EYE IN THE SKY IS PURE PERFECTION

PLEASE NOTE: A shorter review by me can be read here.

Eye in the Sky is the first great movie of 2016 and coming so close after all the 2015 Oscar race releases is a real treat. More than just a drone strike film it is a multi-layered film about the implications and realities of modern warfare traversing the globe and giving an intimate account from various points of view including military, civilian and political.

In Nairobi, Kenya a young family starts their day like any other. The father Musa Mo’Allim played by Armaan Haggio goes about running his business in his front yard and his wife Fatima Mo’Allim (Faisa Hassan) puts bread in their wood fire oven to later be sold. Their only daughter Alia (Aisha Takow) plays with a hula hoop in their fenced in yard wearing her hijab. That bread in the oven is being made to be sold for some extra household income but will take on more meaning as events unfold. The story covering one day will take us around the world, to military bunkers in England, corridors of power in Washington and Whitehall, airbases in Nevada, comms stations in Hawaii and trade shows in the Far East. But all eyes will be on Nairobi and a handful of blocks that show terrorists and a girl selling bread on a street corner.

Helen Mirren leads an all-star cast as military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell who has been tracking these terrorists for years and is leading an operation to have them captured by local Kenyan forces while providing the eye in the sky. The drone is operated by pilots remotely in Las Vegas, 2nd Lieutenant Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Airwoman Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox). When the terrorists move to less friendly territory and are confirmed to be preparing suicide vests the nature of the mission changes and suddenly the young Kenyan family’s house is more geographically relevant. Now the bread being put in the oven to be sold by the little girl on a street corner becomes extremely relevant. In order to carry out a new mission Powell must confirm facts on the ground with Kenyan undercover agent Hama Farah (played by Barkhad Abdi who broke out with Captain Phillips) and get approval from political authorities via Lieutenant General Frank Benson (the late great Alan Rickman) on both sides of the Atlantic.

At first glance the Kenyan family plays like a workshop of plot conveniences. The little girl at the very least must be put in harm’s way at some point because otherwise why is screen time being devoted to this random family with no relevance to the plot. Alia is then revealed to be learning how to read by her father who is obviously not supportive of the local rulers and their ways referring to them as ‘extremists’. Western audiences are being fed this information to like this family even more but as the film continues these plot devices fade away and real emotions develop. Kudos to the casting agents because Aisha Takow is a great little actress in this pivotal role that could’ve sunk the whole movie if she had been too cute or too clichéd but instead provides a human face for the growing potential of collateral damage.

The film also has a sly sense of humour whether it is generals ordering dolls for granddaughters (oh Mr Rickman you are gone far too soon Sir), Foreign Secretaries taking important calls while suffering food poisoning or Americans being annoyed at having to interrupt table tennis games. The script also plays with audience expectations for action to take place ramping up the comic deferral of politicians who would usually claim they have a great deal of power and importance in the scheme of things but here are most stern when they are insisting on pushing decisions upstairs. Rickman who always could do pained exasperation well does some great work here as Lt-Gen Benson. Helen Mirren who pulls it all together and ultimately has to make the decisions (even if she has to gain approval first) plays many notes projecting authority to her command, quietly being frustrated by her political masters, talking through an important factor with her subordinate or watching a threat escalate halfway around the world. Aaron Paul’s role is less demonstrative but he plays it well, Lt. Watts is the trigger and it weighs on him heavily. Barkhad Abdi revels in getting to play a hero and while it’s a less complicated role than his break out role in Captain Phillips it hopefully proves to Hollywood that he can be utilised in many types of parts going forward.

The plot develops in stages passing on information to the audience as the characters learn things. Great care is taken to introduce all characters and keep us aware of the location of key figures in Nairobi. The scope of the film, mostly shot in South Africa is impressive and while for the most part low key, the location shooting feels authentic right through street vendors in Kenya and convention centres in Asia. It is interesting to note South Africa locations stood in for some depicted elsewhere in the world effortlessly. This is not a film against the advent of new military technology, bemoaning collateral damage or questioning foreign policy. It says nothing definitively but invites discussion amongst us all. The screenplay, a brilliant piece of work by Guy Hibbert, is full of small observances and neat contradictions holding true to personal points of view and yet mindful of more far reaching consequences. It is a court room drama before the fact and places the audience to be the jury.

General Benson’s uniform sports the British ribbons for the Persian Gulf War and Afghanistan with Mention in Dispatches. He tells a civilian at one point that he’s been on the ground at five bombings with the bodies, “Never tell a soldier they don’t know the cost of war.” And yet we look at two USAF members who may know the cost of war but who have never been on the ground with the bodies. A politician takes off his shirt and we see he has been sweating very heavily, miles away from any danger he is under stress and carefully weighing potential life and death decisions even though if one is made and it backfires it is doubtful he’ll be investigated as harshly as Col Powers who remains ice cool throughout the whole movie. Missiles hovering high in the sky waiting for civilians at trade deals to come and answer their phones. Boys selling cheap plastic buckets to act as a cover story for an agent while he operates multi-million dollar miniature drones to fly inside a safe house. Bread in a wood fired oven potentially being a death sentence. Gavin Hood’s film powerfully conveys a brave new world with the same old truths of human nature. We want to raise our children in peace, go to work, come home and see them playing in our yards. But war has always existed and people die in wars.

-Lloyd Marken

CPL BRYAN BUDD VC

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Bryan Budd VC of 3PARA was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2006 for actions in Afghanistan. He was the first recipient of the Victoria Cross for British forces serving in Afghanistan. There have been three, two of them posthumous.

A Belfast boy born in 1977 Bryan Budd joined the British Army in 1996 serving operationally in Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was a member of the elite Pathfinder Platoon which carries out reconnaissance deep behind enemy lines. In JUN2006 Cpl Budd joined A Company, 3 PARA in the southern Afghanistan town of Sangin in Helmand Province.

The award was conferred for two cited incidents. In the first incident, on 27 July, Corporal Budd’s section was on a patrol when they identified and engaged two enemy gunmen on the roof of a building in the centre of Sangin. Without regard for his own safety, Corporal Budd led an assault where the enemy fire was heaviest. His gallant action allowed a wounded soldier to be evacuated to safety where he subsequently received life-saving treatment.

There was a second incident was from the 20 August 2006, when A Company, 3 PARA was located in the southern Afghanistan town of Sangin. Cpl Budd and his platoon were ordered to hold a small, isolated coalition outpost – dubbed a platoon house – to protect engineers blowing holes in a compound 500 metres away. The site was subject to almost daily Taliban onslaught for months. At the time in Sangin, British forces often embarked with a 70% chance of a fight. The platoon commander, Capt Hugo Farmer described patrols as “more like an advance to contact.” On the day, there were three sections on patrol, a total of 24 men, spread out in a head-high cornfield around the compound. Budd spotted four Taliban approaching, at a distance of 50 metres. With hand signals, Budd led his section in a flanking manoeuvre round to the cornfield’s outskirts to try to cut them off placing his men in an extended line to advance towards the enemy. But they were spotted and the Taliban opened fire on the troops. The British soldiers took heavy fire, kneeling or lying down trying to take cover. One soldier received a bullet in the shoulder, and another was shot in the nose.

Realising his section were taking heavy fire and were likely to be killed, Budd got up and rushed straight through the corn in the direction of the Taliban, now just 20 metres away. Budd opened up on them in fully automatic mode with his rifle, and contact was immediately lost, but the Taliban fire lessened and allowed the rest of his section to withdraw back to safety so the casualties could be treated.

After withdrawal, Budd was declared missing in action Capt Farmer, who had been hit by shrapnel, then reformed his platoon and led an attack on the Taliban positions with air support. An hour later, Budd was found beside three dead Taliban. Budd was badly wounded having suffered major internal haemorrhaging and had no pulse. The CSM recovered his body on a quad bike, but he was declared dead on arrival at the platoon house. Budd’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, described Budd at the time of his death as “an outstanding leader” who had a professional manner “that inspired confidence in all that worked with him“. Tootal said: “Bryan died doing the job he loved, leading his men from the front, where he always was. He was proud to call himself a paratrooper and we were proud to stand beside him.”

On the 14DEC2006 he was awarded posthumously the Victoria Cross and his widow Lorena Budd a clerk in 5 Regiment, Royal Artillery collected it at Buckingham Palace 07MAR2007.

29NOV2007 it was found by a military inquest that the fatal bullet on that day was a 5.56 NATO round which impacted on his back. Having acted quickly and selflessly Cpl Budd had charged forward into crossfire between the enemy and his men unfortunately being hit by one of their bullets. The covering fire which unfortunately proved fatal for him insured at the same time that his gallant actions were not in vain. Such things happen in war. It is nothing short of a tragedy. None the less Budd and the men he served with had done their jobs and performed bravely in a desperate situation. His actions were in keeping with the kind of selfless determined and brave deeds done by all VC recipients.

Bryan Budd was husband to his beautiful wife Lorena, father of their daughter Isabelle born in 2004. Lorena was 8 months pregnant with their second daughter Imogen. Lorena took great pride in him winning the VC but added when it had been revealed he had been put forward for the award “ He was a brilliant father and a brilliant husband. So regardless of what he is or isn’t awarded he will always be a hero to us.

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On the day that Bryan Budd stood up and charged the enemy turning the tide of the engagement he was due to return home to them in five days time. He never hesitated. His men lived. Such is the courage and acts of Victoria Cross winners.

-Lloyd Marken

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ZOOLANDER No.2 MAYBE MORE ACCURATE THAN INTENDED

Derek Zoolander returns to our screens for a belated sequel 15 years after the original became a cult hit. Comedy sequels are notoriously hard to pull off especially once the cultural zeitgeist has moved on, what was once hip and fresh becomes derivative and sad. So it must be said there are new ideas here and some decent laughs, Stiller and co. are prepared to even develop these shallow characters and recognise the passing of time.

To that end the film opens with a montage of events of the past few years to get us caught up to speed. Zoolander opened in cinemas on the heels of September 11, 2001 and inexplicably imagery in this montage recalls those events while showing the Derek Zoolander Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good collapsed in a tragic accident which killed love interest Matilda Jeffries and disfigured Hansel (He’s So Hot Right Now!) McDonald. Ripping up the happy ending of the first film is necessary but killing off a love interest to introduce a new one is a tired trope for Hollywood. None the less this proves the catalyst for Derek losing custody of his son and becoming a recluse. Now in the present day the former model is enticed back into the fashion industry in order to prove himself as a contributing member of society so he can regain custody of his son. Someone is killing off famous singers who all sport Blue Steel as they pass. Interpol Fashion Agent Valentina Valencia believes there is a connection that Zoolander might be able to help with before more murders occur.

The film is funniest when developing things from the original in an organic way and when referencing how culture has changed. Whether that is Benedict Cumberbatch’s androgynous model All or pointing out that smart phones are growing larger as opposed to years ago when the cool thing was to have a smaller mobile. Too many cameos of the fashion industry show up making the joke too inclusive perhaps although Sting and Kiefer Sutherland are two of the best additions to this sequel. Accepting the characters are older too and having them deal with parenthood is a natural progression but ultimately the film is not as fun or as fresh as the original. A handful of lines are worth remembering whereas the original was endlessly quotable. Kristen Wiig mocking Donatella Versace and the return of Will Ferrel as Jacobim Mugatu are good but the best moments have already been seen in the trailer and Penelope Cruz despite appearing in a red leather biker outfit fails to make much of an impression here (Christine Taylor fared so much better in the original), she is severely under used.

There are incredibly talented people who worked on this and they didn’t lazily just rehash what came before. They told a new story and it has some funny moments. Comparisons to the original may be to the detriment of the film; audience members for whom this is the first introduction to the character may be more forgiving. The death of Matilda seems unnecessary and unfunny but it does reveal that Stiller is not afraid of dark humour and for some may be so random that they enjoy that anything is on the table moving forward. Anchorman 2 though seemed to fare better as a belated sequel to a comedy cult comedy classic. By comparison there is no ‘Cruise Control’ scene in this movie unless you count the whole thing.

-Lloyd Marken

 

BLUE BALL TELEVISION SERIES FINALES!

I was inspired by the recent X-Files revival to muse on a long held lament of mine.

That of the disappointing television series finale. Warning spoilers ahead for any TV show being discussed.

Television is long form story telling affording the opportunity to make characters part of our lives with weekly catch-ups. It rewards staying power making you feel like a confidant who really lives with these people and understands them.

Yet most TV shows never have a plan for the arc of the show, are cancelled prematurely due to low ratings, lose actors to personal volatility, creative differences, ambition, etc. When a show is successful it often runs too many years and show runners and/or stars can leave before it closes. If not then often without a plan for a finale the show will suck. Lately the greatest way to cop out of a prestige series is simply leave an ambivalent ending ala The Sopranos. While in my opinion it works well in that series I can understand how some fans of David Chase’s series felt cheated. The X-Files was the longest running science fiction series of its time ending after 9 years. Part of its appeal had been a long convoluted conspiracy mythology that had already started to contradict itself long before the series ended. After 9 years all we got was our heroes on the run and an alien invasion set date of 2012 which seemed a million years away in 2003. What a fucking cop out. I was never a regular viewer and true fans have told me that the mythology is not such a sticking point for them since most of the show’s best episodes were about stand-alone plots. Still five years later a movie came tying up no loose ends and doing a standalone plot. Eight years after that we got six episodes which varied in quality but overall made the series viable ongoing for continuing adventures. Now there’s talk maybe another series and a third film to wrap up the stories. This is for a show that started in 1993 and peaked around about 1998. I was in high school, now I am middle aged so please to all involved…

What is served by delaying for another series or two of six episodes? Tales unless they are The Canterbury ones should be finished, even those should have been finished!

This brings me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer that I did watch regularly. I was 18 when Buffy and Angel got it on and he lost his soul in a cliff-hanger halfway through Season 2. Every episode after whether filler or not had us fans wondering when and if Angel would get his soul back. Every episode was taped on the VCR and played again during the week with my siblings as we quoted Whedon’s witty one liners and mused on how it would all play out. In that moment I loved that show possibly a way I will never love another show because anything from when you are a teenager becomes sacred. I was after all finding out about love at the same time Buffy was. Angel did get his soul back and get sent to hell before returning in season 3. At the end of that season Buffy graduated high school and Angel left for L.A. Their love story having begun to repeat itself would now be put on hold as David Boreanz got his own spin off. Season 3 was a great year for the show with the introduction of rogue slayer Faith and the Mayor being a superb villain. My little brother noted to me that the season finale felt more like a series finale and sadly his words would prove prophetic.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never the same show for us after that, the writing became inconsistently funny and new storylines were far less enjoyable then the high school set ones. Which is not to say I regret the following four years Spike and Anya became fantastic main cast additions and there were some serious stellar episodes like Hush, Restless and Once More with Feeling.

Chosen brought Angel back for a cameo and but also acknowledged how much Spike had become just as interesting and popular a love interest. More importantly it had a stunning set piece finale, changed the status quo for the hero (giving every potential Slayer their powers automatically)and gave each character a chance to shine.

 

Angel which was probably a more consistent quality show over its five year run ended with our heroes in an alley about to go out fighting a horde of demons. It too had been a satisfactory finale but after eight years Buffy and Angel had not rode off into the sunset to live happily ever after. I know that shouldn’t be what I expect or want but after falling in love with these characters and their relationship despite how both shows had evolved over the years I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. In 2007 a Season 8 Buffy Comic followed and then a Season 6 Angel comic. I got to the end of both with not many answers and very disappointed how they had turned out despite the TV show writers being involved. Hence my central lament.

If there is a show that I feel more frustrated with it is Ally McBeal which I really discovered in 2011 but still carries a nostalgic factor due to watching some Season 2 episodes with my younger sister. If you’re a fan, you know Season 2 is really the best one. That show about a single female lawyer trying to find love in the modern era had its ups and downs but season 4 saw Robert Downey Jr. come on board and give the show new life. But his drug abuse eventually got him written off just as the two characters were to be married in the season finale. Season 5 attempted a reboot before I think the term was coined with a set of new characters for the firm as the most likeable character John Cage made fewer appearances. Typical of a David E. Kelley show interesting characters were left hanging with no plotlines and new characters were introduced randomly and then magically disappeared. A late add of Jon Bon Jovi and a daughter for Ally went nowhere and the show feeling a million miles from its fresh, oddball and original first season bowed out. Did Ally get back with her true love? No she left town with her daughter. John Cage alas was friend zoned after having made more interesting pairings with Portia De Rossi’s Nelle and Anne Heche’s Melanie. All these years later I still wish for a telemovie to show Ally reunited with Larry but Robert Downey Jr’s career success has made that a pipe dream.

Interestingly enough Boston Legal which perhaps was a better Ally McBeal 2.0 with boys did end right. Remaining characters were paired off, the firm survived, everybody got to stay together and do their jobs and Denny and Alan got married so Alan could be Denny’s power of attorney.

Well those are the season finales that I feel most passionately upset about. Let’s consider some that maybe stuck the landing. Feel free to disagree.

BattleStar Galactica

The best thing to come out of the Writer’s Strike of 2008 may be the reduced run of the BattleStar Galactica reboot series. Season 3 had felt a little bit like buying time but season 4 continually raised the stakes as the ship literally started to fall apart. Some fans don’t like the Series Finale where the fleet is flown into the sun after Earth is finally found, the Cylons are allowed to leave to find their own world, President Rosselin dies and Lee Adama decides to go walk about while Starbucks is revealed to be a Spirit and vanishes. What I adore about this finale is if you don’t agree with a character’s decision the story is left open for you to reverse it. Lee Adama is a born leader, I know he’s going to go exploring but soon he will return and he will lead people because that’s what an Adama does. How many shows develop their characters and their worlds so well that after all that time you can feel the freedom and confidence to do that following a finale.

The Wonder Years

Possibly my favourite series from my childhood, the finale after years of obsessing over Winnie Cooper had Kevin and Winnie lose their virginity in a barn. A voice over prologue at the end declares that Kevin’s father died, Winnie went to Paris and remained friends with Kevin who married somebody else and had a kid. Wait…WTF! Somehow though even at 13, I somehow understand after talking to my own Dad that life can turn out like that. The finale may be contentious for some but for me the show was always honest about life’s realistic turns and the wistful nostalgia Daniel Stern’s voice over carries for those days becomes so much more poignant when you realise that Kevin only has memories of his father from that time really.

 

Cheers

Sitcoms notoriously run too long and lose talent and stop being funny. This maybe the gold standard though for how to do it right. If you cast back to the mid-80s and Sam and Diane getting engaged and moving in together you might have been very excited to hear that Shelley Long would return for the finale. Last time she was walking up the steps away from the bar declaring she would be back in a year. Old slugger Sam knew better and watched her departing figure go repeating “Have a nice life.” The writers knew something about those characters and about life in that exchange that went beyond Shelley Long leaving a popular show to pursue a film career. All those years later when they wrapped the show they displayed that wisdom again. Sam and Diane did not ride off into the sunset however much some fans may have wanted them to. No instead Diane went on with her career and Sam returned to his bar and its regulars. As each character got a send-off in a late night smoking session to welcome Sam back, Norm was left to declare that Sam all along had stayed with his one true love. Friends saw Ross and Rachel get together, Monica and Chandler have a baby and the friend stay friends while dramatically moving out of the apartments but Cheers has the greatest sitcom finale of all time.

 

The Late Show with David Letterman

Essentially a glorified clips show David Letterman’s sojourn still has big ticket guests doing an excellent Top Ten and the man himself holding centre stage in an honest speech saying goodbye. The montage of images played while the Foo Fighters close with Evergreen though is the kicker. So many memories and then Letterman steps up onto the stage waving to the crowd. Perpetually beginning for posterity’s sake as the show ends for good.

Mad Men

Repeating a feature of several later episodes the finale chews up valuable time with Don going to a retreat isolated from the rest of the characters back in New York. Where will the story end we wonder and then he quite possibly makes a breakthrough emotionally. We follow a montage of characters Peggy finally happy in a relationship and at work,  Pete reunited with his family and hitting his peak like Don before him before his inevitable decline, Roger Sterling happily seguing into retirement and travel with a likeminded companion, Joan finally the boss, Betty in control of her life but sadly at the end of it and the wise rebellious Sally accepting responsibility in the family. When Don opens his eyes is he about to return to advertising with the famous Coke campaign that closes the series or is it just a gentle mocking of Don’s industry and our subsequent consumerist culture? These ambivalent endings can feel like cheats but when it comes to The Sopranos and Mad Men I am fairly happy with the results.

So what are some of favourites or least favourites? How do you rate the finales of Airwolf, Alf, Alias, The A-Team, Breaking Bad, Boston Legal, The Cosby Show, CSI, ER, Family Ties, Frasier, The Golden GirlsHill Street Blues, Knight Rider, Lost, Magnum P.I., M.A.S.H., N.Y.P.D. Blues, Seinfeld, The Shield, The Sopranos, The West Wing?

-Lloyd Marken

Brooklyn: An Old Irish Tale for Our Times

Brooklyn is a touching timeless tale of coming of age in a foreign land and the tug of home as you become your own individual away from it. Like all good Irish stories there is tragedy and pathos, by the end of the film you may feel as emotionally wrung out as you would after 3 consecutive funerals but the film is ultimately about the courage to pursue new beginnings.

It opens in 1952 in Enniscorthy, Ireland where Eilis Lacey is about to leave for America arranged by her older sister Rose through the Church. The American economy is booming and there are prospects for a young woman that is not present in Ireland. There are hints throughout that Rose recognises that Eilis is suited for bigger things. Rose herself has not planned this but she is critical of the social and employment possibilities of her small home town even as she is anxious about leaving the only world she has ever known behind. Her father is long gone and her mother is unable to watch from the pier as her youngest daughter leaves the shore. Rose does though, an unwed bookkeeper left to take care of their mother watches as her sister sets out on the adventure she arranged for her.

You never get over that empty seat at the family dinner table, it can’t be filled.

Eilis has to adapt fast on the boat ride over and then in her new surroundings. She lives at an Irish boarding house with other young women and severe landlady Madge Kehoe while also working at a department store. The first year can be tough when abroad, homesickness creeps in and some come home early. Yet once a new social network has been established and professional achievements have been earned in the foreign city you may never see your loved one return. Because that “foreign” city is home now. Brooklyn is about such a year for this young Irish girl and we see her initial struggles.

Directed by a man (John Crowley), written by a man (Nick Hornby) based on a novel by a man (Colm Toibin) Brooklyn is nonetheless a woman’s story and there are some refreshing choices here. For example Eilis does meet an Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen) but he appears more swept off his feet than she is. She has feelings for him but her world is opening up and marriage could potentially narrow her path. A reminder that even in the patriarchal conservative 1950s there were young people and social values were always in flux. Watch when Eilis is brought over for dinner by Tony and mentions her bookkeeping classes, Tony’s mother glances over recognising that her working class son is in love with a girl who has ambition. It’s not a look of judgment but there is concern there… and a lifetime of understanding.

There are wonderful touches throughout the movie, old Irish men singing Celtic songs in gratitude for a simple meal, young people wearing bathing suits in front of each other for the first time, girls gossiping amongst themselves while a matriarch scolds them and long walks through the night trying to tell someone how you feel. Every character is beautifully portrayed by their actor and brings a wealth of history whatever their age. How do you get to be a landlady (Julie Walters) in Brooklyn in 1952 looking after girls and quoting the Bible? How many young people has Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) looked after coming to Brooklyn? Does Miss Fortini, Eilis’s department store boss (Jessica Pare) have a fella? Is fellow boarding house tenant Patty McGuire (Emily Bett Rickards) worried about her future or just enjoying her present? Brooklyn lets us answer some of the questions with our own imagination and is all the richer for it.

In a wonderful scene Tony, a plumber by trade, takes Eilis out to a field and tells her the biggest secret he has. They stand out on a hill and he tells her he’s going to buy a block of land there and his brother nearby and they’re going have the whole family there and they’re going to run a business building houses for people. The grassy hill is Long Island. Neither Eilis nor Tony discusses the need for such a company to have a bookkeeper. A young man is letting a young woman know what he plans to do with his life, what is important to him and what he hopes to offer her and it is up to her to take that chance with him. It turns out Eilis is not the only one with ambition.

Tragedy strikes and Eilis must return home where she is set up with local boy Jim Farrell played by a favourite actor of mine Dormhnall Gleeson. Jim has good prospects too in Ireland and a maturity that recognises something in Eilis that Rose saw. This part of the film is harder because Eilis must hide a secret and while her motivations are understandable and it does logically become harder for her to declare things or keep her distance, audience sympathies may lean towards Tony and Jim instead of the central character. Everybody is human and flawed but thinking of Tony’s care in crafting love letters to Eilis with his younger brother may lead to disappointment with Eilis as she puts them in her bedside drawer. She is clearly confused about her feelings in a way that Tony is not and maybe Tony should’ve recognised that better as well in prior scenes which is perfectly understandable but still hard to take at this point. A late declaration by her is supposed to serve as rebuke and taking up the mantle of a new identity but it felt hollow due to her earlier actions.

This is not to say that the very talented Saoirse Ronan is not absolutely wonderful in this film. She plays every note of emotion just perfect conveying many scenes of emotional turmoil and also thoughtfulness in weighing decisions about her future and past. We’re with her on this journey and we want it to be a happy one for her. After terrific performances in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna and The Grand Budapest Hotel this is probably her biggest role yet.

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Brooklyn will make you cry, laugh and nod in acknowledgement of life’s little moments that make a big difference in one’s journey. It tells an immigrant’s tale, something close to the Irish experience as much as any other nationality.  With Montreal doubling for period New York the film’s production values for a period setting are solid if mostly set bound. The camera more comfortably takes in surroundings in Ireland. That seat at the table never stops feeling empty but the person missing is sitting at another table across the seas and they are loved.. and they are home there too. This is a great movie.

-Lloyd Marken

DEADPOOL: FINALLY A HAPPY ENDING FOR RYAN REYNOLDS

Oh hello. I don’t like to always follow the formula of film reviews. Sometimes I can’t help but use the dreaded pronouns I, myself and me. Sometimes I break away from the formula of having the first paragraph be about whether the film is good, the second paragraph introducing the plot followed by a third paragraph to expand on said plot and maybe start to go into the performances. Sometimes I never really have much of a fourth paragraph referring to technical aspects that stand out which often include cinematography, score or the stunts. Sometimes I skip straight to the fifth paragraph and rate the director in comparison to his/her other films before closing with the sixth where you reiterate how good it is maybe with a pithy comment. I don’t always follow this formula but it is insane how much better my reviews have been when I have started writing trying to fit this structure. By the way I really like the review I did for Youth if you’re interested. Deadpool likewise is a comic book movie screaming how much it is not like your average comic book movie and yet still following the structure of the formula in some ways. That’s not to say it isn’t like a breath of fresh air in this comic book movie saturated market. Timing can play a part in these things coming off Age of Ultron which was great but not as satisfying as its predecessor and arriving just before the juggernauts of Batman v Superman (v what the fuck is that?!) and Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool feels like a renegade upstart lacking the big bucks of those films but daring to go to places with meta-humour and adult content that those franchise four quadrant blockbusters would not dare. movies film dc features total filmGuardians of the Galaxy, which I really shouldn’t be mentioning because the link to it is tenuous at best and will just increase my word count which is always far too long but screw it it’s a blog and nobody is paying me so I’ll be self-indulgent, arrived at a time that there hadn’t been a space opera in a while besides those Star Treks of which the latest was good but not nearly as funny as a Talking Racoon with a machine gun. If it came out now it might feel like it was trying to catch the wave of popularity The Force Awakens is enjoying. A few years ago Deadpool would have been subverting a genre the average movie goer didn’t know inside and out. It turns out my ex-wife was right, timing is everything although I think she was talking about foreplay rather than motion picture releases and box office success.

The film opens with possibly the best opening titles sequence of the entire decade, certainly the most memorable and original one I can think of in a long time. The camera tracking through a car crashing in ultra-slow motion, while orientating us to where the car’s occupants are and throwing up humorous self-mocking credits. This is a moment from the film’s most impressive action set piece. Opening with a conversation in a taxi cab it becomes a car chase down a crowded freeway that segues into a lengthy shoot-out before concluding with a character stand-off where the lead villain and two X-Men are involved. This sequence is such a stand out that it is broken up into at least the 4 listed sections above each ending with a cliff-hanger to peak interest before it is intercut with a series of flashbacks. By chopping and changing like this the filmmakers also disguise the fact that in sequential order the audience would basically be following yet another standard origins story. Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a mercenary and former special forces soldier who falls in love with escort Vanessa played by Morenna Baccarin. The flashbacks while not as interesting are still unconventional themselves (the development of the central love story is partly depicted in a sex montage that will never let you think of international women’s day the same way again) but it is also where the film reveals it’s heart showing the lead character as vulnerable as we will ever see him. A cancer diagnosis is played honestly by Reynolds and Baccarin showing what a young laconic couple would face when disease creeps into their lives. Wade gets an offer to enrol in an experimental government project that will cure him but not all is as it seems. The torture basement where his mutant powers of healing as well as physical disfigurement come forth is suitably dinghy and depressing. Deadpool is actually insane in the comic books which I’m not sure is as obvious in the films where the fourth wall breaking just seems like a good running gag but his anger against villain Francis is well articulated and as an audience member you are right there with him following the basement story. The second act of the film having left the freeway and flashbacks plays as a more straightforward revenge showdown but is lightened by crude jokes and Reynolds’s nice interplay with Leslie Uggams as Deadpool’s roommate Blind Al.

Uggams is part of the supporting cast that fares best including Karan Soni as the taxi driver Dopinder, Brianna Hildebrand as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, an assortment of people bringing Colossus to life and Gina Carano as Angel Dust completely channelling major henchman parts from 80s action films that I expected her to do a neck crack at some point. Baccarin as love interest Vanessa is limited somewhat in the second half but comes across as a whole human being in a role that would have been in danger of being a cliché. My favourite moment for her is when they are in the Doctor’s office. Ed Skrein is effective as Francis but lacks presence possibly due to playing against Reynolds in the role the latter was always meant to play-just not like he did in that Wolverine film! T.J. Miller as Wilson’s best friend Weasel has his moments which are a bit like his comedy. His acceptance speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards last year was awesome but the guy just doesn’t always do it for me and that’s true here too. I suppose since this is a review I should probably be more articulate in my opinion of Miller but  I really would rather write about how amazingly hot Jennifer Garner is. I mean seriously those cheekbones, that smile. By the way Jenny there was absolutely nothing wrong with the black one.

 Absolutely nothing.

I also respect you for your talent, personality and intelligence and I love my wife but there really was nothing wrong with the black one and yes I think about sex a lot. By the way I don’t have an ex-wife like I mentioned earlier. But if I continue to write blog posts like this…. Maybe I’ll need to buy a unicorn stuffed toy for myself too.

And now it’s time for the technical paragraph. Tim Miller shoots the action effectively and the effects are first rate especially given the budget, the crew are not lacking in ambition. The palette is grey and gloomy for the most part and I for one could’ve used a bit more colour but it fits the mood. Different sets are effectively lit to convey mood but there is little variety, this is a drab grey city that is mostly overcast when not raining and full of small dinghy apartments and bars. Yes the humour buys an awful lot of good will and is the best part of the film but if the action didn’t hold up or the film lacked heart we wouldn’t care as much. We do. The soundtrack as well is a fantastic arrangement of old hits mixing country, hip hop and power ballads. Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning is well and truly back folks.

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A few years ago I saw a great romantic comedy that pushed Sandra Bullock back into the superstar stratosphere. She followed with an Oscar win in The Blind Side, an excellent action comedy The Heat and anchored a special effects drama directed by a first rate film maker. Her male co-star Ryan Reynolds did some good films after The Proposal but if there was a Ryan who broke out in that time frame his surname was Gosling not Reynolds. But like I said kids it’s all about timing. Here we are and some of those failures have made this film’s success that much sweeter. Alright getting close to 1,200 words so better wrap this up. Ryan Reynolds can play a lot of different notes, he really can and I hope he gets to in the years to come but he has always delivered as a first rate smart ass and the Merc with the Mouth (that is not stitched up!!!) really is the role he was born to play. Did I say that already? Whatever he is great in this film.

I saw Deadpool on opening night in a packed cinema; the crowd was lapping up every minute. Two days later I saw it again for a late session and the theatre was uncharacteristically packed again. The marketing had been clever and hitting the mark for months but don’t let anybody tell you any different- nobody expected this. The film cost $58 million dollars and has so far grossed $710 million dollars worldwide. In its opening week initial gross estimates were revised three times at least. It was hoped to be a hit but it has surpassed all expectations and delivered something audiences were craving. It has not been an easy, likely or guaranteed journey to this film getting made let alone it being this good. God it’s just so nice when everything just comes together. If you’re 18, do yourself a favour and go see this movie.

-Lloyd Marken

10 PICS FROM THE STICKS PART II: MT TIBROGARGAN AND THE TRACHYTE CIRCUIT

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Inspired by the great series of blog posts by Cindy Bruchmann Five Shots I am continuing my own rip off 10 Pics from the Sticks. I’ll be playing catch up with some hikes me and my wife have done in recent years before hopefully giving new material from this year. In January 2012 my wife and I took our real first serious hike together at The Glasshouse Mountains. The Glass House Mountains are on the way to the Sunshine Coast and consist of 11 mountains which include Mt Beerburrum, Mt Ngungun and Mt Tibrogargan. We had done a couple of things previously, a hike around a forest park in suburbia in 2009, a 4km jaunt up to Baroon Lookout and back with friends the same year which was very enjoyable. Baroon Lookout has featured in our lives ever since in long day hikes with various people and was also where I picked out a stick for Karen and her best friend which were then lacquered and given to them to keep. However notable as an event for us though, on that day we only really covered 5kms.

In early 2012 I was yet again on a health kick and had found hiking with full gear of 23kgs on my back was a good way to burn calories. We arrived at Mt Tibrogargan after lunch and began the steep ascent 800m up to the Mountain View lookout. The track up Tibrogargan is notoriously steep, rocky, uneven and has a chain on the side of the path at points. Maybe to stop people falling off the path but more likely to help pull themselves up. I’ll admit near the end  a couple of times I made use of that function but only a couple.

388We reached a ledge and I took the pack off for the last bit of the climb while my wife Karen waited. At the last bit where I had to hug the wall to pull myself up onto a rock and I thought better of it, noting if I injured myself Karen was going to struggle to get back down with my pack and I was starting a new job the next day. You could say I chickened out but I’m keen to try again. You could say it though. 🙂

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On our way back down a guy came running past us up the mountain with a camel back. I’m pretty sure we’d seen him coming back down when we were going up. Talk about fit. With time to burn we decided to do the 6km Trachyte circuit which is very flat compared to the terrain we usually tackle on the Sunshine Coast Great Hinterland Walk.

404There were Bee farms, and the Jack Ferris lookout and after having climbed the mountain we found this a very easy going walk.

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From the Jack Ferris look-out. Mt Ngugun is on the left and Mt Tibrogargan is the peak on the right.

 

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On the left of frame is most of Mt Tibberoowuccum and in the centre of frame Mt Ngungun.

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To the left is Mt Beerwah and to the right of it Mt Tibberoowuccum.

The sun set on our way back and we were both glad when we rocked up the car park just as it had gotten dark.

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We have since done longer hikes but it was a good one to start off with. A few different friends have posted pictures from the top of Mt Tibrogagan so I will have to try again soon.

-Lloyd Marken