Author Archives: Brett

Talking Eye in the Sky and Modern Drone Warfare with Director Gavin Hood

EITS_BD_3d_o-cardEye in the Sky combines an all-star cast with a story that’s straight out of the headlines. The movie follows an international mission to capture terrorists in Kenya. But, when it’s found out that the terrorists are planning a suicide bombing, the mission changes from “capture” to “kill.” American drone pilots are brought in, but when a nine-year-old girl is seen on the site, a crisis on conscience begins leading to an international dispute and debate about drone strikes and the costs of war.

The film is directed by Gavin Hood and stars Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, Aaron Paul, and Barkhad Abdi.

I got a chance to talk to Hood about the film, his involvement in so many political/military films, and the pressure on releasing one of Alan Rickman’s last films.

Graphic Policy: First, thank you so much for talking with me about the movie. How’d you come on board the film?

Gaving Hood: Well, I was reading scripts that my agents were sending to me and this particular script came across my desk and I couldn’t put it down. I hope the audience has the same experience watching the film that I had reading the script for the first time where you’re reading, and thinking this is interesting, and then thinking I know what I’d do at this point, and then you turn the page and another page I found myself thinking I’m not sure what I’d do.

I got to the end and I wanted to talk to somebody and of course since it was a script there was no one else to talk to. If it’s having this effect on me just reading it, if I can do a half way decent job of directing this film then the audience will hopefully have an experience that’s entertaining and leave them on the edge of their seats, but also leave them with something to talk about with the other people they saw the movie with. And thankfully that seems to be the case. I was just really excited to be sent the script.

GP: What was it about the script that got you interested in the film?

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GH: I think a couple of things. I happen to be a lawyer by background. I studied law when I was a young actor and my dad said this is dangerous and you should have something to fall back on. So I studied law while I was working in film and  I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would, especially the moral and ethical questions raised. Not necessarily what is the law, but is the law correct, what should the policy be in this situation? And so I’ve often been drawn to films with slanty and tricky moral and ethical questions and doesn’t tell the audience what to think.

What I didn’t want to do with the film, and what I liked about the script, was it didn’t in any way preach to me, to tell me what to think. It presented multiple points of views from different characters, facing a difficult situation from their perspectives and then left it up to the audience to be the jury. To decide what they might or might not do in those circumstances.

And I think that’s very important. Hopefully the audience has an exciting time in the cinema and are left to debate the film one way or another for themselves.

I thought I’d learn a lot making this film and I did. I spent many many months of research on my own. I spoke with people in the military. I spoke with human rights organizations and you don’t make a film like this without taking a deep dive into the subject matter. So what you see in the film is accurately done. We had drone pilots on the set for when Aaron Paul was shooting for example to make sure what happens in the station where he is, is accurate.

And it really is where the debate is. There is no clear answer to the question the film raises about the current situation where we are using drones. As we move into this new phase of warfare. The old rules of war that were written after World War II where war was mostly between nations, well warfare is changing so much and policy, and the legal framing is struggling to keep up. Legal policy and laws that are to govern this type of new warfare are not entirely clear. And so I think the film is on the cutting edge as to where we are in warfare at the moment.

GP: You answered one of my questions as far as how accurate the film is…

GH: One of the thinks with the film was we wanted to be able to screen the film for a military General and someone from Amnesty International and they had a surprisingly wonderful debate. They didn’t agree on all things, but what we didn’t want to do was to come down on one side or the other, but we wanted to make solid arguments for both sides. We didn’t want to be wishy-washy and so I think what’s great is having the multiple characters in the movie is that you can have them argue strongly one way or another way and leave it up to the audience.

GP: In your career you’ve been involved in a lot of political/military films. What draws you to those films?

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GH: I was drafted into the military when I was 17 years old in South Africa in a very controversial time and it had a profound affect on me. Then I studied law. I guess I have personal experience in both the military situation, not the specific situation in the film but having been in the military, and I have a background in the legal and moral ethical question. I don’t know if I want to be drawn to that, but given one’s background I kind of find oneself drawn to that.

And because I love film and being an actor, and my parents are actors, and growing up around film and theater, so I guess it’s the whole… I don’t know, stuff… If you can take this whole philosophical question and present it in a drama, whether it be theater or film, in a way that’s exciting and accessible to a broad audience and treat the audience with respect. Treat them with intelligence. Understand the audience is a lot smarter than filmmakers think, don’t talk down to them. They can handle tricky questions. If you can present it in a way that’s not boring, that’s exciting and stimulating. That’s what great drama has always done. From the time of the ancient Greeks, great drama, make the audience laugh, make them tense, but also give them something to think about. You can do all those things then I think you made something to think about as opposed to consumer and move on.

GP: It’s interest to me the film in many ways feels like a companion film to Rendition which you also directed. They both take on very serious and moral and ethical issues in how we’re dealing with terrorism, the War on Terror. There’s also the aspect of the insider who’s questioning their role in it all.

GH: Yes. I like that observation. Thank you very much. I think you’re right. I haven’t thought about it this way, so thank you for the question. I think it goes back to the previous questions. Because I’ve been both an insider and an outsider, I’ve had to think a lot given my own background what my own moral position is. Even in Ender’s Game, which was a much more mass entertainment movie, and I don’t think we succeeded, but I still feel what I’m proud of with that film is that young people all at some point in their life have to find their moral compass.

Entertainment so often is just good versus evil. And good guy wins and kicks bad guy ass and everybody moves on. Real life isn’t that simple. Real world policy issues are seldom that simple. Growing up in South Africa during those turbulent times and then living through the changes as they happened and seeing change was possible with the right leadership, and the right approach, I’m somewhat of an optimist, but I’m aware of how complicated issues can be.

I don’t know if I’m answering your question well Brett, but I think audiences are capable in looking into the gray zone and entertainment delivered in a binary way. Good versus evil. Black and white. Life is more complicated than a lot of our movies present it.

And great movies don’t do that for me. Great movies entertain us and leave us with something to think about and slightly changed. If you go see a movie and walk out where you’ve had your perspective of the world just shifted in some way, those are the movies we really member. Those are the movies where we say, “that movie affected me. That movie made me think. That movie excited me.” And I think that’s always the challenge in how to do that and do that in an entertaining and thrilling way. And that’s what I like about this script. It entertained me where I turned the page and wanted to know what happened next, but I got to the end I really wanted to talk to somebody. And I hope that’s what happens to most people.

GP: Yeah, that’s definitely the feeling I had after watching it. I immediately IMed my wife and told her I have a movie she needs to watch, partially so I can talk to someone about it.

GH: Awe bless you. Thank you.

GP: About the film itself. It feels like a play in many ways. I can see this being performed on a stage. Is that something you tried to channel with how you directed the film?

GH: Great question. To be honest, that truly was my great fear. Here’s the thing. On the one hand I was very excited about the ethical questions and arguments and the tension the script raised. On the other hand I was like oh my god, what am I going to do? I have a whole lot of people, in separate rooms, all over the world watching video screens. This is how a lot of our warfare is being waged, right? God for bid that should be stiff and boring.

One technical thing for example, when we were designing the set that Helen was on that’s based on a real place called Northwood London. The trick is that’s what they do. They have these big screens that they watch. So the trick and question for us, what if I sit Helen behind a desk for the whole movie? Cinematically that’s going to get really dull really quickly. So we designed the place with the screens upfront which they have, but I put Helen’s desk in the back of the room with the other people’s down the side. Which meant Helen could get up from her desk and move and walk up to the screen and express her frustration physically and move away. This allowed me to move cameras and bring it in close in the moments where she’s talking to the young targeteer and walk away. So, the challenge from a directing point of view is I needed every opportunity to give the film movement and energy and pace so it’s never in danger of becoming dull and static.

And that’s hard to do. Look at Aaron Paul’s character. He really doesn’t move. He can’t move. He’s a pilot sitting in a chair. The trick in that room and the set which is accurate in how a ground control statin would be except in mine I could move my camera and get tight intimate shots. I had him looking directly in the lens when he’s looking at the screen. Even though he’s not moving you’re looking at his eyes. And those eyes are doing a lot of work. There’s a lot of emotion happening in that face.

Then thankfully we had Barkhad Abdi to give us action on the ground. You don’t want to engage in an action sequence that’s too long, because now it’s like “oh they’re doing an action sequence.” But when he gets chased you want that to be as effective as possible so that the audience to get out of the rooms for a while.

That was really on my mind the whole time I was shooting. You could do a really bad tv version of this where everybody sits behind a desk and says their lines. Even the room we put Alan Rickman in, which is also based on a real room, we made the room slightly bigger so that there’s more room around the table so that they could get up from it and walk away. Otherwise we had to shoot it as a tv movie, everybody would have sat down, said their lines, and we’d move on. I’m thankful to the producers that I had a few extra days that allowed me to stage the scenes in a way that allowed the camera to make it a little more dynamic than it might have otherwise been.

GP: This was one of Alan Rickman’s last films. Do you feel more pressure in delivering a solid final product due to that?

GH: I just wish Alan was here to talk to you about the film. Alan, that role could have been something played very adequately, but without the nuance and humor thanks to him. I think we were very fortunate to have Alan in this film. I spoke to him extensively before the film because he was fascinated by the subject matter. That’s why I wish he were here to talk to you.

He was a highly intelligent man. Genuinely passionate. Interested in other people. Chatted with the crew. He had a way in being very natural and kind to other people. And being interested in the subject matter we were dealing with and elevates that role.

What we talked about a lot was how to bring humor to moments of tension but without going to far and jumping the audience out of the movie. What Alan does so well, Helen does it too they’re such great actors, they can be in a moment with extreme tension and they can make you laugh for a moment. If the comedy was too broad, the toned be all wrong. And that was the fine line we walked in those scenes. How can we allow the audience to release the tension for the moment and then ramp it up again without taking them out of the film.

I miss him terribly because none of us knew he was ill in the time of the shooting. I don’t know if he knew, I don’t think so, but we never discussed it. We shot those scenes in September 2014, it’s been quite a while and then through post production we didn’t know. All happened rather suddenly. It was a shock. A real shock.

He was a man of great intelligence and a lovely sense of humor and I think the film is richer for him being in it.

GP: What got you to want to film in South Africa?

GH: It was wonderful to come back and film here again. This is where I grew up. This is where my moral and ethical questioning took root. My sister lives here. I have a lot of friends here. The film industry is amazingly strong, but often they’re servicing bigger Hollywood movies. They come in and do a piece and they go. There are great crews here I’ve worked with earlier. It was great to come back and work with the crew again. By doing it all in one place and then using CGI to enhance, for example the airforce base which was really just a runway at an airport 6 house from Cape Town, we built up that base, even that CG work was done by South African CG artists. It was great having grown up here and come back and make a film like this. And see the talent here is world-class and I’m proud of them. I really proud of the work the South African crew did here and making it fun.

GP: Thank you so much again for chatting!

Eye in the Sky is available now to own or rent.

Review: The X-Files Annual 2016

XFiles_Annual_2016-CoverMulder uncovers rumors that the Jade Helm 15 exercises were a smokescreen for a shadow-government group to rendezvous with aliens. Mulder and Scully follow the trail to Mesa Verde in southern Colorado, where they meet skeptical natives and a man who believes he’s an alien, on their way to finding the truth.

For me, some of my favorite X-Files episodes have been the ones that are on the goofy end of things and wrap up in an episode. The lighthearted nature of those episodes always left me entertained and wanting more. For The X-Files Annual 2016 we get that sort of story courtesy of writer Andrew Aydin, the award-winning co-writer of the modern classic graphic novel March.

Joined by artist Gregg Scott (Carlos Valenzuela provides the cover), the issue feels to me like those fun standalone episodes. It’s fun and entertaining slightly touching on the greater X-Files world.

What I really like is Aydin’s use of his political perspective to give the annual a bit of an update. There’s the use of Jade Helm to drive the story, but beyond that Aydin adds a lot of small details like the use of Uber. Lets face it, The X-Files in today’s world would be much different than that of the 90s, and that’s touched upon a bit here.

Scott’s art is solid fun capturing the likeness of its characters and adding a lot to the mood and setting of the story. The comic has a slight comical vibe to it, like quite of a few of the standalone episodes, and the art matches that tone. It’s a good combination and it all works together.

This is a fun standalone issue that captures the magic of self-contained X-Files episodes while using recent events and giving things a bit of an update too. X-Files fans should enjoy this one and hopefully, we can see more down the road.

Story: Andrew Aydin Art: Gregg Scott Cover: Carlos Valenzuela
Story: 8 Art: 8 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

IDW Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

TV Review: Outcast Episode S1E7 The Damage Done

Outcast CinemaxKyle and Allison reconnect to their past; and Rev. Anderson overdoes it during Remembrance Day.

Outcast is fascinating in this seventh episode which moves so many stories forward and by doing so gives us parallel stories that make each other stronger.

Based on the Skybound/Image comic by creator Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta, this episode is about Megan Holter and Allison Baker who both express or come to realize what has happened to them. Both in their different ways are violated and it’s almost this dual track is to emphasize that.

I can’t say for sure if Kirkman has purposely used the demonic possession trope as a way to explore rape and violating a person’s body, but this is the episode that makes me think there’s something there.

It’s an emotionally powerful episode for both characters and actresses who explore and express their pain in different ways. Both create the same result, a heartbreaking episode.

There’s also Remembrance Day which we learn is the death of numerous miners in the town. That results in a meltdown by Rev. Anderson, but what’s more interesting is that it’s also used to show off Kyle’s power. His touching of individuals and their reactions is a fascinating touch that shows how infected the town is.

This episode is an amazing one where so many stories move forward and the actors give emotional performances that are all top notch. A fantastic episode of a series that’s delivered so consistently.

Overall Rating: 8.65

Road to Gen Con 2016: Giant Killer Robot’s Road Trip

GKR: Heavy Hitters (GKR = Giant Killer Robots) is heading to Gen Con and will be showing off demos of the game along the way at various game shops. GKR is an augmented reality miniature board game from Weta Workshop, Cryptozoic, and Evolver Studios.

The year is 2150.

Mega corporations rule the world of GKR, fighting for control over cities long destroyed and abandoned after a devastating world war 100 years earlier.

Like MODERN DAY GLADIATORS GIANT KILLER ROBOT battles are broadcast across the globe as entertainment for the masses.

These sponsored robot armies battle in proxy as a way to humiliate and financially break their competition, as well as profit off the entertainment advertising and promotion during these global events.

What’s even more fun is the GKR crew are showing off their travels. If you get a chance, absolutely check out a demo and if you’re not able to, we’ll have coverage at Gen Con.

A First Look at Supergirl’s Superman

Supergirl is moving to The CW and she’s bringing along some friends. Joining the cast of the show is Tyler Hoechlin who will be playing the Man of Steel when the show returns for its second season. The show has revealed a first look at Hoechlin as Superman which you can catch below.

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Review: Future Quest #3

FQ_Cv3_dsStep into the swirling blend of time and space. To points before the events of Future Quest. See the strange and powerful heroes begin their trajectory… that will bring them together as one!

In this third issue, things swerve a bit with two stories about some of the heroes that are taking part in Future Quest. The first written by Jeff Parker with art by Steve Rude completely focuses on Birdman. It’s a story that serves as a lead up to the Future Quest series as well as also providing a lot of background for those who might be unfamiliar with the character of Birdman.

There’s a retro feel about the story too. It comes off in pacing, tone, and look, like something I might have read in the 80s, or even seen animated. Parker in the two previous issues has shown a love of the characters he’s using as well as the tone set forth in their animated series. It should be no shock that continues here.

The short story is fun, entertaining, and helps fill in some gaps.

The second story is about the Herculoids and is very much an origin tale. Also written by Parker, the art is provided by Aaron Lopresti and gives a hell of a lot of information on the characters. There’s an origin of how they got to where they are, who they are, what their powers are, and why they’re battling robots. It’s been a long time since I watched one of their cartoons, so don’t remember much of the history of the characters, but the comic feels right at home in the 60s and 70s (though I remember watching the cartoon in the 80s). It’s awesome nostalgia and feels natural.

And I think that’s something that’s impressed me with the first three issues of this series. The comics feel natural and like they’re ripped right from the animated series they’re based on. This is awesome nostalgia for fans of these characters and the comic fills in some of the gaps for those who are new.

Story: Jeff Parker Art: Steve Rude, Aaron Lopresti
Story: 7.8 Art: 8.15 Overall: 7.95 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Flash #3

FLS_Cv3_dsDozens of innocent people mysteriously gain super-speed! But not all are heroic, and it’ll take everything The Flash and August have to harness the lightning before Black Hole does.

The Flash in some ways has become the new Green Lantern of the DC Comics’ universe. When Geoff Johns relaunched Green Lantern some time ago he quickly expanded the world to include new colors, new Corps, to the point it was almost overstuffed.

In these first three issues of The Flash, writer Joshua Williamson has gone a similar route expanding the Speed Force and creating dozens of new speedsters, each with their own special take on the Speed Force. But, in these first three issues, Williamson has also been really smart about things by focusing on just a few characters allowing each to stand out in their own way. There may be hundreds, but we’ve only met a handful. It’s that excitement of meeting each of these new speedsters and seeing what they can do that has me interested in going forward. There’s a chance for a lot of new creativity when it comes to the Speed Force and what it can do.

Artist Carmine Di Giandomenico continues to rock on the art with a style that’s just different enough from a standard superhero look that it makes things interesting. I do wish we saw more of motion that Francis Manapul brought to the series, but that doesn’t seem to be Di Giandomenico’s style.

The series is an interesting one in that it’s really blown up Barry’s world expanding things in a rapid way. And by doing that, totally feels appropriate for the Flash.

Story: Joshua Williamson Art: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Story: 8.1 Art: 8.15 Overall: 8.1 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Civil War II #4

Civil_War_II_Vol_1_4Sides are harshly divided as the Marvel Universe’s trial of the century reaches its shocking verdict! Now, the abstract issues are very real for the heroes of the Marvel Universe and battle lines must be drawn. Captain Marvel or Iron Man, who will each hero stand behind?

We’re starting on the back half of Marvel’s summer event in an issue that gives us the truth about Ulysses’ power. Civil War II #4‘s entire purpose is to set up the final three issues, the actual conflict, and the battle that’s been brewing. The issue also continues to fail at giving us anything more than just what will be yet another fight between heroes. It uses a real-world issue as a prop making this issue, like those before it, thin in its execution.

At its core, Civil War II was set up to be about an Inhuman with precognitive ability and whether it’s right to use that power to prevent crime/wrongdoing. It’s a similar plot to Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report written in 1956.

It’s also a real issue that’s worthy of discussion. As I wrote in my review of the last issue it was reported in 2012 that algorithms to predict crime were being embraced by police forces. In May it was revealed that these algorithms were riddled with bias, flagging black people twice as often as white people, having low accuracy, and generally being unreliable predictors of crime. In an age of Black Lives Matter and police murdering individuals, this could have been a comic event with something to say. The series began with the death of an African-American character (a “fridging” to move the story along, much like what happened in the previous Civil War event). That death was a short focus as the event pivoted to the death of Bruce Banner, a white character. Now in this fourth issue, we see this algorithm at play as it’s used to arrest a white banker who may be a Hydra sleeper agent.

Instead of focusing on the real issue of bias towards minorities that real world issue is co-opted and applied to white individuals. The victims of the pre-cog algorithm are white here. The African-American character is a casualty of the action, not a victim of its use to prevent a “crime” which may or may not happen. That’s saved for two white characters. Writer Brian Michael Bendis fails to challenge the reader or properly explore the issue at hand.

The art by David Marquez continues to be solid though. So, there’s that. A lot of the issue involves characters standing around giving soliloquies, but it’s beautiful to look at. The use of panels and positioning of characters really sets the tone and helps build the mood throughout the issue. His character design is top-notch and everyone looks fantastic. For as bad as the story is, the art is actually fantastic.

Much like the previous issue, this issue thinks it’s smart, but is paper thin when it comes to its deeper themes. This is a box office event blockbuster on the printed page, when it’s over you wonder what the point was other than to watch folks beat each other up. With three issues to go, I don’t see things improving based on the final few pages.

Story: Brian Michael Bendis Art: David Marquez
Story: 4 Art: 8.45 Overall: 4 Recommendation: Pass

Review: Action Comics #960

AC_Cv960_dsWonder Woman joins the fight, but even her added might can’t slow down Doomsday’s rampage! As Superman comes face-to-face with the woman who once loved him, the Man of Tomorrow must also wrestle with the reappearance of Clark Kent.

Action Comics has focused on the action as writer Dan Jurgens has quickly established his mark (again) on the Man of Steel. This issue continues the battle with Doomsday, but Wonder Woman has now entered the battlefield to help.

There’s some good and some bad. I’ll get the bad out of the way. This story, while not bad, feels like it’s being dragged out. There’s a decompression at work with the storytelling, but that’s expected when comics are shipping twice a month. But, Jurgens is actually taking advantage of that and making it work.

While the battle itself with Doomsday feels like it’s dragging a bit, what Jurgens does with the other characters is key and this issue is a prime example of that. The previous issues have really focused on Superman’s battle, but also how his wife and kid react to his battle. There’s a human emotion to that.

This issue does similar work by introducing Wonder Woman. While she has had a relationship with the deceased Superman, she hasn’t with this one, and this one is married. That’s all addressed as she’s introduced to his family and the interaction is dry, but mature in some ways. It makes sense for a logical character such as Wonder Woman, especially since she knows this isn’t the same Superman.

There is a question as to when this takes place compared to what we’ve seen in the other Superman comic with Batman and Wonder Woman coming to Clark about his son.

Artist Tyler Kirkham delivers with some fantastic art. There’s some iffy moments with Wonder Woman towards the beginning, but once the issue gets rolling with her, things look fantastic. Kirkham’s art helps with the pacing and matches the tense nature of the comic itself as Superman races to his family.

The series is solid so far. The story. The art. It all comes together for a great comic that feels like it’s worthy of the big screen in how much action and excitement there is. But Jurgens also realizes with all of that, it’s the characters relationships that really matters.

Story: Dan Jurgens Art: Tyler Kirkham
Story: 8.1 Art: 8.15 Overall: 8.1 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Detective Comics #937

DTC_Cv937_dsBatman’s found his way into the heart of the Colony, the mysterious new organization cutting its way through Gotham City! Unfortunately, now that he’s in he may find there’s no way out!

In just a few issues writer James T Tynion IV has shaken up the Bat family’s world in quite a few ways. One is by turning a past ally against them. The other is by creating a new foe that makes a hell of a lot of sense when you think about it.

This issue gives us the lowdown on the Colony, their background, their plan and how everyone fits into it. It’s a solid issue that allows us to find out about the bad guy in a straightforward way. It’s all government conspiracy and hopefully we see this play out well down the road, but most importantly it feels new and interesting.

Tynion uses everything to give us greater detail, from how these new Batsuits work, to hints as to how to defeat them, and finally just how well skilled they are. It’s a great use of every panel to add details. There’s also the introduction of a new character that I have a feeling we’ll see more of.

We also get to see how smart Tim Drake actually is and how his planning is downright cool. There’s some great additions to the Bat arsennal of toys and vehicles and I expect we’ll see more of all of that.

The art by Alvaro Martinez is fantastic. There’s so muc detail, it’s just amazing and I found myself lingering on every page trying to go through every small item to see what was there and what I might gleam from it.

This is a solid arc so far that really shakes things up in the Bat-world. From the writing to the art, it’s all top notch and impressive and I can’t wait to see where it all goes from here. The action is just getting started and it looks to be exciting.

Story: James T Tynion IV Art: Alvaro Martinez
Story: 7.9 Art: 8.35 Overall: 8.1 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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