emotionally engaged with what is happening on the ground. Unlike Ethan Hawke’s drone thriller from last year – ‘Good Kill’ – the events of the film focus on one potential drone strike, and the consequences of that action. The people on the ground have no idea that across the world, politicians and solders are deciding their fates, and it is this that makes the film so engaging, as well as the underlying question of whether the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. As well as this, there are some lovely and subtle symmetries drawn, such as Rickman’s character buying a doll for a young girl about the same age as the one he finds himself deciding the fate of.
Director Gavin Hood ramps up the tension throughout the film, with characters drifting in and out of the danger zone, without ever realising the danger they are in. The audience mostly watch from afar, as those in charge of the big decisions do, but unlike the ones making the choices, we are emotionally invested in the fates of those on the ground, and find ourselves rooting for fate to intervene. In fact, making fate the biggest villain of the piece is the way in which the film succeeds in being so gripping; control is taken from the people making the tough choices over and over again, with no simple answers being provided.
In all, ‘Eye in the Sky’ is a gripping thriller that puts the audience in the room with those making the difficult decisions, and on the ground with those likely to be affected. Mirren, Rickman and Paul shine through in a strong cast and although there are no simple answers here, Eye in the Sky does its best in showing every angle to be considered. Also, Rickman’s final scathing line is a delight. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE JUNGLE BOOK (USA/PG/115mins)
Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring the voices of Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, Garry Shandling, Brighton Rose, Emjay Anthony, Max Favreau.
THE PLOT: Having been rescued by the black panther Bagheera (Kingsley) following the death of his father, young Mowgli (newcomer Sethi) grows up in the Indian jungle as one of the pack. One of the wolf pack, that is, his life one long lesson in speed, and survival, and messing about with incredibly cuddly wolf cubs. When he’s spotted by the self-appointed king of the jungle, Shere Khan (Elba), the pressure is on to get this man-cub back to his own species. Not that Mowgli is all that keen to go, with the jungle throwing up plenty of obstacles in his way – such as the seductive snake Kaa (the seductive Johansson), the ominous King Louie (Walken) and the hapless, honey-loving Baloo (Murray)… THE VERDICT: More Night Of The Hunter than George Of The Jungle, Disney’s latest live-action reimagining of their classic animation catalogue is a strange beast. Verging on strained.
There’s no doubting the quality of the work, and of the cast and crew, and the beautiful National Geographic porn on display, but there’s a strong smell of Tim Burton’s diabolical Alice In Wonderland about Jon Favreau’s take on Rudyard Kipling’s late 19th century Indian adventure classic. Not that ‘The Jungle Book’ is a stinker – far from it. It’s just that the film Favreau has delivered takes itself very, very seriously indeed. Peter Jackson serious.
Like Life of Pi gone wild, the CGI goes all the way up to 11 here, as our little tyke goes into battle with Idris Elba’s relentless killer Shere Khan, Scarlett Johansson’s seductive Kaa and Christopher Walken’s towering, glowering King Louie.
The last characterisation is a case in point when it comes to that dark side favoured by Favreau and screenwriter Justin Marks (the man who gave us Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun-Li, no less). When Mowgli is kidnapped by those rascal monkeys, and scaled precariously, Planet Of The Apes style, up a sheer cliff face to their leader’s derelict temple, Louis Prima ain’t waiting there in the shadows. What we get, as this giant, sinister orangutan lurches into the light, is far more Colonel Kurtz than King Louie.
Of course, kids like to be scared, but Favreau presses that Burton button a little too much here, delivering the kind of dark rumblings that hip middle-aged filmmakers like to view as subversive and daring. Aiming for Max von Sydow playing chess with death though, they invariably land on Zach Snyder running on grandiose gothic empty.
The only shining light is Bill Murray as Baloo, delivering the handful of truly inspired comic lines here, but even he buckles under the weightiness here. RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (Belgium | France | Luxembourg/TBC/113mins) Directed by Jaco Van Dormael. Starring Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Yolande Moreau. THE PLOT: God (Benoît Poelvoorde) exists, and he lives in Brussels; he is arrogant and rather cruel to humanity, as well as his wife and daughter Ea (Pili Groyne), so the 10 year old girl sets out to make a few changes. After consulting with her older brother JC (David Murgia) Ea sneaks into her father’s office, releases important information to mankind, and sets out to gather six apostles, with the hopes of making some changes. THE VERDICT: A far cry from Nietzsche’s assertion that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him”, Jaco Van Dormael’s film sets out to prove that God is alive and well, and playing with humanity for his own selfish fun. This an absurdly comic look at what would happen if someone rebelled against God’s seemingly random acts of cruelty, and tried to make life better.
Pili Groyne leads the cast here as the daughter of God, Ea. Groyne makes the character gentle and caring – the way many imagine their god to be – and someone who has a genuine interest in humans and life on Earth. Groyne also makes the earnest and intense 10 year old girl wonderfully odd, but with a sense of fun and fate that makes the character work. Benoît Poelvoorde plays an arrogant and angry God, with Yolande Moreau taking on the role over the bullied wife of God. Catherine Deneuve, François Damiens, Laura Verlinden, Serge Larivière, Didier De Neck and Romain Gelin make up Ea’s choices for Apostles, and Marco Lorenzini plays Victor, the man Ea tasks with writing the new testament she has set out to create.
The screenplay, written by Jaco Van Dormael and Thomas Gunzig is a darkly comic look at those with god complexes, and just what people do with ultimate power. There is the idea that ultimate power corrupts, as well as the notion that God created us just to play with us because animals didn’t seem right in the big city. The story follows some of the ideas of theBible, with Ea spending time with each of her chosen Apostles, not to preach at them, but to help them to see there is a different way for them to live their lives and, in a particularly engaging move, have her hear the inner songs of the people she meets. The screenplay is also caustic and damning of the idea of a higher power in general, and will certainly please those of us who often wondered how things would be different if God were in fact real, and if she were a woman instead.
Director Jaco Van Dormael makes sure that the audience sympathy lies with Ea throughout the film; although she makes some bad decisions, she makes them for the right reasons in her quest to help humanity. The pacing of the film is steady throughout, and even though it begins to stagger slightly about half way through the 113 minute running time, ‘The Brand New Testamant’ soon recovers, bring the film to an absurd, heartwarming and hilarious ending. There are questions asked and answered throughout the film, making this metaphysical dark comedy feel as though it was written by Charlie Kaufman, as it explores just what it is to be human, and our relationship with life and death.
In all, ‘The Brand New Testament’ is absurd, quirky and funny on the surface, but has a strong message and a dark core, with which it fires shots at the established ideas of God and religion as a whole. The cast, particularly Pili Groyne, are superb and, a slight drop in momentum aside, the film is well paced, engaging and thought-provoking. RATING: 4.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
OUR LITTLE SISTER (Japan/TBC/128mins) Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Starring Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose, Ryô Kase. THE PLOT: After their estranged father dies, sisters Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) meet their younger half sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). After they discover that Suzu’s mother has also died, the sisters invite their new found sister to live with them, and find their family dynamic changed by her presence. THE VERDICT: Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film is a quiet story of family, without the screaming and conflict we have become used to in family dramas to date.
The cast of the film embody the story of the film; the three older actresses, Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa and Kaho use the film as time to examine their relationships with one another and their estranged and now dead parents. The story doesn’t really give the actresses a chance to be anything but kind and gentle with one another, but they do well with what they are given, making the film feel warm and gentle. Suzu Hirose makes her character curious and kind, lighting up the house she shares with her newfound sisters and with many of the supporting cast referring to her as a ‘treasure’.
Hirokazu Koreeda’s screenplay is adapted from Akimi Yoshida’s Manga story Umimachi Diary, and really focuses on the relationships between the characters. Although Suzu got much more time with their father, her sisters never seem to resent her for this, and instead pry her for facts about their father and the man he was. There are times when subplots around the sisters’ work overwhelm the film, and never really seem to add anything to the story, which would have been much more concise if it focused on the lives the sisters live together, rather than apart.
As director, Hirokazu Koreeda has created a warm and engaging film that is not about a family falling apart, but one gently coming together through kindness and generosity. The pacing of the film is sluggish, but this gives the audience more time to spend with the energy between the women, rather than seeking out an all-thrills storyline.
In all, ‘Our Little Sister’ is a sweet and engaging story of a family coming together. There is little happening in terms of pace, instead the film feels like a fly-on-the-wall look at people finding common ground and a way to be together. There are times when a stronger story and faster pacing could move the film along, but as it stands, it is a pleasure to spend time in the company of these sweet and fun women, although the overly sentimentalised music used in the film grates after a while. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes