Tag: january jones

Good Kill


Good Kill (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Although a member of the U.S. Air Force, Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) has not been on a plane as a fighter pilot for years. Instead, he is a part of the Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) stationed in Nevada, controlling drones from halfway across the world. Already unhappy with where his career has ended up, he begins to question whether it is morally right to keep performing his job after the CIA becomes a significant part of his unit’s missions.

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, “Good Kill” tells an unexpectedly engaging portrait of a man who controls military drones while sitting in an air-conditioned shipping container in the middle of a desert. This is due to a powerful and focused screenplay that highlights the impersonalization of war from several angles. During the film, we are forced to ask ourselves: If we are given the chance to kill someone, for whatever reason or none at all, from halfway across the world—to watch them die, to observe their burnt and crumpled bodies, likely to be in pieces, can we do it?

Hawke has a gift for playing characters with clipped wings. In Niccol’s modern science fiction classic “Gattaca,” Hawke plays a man who dreams of visiting space but is restricted from doing so because he is genetically imperfect. Only the best of the best are able to go up there. Here, he plays a man who wishes to pilot a fighter plane once again but technology has gotten so advanced over the years that it is deemed there is no need to take such unnecessary risks. Instead, he sits behind a computer as if he were a kid playing a video game—the key difference being that every action he takes has real-life, very often fatal, consequences.

Just about every scene hinges on Hawke’s body language. Major Egan is a quiet man. Even when he speaks, his words tend to say very little, much to the frustration of his wife (January Jones). Thus, it depends on us to observe closely what his body is saying given a situation. For instance, notice how he walks toward the shipping container where he is required to do a job he detests. He looks fatigued, dejected. He might as well have weights tied around his ankles. When at home, his eyes are rarely present, always staring at something very far away—as if in mourning of the man he used to be.

Hawke builds a dramatic gravity through body language, a task not at all easy to accomplish. This is proven by his co-star, Jones, who is by far the worst performer on screen. Just about everything she does looks forced and fake: the looks of worry, the tears, the feelings of abandonment. When she is on screen, the material drags a bit—a stark contrast against Hawke’s subtle and effective performance. While Jones is beautiful physically, it is a challenge to relate to her thoroughly because of her inauthentic acting.

Appropriately, the film is at its most powerful during the missile strikes. We watch the monitor closely as we hear the characters perform checks and countdowns. We look at the people being targeted. We look at the surroundings. Complications happen. Mistakes cannot be taken back. Unlike a video game, you cannot simply push a button and restart from the last save point. Instead, you take the dire mistakes with you and they fester in the mind.

X-Men: First Class


X-Men: First Class (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

A spy for the CIA, Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), had been tracking Sebastian Shaw’s (Kevin Bacon) activities for quite some time. Initially unknown to her, he was a mutant and it was his goal to start World War III between the United States and the Soviet Union. He believed that by having the world’s superpowers obliterate one another, Mutants could finally rise and rule. Shaw was also the man who murdered the mother of Erik Lehnsherr, future Magneto, during the Nazis’ evil rule in Germany. Through rage and other negative emotions, he trained Erik to control his ability. Fast-forward to the 1960s, Erik (Michael Fassbender) hunted the men responsible for his terrible past. Shaw was the final man on his death list. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, I found “X-Men: First Class” to be admirable not because of its action sequences but because its attention was largely on its story. It focused on the complicated relationship between Erik and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). The former favored violence while the other valued diplomacy. We learned that Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), also known as Mystique, were childhood friends and how her loyalty shifted over the course of their friendship. We also met Professor X’s first students: the intellectual Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), the timid Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), the assured Armando Muñoz/Darwin (Edu Gathegi), and pretty boy Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till). The cast had great chemistry, especially Fassbender and McAvoy, but I wish the younger actors were given more screen time. The film would have been more fun and exciting if the politics wasn’t always at the forefront. I thought it was wonderful that the screenplay treated us like intelligent audiences by choosing a specific time to establish the parallels and eventual divide in Magneto and Professor X’s beliefs and ethics. But I have to admit that the picture had a certain energy that made me smile with scenes in which the students showed each other their powers and did a bit of destruction while being held by the CIA. Those parts made me realize that maybe it was taking itself too seriously. There were moments of humor dispersed throughout but it needed more to allow the material to breathe. Perhaps two or three grand speeches by Magneto should have been left on the cutting room floor. Furthermore, I’ve heard a lot of negative feedback involving January Jones’ performance as Emma Frost, one of Shaw’s most loyal henchmen, a telepath and whose skin could turn into diamonds. While I thought her acting wasn’t great, I didn’t think she was terrible or distracting. The way I saw her character was she grew up pretty and privileged, though not exactly intelligent despite being able to read minds, and so she was apathetic to the politics around her. To me, all she cared about was being Shaw’s trophy. With some girls, it’s enough for them to have a guy next to them. I want more superhero movies like “X-Men: First Class” because it was clear that it had ambition. Although its tone was vastly different from its predecessors, it made itself an important piece of the package.

Unknown


Unknown (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife (January Jones) arrived in Berlin to attend an important gathering for scientists. Just when the two reached their hotel, Martin realized that they had forgotten a suitcase at the airport. Incidentally, the suitcase contained important documents like Martin’s passport. On the way to retrieve the suitcase, an accident caused Martin and the taxi driver (Diane Kruger) to plunge in the chilly Berlin river. Four days later, our protagonist woke up with some memory problems. When he got back to the hotel, his wife no longer recognized him and there was another Dr. Martin Harris (Aidan Quinn) in his place. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Unknown” was an effective thriller during the first and last twenty minutes. Unfortunately, Martin’s journey from Point A to Point Z was hindered by the film’s failure to give its audiences small rewards in order to keep us fully interested. It spent too much time showing Martin looking lost and sad, like an unwanted puppy, as he tried to contact people in his life to no avail. There were small bursts of energy when Martin saw Ernst Jürgen (Bruno Ganz), a former member of the German Secret Police. For a price, the mysterious man was willing to help Martin. There was also Rodney Cole (Frank Langella), a friend with whom Martin had been trying to contact since he woke up from a coma. He believed that Rodney would be willing to testify that he was the real Martin Harris. Ganz and Langella shared one scene but their interaction was memorable because it was complex, suspenseful, and ultimately rewarding. The scene of interest, which lasted about five minutes, had a specific type of subtlety that the film lacked. The visit was more thrilling than a half of the movie’s obligatory car chases. What I enjoyed most about the film was it made me paranoid. Whether Martin was walking in a relatively well-lit tunnel or whether he was sitting in a crowded airport lounge, my eyes couldn’t help but shift to figures in the background. Martin thought he was being followed and I shared his vigilance. Who could he trust when he couldn’t even trust his own memory? “Unknown” had a maze right in the middle and the characters were lost in it. There should have been a balance between the growing conspiracy and character development. There were some awkward glances that hinted at a romance between Martin and his cab driver. It didn’t work because our getting to know the characters was secondary. Based on the novel “Out of My Head” by Didier Van Cauwelaert, I had a sneaky feeling that the majority of the complexity from the original material was lost because the filmmakers tried to make room for action sequences that weren’t always necessary. The premise and the revelation regarding Martin’s identity were fascinating but it needed a stronger middle portion. It was like reading an essay with a well-written introduction and conclusion but unfocused supporting paragraphs. One can’t help but feel disappointed because it didn’t quite live up to its potential.