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Recent Movies: Eye in the Sky; Hunt for the Wilderpeople; The Innocents; Old Movies: The Piano; Live Theatre: Out

August 7, 2016

Recent Movies

Eye in the Sky

A British military operation works with the U.S. and Kenya to prevent a suicide bombing by known terrorists in Nairobi. The efforts for a drone attack are thwarted as an innocent nearby civilian could possibly be killed in the attack.

“Eye in the Sky” is neither pro-war nor anti-war. Or maybe it could be called both. The various arguments on all sides are compelling and credible. The viewer feels as conflicted as most of the characters in the film.

There are two characters who have no qualms on where they stand. On one side is a British military colonel (Helen Mirren) who believes the attack should go ahead regardless of civilian casualties. On the other side is a British political official (Monica Dolan) who believes there must be no risk at all of civilians being killed. (Interestingly, these characters never confront each other.) In between is everyone else in the military, political and legal spectrums who debate the dilemma: is it okay for a small number of innocents to be killed if it can prevent more innocents to be killed later on? Despite some extreme views, the viewer rarely if ever feels judgment toward any of the characters. Their humanness is real.

As decisions must be made quickly due to time constraints, “Eye in the Sky” is a thriller. It could also be considered a suspense where one of the mysteries is who is right and who is wrong. Guy Hibbert’s screenplay is very rich in its moral questions, making this film’s story superior to the many other military films of recent years. It includes a relevant topic and very powerful dialogue. Even the details of fundamentalist bullies in Nairobi are subtle with their impact. It is also notable for showing a believable (and non-propagandistic) human side to those in the military who must make extremely difficult decisions.

Director Gavin Hood keeps the tension alive with astute skill. The detailed use of advanced spying technology is also thrilling. In addition to Mirren and Dolan, the rest of the cast contribute greatly to this fine production especially the late, great Alan Rickman. In the final scene, he delivers a line that is the perfect conclusion for a great film.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * * ½

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT: Screenplay by Guy Hibbert


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is an aboriginal, delinquent teenager who is transferred among foster homes in urban New Zealand. His newest foster assignment is in a farm near the wilderness. After a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, Ricky and the man of the house (Sam Neill) live in the bush as they are hunted down by government authorities.

There is an early disappointment in the film when a likeable, eccentric character disappears too soon. Also, the plot device of an “old grouch” unlikely bonding with a misunderstood teenage boy has been done many, many times before.

Despite these complaints, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” is still an enjoyable movie. This is mainly because of Dennison’s and Neill’s performances – both individually and in their mutual chemistry. The film also gives credibility to a repeated theme: that bureaucrats rarely (if ever) give outcasts the help they need but still try to dominate their lives. Near the end, there is also a nostalgic reminder of “Thelma and Louise”.

With some good humour and the beauty of the New Zealand wilderness, this movie comes off as rather gratifying.

RATING:   * * *


The Innocents

In rural Poland just months after the end of World War II, the occupying Nazis have left and occupying Soviets have taken over. Mathilde (Lou de Laage) is a young doctor with the French Red Cross who is assigned to help wounded French soldiers. Maria (Agata Buzek) is a nun from a nearby convent who convinces Mathilde to assist members of her convent in great need of medical help due to a crisis that happened months before.

I am being deliberately vague in the synopsis to avoid revealing a shocking spoiler in the film’s beginning. I was fortunate not to know this detail and was very moved by the impact when it was revealed. The film is based on a true story. While the premise seems bizarre at first, it makes perfect sense later after one recalls the gruesome historical details of this place and time.

Director Anne Fontaine was one of the film’s screenwriters along with Sabrina Karine, Pascal Bonitzer, and Alice Vial. While there are some flaws in the story, most of it is very rich and very well executed by Fontaine’s austere directing skills.

While many individual stories are intriguing, it can be difficult to keep track of the many characters in the convent. In the latter half, there is a shocking action by the Mother Abbess (Agata Kuleza) that doesn’t seem to make sense. It is possible to give the benefit of the doubt but there ought to have been an extended monologue in which the character explained her choice of action. There is a brief monologue but this doesn’t seem to be enough.

Despite these complaints, all other aspects of the story are fascinating. The characterizations of Mathilde and Maria are solidly written and portrayed. They both differ in faith (Mathilde, raised Catholic, is a non-believer) but they are very much alike in that they both risk getting in trouble with their respective organizations in order to answer a higher calling to help those in need. Their unlikely kinship is another enjoyable aspect of the story especially when they put their minds together at the end.

There are other powerful scenes in which some of the nuns discuss varying degrees of faith. Some are losing it which is quite understandable under their circumstances. The film also explores broader issues such as having to live with one set of bullying occupiers (the Nazis) only to be liberated and have those bullies replaced with another set (the Soviets). The story also explores Poland’s history of anti-Semitism. This is best reflected in the experiences and perspective of Samuel (Vincent Macaigne), a Jewish Frenchman who is Mathilde’s senior colleague, friend, and occasional lover.

It is tempting to compare this film with “Ida” (2013). They are both Polish films involving nuns and the aftermath of World War II. Kuleza also has a prominent role in both. Despite these similarities, both of these fine films are very distinct in their own ways.

RATING:   * * * 1/2


Great Old Movies Seen Again

The Piano  (1993 – New Zealand)

In the mid-nineteenth century, in a community in a New Zealand forest, a mute pianist from Scotland (Holly Hunter) and her young daughter (Anna Paquin) live with a settler (Sam Neill) as per an arranged marriage. A nearby neighbour (Harvey Keitel) has his sights on the pianist.

Director Jane Campion (also the screenwriter) has created a movie experience that is sensual from beginning to end. She gets to the heart of nature in every scene even making the viewer experience rare feelings. The opening scene of an arrival at a beach is beautiful and provocative; the sight of the giant waves is stunning but also a dangerous and uncontrollable part of nature that acts as a preview of what’s to happen with the characters of the story. The sex scenes are also very unique in that they express a passion and warmth that is rare in films of its era as well as those that have followed; particularly in moments where a facial expression shows genuine pleasure from the sense of being touched.

Campion gets great work from her actors. Keitel and Neill show a sensuous side that might only be encouraged by a director with a feminine perspective. Paquin gives one of the best child performances in cinema. And Hunter’s performance is truly amazing. Her facial and body language say so much. In a shocking, climactic scene, her quiet breakdown rips the heart out. Her character is someone who might seem demanding and annoying at first but it is clear later on that Ada is one of those souls who seems more attuned to the spirit world than to the mundane details of the physical world.

The story may have flaws (as others have pointed out) but it is how it is expressed that makes it stand out. Here, Campion is greatly aided by cinematorgrapher Stuart Dryburgh and the music by Michael Nyman. A treasure for the senses.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT:   Directing by Jane Campion


Live Theatre

“Out” written and performed by Greg Campbell, Fringe Festival, Toronto

Campbell portrays several characters with the main character being Glen: a suburban Montreal teenager in the 1970s who is coming out of the closet and exploring gay life.

“Out” is filled with equally high amounts of comedy and drama to make it a truly enlightening and entertaining experience. Campbell’s brilliant insight as a writer is exceeded only by his agility and versatility as a performer especially when playing multiple characters in some scenes and changing physical positions for each character.

Glen’s journey is multi-layered before culminating at Gay Pride march in New York City: dealing with a homophobic father with a drinking problem; an ongoing conflict between friends who share opposite views of the “closet”; the fallouts from promiscuity. There are also specific references to the 1970s for nostalgia types: “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”, disco music, a hilarious sendup of Anita Bryant’s homophobic campaign to rescind gay rights in the U.S.

It all leads to a closing scene that draws out every possible emotion. Leaving the viewer with such depth makes “Out” a truly soulful experience.

RATING:   * * * *

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