REVIEW: American Sniper

16 01 2015

Towards the beginning of “American Sniper,” Bradley Cooper’s cowboy turned Navy SEAL Chris Kyle receives the instruction to make pulling a trigger an unconscious effort.  Director Clint Eastwood and writer Jason Hall, however, ensure that the audience watching Kyle’s exploits are very conscious of the rationale and logic behind the dispatch of every bullet.  No kill feels sensationalized to satisfy bloodlust, even when that sentiment disguises itself as patriotism.

The film simply portrays one man’s experience during four tours in the post-9/11 Middle East, opting not for any anti-military statement (like “Green Zone“) nor for a chest-thumping jingoism (like “The Kingdom”).  Since Kyle is the protagonist and the eyes through which the viewer watches the film, of course “American Sniper” tilts in his favor.  But he is not celebrated merely because of his record 160 kills; the film lionizes Kyle because of the value he placed on leadership and loyalty.

At this stage in the cinema’s grappling with what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, just telling stories from over there seems important.  And that basically sums up the extent of what “American Sniper” is: a presentation of Chris Kyle’s narrative.  Eastwood and Hall never fully commit to either showing the full terror of combating terrorism (a la “Lone Survivor“) or the grueling mental experience of the soldiers (in the vein of “The Hurt Locker“).  They pull elements from each effectively, yet they never really advance a thesis or a broader takeaway.

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REVIEW: Jersey Boys

24 06 2014

Clint Eastwood ends his film adaptation of “Jersey Boys” with a Broadway-style curtain call so unabashedly corny and theatrical that it might make the creative team behind the “Mamma Mia!” movie blush.  It is, however, just about the only concession Eastwood makes to the stage.  (Unless you want to count casting mostly stage actors.)

Eastwood’s desaturated color palette and starkly observed realism always felt like a strange pairing with a crowd-pleasing hit from the Great White Way.  Although among those shows, “Jersey Boys” seems like it could mesh decently well with his style. It’s a jukebox musical, where characters break out in song not just as a form of heightened expression (as in “Les Misérables“) but simply to fulfill the act of singing.

Yet even with this natural method of presenting tunes, Eastwood’s film still opts to minimize the music.  It feels as if Eastwood ran out of quarters to feed the jukebox since we get nearly all the music from the prologue (8 minutes on the soundtrack dragged out to a 35 minute expository sequence) and then the first three show-stopping hits from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.”

What little we get to hear sounds good, a product of both Eastwood’s decision to sing live (thanks, Tom Hooper!) and picking voices that have the requisite pipes to do the numbers justice.  The joy of hearing a great, natural harmony recalls the authenticity of a pre-AutoTune era nicely and without drowning in nostalgia.

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REVIEW: Trouble with the Curve

8 10 2012

Chances are you’ve already seen “Trouble with the Curve” … but you just don’t know it yet.

If you’ve seen “Gran Torino,” you’ve seen it.  Clint Eastwood is just doing a PG-13 version of his cranky, stubborn Walt Kowalski.  Don’t get me wrong, I still find that fairly entertaining though as I intend to pattern my 80-year-old willful disregarding of social conventions on him.  As aging Atlanta Braves scout Gus, he’s still got the ability to make curmudgeonly charming once again.

If you’ve seen “The Fighter,” you’ve seen it.  Amy Adams essentially does a dolled-up reprisal of her role as Charlene the MTV Girl, a tenacious sports groupie and strongly opinionated woman.  Here, she’s got some of those same qualities on display as Gus’ daughter Mickey, a baseball enthusiast looking to climb the corporate ladder but faces casual workplace misogyny.  She gets called onto the road to assist her ailing father, reawakening her love for the game.  Adams is a bright and fun presence on the screen, but it’s hardly of the caliber of performance David O. Russell got out of her.

If you’ve seen … really any Justin Timberlake movie, you’ve seen it.  Whether it’s “The Social Network,” “Bad Teacher,” or “Friends with Benefits,” it’s the same old schtick for the former N*Sync frontman.  It’s less Sean Parker-ish here, however, since the character doesn’t have nearly the dimensionality of an Aaron Sorkin creation.  Timberlake tackles the role of Johnny, a failed baseball player turned novice scout.  Gus has made, then broken, then made his career … and may have made his dreams with Mickey.

If you’ve seen “Moneyball,” you’ve seen this movie.  Even though “Trouble with the Curve”  is about the human calculations of baseball while Bennett Miller’s Best Picture nominee glorified computer models and statistics as the new great tool of baseball, both share an equal goal of bringing back a romanticism quickly disappearing from America’s pastime.

But strangely enough, “Moneyball” does a better job achieving this drawing parallels between computer pixels and the bright stadium lights.  “Trouble with the Curve,” clunking along at a leisurely pace it doesn’t earn (I mean seriously, it feels like an extra innings game), can only muster up cliches to show how much it loves baseball.  The game has seen better, and it deserves better.  C+





REVIEW: J. Edgar

29 03 2012

Is the biopic headed the way of the sports movie?  “J. Edgar” seems to point towards a larger genre decline.  Clint Eastwood’s latest attempt at biography moves slower than molasses or “Invictus,” whichever better communicates the idea that this movie is boring and stuffy.  Everyone knows that he can do better, and with this following “Hereafter,” I have to wonder whether Eastwood should just retire after his next good film (if there is ever another good one).

Really, “J. Edgar” is more worthy to be analyzed as a Dustin Lance Black movie.  The Oscar-winning writer of “Milk” seems to be far more interested in Hoover, the rumored closet homosexual, than Hoover, the revolutionary founding director of the FBI.  There’s so much hinting when it comes to his sexuality and so much omission when it comes to his career that Black’s portrait really amounts to little more than a pencil sketch on café napkin.  If he intended to make Hoover a counterpoint to Harvey Milk, he should have just outright said it.

Eastwood claims “J. Edgar” is not a love story, but the tenor of the movie he intended to direct is directly clashing with Black’s script.  As a result, the film just feels like a half-hearted attempt at everything it sets out to do.  Black writes so many scenes with sexual overtones that so flagrantly obvious, but Eastwood tries to keep it as platonic as he possibly can without changing the lines.  What ultimately makes it onto the screen is just awkward and uncomfortable as everyone seems far too worried about slander or decorum to go for it.

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“Hereafter” Poll Results

15 11 2010

Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” fell out of the top 10 at the box office this Sunday after spending only three weeks among Hollywood’s top earners.  With only $31 million in the bank and running out of steam quickly, what does this mean for the movie’s Oscar chances?

After the 49% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes spelled doom, the movie needed some box office support if it was going to have a clear shot at Best Picture – support that didn’t really materialize.  Before these developments came about, I asked in my Oscar Moment on “Hereafter” if we were looking at a Best Picture nominee.

The results were split right down the middle.  50% said yes, and 50% said no out of a voter yield of 4.  If I had the splitting vote, I’d probably say no given how the movie really has nothing going for it other than the fact that it’s directed by Clint Eastwood.  However, according to a report from The Odds, “Hereafter” may not be dead in the water:

“…from what I hear, Eastwood’s drama – three interlocking tales of people around the world affected by death or near-death experiences, with Cecile de France and Matt Damon – was very well-received by an AMPAS crowd that I’m told filled as much as 85 percent of the 1,000-seat Goldwyn.  One Academy member who was at the screening said the reaction to the film was ‘terrific,’ with sustained applause at the end of the film. Others concurred, but thought the attendance might have been a bit overstated.”

So we’ll just have to see what lies ahead for “Hereafter’ in the Oscar season.  It surely has an uphill battle ahead.





REVIEW: Hereafter

4 11 2010

It’s interesting to see the growth of the “hyperlink cinema” filmmaking style over the past decade.  In an age where we often feel so isolated and alone, living out just our own story, these movies that manage to intertwine multiple apparently unrelated storylines fill us with a sense that we actually are connected with everyone in the world around us.

The latest entry in this style comes from writer Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”) and director Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter,” a musing on the nature of life and death in modern times.  Eastwood, who has made a name directing gritty movies, would seem to be the last person to take on such a project.  Yet at 80, his age and experience give the movie an overarching sense of peace and placidity.

In one sense, “Hereafter” is more focused than more sprawling movies like “Crash” and “Traffic,” which attempt to weave together what feels like dozens of characters in the course of two hours.  Morgan gets us well acquainted with three principal figures spread across three countries.

George Lonengan, played with composure by Matt Damon, has the ability to talk to the departed but struggles to maintain control over their intrusion into the way he lives his life.  There’s the age-old “gift vs. curse” dialectic haunting him as well, and it has forced him to resign himself to factory labor in San Francisco.

Marie, a subtly affecting Cecile de France, makes contact with the hereafter when she nearly drowns in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.  Her experience sticks with her when she goes back to her job as a news anchor in Paris, and it’s obvious to everyone around her that she has something more than mere survivor’s guilt.  Trying to move on but unable to let go of her experience, her views of what awaits us after death lock her into a “faith vs. reason” debate that has accompanied countless discussions of heaven.

In London, a touching and hard-hitting story of mourning arises after death separates Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), leaving the latter feeling left behind and alone.  With a mother addicted to drugs, he feels he has nowhere to turn to but the supernatural.  Whether Marcus seeks companionship or closure is left much to the audience’s imagination, but no matter what the goal is, it’s an emotional journey.

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Random Factoid #436

7 10 2010

Hooray for memes!  It’s been a while since I’ve been tagged in one of these … good to be back on the circuit!  Thanks to Sebastian for tagging me.  Here’s the pitch:

The idea is that you list off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don’t take too long to think about it. Just churn em’ out.

Here are my 15:

  • Woody Allen
  • Judd Apatow
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Alfonso Cuarón
  • Clint Eastwood
  • David Fincher
  • Sam Mendes
  • Fernando Meirelles
  • Christopher Nolan
  • Sean Penn
  • Roman Polanski
  • Jason Reitman
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Steven Spielberg (no, it isn’t cliched)
  • Quentin Tarantino

In case anyone was wondering, I got to about 10 and then had a major pause.








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