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.
How to Train Your Dragon [Blu Ray]: a teenage viking wants to follow in the dragon-slaying tradition of his tribe, but comes up with an unorthodox plan when he doesn’t have the heart to kill one. As the story plays out it’s clearly well-written, with lots of details and nice touches – the father/Son angle in particular is very well-played, and the swash-buckling finale delivers more than your standard Statham flick. The voice cast is amazing, star-studded and everyone’s distinct – despite every Viking speaking in a ‘krrrayy-zzeee’ Scottish accent – annoyingly the whiny voice of main character is one of the weaker performances. The BD picture detail is jaw-dropping: barnacles, hair, fur, water will drop your jaw, and the colours are extremely vivid and vibrant – sound wise, everything from explosions to ambience punches through – no questions, it’s a must-own Blu Ray. You’d like to think that a film as solid as this would have been a warning shot at Pixar, but being followed by Megamind and a bunch of sequels/spin-offs it feels like more of a fluke – which is disappointing, as it showed progress for DreamWorks Animation. Pitching to both children and adults How to Train Your Dragon makes for a great kids film, but will also entertain the big kids!
Four Lions: follows a band of useless homegrown terrorists and their attempt to inflict maximum damage to a London target, hopefully starting an uprising. The only remotely realistic character is Omar: the other four bombers turn the film into a slapstick / comedy of errors and are so unbelievably stupid that it’s hard to take any of the more emotive scenes at face value. This said, the out-and-out satire parts are the best by a long shot and in typical Morris style most of the best jokes are ‘random’-based. The last section (London Marathon attack) is great and salvages an otherwise tepid comedy – almost every single big laugh had already been splurged all over the trailers & TV spots. This trivial take on terrorism will hit a lot of nerves and while it’s quite topical – detention / house raids / torture / Afghanistan – the few serious messages are completely overshadowed by the buffoonery. Four Lions is an alright film, but doesn’t come close to the brilliance of Chris Morris’s previous works like The Day Today, Brass Eye, Blue Jam or even Nathan Barley.