The Wall

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Directed and Produced by: Doug LimanThe Wall

Written by: Dwain Worrell

Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson and John Cena.

A taunt psychological thriller set in 2007 when President George Bush declared the War in Iraq over.

Rebuilding the country, contractors are brought in to build pipelines across the desert.

After been radioed for assistance, two soldiers, Sergeant Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) an Army Ranger who serves as a spotter to Sergeant Matthews (John Cena), lie amongst the rocks, camouflaged, waiting for movement.  All they see on the dusty ground is the bodies of dead contractors, all head shots, and one marine holding a radio in his dead hand.

All is quiet, yet they wait, watching, trying to figure out the story behind the dead and if there’s still a threat.

As the story unfolds, so do the men as they’re stripped, piece-by-piece by the faceless, hidden sniper who pins Sergeant Isaac behind a crumbling wall, to then speak into his earpiece, to burrow like a worm into his mind.

Although, The Wall is about soldiers, this isn’t a movie about war, this is suspense created through stretches of quiet: a patient relentless waiting of a killer who plays with his intended kill like a cat with a mouse.

The soundtrack is the wind whistling through the bricks and the distant clap of metal sheeting and the crackle of voice; of men fighting and hiding behind words.

Director, Doug Liman (Mr & Mrs Smith, The Bourne Identity) has taken a solid script from first-time screenwriter Dwain Worrell and made a low budget film into a simple yet very effective suspense thriller.

Dwain Worrell researched the daily life of soldiers extensively, including PTSD.  Creating a story of strangers murdering each other.  About legendary Iraqi snipers creating a paranoia that comes to life.

The Wall

Adam Taylor wrote an article in, The Washington Post, in January 2015: “There were similar legends of Iraqi insurgent snipers.  Probably the most famous was that of ‘Juba’, a sniper with the Sunni insurgent group Islamic Army in Iraq, whose exploits were touted in several videos released between 2005 and 2007.  Some attributed scores, even hundreds, of kills to the sniper, and accounts from the time suggest he got deep under U. S. troop’s skins.”

The idea of psychological torture reminded me of the original, Saw film (2004), similar in that the characters are trapped and tormented through the words of a faceless enemy.  And dang it, after the film finished and I was walking out of the cinema, I overheard another critic saying they had the same feel as the, Saw Franchise, because that feeling of being trapped is there.  Yet, The Wall is more about the suspense then the gore.  Giving a glimpse into those suffering from PTSD: the tense waiting for the bad to happen, the waiting being the torture.

A seemingly simple film: two characters, one wall set over the course of one day.  Yet, The Wall was a thoroughly absorbing story handled by the sure hand of smart director.

If you like your suspense, this is a well-paced journey with a well-thought ending.  Much better than expected.

Dunkirk

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Written and Directed by: Christopher NolanDunkirk

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy.

I’m still trying to figure out the feeling, that swell in the chest I felt while watching Dunkirk.  Whether it was pride or love of humanity or patriotism, Dunkirk was an emotive intersection of timelines during Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of troops from, Dunkirk, France, during World War II.

The film focuses on three different Fronts from:

1. The mole: Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) the soldier who’s been on the ground for a week;

2. To the steadfast Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) for a day;

3. To Farrier (Tom Hardy) the pilot of a Spitfire in the air for an hour.

All of these men are fighting the same war and all of these men are either trying to escape or save the men surrounded by the Sickle Cut (war strategy) the German forces have maneuvered on French soil; the Allied forces stranded on the beach where they desperately wait for ships to take them back to Britain, just across the channel:

Commander Bolton: You can practically see it from here. 
Captain Winnant: What? 
Commander Bolton: Home.

With leaflets falling from the sky depicting the hopelessness of their effort to escape – an arrow pointing: ‘You are here’, surrounded by the enemy and literally being pushed into the sea only to be picked off by fighter pilots dropping bombs, the soldiers watch battleships sink, one after the other to then watch the tide bring in the dead.Dunkirk

But as the classification (PG) shows, this film isn’t about blood and guts, Dunkirk is about celebrating the small victories and how all those victories eventually add up.

Hence that swell in the chest because there’s this overriding feeling of people doing the best they can and somehow the everyday civilian can make all the difference: Sometimes doing right, wins.

Take that notion and add the suspense of the desperation to escape, full credit going to Hans Zimmer and his soundtrack creating tension with music like a ticking time-bomb.  Director and writer, Christopher Nolan uses little dialogue, instead it’s about the words unspoken, just a nod here and the audience knowing the music is building.

There’s a simplicity to each scene combining the different threads of storyline in real time like a formula pulled together by sound: the low thud of bombs, the droning of jets, the running of boots on sand and bullets popping through the hull of a ship like copper coins hitting tin.  There’s much to be said about the soundtrack, but watching the film on IMAX with that big square screen?  Can I say it didn’t really need it?  But what am I saying, go see that expanse of beach and ocean on IMAX – why not?Dunkirk

The effort to film the movie on 65mm film (transferred to 70mm for projection) brings the story to life all the more, leaving little room for error.  Dunkirk is such a solid film, with such beautifully orchestrated performances (was also a win to see Harry Styles finally get a haircut!) to see the views from air to the beach to under the water on such a large screen just added more to an already impressive project.

Lastly, I just want to say I usually struggle with war films.  The reality of the violence of war makes my blood boil. I love the fact that there’s no unnecessary violence here.  We all know what happens when a bomb goes off.  We don’t need to see or imagine our ancestors or grandparents getting blown apart.

Nolan has used his talent to bring the true story of Dunkirk to the screen without over dramatising, allowing us to admire the courage and valour of the civilians of Britain who saved more than 330, 000 soldiers’ lives.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

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Director: Niki CaroThe Zookeeper's Wife

Based on the nonfiction book, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ written by: Diane Ackerman

Screenplay: Angela Workman

Producers: Jeff Abberley, Jamie Patricof, Diane Miller Levin, Kim Zubick

Cinematographer: Andrij Parekh

Music: Harry Gregson-Williams

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton, Iddo Goldberg, Efrat Dor, Shira Haas, Daniel Brühl.

Based on a true story, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a film set in Warsaw, Poland during WWII.

The screenplay (Angela Workman) was adapted from Diane Ackerman’s nonfiction book, created from the diary of the lead character, Antonia Żabińska (Jessica Chastain), the wife of a zookeeper who becomes so much more.

This is a tragic story where Antonia and her husband, Dr. Jan Żabińska (Johan Heldenbergh) shelter and hide and ultimately save the lives of almost 300 Jews at the risk of their own.

Set in a zoo, cinematographer, Andrij Parekh shows the animals from elephants, to adolescent camels to soft rabbits to tigers in all their grandeur, a cinematic device that adds another dimension contrasting the innocence of the animals against the evil of humanity.

I struggle with war films.  I find the violence and cruelty extremely difficult to watch because war films give a glimpse, just a tiny window into what actually happened to people living through the horror.The Zookeeper's Wife

Poland was torn apart during WWII, lying between Germany and Russia.  The war, by its end, killing 6 million of the Polish population.

By focussing on the Żabińska family, the audience is given insight into how people coped when faced with such senseless violence.

Dr. Janusz Korczak (Arnost Goldflam), a detained Jewish teacher, reasons with Antonia by asking her: with their worlds turned up-side-down, how are they supposed to know how to think or feel?

The film asks the question: how do you stop the fear from taking over? How do you risk your life and your family to save others?

The Zookeeper’s Wife is a story l haven’t heard before and there were aspects of the film such as the Polish uprising that spoke of events highlighting the true courage of the population.  And although I find war films upsetting, I was glad to have the opportunity to see, hear and listen.The Zookeeper's Wife

The soundtrack (music by Harry Gregson-Williams) is largely orchestral and atmospheric, but there’s also Antonia playing the piano that shows a tenderness in the character, the piano music heralding safety or danger.

Because the film is based on the diary writing of Antonia, there’s a depth where fear can turn to anger, where love can turn to hate and where the vulnerable become the strong.

There’s complexity shown where good people must lie to survive and those who can love can also exterminate.

There’s good and bad in all people and showing how Antonia, a tender, seemingly vulnerable woman shows inner strength to take such risks is realistically portrayed by actress, Jessica Chastain.

Seeing Jessica in another recent film, Miss Sloane, playing an emotionless character, to the extent of sociopathic behaviour, and seeing the gentle character shown here, hints at the exceptional range of Chastain, and I admit, I’m fast becoming a fan.The Zookeeper's Wife

And Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), although a sometimes hateful character, was also a very believable character; Daniel Brühl, you’ll also remember from Quentin Tarantino’s, Inglourious Basterds also playing a Nazi suffering from unrequited love.

I had trouble with the English-speaking characters with a German or Polish accent, who were supposed to be, German or Polish.  But I can see the care and respect given to portray this story by showing courage and beauty but also the raw and confronting reality.

There’s a risk in making another WWII film as there’s been so many in the past, but The Zookeeper’s Wife is a moving heart-breaker with a point of difference with the addition of animals into the cast which added tragedy but also hope.

Sunset Song

GoMovieReviews Rating:

Directed By: Terence Davies

Sunset Song
© 2015 Sunset Song Ltd/Iris Productions/The British Film Institute.

Based on the novel written by: Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Starring: Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan; Kevin Guthrie.

Set in the early 20th century, Sunset Song is a heart breaking film but as director Terence Davies states, a story that needs to be told.

Chris (Agyness Deyn) is a young girl growing up in the beautiful enduring and sometimes harsh Scottish country of the Aberdeenshire.

This is a place where beauty may not last but will be the more beautiful for it.  Where love may not last but the land will continue to endure.

The story centres around Chris and her life from family tragedy to marriage to the First World War.

Sunset Song is a love story but also a story of Scotland and the bittersweet nature of life.  There’s such cruelty yet such sweetness that feels lost in this modern age.  And to be reminded of the sacrifice of our Grandparents and all those who lost their lives during the war and broke their family’s heart is truly humbling: Lest We Forget.

I was immediately captured by the opening scene of Chris lying in the middle of a crop of wheat, hidden from view; the sun on her face.  I used to do the same thing but amongst the green stalks of canola.  Being hidden from everything and everyone except the sky.

Sunset Song

I loved the simplicity of this film.  The soundtrack mostly the characters themselves singing.

A close friend of Chris narrates the story, describing the poetry of Chris’ life.  The lightness of the words used to balance the harsh reality sometimes endured.  And that’s the main theme here – the endurance of the characters like the endurance of the Scottish landscape.  The camera work showing the rolling green hills, the rain, mud and filtered sunlight another character of this classic Scottish story.

Plenty of space and quiet was allowed into the film.  Personally, some of the scenes could have been cut or shortened.  But that’s just my mile-a-minute modern city brain.  The film slows the mind to grasp the sweetness, the tragedy; cruelty and humility.

I wondered at the use of nudity in the film, somewhat jarring in the context of modesty, but then there was also length given to the cruelty, the light from the church window and the sermon given, to the poetry and the singing – all given in equal measure, all giving weight to the film.  This is a modern understanding of a classic story to the heart of remembering and never forgetting.

Sunset Song

So easy to get carried away with such an emotive story.  I find war films difficult because it’s too close; too real.  The times where child birth could so easily kill the mother, the times so easily forgotten.  But Sunset Song is beautiful film and well worth watching.

Bring your tissues, lasses, and lads, bring your heart.

War Dogs

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Director: Todd Phillips

War Dogs
© 2016 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Writers (screenplay): Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips; Jason Smilovic

Based on an article written by Guy Lawson, “Arms and the Dudes” published in Rolling Stone (2011)

Starring: Miles Tellers, Jonah Hill, Ana de Armas; Bradley Cooper.

When does telling the truth ever help anybody?  Is the title of a chapter in War Dogs.  Ironic in that the film is based on the true story written by Guy Lawson: a fascinating exposé about two 20-something year-old’s who put together what is now known as the Afghanistan arms deal worth $300 million dollars.

But War Dogs isn’t an action-packed war movie, this incredible story is about two mates seeing an opportunity and taking it.

It’s not about war, it’s about making money.

Combining this have-to-see-to-believe story with a great soundtrack (I’m talking golden oldies such as Creedence Clearwater), director Todd Phillips has brought to life the two characters, David Packouz (Miles Teller) and Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill): The laugh Jonah Hill gives his character Efraim is unforgettable.

And I just had to laugh at the balls of these kids.  You can’t make this stuff up.  What a story and well worth reading the article originally published in Rolling Stone back in 2011: Arms and the Dudes.

War Dogs
© 2016 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

I saw a recent interview on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon where Jonah talks about War Dogs and the need for a daily slathering of fake tan because he was allergic to the stuff.  Combined with the laugh and standout performance from Jonah, Efraim was the highlight of the film for me. And then there’s the legendary Henry played by Bradley Cooper: an arms dealer who was said to have sourced the rope to hang Saddam Hussein after he was convicted of crimes against humanity.

These guys are the bottom feeders, where War Dogs are those who make money out of the misery of war without ever seeing combat.

This is a film to get people talking, to shake at the incredulous cunning and open for business policy of the American Government.  And I congratulate director Todd Phillips for getting the feel just right.

War Dogs
© 2016 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

The film is shown as a series of chapters, a telling example entitled: I love Dick Cheney’s American War.  And reminiscent of, The Hangover trilogy, the voice-over narrative of Miles Teller as David Packouz gives the story a personal touch.

The freeze mid-action gives the audience a chance to absorb the craziness where if someone were to tell you this story, it would be too far out there to be believed: The American government posting arms contracts to the general public for 20 year-old’s to bid on and win?

Making such an incredible story believable with fantastic acting (Jonah Hill, what a legend) and thought put into the pacing of the film, gives War Dogs a winning quality.

Whether the truth of the story will help anyone is a statement worth discussion, but War Dogs is certainly entertaining and thought-provoking.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot

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Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John RequaWhisky Tango Foxtrot

Screenplay: Robert Carlock

Based on: ‘The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ by Kim Barker

Starring: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Billy Bob Thorton, Steve Peacocke; Christopher Abbott.

Comedy/War/Drama?

Kim is a 40 year old copy writer who spends her time on an exercise bike going no-where.  No matter how hard she peddles, Kim just isn’t getting anywhere.  Her life is going backwards.

Presented with an opportunity to get out from behind a desk and report in front of a camera in Afghanistan, Kim leaves her boyfriend and comfortable life for the chaos of the Kabul Bubble where shit literally flies through the air.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot (I’m thinking military speak for WTF) is a juxtaposition of genres: war, comedy and drama.

It’s hard to categorise Whisky Tango Foxtrot.  There’s some dark humour here: Kabul International Airport A.K.A Killed In Action.  But I would say this movie is a drama with the main character, Kim Barker (Tina Fey), having a midlife crisis.

At the beginning, I was concerned the film was falling firmly on the ‘My life journey’ style of film, but thankfully, with the introduction of characters in Afghanistan, the film took off on its own journey with the focus on the characters and the reality of life in the ‘ka-bubble’.  

I wouldn’t call the film a comedy, even though Tina Fey (known for her parts as a comedian) is the protagonist, but there are funny moments with the misunderstandings between different cultures, and the inherent humour of Iain, the Scottish photographer.  Yes, this is mostly a drama with the elements of war: gun fire, bombs blasting and drones flying, played over with a sometimes cheesy soundtrack.  It was a strange juxtaposition between this romantic drama and comedy set on a backdrop of the war in Afghanistan.  This wasn’t a MASH situation.  There were some serious thought-provoking moments.  And it worked.

I enjoyed watching this film because I liked the characters.  The translator, Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott) was a standout with warm eyes and a genuine soul; then there’s the security guy Nic (Steve Peacocke), fellow journalist, Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) – yes the film was heavy on the Aussie actors not that it’s a bad thing!  Then there’s the photographer Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), the politician Ali Massoud Sadiq (Alfred Molina), the general Hallanek (Billy Bob Thorton) and then the people of Afghanistan.

This was a well-rounded story, and yes, it was heart-warming.

It was just some of the moments were strange.  For example, Kate reporting in front of the camera only to realise she’s standing near a dead body hidden under rubble but for an arm.  Not funny, just a bit strange.

The mission undertaken by marines with the green of night vision but with a romantic soundtrack playing, also strange.

But the strength of the storyline with the careful handling of the characters by directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011); Focus (2015)), Whisky Tango Foxtrot was an enjoyable film to watch.

 

Eye in the Sky

GoMovieReviews Rating:
Director: Gavin HoodEye In The Sky

Screenplay: Guy Hibbert

Starring: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, Barkhad Abdi, Lain Glen, Phoebe Fox, Jeremy Northam.

Drama/Thriller

I was completely absorbed by this film, from beginning to end.

I’m not a fan of war movies.  I find the violence a little too real and disturbing because it is all too true.  But Eye in the Sky isn’t one of those blood and guts type of films, it analyses the hierarchy, the politics of war.  It makes murderers of all involved.

What a fascinating take on such a complicated issue.  We are at war, but from the comforts of our homes; directions are made behind closed doors and bombs dropped from drones.  War, in these days, is an ethical conundrum.

There was no loss of momentum in this film, even though the focus was a quiet examination made through dialogue between the characters; the suspense in waiting for difficult decisions that must be made. Not an easy task and very well handled by director, Gavin Hood (Tsotsi (2005), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), Ender’s Game (2013)).  He lets the characters tell the story in the simplicity of one day, one long moment shown in all its depth and complexity.  And using this linear time-line and keeping it simple, the film felt authentic.

Helen Mirren was perfectly cast as Colonel Katherine Powell.  A tough as nails, uncompromising military soldier who never waivers from her duty.  And mixed emotions seeing Alan Rickman in his final performance as Lieutenant General Frank Benson: a sympathetic character showing his humanity under the cast iron soul of a soldier.  Hard to believe this brilliant actor will no longer grace our screens.

It was interesting to have the curtains drawn back to show what happens behind the closed doors of war.  I can only sympathise with the people who have to make decisions to try and save as many lives as possible.  Deciding what are the legal, ethical and moral ramifications behind the killing of people in a different country – and whose life is worth more.

Eye in the Sky was thought-provoking, suspenseful and moving without theatrics.  A film to get people talking about issues that need to be spoken about.