Tag Archives: Breaking Bad

Eye in the Sky

18 Mar

Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky is a taut, real-time thriller that gets at the complex politics of drone warfare as agents on opposite sides of the ocean debate what is and is not acceptable collateral damage given a time-sensitive strike against a terrorist cell. Best known for the Academy Award-winning, South African gang tale Tsotsi, Hood and his writer Guy Hibbert create something that’s both intricate and delicate. Ultimately, Eye in the Sky is best described as a fusion of a staged play and spy thriller.

The action takes place in four locations around the globe, with the focus being a terrorist hotbed in Nairobi where a Western convert masterminds the next wave of bloody disruption. In a dark and cavernous military post somewhere in England, Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) oversees Operation Egret, an effort to extract a young Englishwoman (Lex King) who has joined the Al-Shabaab terrorist group. Elsewhere, Kenyan Special Forces on the ground sit on the ready to move in as a drone — piloted by U.S. serviceman Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) from a cramped military facility in the vast Nevada desert — watches from above. The Brits and Kenyans hang onto Watts’s feed while an indigenous informant (Barkhad Abdi) maintains street-level surveillance with short-range animatronic drones launched from a parked van.

It’s a basic nab-and-grab gig until the target leaves the house in a shroud so they can’t get a positive ID and moves to a well-guarded compound akin to the one Osama bin Laden was taken in. Soon, a larger plot to bomb a public marketplace emerges and the focus of the mission switches from a capture to a kill operation. Continue reading


24 Nov

‘Trumbo’: Scribe refusing to name names meant carrying on by adopting others

Back during the Red Scare and Cold War years, Hollywood relegated many talented filmmakers and artists to the blacklist, making them untouchable and unhirable through the naming of names by people themselves worried they’d be called out as Communists and become unable to keep working. Elia Kazan, the director of such classics as “On the Waterfront” and “East of Eden” was one Hollywoodite who appeared as a witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee and prospered. But Dalton Trumbo, then the highest-paid screenwriter in Tinseltown, was served up by his friends but refused to roll over on others. Equipped with a cunning wit, he preserved and prospered behind the scenes, spinning the excess and hypocrisy of Hollywood into a small fortune.

112115i Trumbo“Trumbo,” based on the book by Bruce Cook, shows the screenwriter’s triumphs and tribulations while on the “list.” It’s a snarky look at a period when right-wing fear mongering – akin to today’s strong immigration/terrorism rhetoric – reigned supreme and liberalism was equated with Communism and anti-American sentiment. The film, directed by Jay Roach of “Meet the Parents” and “Austin Powers” fame, plays light and fast, a benefit to something that could have been a somber slog, but it also lacks breadth. The focus of the film centers on the newly blacklisted Trumbo, his outlandish shenanigans (he wrote “Exodus,” “Roman Holiday” and “Spartacus” behind the scenes, using pen names) and the state of paranoia and complacency sweeping the country.

Roach gets a huge lift from Bryan Cranston as the affable but conniving scribe, who becomes name-drop fodder after taking a defiant freedom of speech stance in the face of blacklisting. As Walter White in the wildly popular AMC series “Breaking Bad,” Cranston, even while engaging in criminal activity, always possessed an avuncular tenderness, and that essence radiates here, coupled with quirky and witty charm. It’s a disarming performance in search of a meaty vehicle, but satiating nonetheless.

The huge ensemble – dwarfed by Cranston’s always-on rebel clown – includes a scene-chewing Helen Mirren as notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, John Goodman as small backlot studio head paying Trumbo peanuts to crank out B-flicks, Christian Berkel, an uproarious specter as director Otto  Preminger, and the lovely Diane Lane as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo. In it all, it’s interesting to see how some of Hollywood royalty get painted, John Wayne (David James Elliot) comes off as indignantly right while Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman) proves pragmatic and sensitive, ever bearing a kind, knowing smile.

In the end, I’m not sure Roach and writer John McNamara get the historical perspective right. It feels like you need a bit of a Google search now and then to anchor it, but in there pinning it all together handily is Cranston, who carries the film as effortlessly as Trumbo cranked out scripts for schlock projects.