Week in Review: Eye in the Sky (2016) and Netflix’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

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How’s your weekend everyone? Well, it’s another warm weekend so I spent most of Saturday outside w/ hubby. I had one press screening this week, Eye in the Sky, and thankfully it’s not another bomb like London Has Fallen.

It turns out to be a double Helen Mirren week with her latest film and one of the last three Sam Riley films I haven’t seen yet, Brighton Rock (2010). She had a pretty big part in the film and she’s wonderful as always. It’s gratifying to see him as the lead AND held his own against such a screen icon like Dame Mirren (review upcoming).

So here’s my reviews of the two I saw last week:

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Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya, sees her mission escalate when a girl enters the kill zone triggering an international dispute over the implications of modern warfare.

This is the kind of film I’d watch just for the cast. The main cast is chock full of British thespians I love: Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Northam and Iain Glen.

It turns out there’s more Austen connection as Colin ‘Mr Darcy’ Firth is listed as one of the producers! In any case, the film couldn’t be more different from a romantic period drama as it gets.

The film promos likens this to the nuclear war satire Dr Strangelove. Now, I wouldn’t say this has quite the impact of that masterpiece black comedy, but it certainly made us think about the cost of war in our times. With drone attacks becoming more prominent in recent years, and the fact that we can’t turn on the news and not hear about it, this topic is as timely as ever.

There are some genuinely tense moments in this cerebral thriller, and to use a military term, the ensemble cast fired on all cylinders and delivered a powerful performance. Dame Mirren is convincing as a conflicted military officer who had to navigate through such maddening protocols and bureaucracy in times of war. As the drone pilot, Aaron Paul perfectly conveyed his torment to balance his military duty and doing what is right. Glad to see Oscar nominee from Captain Philips Barkhad Abdi working again and though he didn’t have much lines here, the Somalian actor has quite a presence on screen.

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The film is far from perfect though. The way the CDE (collateral damage estimate) factor is handled, involving a 9-year-old girl selling bread just outside the gate of the terrorist compound being targeted, feels repetitive. I feel like director Gavin Hood hits us over the head with it, as if the audience were to slow to get the moral/political implication of the drone attack if the girl became a casualty.

I’m not sure that Hood also nails the tonal shift between drama, action and humor as smoothly as he could, either. The biting satire he tried to emulate from Kubrick’s antiwar film seems lost and the film seemed to descend into a farce. Thankfully he had assembled a phenomenal cast who still made the film work.

Despite the flaws though, I still think Eye in the Sky is a provocative film that lingers long after the end credits. It’s worth a watch just for Mirren and Rickman alone. It was still tough to watch Mr. Rickman on screen in his last film role he’s completed. He certainly had the most memorable line in the end, the only way he could… “Never tell a soldier he did not know the cost of war.” The way he delivered that line sent shivers down my spine.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)

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Still mourning the death of Li Mu Bai, Yu Shu Lien returns to safeguard his sword, the Green Legend. Hades Dai, an underground warlord, sends his lieutenants to steal the sword , with plans to dominate the martial world. A young mysterious swords-woman and the hero with a past, Silent Wolf , comes to Shu Lien’s aid, together with a disparate band of warriors who still believe in the iron way of honor.

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This is the second movie to be released on Netflix at the same time as in theaters, just like Beast of No Nation. It premiered on Netflix two weeks ago but I hadn’t even seen its trailer. I also barely remember much about the first film, as this sequel is made 16 years after its release in 2001. I did remember that Michelle Yeoh‘s character Yu Shu Lien was in love with Chow Yun Fat‘s Li Mu Bai who died in the first film.

The legendary sword adorned with Jade gemstone once again is central in the story. Yu Shu Lien is tasked to guard it and it nearly cost her life when her carriage is attacked in the beginning of the film. The cinematography is absolutely striking from start to finish, just like The Assassin was from last year, but thankfully director Wo-Ping Yuen is not so indulgent in making the film more style over substance. Whereas that one seems too self-aware of its own beautiful imagery that it overpowers the story, this one actually serves the narrative well.

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I like how progressive this film is in terms of its treatment of women. Not only is Michelle Yeoh‘s character is a powerful woman and fighter, Natasha Liu Bordizzo‘s Snow Vase also has an intriguing character arc that’s pretty gratifying all the way to the end. Yes perhaps some of the acting, by Bordizzo in her debut role, and Harry Shum Jr. as Wei Fang, seem a bit stiff at times, but overall I think they fit their characters pretty well. The hint of romance also didn’t make me cringe, which is always a plus. Jason Scott Lee as the villain overacted a bit, though the hammy acting style plague most of the supporting cast as well.

Unlike the first film that’s shot in Mandarin, the fact that this is an American-Chinese production, the film’s shot in English and later dubbed in Mandarin. So it’s a bit jarring to hear Chinese-looking actors (some look obviously of mixed-heritage) speaking in various English accent, some American, some British. So I think that sacrifices authenticity and is also a bit distracting. I don’t know if that might explain the low rating (18% on Rotten Tomatoes) compared to the first one (97% RT score), which benefited from Ang Lee’s superior direction.

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It’s interesting to mention the Bruce Lee connection of the two main cast, as Jason Scott Lee played Bruce Lee in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) and Donnie Yen played Bruce Lee’s master in the IP Man franchise. I wouldn’t let the low RT score discouraged you from seeing this though. Fans of martial arts films should be pleased with the Kung Fu action sequences. I ended up quite liking this, more so than The Assassin, even if it’s not perfect.

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So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think.