Eye in The Sky Review

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Eye In The Sky

Director: Gavin Hood

Stars: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, and Barkhad Abdi.

Year Released: 2015

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 102 Minutes

You Are Now Entering The Spoiler Zone

             “Eye In The Sky” is academy award-winning South African director Gavin Hood’s return to his traditional brand of highly political filmmaking, after an ugly run with some sub-par big-budget Hollywood projects. This complex thriller documents a joint British/American operation to capture high-level Al-Shabab members (including a radicalized American and British national) in Kenya with the help of local intelligence and military personnel. The situation is complicated when the terrorists move to a fortified neighborhood that prevents any possibility of capture. Things get worse on the ground as surveillance reveals that they have bomb vests and are planning a suicide attack in the very near future. The cherry on this sundae of s@#$ is the fact that a young girl is in the blast radius of the proposed drone attack, leaving everyone involved to debate whether or not they can/should proceed.

While it may be due to the bigger budget nature of the movie, I thought the moral choice was frustratingly simple. It’s really just a spin on the old question of whether it’s moral to kill one to save a hundred. Even with all the debate, it’s obvious that the drone attack will go thru and the girl will be caught in the blast because it would be a complete anti-climax for anything else to happen. Though it speaks to the skill of the cast and the director, that despite the obvious conclusion I was drawn into the movie and was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Everyone gives a good performance but special thanks should be given to Helen Mirren, who plays a badass British Colonel despite looking like a Grandma. She commands every scene she’s in while radiating power and authority without simply becoming a one note war hawk. There’s also a special place in movie Valhalla for the late great Alan Rickman who brings his acid wit and unmistakable voice to one of the other British military members. I hope this posthumous appearance reminds people, that while Rickman might only be known for playing Professor Snape and Hans Grubber he had loads of talent.

Since the ending is never really in doubt and the plight of the little girl did not tug a single one of my heart-strings (I seen enough movies with cute kids, I’m immune now) where does the story draw you in? Well, for me it was seeing the bureaucracy of war. Much of “Eye in The Sky” is spent watching how disparate groups of politicians and military personnel all try to come to some kind of agreement despite holding wildly different opinions on absolutely everything and for the most part, not even being in the same country as each other. Needless to say, the British military is ready and willing to make the strike but only after they consult with their on base legal counsel (apparently those exist). However, the American drone pilot is not exactly thrilled about having to be the one who actually pulls the trigger that kills a child and tries to use military rule-fu in order to buy her more time to escape.

While all this going on the British politicians are desperately passing the buck in hopes that they won’t have to be the one who went on record as authorizing a missile strike on an African prepubescent. There’s something darkly funny about all this panic over who’s culpable for a secret assassination, it’s like a war drama starring the cast of “Yes Minister”. It almost goes without saying that when the British Foreign Secretary asks the American Secretary of State what his position is, he takes all of two seconds before saying they should vaporize the hajjis and the camels they rode in on (though not in those exact words). Overall “Eye in the Sky” is a good thriller with a great cast but I’m left thinking that with a bit more time on the script it could have been even better.

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes but only with other people so we could discuss it

Would I buy it: No

Recite a proverb: Light a man a fire, you warm him for a day. Light a man on fire and you warm him for the rest of his life.

 

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The Toughest S.O.B in the Room

 

 

The New Weird Review

 

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To any aspiring writers: this is how you get my attention

Book Review: The New Weird Anthology

Compilation of Many Authors

Published: 2008

Genre: Weird Fiction

Page Count: 414

You are now entering the Spoiler Zone

       The old saying “that normal is just a setting on a washing machine” has always helped guide my reading choices. So naturally when I saw a wonderful looking anthology called “The New Weird” I had to check it out. Going in I was oblivious to the fact that “The New Weird” wasn’t just the book’s title, but also the name of the literary movement that all the stories inside either belong to or helped inspire.

For those of you interested the book begins with a short essay by one of the books editors about the origins and effects of “The New Weird” along with several essays and discussions about the scene near the end of the book. While this was helpful I’m personally not very invested in any in-depth discussions about any scene or genre. This isn’t due to lack of interest but merely due to the fact that specifically detailing what a particular genre is “supposed” to be, tends to create a host of obnoxious detractors who decry anything that steps outside the borders as heresy. This, in turn, leads to everyone imitating each other and choking any creativity faster than a Lego’s choke a toddler. What were helpful, were the indexes of recommended authors and books, these are a godsend for anyone looking for more stories by the new author they found thru”The New Weird”.

With that said here are the basic facts about “The New Weird”: These are strange stories that take place in impossible places with bizarre characters, realism and normal behavior take a back seat to creativity and imagination and most finally sex, violence, and any other taboo subject aren’t simply allowed, they’re encouraged. Now let’s get to the stories themselves. Do to the large amount of stories I will cover the ones I think represent the best and worst of “The New Weird”.

The Braining of Mother Lamprey” by Simon D. Ings: If the some story’s can be expanded on then “The Braining of Mother Lamprey” should be expanded on. Ings creates a very interesting world here. A world where magic has supplanted technology and life has become more powerful than death. For example, a woman’s leg is severed late in the story and it actually comes to life soon afterward. It even grows feathers claws and a mouth, as it grows becomes a new animal. The background universe is extremely interesting (if set up a little poorly) and compliments the story. That story involves a magical apprentice getting dragged into a magical murder conspiracy while trying to get some time alone with his girlfriend. “The Braining of Mother Lamprey” is both bizarre and fun to read with characters you can relate to and an ending twist you’ll never see coming. This was one of my favorite stories in the book and I would definitely by a book in this setting.

The Neglected Garden” by Kathe Koja: This is one of the shorter and simpler stories in the book. It’s about a man who tries to breaks up with his girlfriend while she wants to keep the relationship going. In a bizarre turn, he finds her stuck in the back garden, slowly transforming into a strange plant. At first he panics and shows concern but in one of the most bizarre reactions in the book (and that’s saying a lot) he decides that this is just her way of making trouble for him, so he decides to just ignore her. This story wasn’t very interesting to me, it was short enough not to become annoying but way too short for any story to develop. “The Neglected Garden” never really gets going and you won’t miss anything by skipping it.

Jack” by China Mieville: Before I started “The New Weird” I heard That China Mieville was an author who deserved attention and after reading “Jack” I know why. “Jack” takes place in a bizarre otherworldly city (a favorite of the New Weird in general and Mieville in particular) called New Crobuzon. Our narrator tells the story of the rise and fall of Jack-half-a-prayer, who after being subjected to a bizarre surgical punishment called remaking, became a famous thief and hero to the New Crobuzons underclass. This story had me hooked from the first page, its setting was interesting, its characters were appealing and its premise was weird enough to draw me in and normal enough to be easily read. Even the ending which in hindsight, should have been totally predictable, caught me by surprise due to how engrossed I was with the story. “Jack” gets a big recommendation from me, Read it and spread the word.

Watson’s Boy” by Brian Evenson: This was definitely my least favorite of all the stories. The story revolves around a young man (the titular Watsons boy) who along with his strange father and invalid mother is trapped in a seemingly endless set of gloomy intersecting hallways. Aside from the family’s rooms and their shared kitchen, every door is locked despite the keys that are hung up on every interest. The young man spends his days trying to map the hallways and collecting keys despite knowing his task is almost certainly impossible. That’s about it for the plot, despite being one of the longer stories we never get any answers or any real insight into who these characters are or why they’re here. I certainly don’t expect all the answers from any of these stories because A, they’re short stories and B. they’re weird fiction, where strange triumphs over sense but at least give me some small view into what makes these characters tick. If “Watsons Boy” reminded me of anything it’s a half-finished Franz Kafka novel, only not as good. We have all the bleak absurdity that Kafka was famous for but none of the personal insight or deeper meaning. “Watsons Boy” is either an unfinished novel or an overlong short story. Whichever it is, I recommend you just skip it.

“The New Weird” was a bit frustrating for me. While there were some superb stories by excellent writers, there were others that just did nothing for me at all. Still, I don’t regret reading it and I would recommend it to anyone interested in weird fiction. If you find this lovely little anthology in your local library go ahead and give it a look.

 

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the book: Yes

Would I read it again: Yes

Would I buy it: No

Any tips for celebrating Columbus day: I always try to go to India to celebrate but for some reason, I always end up in the wrong place

High Rise Review

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A lot can happen in forty stories

Director: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Tom Hiddleston

Year Released: 2015

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Spoilers From This Point On:

            “High Rise” takes place during the 1960’s in an ultramodern apartment building that provides its residents with every modern convenience. As the tenants spend more and more time isolated from the outside world, they eventually revert to brutal and primitive tribalism, with each group or social class jealously hoarding recourses while viciously attacking anyone perceived as an outsider. The actual plot is a bit random, due to the strange nature of the story and the fact that the movie is more about the building as a whole than any one character or storyline.

Still of the many people in the high rise and the ones we spend the most time on are: Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) a university professor of psychology who serves as our de facto main character and who slips into madness as the high rise slips into anarchy. Richard Wilder (Luke Evans) a liquor swilling, foulmouthed, perpetually horny, lower class cameraman, who is determined to ascend to the top floor of the building and confront the high rises architect, by whatever means necessary. Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) the architect of the high rise who was crippled in its construction. He considers the high rises he has built to be his greatest works and observes the chaos with the detached eyes of a scientist, even as his own family descends into savagery.

I think I enjoyed “High Rise” a bit more than others, due to the fact that I read the book that this movie was based on and got quite a bit of background on the ideas that went into its creation. The book and the movie wears both its English values and its 60’s era fears on its sleeves and a better understanding of English values and the attitudes of that day, will help you understand a very weird movie. The most important thing to remember is that of all the things engrained in the British mindset, conformity and classism have the most influence. This was especially true in the 60’s and “High Rise” reflects this. The high rise is divided by class and the higher up you are in the building the higher your class is. There is competition between the floors for resources even before the collapse (blackouts and water shortages are common) and each floor is quick to blame the one above or below it for all the trouble.

Despite the carnage most characters are so interested in keeping up appearances, that they seem totally in denial. Many residents keep going to work even as bloody warfare breaks out because after all, what would the neighbors think if you started slacking off. I’m completely convinced that most of the high rise resident didn’t even want to become modern day cavemen; they’re just going along with the crowd.

Despite its faithfulness to the book (which is impressive, given how weird and random the book can be) “High Rise” is not a perfect adaptation. In the novel we never find out what causes a pair of death that begin the high rises slide into anarchy. In the move however we know exactly what caused it, thought to the movies credit this knowledge gives us an important plot point. A lot of people will be turned away by “High Rises” strange story, bizarre visual style and schizophrenic plot. Fortunately I’m a fan of weird stuff like this so I loved every bizarre thing the movie could throw at me. While the wall to wall weirdness will be too much for some people I hope those interested in a more unconventional story will give this a chance. After all fears of human desensitization due to isolation are alive and well, with the internet now making it so that you never have to leave your home, every house can be a high rise.

 

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes

Would I buy it: No

Look deep inside you self, what is it that you see: There are couple lungs and a stomach; I don’t recognize the other stuff. Meh, it’s probably just taking up space.

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Meet The Neighbors

Green Room Review

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Hard Core

Green Room

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Star: Anton Yelchin/Patrick Stewart

Year Released: 2015

Genre: Thriller

Running Time: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Spoilers Ahead:

            Green Room is a new thriller from Jeremy Saulnier, one of the more interesting and unique, independent filmmakers working today. When a dirt broke, scraping the bottom of the barrel punk rock band called The Ain’t Rights goes out of their pre-planned tour path to do an interview and a show in Oregon they find that the show is much smaller than they thought. Pissed off and low on cash, their host tries to placate them by getting his cousin to book them at an out of the way roadhouse. There just happens to be one small catch, their audience and hosts are Neo-Nazi skinheads. The band isn’t intimidated by the hostile crowd and plays the show anyway. Except after the show when guitarist Pat (Anton Yelchin) goes back for his phone, he stumbles across a gruesome crime scene. Soon the entire band, along with a defector from the skin head’s named Amber (Imogen Poots) have barricaded themselves in the green room as the Nazis led by the sinister Darcy (Patrick Stewart) plan to wipe out all witnesses.

This was quite the pleasant surprise. I knew very little about this film before seeing it (I actually thought that the Patrick Stewart part was being played by Bryan Cranston) but I was impressed. For a director who is only on his third movie, Saulnier has impressive skills. “Green Room” is well shot, constantly suspenseful, very well acted and its ending managed to surprise me, even though I’ve seen plenty of these siege thrillers.

The scenery and lighting were especially good. The roadhouse that was the main setting definitely looked as grimy and greasy as an out of the way skinhead club should look. The setting also helped make the brutal and faced paced action look better. The plot was nothing new; it was the performances that separated Green Room from the rest. When the siege started the band reacted quite realistically. They panicked, disagreed with each other and didn’t just automatically all become killer ninjas.

Patrick Stewart brought his usual high caliber of acting, as he infused skinhead boss Darcy with a quiet menace. While I was disappointed that Stewart didn’t have a grandiose Captain Picard style speech, it wouldn’t have fit the script and in the end wasn’t necessary. Stewart showed himself to be absolutely in control of his followers in every scene and casually ordered deaths in a way that you felt it was utterly normal for him. Imogen Poots as the skinhead defector Amber was the standout of the cast. She started off scared and confused, but overtime proved herself the most ruthless person in the movie. In the end, Green Room goes above its standard premise with excellent acting and action definitely recommended.

 

 

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes

Would I buy it: Yes

What’s good motivation for a jogger: Tell the ice cream truck to drive just ahead of you

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You ain’t from round here are ya boy

Sansho The Bailiff Review

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A tale as old as Time

Sansho The Bailiff

Director Kenji Mizoguchi

Stars: Kyōko Kagawa/Eitarō Shindō/Yoshiaki Hanayagi

Year Released: 1954

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 2 hours 4 Minutes

The Tale of Spoilers

 

How much does one person have to go thru before they can find justice? You’ll be asking yourself this during every minute of “Sansho the Bailiff” the heartbreaking tale of struggle and survival in ancient Japan. After the governor of the province of Tango tries to lower taxes and lessen military conscription, his superiors, disgusted with his kindness and mercy have him banished to a minor post in the boondocks of Japan. Before leaving he tells his son Zushio (Masahiko Tsugawa) that, “without mercy, man is like a beast. Even if you are hard on yourself, be merciful to others. Men are created equal. Everyone is entitled to happiness”. Sadly happiness is not in the cards for this young man. When he and his mother Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka) his sister Anju (Keiko Enami) meet a seemingly good Samaritan, they are soon betrayed and kidnapped and then sold into slavery.

The children are separated from their mother and are forced into the service of the ruthless Bailiff Sansho (a Bailiff is in charge of a lord’s manor) a merciless thug who works his slaves from dawn till dusk and brands anyone who angers him with a hot iron. The two children almost give into despair until Taro (Akitake Kōno) Sansho kind son encourages them by saying that their fathers’ teachings were wise and that they should grow up strong so they can escape. Sadly after ten years of servitude Zushio (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) has lost hope and become a brutal enforcer for Sansho, while Anju (Kyōko Kagawa) still holds on to hope. Anju’s spirits are lifted when she gets word from another slave that her mother may still be alive on Sado Island, which she takes as a sign that they should escape.

The flight from slavery will be filled with triumph and tragedy as our humble heroes experience the greatest of joys and the worst of sorrows. “Sansho the Bailiff “is a superb movie, I say this without hesitation because it actually managed to tug at MY heartstrings, and I spent good money to have my heart replaced with a freakin icebox. I had heard that “Sansho the Bailiff” was one of the greatest films ever made in Japan and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite the fact that the story is hundreds of years old (it was passed down orally for generations until finally getting into print and later becoming this movie) and, it is still relevant today, especially in America where the wounds of slavery are especially deep.

It is a simple tale of humanity and hope in the face of overwhelming oppression and despite a few flaws I loved every minute of it. Director Kenji Mizoguchi is one of Japans most respected filmmakers and “Sansho the Bailiff” shows all his skill. Especially odd was his focus on both the poor and women in a historical setting. While Zushio gets the most screen time, all his successes are helped by the sacrifices of the women n his life. To wake a movie focused on women in such a male dominated country as Japan is impressive but even more impressive is “Sansho the Bailiffs” art design

According to the DVD commentary “Sansho the Bailiff” was made to be a showcase of traditional Japanese arts. The soundtrack uses classical Japanese music and the scenes were made to look like traditional Japanese artwork. The result is a film where most of the scenes look like they could be framed and put into a museum. The entire cast gives superb performances that show such raw emotion that the language barrier is simply not an issue. This may be due to the high standards of Mizoguchi who would make actors skip meals and run laps if they didn’t look tired or hungry enough. The few flaws I could find were mainly in the story. Remember how Sansho’s kind son comforted our two orphans. Hope you liked him because that character never shows up after that. Also, there are a couple leaps of logic and absurd twists of fate, in the grand tradition of Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger. Meaning a poor person jumps social classes due to a simple act of kindness being repaid a hundred times over. Fortunately, everything else about this movie is so good, it’s easy to ignore any flaws it might have, and I recommend this one for absolutely everyone.

F.A.Q’s

Did I like the movie: Yes

Would I watch it again: Yes

Would I buy it: Yes

What are your thoughts on marriage rights: People should be able to get married in any state they want whether Solid, Liquid or Gas

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Life is Fragile