Almost forensic in its approach, this smart thriller explores a drone strike from a variety of perspectives that bring the moral dilemmas sharply into focus. This includes textured performances from seriously gifted actors who add layers of political, military, legal and emotional meaning to each moment along the way. So the film is continuously gripping, putting the audience right in the middle of the action.
The target is in a suburb of Nairobi, where three of the world's most wanted Somali jihadists are gathering to prepare two young suicide bombers for a mission. British Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) is overseeing the operation from London, with her American drone pilots (Aaron Paul and Phoebe Fox) working in Las Vegas. The hitch is that two of the targets are UK citizens, and one is American, which means that they also need to have government officials in on the discussion. So Lt General Benson (Alan Rickman) is watching with British government ministers (including Jeremy Northam and Monica Dolan). Meanwhile in Kenya, a local operative (Barkhad Abdi) is on the scene. But just as everyone agrees to fire the missile, a young girl (Aisha Takow) wanders into the danger zone.
What follows is a remarkably tense escalation of decision-making, as everyone passes the buck up the chain to avoid making the call themselves. Guy Hibbert's script orchestrates this skilfully, keeping the atmosphere taut while stirring generous doses of black comedy into the interaction between soldiers and politicians. This includes amusing scenes in which Britain's foreign secretary (Iain Glen) is dragged into the conversation while suffering food poisoning in Singapore. Yes, the film has a terrific sense of instant global connections, as its characters work together at a huge distance from each other and from the target of their operation.
Continue reading: Eye In The Sky Review
One of the strongest action thrillers in recent years, this gripping movie cleverly casts actors known for comedy in the central roles. And it works so well that you can't help but see a new trend on the horizon. But the real reason this film is so effective lies, of course, in its script, which never dumbs down for the audience. Instead, it cleverly leaves out irrelevant details, keeping viewers guessing about essentially unimportant elements while getting on with the frantic mayhem.
It opens as Jack and Annie (Owen Wilson and Lake Bell) fly to Southeast Asia with their daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) to start a new life after Jack's business back home went under. He has a new job here helping provide drinking water. What they don't know is that their plane lands at just about the same moment as the population uprises and overthrows the greedy prime minister, then sets its sites on interloping Westerners. So before they've recovered from jet lag, this family is running for its life. The only person who helps them is the disheveled Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who's actually a shady British operative with a helpful local sidekick (Sahajak Boonthanakit) who loves Kenny Rogers. But the mob is on the warpath.
The film kicks off and never lets up, ratcheting up the tension quickly and propelling these characters into a series of outrageous cliffhanger moments. It's startlingly violent for a film with a fragile young family at the centre, so the peril feels real. And filmmaking brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle do a terrific job at merging action movie cliches with gritty authenticity.
Continue reading: No Escape Review
With his writing-directing debut, Ryan Gosling shows audacious skill as a visual artist but never quite manages to recount a story that grabs hold of the audience. It's a stunningly gorgeous film packed with strong, earthy performances from a starry cast playing against type. But there's no momentum at all to the narrative, which is packed with random symbolism that never quite resolves into anything either meaningful or emotionally engaging.
Lost River is a decaying, abandoned city on the edge of a lake created by damming up a river and flooding another town. In what's left of their neighbourhood, Billy (Christina Hendricks) lives in her family home with her sons: a toddler and a teen named Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who helps support the household by scavenging for copper in the vacant buildings nearby. But he's encroaching on the turf of self-proclaimed gangster Bully (Matt Smith), who is intent on exacting vicious revenge. Meanwhile, next-door neighbour Rat (Ronan) is caring for her delusional granny (Barbara Steele) and trying to help Bones. And when the new bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) turns down Billy's cry for help, she takes a job at his seedy underworld nightclub alongside Cat (Eva Mendes).
Aside from some blood-soaked cabaret, what goes on in this nightclub remains rather mysterious, as Billy finds higher-paying work in the purple-hued basement fetish rooms. But then everything in this film is enigmatic, as Gosling deliberately refuses to connect the dots. This gives the film an intriguing David Lynch-style tone, although it lacks Lynch's eerie resonance. There's also a touch of John Waters-style trashiness and Terrence Malick-style natural beauty, plus the clear influence of Gosling's heavily stylised past directors Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives) and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Monday and The Place Beyond the Pines). In other words, almost everything in this film feels like a reference to another movie, but it's expertly assembled to look fabulous from start to finish, with some seriously striking sequences along the way.
Continue reading: Lost River Review
It's hard to think of another film that leaves us quite so out of breath. Adapting his short film, first-time feature filmmaker Damien Chazelle grabs hold of the audience and never lets up, pounding us into submission with an exhilarating pace, blistering performances and never-flagging energy levels. It's an astonishing movie that reminds us of the visceral power of cinema in a story about the tenacity required to make it to the top.
At the centre of the storm is Andrew (Miles Teller), an aspiring drummer who is attending New York's most prestigious and cutthroat conservatory. His goal is to get into the elite jazz band led by Professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), whose brutal reputation is well-earned. A demanding, often cruel teacher, he belittles students with vein-popping diatribes. And he seems to have an extra well of bile just for Andrew, who is willing to put up with anything to be in his band. The question is whether Fletcher is trying to break him or push him to achieve even more. If Andrew hopes to survive, he might not be able to maintain a relationship with his new girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). But maybe it's worth the pain.
This is the blackest comedy imaginable, so harsh that our only response is to laugh bitterly at every hideous insult Fletcher heaps on his young musicians. Chazelle directs the film with such a brisk pace that it sometimes feels difficult to hang on for the ride, and even though some of the plot turns feel rather contrived, it's moving so quickly that we don't have time to worry about that. The entire film charges forward with the rhythms and energy of a powerful jazz riff, and even though it's often terrifying the ride is so much fun that we don't want it to end.
Continue reading: Whiplash Review
A gently comical undertone makes this thriller even creepier than expected, bolstered by sharp writing and directing from Dan Giloy and an especially clever performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Comparisons to Taxi Driver have been obvious, as the lead character is a potentially dangerous sociopath on a very personal quest. And the film also taps into the current zeitgeist: how the media panders to a public that increasingly screams for blood. It's a thoroughly unnerving film that often feels more like a very grim satire than a proper thriller.
Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a loner who is desperate to make his mark on the world. Searching for something to do, he stumbles across the people who prowl the city streets after dark in search of an event they can film and sell on to a TV news outlet. Learning from a veteran (Bill Paxton), Lou gets his own camera and a police scanner and starts chasing car crashes, house fires and violent crimes all over Los Angeles. And when he finds that TV news director Nina (Rene Russo) wants to buy his footage, he hires Rick (Riz Ahmed) as an assistant, getting even more aggressive about arriving on the scene before the competition. But Lou isn't willing to settle for that, and starts manipulating the news to get even better stories.
Where this goes from here is pretty unimaginable, as Lou reveals himself to be utterly unencumbered by any hint of a moral compass. Of course, this is a central theme of the movie, as it explores the way audiences clamour for more explosive footage, which pretty much eliminates any sense of human decency in the way events are covered. Gyllenhaal portrays Lou as gaunt and hungry, but with an eerie charm that lets him get away with each audacious manoeuvre. Watching him snap at anyone who crosses him is truly terrifying. Although the way he quietly manipulates situations is even scarier.
Continue reading: Nightcrawler Review
Except for the 3D of course, which is used both sparingly and with a lot of wit.
Teenager Dane (Massoglia) is seriously annoyed that his mother (Polo) has uprooted him and his little brother Lucas (Gamble) yet again. But at least there's a cute girl, Julie (Bennett), living next door to their new house. Then Dane and Lucas discover a seemingly bottomless hole in the basement, and enlist Julie to figure out what it is. Soon all manner of scary things start happening, so they consult the house's creepy former resident (Dern), but he's no help at all.
Continue reading: The Hole Review
Purslane "Pursy" Hominy Will (Scarlett Johansson) has lived most of her 18-year life without the mother from whom she's estranged but whose memory she cherishes. As a teenage independent she's become hardened and jaded beyond her years. When her live-in boyfriend tells her that he received word of Lorraine's death several days after the fact, she rages at the dumbshit for neglecting to let her know right away. She storms out of the house with all her possessions and buses her way from Florida back to the town she grew up in and to her childhood home, a day too late to make the funeral.
Continue reading: A Love Song For Bobby Long Review
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