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‘Good Kill,’ With Ethan Hawke, Targets Human Costs Of Drone Warfare

By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Form matches content in “Good Kill,” a movie about the desensitizing effects of drone warfare. Repeated, suffocating scenes of remote warfare make you acutely aware of the soul-draining despair felt by its pilot protagonist.

That makes writer-director Andrew Niccol’s achievement notable, even if his movie sometimes feels as stifling as the shipping container that Air Force pilot Tom Egan (Ethan Hawke) and his team occupy in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Egan works a 12-hour shift flying unmanned aerial vehicles over Afghanistan and Yemen, performing surveillance and launching missiles toward sites that may (or may not) be occupied by Taliban forces. There’s a lot of killing, all of it deemed “good” and “necessary.” When he’s done, Egan drives home to the suburbs to his wife (January Jones) and kids, puts some burgers on the grill and helps with homework.

The contortions needed to make that kind of compartmentalization work are nearly impossible for a man like Egan, a veteran of six tours, a pilot who misses the fear of combat and, yes, flying an actual plane — an idea that Niccol, showing F-16s gathering dust on the base, implies is almost ludicrous.

“We’ve got no skin in the game,” Egan tells his commander (Bruce Greenwood). “I feel like a coward every day.”

Though Egan is a man of few words (he becomes even quieter when he’s angry, his wife tells a friend), the movie makes up for his reserve by explaining and informing to a fault. You will possess a clearer understanding of the ins and outs, the pros and cons of drone warfare after viewing “Good Kill,” but the arguments sometimes feel like talking points awkwardly wedged into the action.

Where Niccol (“Gattaca”) succeeds is in creating an atmosphere of self-loathing, both for those manning the drones and the audience watching them work. Midway through the movie, the CIA takes over command of the missions, ordering a series of killings that are debatable on moral and strategic grounds. (“Permission to prosecute” is the dispassionate order coming from Langley in a voice that feels modeled on HAL 9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”) Niccol conveys this chilling disconnect, showing how the ease of their actions absolves the participants of responsibility and robs them of their humanity.

That cost can be seen in the tight strain on Hawke’s face. An actor with the gift of gab (most notably in his collaborations with Richard Linklater), Hawke here delivers a nuanced turn as a man on the threshold of emotional ruin. It’s not that Egan opposes war. He’s begging to be shipped out for another tour. He just can’t wrap his head around what war has become.

“Drones aren’t going anywhere,” says his commander. “In fact, they’re going everywhere.”

“Good Kill” forces us to deal with the implications of that new reality.
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“GOOD KILL”

MPAA rating: R, for language, sexuality, violent content including rape
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Kate McKinnon’s Three-Step Program For Strange Souls

By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Kate McKinnon had the week off from Saturday Night Live and had just left the dentist. Apparently, it did not go well. Novocaine? “No drugs,” she answers. “Just shame. Dental shame.”

Judging from her fearless Emmy-nominated work on SNL, you wouldn’t guess McKinnon was capable of being embarrassed. Her impressions — manic Ellen DeGeneres, an awkward, intense Hillary Rodham Clinton, Justin Bieber by way of “guilty puppy” — combine the joyous and genius, and her sketch characters (long-suffering Russian Olya Povlatsky and, of course, Sheila Sovage, her “last call” barfly desperately latching onto the likes of Louis C.K., Woody Harrelson, and John Goodman) push comic boundaries while revealing small truths about the human condition.

This summer, you can see her opposite Zach Galifianakis in the bank heist comedy Masterminds (Aug. 14), playing what she calls her specialty — “a woman seething on the inside but smiling through.” McKinnon, 31, guides us through her process of mastering the art of the outlandish.

Step one: Admit you’re a weirdo. McKinnon describes herself as “very shy and quiet” as a child. Truth is, she’s still quite private, avoiding social media (she repeatedly maintains she doesn’t even own a computer) and typically walking around New York incognito in a hooded sweatshirt. She and her sister whiled away many childhood hours practicing voices and accents, watching their favorite movies over and over. “I found I could speak louder and was more comfortable if I was doing it in someone else’s crazy voice,” McKinnon says. Those sessions led to high school plays where she’d always audition for the crazy grandma. “That’s where I felt my soul lay,” she says. “Lied? Lay? Lay.”

Step two: Maintain a sense of fun and kindness. “Even if you’re an angry, intense person,” McKinnon says, “you also have to have intense joy about life and intense feelings about the world. Everyone has some kind of light inside them.” McKinnon always goes to that light, even if the person she’s playing (Bieber, say) is known for being a jackass. (“I will not hear a word against him,” she says. “I love my Bieber!”)

Step three: Empathy is good. Celebration is better. McKinnon’s “Masterminds” character, Jandice (a hair removed from McKinnon’s suggestion of “Jaundice”), is a denim-loving, trailer-park take on a Stepford Wife with rage always threatening to bubble to the surface. “I love playing these weirdos,” she says. “They’re party people!”

McKinnon, on the other hand, was spending the rest of her week off getting her annual physical and going to the gynecologist. “Oh, this is the life!” she jokes. As to why she’s so good at embodying strange souls, McKinnon shrugs, “I don’t know why. I’m on my way to my therapist now. Maybe we’ll talk about that!”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Oscar-Winning Ideas On How The Academy Awards Show Can Improve

By Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times

We’re 11 days away from the Oscars, which means we’re about 11 days and 10 seconds away from the first tweet complaining about the show.

But why wait?

Let’s be clear: We’re not wishing failure on this year’s Oscar telecast or predicting that host Ellen DeGeneres will bomb. When it comes to the Oscars, we’re always hopeful, like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin or an L.A. resident dreaming of decent public transportation. And then the show starts and Seth MacFarlane spends 16 minutes making a joke about how he’s going to fail at the job and then goes on to do just that for the next three hours and … mmmph … it’s wait ‘til next year.

But it’s going to be different on March 2, right? Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are back on the job, as is DeGeneres, returning as host seven years after her first turn. We’re sure they’re going to put all that experience to good use. But, you know, just in case, here are a few ideas for a more perfect night, both for this year and the future.

—Ramp up the energy, Ellen. We enjoyed your low-key charm back in ‘07. Asking Steven Spielberg to snap your picture with Clint Eastwood? Adorbs. But there’s a fine line between unpretentious and just a little dull. Don’t let MacFarlane’s failure last year keep you from stirring the pot. As long as you’re funny, no one will mind the barbs. (Publicly, at least.)

—Pick a host. Then stay the course. We’ve gone from the “OMG! Oscars heart young people” Anne Hathaway / James Franco debacle to nostalgic, Old Hollywood Billy Crystal (“We’ve cornered the 70- to 85-year-old market!”) then, last year, to naughty (MacFarlane) to this year’s return to nice. The Golden Globes, meanwhile, are enjoying record ratings, having established a consistent tone by employing the same great hosts year after year. (Ricky Gervais ran things from 2009 to 2011; Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are signed next year for a third straight go-around.) The audience knows what to expect and actually looks forward to what’s coming. Crazy, huh?

So, if DeGeneres kills it this year, bring her back. If not, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to find the 21st century equivalent of Crystal, Johnny Carson and Bob Hope — hosts who skillfully presided over the Oscars for years. Since ABC has the telecast through 2020, it’s not going to be Jimmy Fallon, who amped up the fun as Emmy host in 2010. So why not Jimmy Kimmel, who, at the 2012 Emmys, displayed a winning goofiness that played both at home and the room itself?

—Change the venue. “The Oscars used to be a good time,” says Robert Osborne, author of “85 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards.” “But that was back in the early years when it was a banquet and people used to be able to eat and drink and relax. It was a party everyone wanted to attend. Now no one wants to go unless they have to.”

So why not move it back to a ballroom? Scaling back on the starchiness of a theater setting would do wonders for the vibe in the room and, by extension, the show itself. If, as Tina Fey tells the Los Angeles Times, “high levels of stress are shooting out of just about everyone” at the Oscars, a cocktail — or a plate of Wolfgang Puck appetizers — might help.

—Keep it at three hours. The Oscars used to clock in under three hours regularly. Then, beginning in 1974, the show began to stretch, immune to the plight of East Coast viewers and sentient life forms unsympathetic to canned banter. Osborne attributes the bloat to added performance numbers and actors who believe that time limits for speeches “apply to everyone else but them.”

So how do you trim the fat?

—Move the shorts categories. They exist to honor up-and-comers — and to screw up everyone’s Oscar pools. But how about a separate ceremony where the work can be celebrated at greater length and mentorships can be established?

—Not all songs are created equal. And songwriters would be the first to tell you this. Some songs fit nicely within the context of a film but aren’t exactly performance show-stoppers. Others, like Adele’s “Skyfall,” rank as moments that will draw viewers. This year’s plan to have all four of the nominees perform might seem like overkill, but it’s a good call. U2 — can’t go wrong. Karen O’s tender, bittersweet “The Moon Song” will get the home viewers to stop chatting and pay attention. “Frozen’s” “Let It Go”? That’ll get the kids to watch. Pharrell Williams? Great, his hat could bring in an audience all on its own.

—Streamline the best picture introductions. Or eliminate them altogether. How about just a clip reel ping-ponging between great moments from all the nominated movies?

Do keep the “In memoriam” tribute, though it can celebrate without being so somber. May we suggest that someone (Karen O?) sing “We’ll Meet Again”? It’s sentimental without being maudlin, and Stanley Kubrick liked it enough to put it in the last scene of “Dr. Strangelove.” Now that is movie magic.

AFP Photo/Robyn Beck