Here are three films of decidedly mixed styles and quality.
Tom Ford, 117 min., 2016
Not too weak
Inventive writing (based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright), creative rendering coupled with a very taut pace (screenplay adapted and directed by Tom Ford) along with a first-rate cast (artfully led by Amy Adams as Susan trying not to become her mother, Jake Gyllenhaal as Susan’s ex, Edward and the pivotal part of Tony—a distraught father trying to man up to his perceived weakness in the book within the film; as well as Michael Shannon’s darkly believable role as the dying lawman who is craving justice at any cost) combine magnificently, producing a multilayered film that is not afraid to go dark, deep and personal into the human condition.
Not for the faint of heart, the opening sequence of a gallery installation of exceedingly overweight, aging, naked women happy in the mounds of their own skin wordlessly establishes the tone of all manner of animal instincts to come: made up or real.
Miss it at your peril; see it at your own risk of, at times, uncomfortable self-discovery. JWR
Sean Ellis, 120 min., 2016
Effect of the cause
Watching Ellis’ version of the assassination of SS General Reinhard Heydrich is at various moments frustrating, maddening and revolting.
The first 45 minutes are as predictable as most wartime action flicks (difficult landing, early betrayal, “vanished” on-the-ground key contact, a budding violinist, sudden love interests—even a sympathetic veterinarian) and lacks real tension.
The buildup to the actual assassination attempt and its uneven results seems like a different film. The resolution of the remaining storyline (parachutists on the run against all odds) is also entirely foreseeable to any student of history but the deplorable moments of torture and killings/murders on both sides of occupied Prague make the blood boil. What truly colossal blunders were made by world “leaders” (including the Czech government in exile) that sent thousands upon thousands of innocents (and conniving perpetrators) to early graves largely because they failed as diplomats—willfully blind to Hitler’s agenda so long as they weren’t put directly in harm’s way. The Munich Agreement stands as one of the worst attempts at appeasing a bully and dividing up countries without active inclusion or consultation (leading to the famous cry, “About us, without us”).
Nonetheless, the acting is strong (notably Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan and especially Toby Jones whose visage is a master class in wordless acting) and the cinematography (also led by Ellis) is superb. JWR
Eye in the Sky
Gavin Hood, 102 min., 2016
No thrills here
Every once in a while actors find themselves in films that just feel wrong. Helen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell seems as up in the air as the deadly drone that seeks its targets for British revenge in Kenya. Hula-hoops be damned as more innocent (and guilty, too, of course) lives are claimed.
Alan Rickman is the model of stoicism and stiff upper lip as he leaves screen life playing Lieutenant General Frank Benson. Steve Watts does everything asked of him as drone pilot (the ultimate video game), Aaron Paul. Field agent Jama Farah is given a believable turn by Barkhad Abdi.
Doing nothing worse than selling bread and being a young girl, Musa Mo’Allim is blessed with a wonderfully innocent portrayal by Armann Haggio.
Of course, these sorts of “collateral damage” situations happen every day, but ought to be confined to gritty documentaries rather than for-profit cinema. JWR