Tag Archives: War

Eye in the Sky

18 Mar

Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a taut, real-time thriller that gets at the complex politics of drone warfare as agents on opposite sides of the ocean debate what is and is not acceptable collateral damage given a time-sensitive strike against a terrorist cell. Best known for the Academy Award-winning, South African gang tale Tsotsi, Hood and his writer Guy Hibbert create something that’s both intricate and delicate. Ultimately, Eye in the Sky is best described as a fusion of a staged play and spy thriller.

The action takes place in four locations around the globe, with the focus being a terrorist hotbed in Nairobi where a Western convert masterminds the next wave of bloody disruption. In a dark and cavernous military post somewhere in England, Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) oversees Operation Egret, an effort to extract a young Englishwoman (Lex King) who has joined the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Elsewhere, Kenyan Special Forces on the ground sit on the ready to move in as a drone — piloted by U.S. serviceman Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) from a cramped military facility in the vast Nevada desert — watches from above. The Brits and Kenyans hang onto Watts’s feed while an indigenous informant (Barkhad Abdi) maintains street-level surveillance with short-range animatronic drones launched from a parked van.

It’s a basic nab-and-grab gig until the target leaves the house in a shroud so they can’t get a positive ID and moves to a well-guarded compound akin to the one Osama bin Laden was taken in. Soon, a larger plot to bomb a public marketplace emerges and the focus of the mission switches from a capture to a kill operation. Continue reading

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13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

19 Jan

<i>13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi</i>

Much will be made about the political ramifications of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, but the reality is Hilary Clinton is never mentioned once. The movie does, however, cast an unflattering light upon the nameless U.S. officials monitoring the situation from afar via drone while boots on the ground take fire from teeming insurgents and face insurmountable odds. Politics in this landscape are unavoidable, yet at the core, 13 Hours is a tale of grit, courage under fire and the Semper Fi brotherhood forged between a half-dozen men who draw paychecks from the CIA to keep their unappreciative Ivy-League-educated wonks safe in the middle of a terrorist hotbed within revolution-flipped Libya on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

Memories of the 2012 siege of the U.S. Embassy and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens remain fresh, but the film, adapted from Mitchell Zuckoff’s similarly titled book by Chuck Hogan (The Town), casts a bigger net than merely regurgitating what was shown in news clips and spun politically at the time.

To get there, we sit on the shoulder of Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL saying goodbye to his family and heading overseas for the inevitable shitshow. The opening flash points blasted onto the screen “digital dossier style” informs us that, of the United States’ 292 diplomatic outposts in the world, 12 of them are in perilous areas, and two of those are in Libya. Right after Silva is picked up by his Global Response Staff (GRS) lead, Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), there’s an immediate showdown with some heavily armed unfriendlies in a crowded alleyway. Bravado and bluster gets them through, but these buff, bearded lads can back it up. Continue reading

Fury Road

15 May

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunck, back in 1985, the “Mad Max” trilogy unceremoniously sputtered to an anticlimactic halt rather than going out on a furious, nitro-boosted blast. That tepid finale, “Beyond Thunderdome,” would become the post-apocalyptic Outback series’ weak link, an unsatisfactory follow up to its crowning production. That film, “The Road Warrior” (1981), not only elevated Mel Gibson to bankable star status in Hollywood, it seamlessly spun together an odd olio of diverse genres without faltering into camp and boasted some of the greatest real-action car stunts recorded on film. What director George Miller and Gibson revved up was an instant cult classic, a box office smash (it covered its budget in the U.S. in one week) and a can-do mashup from Down Under that would become a model that many would try to copy, but few could emulate. With “Mad Max: Fury Road,”(released May 15) the series is back on track, and boldly so. It took decades to get here, but it’s well worth the wait, something well oiled in lineage and ready to sear into the minds of a new generation of thrill-injected converts.

Continue reading

American Sniper

19 Jan

‘American Sniper’: Clint’s a good shot, but we don’t get man behind the scope

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It’s pretty amazing the quality of films Clint Eastwood has been belting out as he sails well past the octogenarian mark, not just because he’s making movies at that age, but because of the ambition and scope of those films. “Invictus” (2009) took on the shifting tides of apartheid in South Africa, “J. Edgar” (2011), the biopic of America’s long-standing top dick, spanned eras and presidential regimes as America was shaped during the mid-1900s – and then there was the ill-fated but well-intentioned musical “Jersey Boys” (2014). Now we get “American Sniper,” the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL in the Iraq War whose remarkable gift is the ability to take out anther human being a mile away. As the billing has it, Kyle, as a marksman,  has the most confirmed kills in U.S. military history.

011615i American SniperKyle’s a pretty good shot; so is Eastwood, conjuring up some hellish gun battles and tense door-to-door incursions with Kyle on the roof keeping his boys safe from the jihadist around the corner with an assault rifle or RPG. He’ll even take out a woman or a child with cool professionalism (but not without a touch of nervous deliberation, to denote his humanity and the conundrum of such an act) should they prove to be the chosen chalice of hateful mayhem. The scenes, rich and rife with conflict and drenched with sun and sand, feel borrowed from Katherine Bigelow’s haunting wartime chronicle “The Hurt Locker,” yet there’s no plumbing of the soul or genuine crisis of conscience in Eastwood’s endeavor. Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper – a fine enough actor, but likely destined for the Kevin Costner outpost of shaggy good looks, nonchalance and zero range – is a square piece of paper, dedicated in his mission to serve, tough, resilient and skilled at what he does, but not much more. Sure he’s got a wife and a mindset, but as the film has it, they’re like hastily chosen add-ons when buying a car.

The book about Kyle (which he penned with two other writers) was a New York Times bestseller and much has been made about the subject in many circles of the press challenging Kyle’s credibility (visit Slate for a start) and virtue. Eastwood, you remember, spoke comically and boldly to a chair at the 2012 GOP National Convention, and you can only guess that there’s a degree of skewed political undertow in the film’s patriotic envelopment. Like the 2013 film “Lone Survivor,” the ostensible pursuit of jingoistic justification and boundaries of true events limit the expansion of character and sociopolitical exploration of war and intertwining of diverse cultures with mismatched agendas. As a result, both films detail harrowing ordeals without being so. From the film, there’s little doubt as to Chris Kyle’s commitment as a protector of his country or as a father, but when the film ends (and it’s on a (and it’s on a tragic note that developed as the film went into production), the definition of who Chris Kyle was remains a mystery.

A lump of coal and a fruitcake

25 Dec

‘Unbroken’ and ‘The Gambler’: Directors, cast don’t quite sell two true-to-life tales

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Few probably gave much heed to the actual words of Sony execs in emails unearthed by the now notorious cyberattack launched (purportedly) by North Korea. Just the spectacle of smug Tinseltown backbiting itself was enough, as big-ticket stars such as Adam Sandler were debased along with Angelina Jolie, who was tagged as “talentless.”

122414i UnbrokenThe Jolie slam gave me pause. She’s always conducted herself in ways that have invited ridicule (her blood vial marriage to Billy Bob Thornton, the incestuous podium posing with her brother and the weird, estranged relationship with dad, actor Jon Voight). But how could the woman who won an Academy Award (for “Girl Interrupted”) and made an impressive directorial debut with “Blood and Honey” – a provocative, Bosnian-Serbian updating of “Romeo and Juliet” – be “talentless”? Continue reading

Fury

14 Oct
<i>Fury</i>

War is hell, a tried and true axiom that gets personified to the nth degree in David Ayer’s World War II epic, Fury, about a tank crew who utter a book full of cliches and live out religious allegories while quoting the Gospel. Ayer, who wrote Training Day and directed such smash-mouth dramas as Harsh Times and End of Watch, has his nose deep in male bravado and testosterone bondsmanship. The scribe-turned-helmsman could probably learn a thing or two from Paul Schrader, who penned Taxi Driver but had mixed success transitioning to the director’s seat with the likes of American Gigolo, Cat People and Light Sleeper. Schrader however, was interested in character-driven stories, whereas Ayer seeks to drop vestiges of square-jawed manliness in chaotic hell often punctuated by hyper violence. Sam Peckinpah had it covered from both sides, and the fact that he did, and that many have attempted to emulate his style and resonance, and failed, only strengthens the testimony of his unbridled cinematic genius.

Right from the get-go, Ayer lets us know that this isn’t the clean, moral war captured on black and white back in the ’40s and ’50s, but something darker and more complex. Coming across a bomb-blasted field of American tank carcasses, an SS officer on a white horse checks the carnage to make sure there are no survivors. For something to be alive doesn’t seem possible, but springing from atop one steel beast is Brad Pitt, who quickly puts a knife blade through the officer’s occipital brow and then unsaddles the horse and allows it to go free—a metaphor for the freeing of white Europe by the grubby Americans?   Continue reading

The Expendables 3

16 Aug

‘Expendables 3′: Bloated sequel shows they don’t make ‘em like they used to

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Ah, “The Expendables,” the low-fi, big (former-)star-fueled franchise that started as a amiable insider joke but with “The Expendables 3” has grown big and bloated – like many of its mothballed stars – and thrown aside its agility and sense of humor. The previous two installments, directed by creator Sylvester Stallone and Simon West, smartly ran spry at under two hours; here in the hands of relative newcomer Patrick Hughes and at more than two hours, the film is not only overlong and annoyingly stilted at times, but also, clearly long in the tooth.

081514 The Expendables 3Old-school old guys schooling buff newbies with plenty of tongue-in-cheek ha-has was the way of the first films. “Expendables 3” starts off that way, somewhere in a Baltic/Eastern Bloc country with Barney Ross (Stallone), the series quarterback of a covert military ops group, springing an old colleague (Wesley Snipes) amid great, witty barbs about “tax evasion” and “blades.” Then it’s onto Mogadishu, where Barney and crew go on a routine mission to stop an arms trade and get their asses handed to them. The fly in the ointment, and adding to the heavy list of new names, is Mel Gibson as Conrad Stonebanks, who’s as bad-assed as the whole Expendables crew and arguably the dark side of Gibson’s already certifiable Riggs persona from the “Lethal Weapon” franchise.

Realizing he might get old chums – Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham among the lot – killed going back after Stonebanks, Barney kicks off a youth movement and winds up with a series of generic 20-something hunks (Kellan Lutz of the “Twilight” series among them) and a woman named Luna (MMA fighter Ronda Rousey) who looks fetching enough in a red dress but can throw down with the best of the lads. Rousey isn’t much of an actress, but boy can she spin, flip and make the stunts look extra authentic. Of course she shows up most of the cast.  Continue reading