*NEW* EYE IN THE SKY REVIEW *NEW*

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I have never been so tense watching somebody buy bread.

A slow burning nail biting thriller that questioned the very morals and ethics behind launching a drone attack.

Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl (Faisa Hassan) enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

“In war, truth is the first casualty” – Aeschylus

I was hooked from the moment the credits rolled. The tension bubbling from the off. The slow burning approach allowed us to explore what it actually takes to initiate a drone attack. I couldn’t believe how many task forces and officials were involved. The film flicked back and forth from one unit to another from the drone pilot right down to the on ground surveillance team.

My interest hooked, lined and sinkered. The cast were superb. Mirren was brilliant as the ruthless Col. Hell bent on seizing a terrorist that has evaded capture for six years. Alan Rickman was on fine form as Lieutenant General Frank Benson. He really did steal every scene. It hit home a little more knowing that this would be his last feature.

I liked how writer Guy Hibbert was able to incorporate some humour into this taut affair. I did laugh at Rickman’s old misery guts struggling to buy a doll in a toy shop. He can handle tough decisions and mediate between awkward politicians and military figures BUT can’t buy the toy that cries and poops.

It was good to see Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul break (Not intentional word play there) against type as the conflicted pilot who must drop the payload.

The surveillance, aided with some cracking panoramic and landscape shots from the drone’s point of view, was brilliantly executed. The cool gadgets could easily have teetered on James Bond territory with remote control beetle drones flying around the compound.

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips) delivered another sterling supporting turn as Jama, the undercover operative who must sneak into the heavily patrolled village to obtain visual confirmation of the targets. Tense doesn’t even come close.

What should have been a “no brainer” with three members of the most wanted East Africa terrorist list confirmed and minimal collateral damage reported; soon turned into a moral debate that questioned the very ethics of what is deemed acceptable in the rules of engagement.

An almost 12 Angry Men scenario developed as the politicians argued about the implications of launching an attack on a friendly zone. There was some sharp satire with ‘the powers that be’ as they failed to make a decision. “Referring up” or passing the buck from one official to another.

They even referred it back to the Americans in desperation. Their stance on the matter was very black and white; “Terrorist cell confirmed. Permission granted”.

However, things took an even nastier turn when a little Muslim girl set up shop near the compound to sell bread. It really was a roller coaster ride. I haven’t been caught up with such a film in quite some time.

I could feel my patience tested and loyalties divided as the chaos ensued. How much is collateral damage really worth? Monica Dolan’s (The Casual Vacancy) character Angela Northam infuriated me as the PC do gooder that demanded a capture option as one of the terrorists was a British citizen. Declaring her right to a fair trial.

I could empathise with Powell’s frustration at the bureaucracy of it all and the endless “red tape” that she was cutting through to stop an active terrorist attack. The real time frame adding the extra pressure.

BUT as the officials continued to stall (Even taking into account, the PR nightmare that the mission could incur), I found my own decisions changing as the drama unfolded with Paul’s Watts going out of his way to give the little girl time to escape the fallout.

The closing moments were frenetic, suspenseful and heartbreaking with a sombre statement delivered by the great man himself, the late BUT always great Alan Rickman.

A suspense filled thought provoking effort that is definitely worth your time.

4/5

12 YEARS A SLAVE REVIEW

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Harrowing, haunting, brutal, if a little overhyped. This is still one for your consideration.

It’s tough to commend the subject matter, but one can applaud it’s execution. Steve McQueen brings to life a visceral telling of an innocent man’s slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a rightly deserved Oscar nominated performance as the mesmerizing Solomon Northup.

12 Years follows Northup in Saratoga, New York, in 1841. It flashes back and forth from a slow burning opening sequence of Northup’s slavery to him being a free family man. The flashbacks reveal quite early that gifted violinist Northup is lured to Washington, D. C. by two entertainers, promising work. But after a night of carousing, Northup wakes up in chains and is sold into a life of slavery.

As the closing credits rolled, I couldn’t believe this account happened. McQueen has never been one to hold back the punches or shy away from taboo subjects such as hunger strikes (Hunger) and sex addiction (Shame). 12 Years makes no exception. Never afraid to keep the camera fixated on the action, lingering, building tension and horror, providing some of the most memorable, if hard hitting, scenes.

Performance wise, this film is exceptional with a plethora of talent and how Ejiofor could still stand out shows how good his performance really was. I was also surprised by Paul Dano’s turn as the conniving slave master. Intentionally going out of his way to aggravate Solomon. He continues to excel ever since Little Miss Sunshine. Appearing in numerous Oscar nominated features (There Will Be Blood and Prisoners). Personally, I felt he deserved a Best Supporting nod.

Benedict Cumberbatch nailed the Southern accent as kind hearted slave trader Ford, a man forced by the times to own slaves but desperately trying to give them the best that he can. Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt delivered in their surprisingly small roles.

A good portion of the plaudits should be awarded to McQueen regular, Michael Fassbender. He was brilliant as the religious zealot Edwin Epps. He nailed the accent and stole every scene with his menacing presence. Sarah Poulsen was great as the ice cold Mistress Epps. I’ve been a fan of her for some time. Ever since her turn in American Horror Story: Asylum and Coven.

BUT Ejiofor, an underrated actor in my eyes, was finally given the platform and he excelled with aplomb. You really cared for the man and his breakdown in the closing moments was endearing and brilliantly acted.

However, at the same time, 12 Years A Slave is hardly perfect. Personally I couldn’t help but feel that Oscar hype raised too many expectations. McQueen’s greatest strength was also his weakness. The lingering shots, though haunting and engaging; at times were drawn out which heavily slackened the pace and tension of the piece.  

Despite certain scenes delivering uncomfortable viewing, it wasn’t as controversial or as brutal as the hype suggested. For those who have seen Roots, this particular story will seem all too familiar. 

And as the closing minutes drew, Fassbender’s Epps wasn’t actually as demented as he first presented himself. BUT this is still a well acted, brilliantly shot and visceral film that is worth a watch

3.5/5

STOP! OSCAR TIME. THE RANT . . . I mean nominations.

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Awards seasons is well and truly underway and of course the OSCARS are vastly approaching. The nominations are here at last. Granted, I’m a little behind. Hey, I’ve been busy. Plus it’s been good to see people’s reactions on the list. Now, it’s my turn.

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  • So first up, here are the nominees for BEST PICTURE; 12 YEARS A SLAVE, AMERICAN HUSTLE, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, GRAVITY, HER, NEBRASKA, PHILOMENA and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. 

Mixed bag for me. Some of these riding on too much hype. Hype always helps in getting films noticed but these ones? Hmmm . . . personally, I feel that American Hustle and Captain Phillips do not deserve this nod. BEST PICTURE to me, means the best film in story, acting and . . . well everything. Both excelled as acting showcases but all in all, were both drawn out, long winded affairs that lost my interest through the halfway point. There is no need to make a film two to three hours unless the ends justifies the means. Now, Gravity is another over-hyped example. Deserves all the nods for visual and special effects but at it’s core, I personally felt the film died off when *SPOILER* Clooney did. In all fairness, he deserved a Best Supporting nod. He stole every scene. At Gravity’s core, however, is the same old predictable story of survival. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I had more enjoyment out of Armageddon! If she died, would have been a waste of time, so only one way it could go and it felt like an eternity not 90 minutes.

The others I have yet to see. The joys of being in a town where there are no independent or arthouse cinemas. BUT I have done my research. It’s great to see Nebraska and Philomena getting a nod. Philomena is a fantastic film, if unexpected nomination. However, these are definitely going to be the outside bets. Same applied for Dallas Buyers Club. Now, this is where my bias kicks in. Huge Scorsese fan! So I want Wolf of Wall Street to win. But I would say 12 Years A Slave will get this in the bag. The reaction has been a lot more united on this picture, while American Hustle and Gravity have torn people straight down the middle.

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  • Next, BEST DIRECTOR! And the nominess are; Alfonso Cuaron, GRAVITY, Steve McQueen, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Alexander Payne, NEBRASKA, David O Russell, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Martin Scorsese, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Directors- not too much to say. You know who I want to win and frankly he has been ignored for too long. Scorsese finally got an Oscar but one of his weaker projects. Getting one for Wolf of Wall Street would rectify that. But I think it will be between Cuaron and McQueen. It should be McQueen but can’t help but feel Cuaron will nick something from all that astronomical hype (See what I did there).

  • BEST ACTOR – Christian Bale, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Bruce Dern, NEBRASKA, Leonardo DiCaprio, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and Matthew McConaughey, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

In all fairness, I wasn’t surprised that Tom Hanks didn’t get a nod for Captain Phillips. Tremendous actor that he is. He only really got the final 10 minutes to show why he has earned that reputation. It was a wasted platform for him. Christian Bale was a surprise. Powerhouse actor but I felt he was incredibly passive and to be honest I have seen him do much better. He should received this nod for The Machinist. A painfully drab film that was uplifted by his sheer performance. American Hustle not so much. In all fairness, I felt Idris Elba should have had one more for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. A flawed biopic that was carried by his sheer gravitas. I mean, Denzel Washington got one for Flight and well . . . that was nothing special. Even Colin Firth should have received one for The Railway Man. The emotion he delivers through his expressions is worthy alone. However, Leonardo DiCaprio has excelled film after film. He deserved an award for Django Unchained and should so for the Wolf. People are saying this is his year but how many greats have not been acknowledged by this noble award ceremony? Should be DiCap but money’s on Ejiofor. Great to see him get recognised for the talent actor that he is and no, not just because he was in Kinky Boots (that was filmed in my hometown. NORTHAMPTON!).

  • BEST ACTRESS – Amy Adams, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Cate Blanchett, BLUE JASMINE, Sandra Bullock, GRAVITY, Judi Dench, PHILOMENA and Meryl Streep, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY. 

Right, love Amy Adams and Sandra Bullock but Best Actress? No. Adams’ accents were irritating, especially her “English” one. Great performance but not Oscar worthy. Same for Bullock. She expressed and delivered all the emotions any one could feel in that situation but I struggled to keep up with the film. I mean Doubt was a slow-burner but I couldn’t stop watching because of Streep’s performance. Ironically, multi-Oscar winner Streep has been nominated yet again. Not undeservedly so. She may have done some duds, but no one can doubt her performances and abilities. Keeping in mind with my previous comments, an actress I couldn’t keep my eyes off (Not like that! Well a little) was Cate Blanchett. BJ (Come on! We’re better than that!) Blue Jasmine was a ‘GOOD BUT . . .’ film for me. BUT Blanchett’s performance was impeccable. I think she will win. I really want Judi Dench to win. A fantastic actress and her performance as Philomena was funny and endearing but the buzz is pointing to Mrs B. Also, where was Emma Thompson’s nomination for Saving Mr Banks?! Shocking. Can’t believe she got cut from the list.

  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Barkhad Abdi, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Michael Fassbender, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Jonah Hill, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET and Jared Leto, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Now firstly, not a bad selection. However, I do feel Hiroyuki Sanada should have a nod for The Railway Man. However, I’m not going to lie, I get confused with the release date period plus in the UK we seem to get everything a few months behind. Abdi was incredibly sinister and played the part well in Captain Phillips. I want Bradley Cooper to win. He has excelled since the Hangover and he stole the show, well almost, in American Hustle. That nod goes to someone else.  Money’s on Jared Leto who has been the dark horse and winning a few awards already for his performance.

  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Sally Hawkins, BLUE JASMINE, Jennifer Lawrence, AMERICAN HUSTLE, Lupita Nyong’o, 12 YEARS A SLAVE, Julia Roberts, AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY and June Squibb, NEBRASKA

There can only be one for me in this group who managed to make a quite pointless character enjoyable and memorable and that is Jennifer Lawrence. It’s a shame because Sally Hawkins was very good in Blue Jasmine. Interesting that Julia Roberts is supporting? From the trailer, I assumed that the main storyline revolved around her character and Streep was the supporting role? Hmmm.

Now, the others. Harsh but these ones get rushed across or are previewed during the relentless red carpet coverage or all the advertisements. It’s infuriating because these awards are still important; a good script with a good story makes a huge difference. Editing, sound, cinematography helps create a film and make it more memorable. If the sound doesn’t match or the film looks too grainy, that’s it, you’re out of there but hey ho.

  • BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – 12 Years a Slave, Before Midnight, Captain Phillips, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street

Money is on 12 YEARS A SLAVE!

  • BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Dallas Buyers Club, Her and Nebraska

A tough one. All valid candidates for a change. Now, Alexander Payne is normally the king for nailing this so I would say Nebraska. But I feel O’Russell will lose out on the bigger fish and might just sneak this. However, Oscar nominee regular Mr. Woody Allen might fancy his chances. Tough call. Gutted that Kelly Marcel didn’t get the nod for  Saving Mr Banks.

  • BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest and Celestine, Frozen and The Wind Rises

Got to be between Frozen and Despicable Me 2. Now, I want Despicable Me 2! Minions all the way and if they could accept it either dressed as Minions or an animated acceptance speech, that would be great (In Office Space voice). However, Frozen would be more fitting of the Oscars though. Both enjoyable none the less.

  • BEST ANIMATED SHORT – Feral, Get a Horse!, Mr Hublot, Possessions and Room on the Broom

Money’s on Get a Horse! It’s Disney, John Lasseter produced, can’t see any others beating it. Feral as the outside bet possibly.

  • BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – The Grandmaster, Gravity, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska and Prisoners

Money’s on Gravity. As much as it may have been overhyped, one thing that can’t be argued is the look of it. Beautiful and stunning. However, Prisoners was shot fantastically as well. But Gravity, all the way.

  • BEST EDITING – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity

American Hustle, methinks. I feel the film will pull in what it can because it may fall short of it’s buzz. However, Greengrass’ projects of late have been commended for their editing. Gravity may miss out in place for the more visual awards.

  • BEST COSTUME DESIGN – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Grandmaster, The Great Gatsby and The Invisible Woman

12 Years and American Hustle look outstanding in their design but there can be only one for it’s lavish and luscious costume and that goes to the Not-So-Great Gatsby.

  • BEST MAKE UP – Dallas Buyers Club, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, The Lone Ranger

Would be great to see Jackass to win for Knoxville’s make up but as it’s “Oscar season”, money on Dallas Buyers Club. Although strangers things have happened.

  • BEST MUSIC – The Book Thief, Gravity, Her, Philomena, Saving Mr Banks

May have cut short on everything but surely Saving Mr Banks will win this one?!

  • BEST SONG – ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’, Alone Yet Not Alone, ‘Happy’, Despicable Me 2, ‘Let It Go’, Frozen, ‘The Moon Song’, Her, ‘Ordinary Love’, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Would love Happy to win. I mean it’s been number one in the charts over here for how long? Plus it’s a TUNE. However, Disney are a tough competitor. But let’s not forget that fateful year when Amy Adams sang live two or three songs that were nominated for Enchanted. Only for the couple from Once to win. Only one nomination in the group. Also, Three Six Mafia (Who?) have got an Oscar. Haven’t done much since. Didn’t do much before. Just stayin’ fly, I suppose 😉 Still don’t remember them? John Stewart said what everybody was thinking at the time, “Three Six Mafia 1, Martin Scorsese 0”

  • BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Her

Toss up between Gravity and OK Gatsby (What? It weren’t that good. Nice to look at, though). Got to be the Gats.

  • BEST SOUND EDITING – All is Lost, Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lone Survivor

Gravity or The Hobbit. I would say, The Hobbit will get one preciousssss

  • BEST SOUND MIXING – Captain Phillips, Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Inside Llewyn Davis, Lone Survivor

Inside Llewyn Davis might snag this one and hopefully avoid a complete snub. We shall see. If not, there is only one, preciousss because one film of this magnitude does not simply go to the Oscars and get one award.

  • BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – Gravity, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Star Trek Into Darkness

Gravity. Sorry, oh Smaug, breathtaking beast that you are but you cannot match the beauty of the Earth. Star Trek, fantastic effects but alas, worse than that, it’s dead Jim.

The other nominations I am unfamiliar with and I don’t think it’s fair to comment. Plus not much buzz to go. Best documentary. I’d place my bets on The Act of Killing.

  • BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – 20 Feet from Stardom, The Act of Killing, Cutie and the Boxer, Dirty Wars, The Square
  • BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT – Cavedigger, Facing Fear, Karama Has No Walls, The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall
  • BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark), The Missing Picture (Cambodia), Omar (Palestine)
  • BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me), Avant Que de Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything), Helium, Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?), The Voorman Problem

A breakdown will down later on, with my Oscar checklist and bets, plus more buzz on the later categories. And let’s see how many on the Oscar lotto I can get. Such fun! Plus Dory’s back! Expect selfies. Run Spielberg Run!