Saturday, January 24, 2015

American Sniper Review

American Sniper
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast Headliners: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller
Original Release Date: December 25th, 2014 
Seen: January 2015
            American Sniper, made by the intriguing team of Clint Eastwood with star Bradley Cooper, seems to have gotten more buzz about its messages and award nominations than its actual content. This film, about the late  sniping Navy Seal legend Chris Kyle certainly is more than it appears to be on the surface.
            The movie is about Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) both at war in Iraq and at home.  Some interesting time jumps show his life from boyhood, to life in Texas, to training, to his four tours of duty in service in the military and afterwards.  The shifting tones and locales are handheld well, and Cooper’s does a pretty good job at showing how Kyle was affected by the experience. Now it’s a point of contention, but he appears to be the same if not hallowed person as he witnesses the horrors of war. Perhaps that may be the point, and in any case the portrait of Kyle as a person is mostly well shown one. The other prime character who gets the most dialogue and is explored is Sienna Miller as his wife Taya.   Their scenes are fraught with emotion and the two have a warm chemistry.
            The prime value of this movie however lies in the theater of war.  Director Clint Eastwood has been involved with action in his works before, and it certainly shows. Whether it be via long range sniper shots right through the scope or intense close quarters shootouts the action is visceral and brutal when it needs to be and appears.  While at times it appears to perhaps exaggerate what really occurred, such as when enemy soldiers are leaping from building to building like out of some video game, it manages to be an overall gritty experience.
            This is a dark film. Tons of enemy soldiers are shown being killed which ties into his over 100 hundred kills, and this shockingly even includes children.  It’s not easy to see enemy or friendly die, and there’s a quality interplay of combatants on the battlefield.
            While offering a pretty good experience of what Kyle went through in the field of modern warfare it isn’t perfect. There are the previously mentioned small exaggerations, which also includes a spot or two of fake seeming bloody wounds and Kyle’s babies being portrayed by plastic toy dolls. But one has too look closely for these.  For a biography of a modern soldier, the movie is a solid if not a tad jingoistic time. 8.6 out of 10

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Selma Review

Director: Ava DuVernay
Cast Headliners: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey
Original Release Date: December 25th, 2014 (limited)
Seen: January 2015

            Given Martin Luther King Jr’s absolutely gargantuan effect on American history, it’s curious that there has never before been a major Hollywood production about his groundbreaking work.  Selma focuses on a very specific event in the MLK timeline and some very specific sets of relationships, and this makes the historical drama film even better for it.
            Rather than offer a lifetime spanning biopic the film picks up in 1965 as Martin Luther King Jr (David Oyelowo) prepares for demonstrations in Selma, Alabama along with his many followers.  The three pillars of the movie are the preparations / attempts/ and eventual happening of the events which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, MLK’s relationship with  President Lyndon B Johnson (Tom Wilkinson), and his relationship to his close followers and wife Coretta(Carmen Ejogo).
            There’s an extremely large cast in the film considering the many important people involved, but the absolute highlight is Oyelowo as MLK.  The costuming and makeup on him makes it seem as if this is actual footage of the Doctor himself, and if not also in visuals this is true in his magnificent performance. He delivers his scenes with a nuance and power that can inspire one as much as the real person did.    The other person in the movie who seems to have leapt right through time is Wilkinson’s President Johnson.  He captures his personality quite well, and the scenes between these two are tense and powerful.
            What’s also powerful is the direction of the film by Ava DuVerney.  It’s filled with close production that really brings one in, and it hurts and saddens when it has to and inspires in the same manner.  There are dark parts to the movie, but that is history.   The challenge of the events at Selma is made exciting yet also historically respectable.
             It’s very much a “behind the scenes” look at MLK during this time, with some great stuff between MLK and his wife Coretta.  While it’s nice to see his interactions with his close friends and peers, sometimes there are so many different dozens of characters and minor perspectives one can get lost viewing it.   They often have emotional resonance to them, but it’s a dense slow burn of a experience. 
            It’s not an easy watch, but it isn’t supposed to be.  While there is so much to show about Martin Luther King Jr, what the scope of the film does cover is handheld well.   The effort of cast and director has done a good job making a movie  that does  a  job capturing the intense events of the Selma march. 8.5 out of 10