Saturday, January 31, 2015

Film Review - American Sniper

The film opens in the middle. Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is poised on a rooftop with spotter Goat (Kyle Gallner) by his side. He is still, quiet and breathing rythmically as he peer through the lens of his M40 rifle. The marine unit below rolls down the towns main street the audible rhythm of the Abrams tank's chains fill the air. Kyle stares back into his scope and spots a woman and young boy entering the street are they friendly or a threat? Kyle has to make a call from hundreds of yards away. If he shoots and they are innocent he could face charges if he hesitates and they are the enemy it will mean death for the marines that are relying on him for protection.

The scene shifts back Texas of the near past. Kyle's main concern is riding bucking horses, his younger brother Jeff ( Keir O'Donnell), having a few beers and spending time with his girl. His Father took him hunting reglarly as a kid teaching him respect for both his rifle and his prey. After a break up with his current girlfriend followed by a night out with Jeff September 11th occurred leading Kyle to the local recruiting office and off to SEAL training.

Veteran director Clint Eastwood presents the story of a true life American solider. Eastwood uses every opportunity to develop tension in the film. From the moments where Kyle has to make the decision to shoot or not on rooftops. To heated discussions with locals, interpreters present as the American troops go door to door to find the enemy. Another different take in the story by writer Jason Hall and from Chris Kyle's book are the satellite phone calls home from the theatre of battle. As a Sniper Kyle is often removed from the action therefore he has the chance to switch his earphone to a different channel to call home and speak to his wife Taya (Sienna Miller).

The heart of the film is the focus on the difficulty for Chris Kyle to reintegrate back into domestic society. He goes on four plus tours of Iraq hits all the hot spots Fallujah, Ramadi and Sadyr City.  Over there he has his orders and his team. He can do his job and is very good at it. He is a hero to his fellow troops with a confirmed 160 kills knowing exactly where he fits in.  Back at home he can't adjust to the pace. He's distant from his wife, awkward with his kids and family friends seeing combat scenarios from Iraq at backyard barbecues and while traveling on city streets. The production also dedicates a good bit of time to Veteran hospitals and services including Kyle's work with wounded veterans that helps both the soldiers in the hospital and Kyle himself.

Bradley Cooper is forceful as Chris Kyle. Cooper bulked up for the role, settled into a thick Texas drawl and seemed at ease playing a menacing guy especially during several scenes on the home front. Sienna Miller is strong as Taya. She resists Kyle's advances as first not wanting anything to do with a Navy SEAL but becomes his wife and partner.  She is the one that his to try to reach him when he tunes out at home. She is also the person on his mind when he realizes that he is done in Iraq and is coming home for good.

American Sniper looks at the war in Iraq from a different lens. It's the attention paid to the time between tours on the home front and the struggles veterans face working back into normal society that separates the piece. It is a film I can recommend.

American Sniper | Clint Eastwood | U.S.A. | 2014 | 132 Minutes.

Tags; Biography, Iraq, Navy SEAL, Falluja, Ramadi, Sadyr City, 4 Tours, PTSD, Veteran Affairs, BUD/S.

Elevation Pictures Film Review- A Most Violent Year

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) wants to run a legitimate business. He is the owner of a fast rising heating oil company. Morales an immigrant to the United States, rose through the ranks and bought the company from his wife Anna's (Jessica Chastain) father. Anna knows the seedier side of the heating oil business having grown up in the industry. The world includes attacking fellow competitors trucks, buying stolen product, fast and loose accounting practices and rigging scales for company friendly meter readings.

The story is set in 1981 New York and as the title states it was one of the top years for murders in the City's history. In 1981 New York was much grittier that it is today. Times Square was porn shops and peep shows not Disney, ESPN Zones and Apple stores that it is today. The cities back alleys and abandon spaces were full of graffiti along with subway trains and stations . Writer /Director J.C. Chandor and his production team do an excellent job of setting the scene. The first aspect is a historical undertone of daily radio crime reports. The commentary is muted under a given scene but the viewer is able to pick up the grim details. The second is the wardrobe choices. 1981 is in the near past but the clothing, hair and glasses choices make the film look like a period piece. The film is set and shot in the winter. Big coats, big collars, hats, and hair rule the day. The third is recreating the grittiness of the time. The production tagged fresh graffiti and the use of dark drab pale blues, whites and greys brought home the feel of a cold New York winter.

A Most Violent Year refreshingly takes it time to get to its point. At the films outset one of Morales' Standard Heating Oil trucks is highjacked, its driver pistol whipped. The audience soon learns that this is an ongoing issue targeting the company. Morales is also about to make a significant deal for a little used property between Standard Heating Oil's terminal and the river that will open up the ability to bring in product by water when the prices are low store them in the onsite tanks then sell at a higher price when the heating oil market rises in the winter. Chandor story slowing unravels these issues along with the battle by Morales to stay legit while Anna is more willing to bend the rules to accomplish the couples goals.

Oscar Isaac absorbs his character of Abel Morales reminding one of a young Al Pacino in the Godfather films. The first striking thing about his character is the long expensive camel wool coat he ports throughout the film. The coat is above his current standing but Abel is portraying where he wants to be instead of where he is now. He displays his personal and professional philosophy when he instructs three new sales people on how to close a deal. Standard oil will not be the cheapest option but it will be the better one. If a customer gives you a choice of refreshment always pick the more expensive or exotic option. If offered coffee or tea you take the tea. Jessica Chastain turns in another in a string of strong performances as Anna Morales. She battles her husband toe to toe, attacks his manhood when he refuses to push back and go the more violent route but is quietly loyal protecting her families future while taking on public officials that appear at the Morales' door.

A most Violent year is an engrossing take on a little explored subject on film. The production team does a formidable job of recreating the time period.  The two lead actors are captivating in their roles. J.C. Candor continues his impressive run of solid features on vastly different subject matters. The Heating Oil business circa 1981 here, alone at sea in All is Lost and the investment banking in Margin Call.  This is a film that I can recommend.

*** Out of 4.

A Most Violent Year | J.C. Chandor | U.S.A. | 2014 | 125 Minutes.

Tags:1981, New York, Crime,  Immigrant, District Attorney, Inditement, Land Deal, Union.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

eOne Film Review- Mortdecai

Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) is an Art expert and dealer of questionable peerage who dabbles in the shadier side of the business. At the films opening he's in Hong Kong working on a deal for a vase with long term rival Fang Fat (Junix Inocian). As the pair banter it's revealed that Mortdecai is in serious financial difficulty with the British Government. The two do not come to a deal leading to a physical confrontation Mortdecai is backed by his manservant/thug Jock (Peter Bettany).

A quick transition back to London where Mortdecai's wife Johanna (Gwyneth Paltrow) survey's the next pieces from the estate that must go out to auction. She is put off by the new mustache a Mortdecai male tradition declaring an either or ultimatum.  The pair are soon visited by MI5 Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor) who is investigation a theft of a Goya painting plus the death of a restorer that may have terrorist implications.

Director David Koepp's film based on a Kyril Bonfiglioli novel whirls around the capitals of Europe in pursuit of the missing mural. The film tries to recreate the heist capers from the sixties but misses the mark. Eric Aronson script does not hit the right comedic notes. The production has a few instances that will bring a smile or a chuckle but most of the attempts at hilarity stall or fizzle.

The film has a few running gags mainly Mortdecai's mustache that is an item of conversation each time a new character enters the scene and causes Johanna to gag whenever she comes in close proximity. Another the irresistible prowess of manservant Jock bedding women at every turn. 's  that becomes tiresome after the third depiction.

The highlight of the film is in the handling of the transitions. As the characters jet around Europe the cities are shown satellite style with  multiple story high letters on screen. Planes carrying our group fly though O's around the A's and into an S shattering it to pieces. The film often uses fast pace frames linking the last location of one city to the first point of call in the next.

Johnny Depp seems to be working on an inside joke that only he knows with his character Mortdecai. He appears to be channeling Peter Sellers, David Niven  or possibly even Mike Myer's Austin Powers but does not quite get there. Gwyneth Paltrow does well with little material as Johanna the smartest person in the film and the only one with any investigative skills. Which is what one would expect for McGregor's MI5 investigator Markland  who spends more time mesmerized by Johanna who passed him over for Mortdecai back when the three of them were in college.

David Koepp's Mortdecai is an attempt at an international escapade that falls short. The vast majority of the jokes are not funny and the film suffers from a thin plot. Depp's character has some  good moment but they are few and  far between. It is not a film that I can recommend even to die hard Johnny Depp fans.

* 1/2  Out of 4.

Mortdecai| David Koepp | U.S.A. | 2015 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Art , Goya, Smuggling, Mustache, Restorer, Forgery, Auction, Manservant, Lord, MI5.