American Sniper [Spoilers]: follows the life of America’s deadliest sniper from childhood hunting and adolescent rodeos through four tours (+1,000 days) in the Iraq war. Unsurprisingly, this film boasts typical Eastwood directing hallmarks; it’s taut, oppressive, fairly downbeat, and contains superfluous racism; told with no-frills direction or distractions from the story, which is heavily centered around emotions and individuals. The one thing that’s most problematic – at least to foreign audiences – is the cheesy portrayal of Kyle’s blindly patriotic all-Americanism, and although it’s not a particularly glamorous account, the film feels like a glorified highlight reel of a war and sniping ‘legend’. Even the ending – after showing Chris Kyle graphically kill dozens of men, women, and children, and mention 100s more – the film couldn’t even show his fate, at the other end of the barrel. The biggest reason to watch this is Bradley Cooper’s magnetic performance, showing the highs and lows of being a famous/infamous killing machine. All things considered, American Sniper comes out as somewhat mediocre; it tries to show a fresh – personal – perspective of the effects of war, but uses the full range of war film clichés like the worried wife, absent father, soon-to-be-married guy getting his shit ruined, and a crow-barred-in big action finale; which is poorly shot and difficult to follow. If you have the time to spare something like Generation Kill (which this references at least a couple of times) is a far more effective, balanced and entertaining way of seeing America’s role in the Iraq war.
The Midnight Meat Train (Spoilers): A struggling photographer finds more than just inspiration in late-night New York, as he stumbles across the reason why so many of the city’s people go missing. So, the average human body contains over four liters of blood – unless you’re unlucky enough to be on the Midnight Meat Train, where people have infinite blood. The film is everything that you think a movie called “Midnight Meat Train” would be. It’s a shady story that gets weirder and sillier as the film progresses, finishing with something so ridiculous and over-the-top. The acting’s alright for this type of film (gore, schlock, pure B-movie), but the characters are ridiculous. The lead goes from normal to psychotically obsessed within 2 scenes. My favourite thing about this film is that five years ago, Bradley Cooper was the leading man in a movie where an ogre-king pulls his fiance’s heart out, forces Cooper to eat it, before getting his own tongue ripped out! I don’t know if this could ever have been a good movie, but it’s the kind of film that would have worked a lot better if it was all done in Japan and in Japanese, and not just a J-horror director working in Hollywood, with an American cast.
Hangover Part III (aka The Hangover 3): The wolfpack are reunited (again), and end up going on a road trip that takes a wrong turn (again). For what started out as a really good original film, this series has taken a rapid nosedive into sub-mediocrity. It doesn’t feel like a ‘Hangover’ movie: there’s no blackout, no fun, no shocks, no unorthodox situations, no Mike Tyson – the only attempt to tie it in is some forced nostalgia; inserting shots from previous films. The cast are OK, but all look like they’d all rather be elsewhere – and the rent-a-John–Goodman cameo is such uninspired casting. I don’t understand how someone managed to spend $103M on a film with no real stunts, or heavy CGI. The first film worked because it was equally shocking and funny, the second film was OK because it was mostly shocking; this one feels empty in both tanks – timid story, and simply not funny enough to be a comedy. Ken Jong does something ridiculous; Zach Galifianakis says something silly/inappropriate; Ed Helms screams in bemusement; and Bradley Cooper stands around looking broody – repeat x100. Sadly, this feels more like a bunch of contractual obligations than a film.
Hangover Review (7.5/10)
Hangover Part II Review (6.5/10)
The Place Beyond the Pines: a trilogy of stories surrounding a cop, a robber, and their kids. Firstly, the casting director should be put down; nobody here is doing anything new. Gosling (complete with gratuitous torso shot) is a lovable-but-flawed boyfriend, Cooper is a smart and ambitious over-achever, DeHaan as a creepy weirdo kid and Liotta as a bent cop, Mendelsohn as a petty low-life criminal – fuck me sideways, it’s like a cast made of characters from other films. While the three plot threads are connected, they are more akin to three completely separate stories. It has a painfully Indie/Arthouse slant to it; this means it’s OK to have excruciatingly long cuts of people riding bikes and cars down roads, and to casually drop in to the lives of ‘everyday people’. And once the ’15 years later’ title appears you know exactly where this is heading, so to take another 40 minutes feels rather greedy. More generally, it’s also hard keeping up with where you are on a timeline – sure, it’s chronological but one scene will jump a day, others weeks, some months with no indication. Over the 17 or so years all we as the audience get is all of the melodrama – in a film that is nothing like the bank-job / heist / action film the trailer suggests. I genuinely don’t understand the hype surrounding director Derek Cianfrance, but he got one thing right – calling this ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ – which tells you everything you need to know about it – too long, very vague, and painstaikingly tedious. By the last act, it felt more like the NeverEnding Story.
Silver Linings Playbook: after a mental breakdown and bi-polar diagnosis, Pat Solitano strikes up a relationship with an equally challenged family friend. STOP PRESS! HOLD THE PHONE! Someone somewhere managed to find a very good performance in Robert De Niro, how the hell did they do it? Both leads are also way above what’s required and expected from ‘rom-com’ standards, and both deliver solid, believable, performances as afflicted people. The story’s engaging and interesting, right up until the final act where it runs through the entire checklist for clichéd movie endings. In saying that, you don’t really grudge the ending as the laugh-count in the first two-thirds of the film was ridiculously high (again) compared to what you usually get in a rom-com. The only thing that kept pinching me was that both leads are ridiculously good-looking Hollywood A-listers, centered around an interesting, unconventional relationship – those two roles could have been brilliant breakthrough fodder for unknowns, but in a way, they still are eye-opening performances, and you wouldn’t want to change the casting of Cooper or Lawrence. Silver Linings Playbook is a surprisingly funny and enjoyable quirky rom-com.
Valentine’s Day: make-ups and break-ups are on the menu as a lot of famous people try to get lots of your bums on lots of seats. Genuinely, Ashton “Dude, where’s my talent?” Kutcher is so flat it’s like watching an inanimate object: a chair, a table, a wall – take your pick, they’d out-act him. It’s one of those lazy comedies that plays racial stereotypes for cheap comedy – including the classic ‘big black woman with an attitude’; obviously! For me, Queen Latifa is fast becoming my trusty hallmark for a shit film. The script must have been written by the Green Giant, it’s sooo corny (tedious, contrived and unrealistic dialogue) and the jokes are all poorly judged & timed. The only tolerable bits (limited to guys + lesbians) are Anne Hathaway in her scants, then talking on a phone-sex line!!! But it’s a PG sex-line though <SadFace>. Worse still, all of the best names – like Foxx – get the least time on screen, because they cost the most.
The Mrs and I braved an entire hour before we lost all faith in Hollywood, actors, integrity, humanity, the universe etc. Valentines day is cynical, insulting, money-grabbing and void of any entertainment. Whatever you do, do not watch this if you intend on some ‘adult sleeping’ afterwards, it will absolutely destroy your notions of love, and valentines day.
Alternative Plan: Early bed time.
New York, I Love You: a collection of short stories all about New York and New Yoykers – loosely labelled under the umbrella ‘romance’. The vignette setup just doesn’t do it for me, far too many characters, and differing themes / tones / styles / storylines – all mashed together, tediously linked through the location. The second problem is the quality control, or lack of – a few of the shorts were really good; prom night, pickpockets, old couple – but the rest were all varyingly pretentious and dull stories featuring varyingly pretentious and dull artisan characters – some of whom are beyond absurd – Ethan Hawke, I’m talking to you. Despite being all about NY, and the ‘love of the city’ there’s not that much iconic scenery; it’s mostly grimy side streets, greasy spoons, apartments, bars, yellow cabs, ect, which doesn’t really capture the vibes of the big apple – although someone could probably argue that this captures ‘THE REAL NEW YORK, BRO’. Given the massive list of A-list actors (and them some) New York, I Love You is massively disappointing – parts are good, but overall it’s collectively dull. Give City Island a bash instead!
Limitless: a washed-up writer discovers a drug that can unlock the brain’s full potential, spectacularity ensues! Most memorable is some of the great photography and interesting filming techniques, the shots that go from block to block, colour contrast… The story’s also pretty interesting, and it doesn’t follow a particular formula too much. Knowing it’s a hack sci-fi story, the film’s played for both drama and laughs with a few massive WTF moments for no real reason (Ice Skates, blood etc) – certainly made for in interesting viewing! Bradley Cooper‘s just Bradley Cooper, but this plays to his strengths. De Niro plays a focker-esque caricature of the squinting macho male he’s done since nineteen oatcake – very disappointing. Despite being somewhat ironically limited (a single idea spun out a bit too thinly) Limitless is a decent, memorable, interesting popcorn action flick.
The Hangover Part II: Take my review of the first film – change mentions of ‘Vegas to Bangkok and it’s a job well done! Realising that the one-man wolf pack and Leslie Chow (the only two that pull off ‘funny’) were the best things about The Hangover, these two characters get even more screen time and gags than before. Once again, the humour is very Lad / Frat friendly and doesn’t appeal to everyone. Not much else to say other than it’s even more crass and offensive than the first, and seemed to have longer periods where nothing amazingly funny was happening. It’s good, but definitely more of an expansion pack than a new addition. Kudos to the people responsible for taking Hangovers for from a low-budget comedy to the biggest comedy of all time in 2 films!
The A-Team: a crack commando unit gets sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit; these men promptly escape and try to clear their name, by any means possible! It was an honourable attempt at a decent story, which was good in parts but landed somewhere between you’re average Seagal and Bourne Flick. You get what you see with the simple characters, but it’s hardly a character piece. Hannibal/Neeson looked uncomfortable throughout, but Murdoch/Copley picks up all the slack, and ends up the film’s real star. Patrick Wilson‘s also decent. The action was great, and should leave you grinning ear to ear because it’s cool & gratifying escapism (flying tanks, mad stunts, explosions, dogfights…) right up until the last big play where it got so ridiculous that CGI had to take over. We got a solid 3 months of hype in the UK so I wasn’t expecting much, but The A-Team is simply an enjoyable, over-the-top action film. Probably 20 minutes longer than it should be, but much better than expected.
The Hangover: (Blu Ray) a trio of buddies waken up after a stag night, minus the stag and all memory of the evening. It’s pretty entertaining as the details unfold but you get the feeling the writer polled a thousand guys and put the best ‘crazy nights out’ tales together to make a story. The brother Alan was probably the best part of the movie and although other guys were funny in parts the ‘one-man wolf pack’ totally stole the show. In saying that the overall humour hit home with me, but isn’t for everyone and is probably more for guys than girls – it’s pretty much Superbad for men. Mike Tyson must be skint at the moment, there’s also an outlandish Asian and maths montage worth noting. The picture’s brilliantly detailed but the surround mix is disappointing, with little action in back speakers. Despite being let down by the cheesiest of endings this is definitely worth a watch.