Posts Tagged ‘Bradley Cooper’

American Sniper: Not Enough Bang—Movie

January 20, 2015

Bradley Cooper gives a bravura performance as Chris Kyle, the hero of “American Sniper.” Unfortunately, as presented on-screen, the film’s execution doesn’t measure up to the real person, and over the course of more than two hours, becomes too repetitive. Directed by Clint Eastwood with screenplay by Jason Hall, based on Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, written by Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice, the film delves into Kyle’s childhood, his rodeo career, enlistment into the military, marriage and fatherhood, and most importantly, his years as a Navy SEAL and four tours of duty in Iraq.

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“American Sniper” opens in Iraq with Chris zeroing in on a young target in his sights. The film then powerfully jumps back in time to his home in Texas and a hunting lesson with a young Chris (Cole Konis) and his father, Wayne (Ben Reed). We see that even at a young age, Chris is an excellent shot. Chris’ father is a stereotypical Texas good-old boy, who seems to be all about God, country and hunting. Anything less than “manning up” is unacceptable to him. Younger brother, Jeff (Luke Sunshine), is weaker than Chris and seemingly in Chris’ shadow for the rest of his life. The boys grow up and become bronco rodeo riders. Although successful, Chris isn’t fulfilled and enlists, becoming a Navy SEAL. Interestingly enough, brother, Jeff (Keir O’Donnell), also enlists in the military. Prior to his first tour, Chris meets and marries Taya (Sienna Miller). Soon after he is married, he heads off to Iraq. The film shows that Chris doesn’t take his first kill lightly…that it does weigh on him…but he gets on with the mission at hand. Over time, Chris is known for his sharpshooting skill and his number of kills, earning him the nickname, “Legend.” Chris is matter-of-fact about his accomplishments which wins him the respect and friendship of his fellow soldiers. Although Chris is home for the birth of his first child, a son, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t feel completely at ease there, thinking he should be back with his fellow soldiers. Over the course of four tours, his time at home is more and more strained, especially when he becomes a father again. He goes back to Iraq, but during his fourth tour, Chris seems to realize that when it’s done, it’s time for him to be home for good. But being stateside is easier than it sounds. Chris has flashbacks, violent outbursts and more. It’s not until he tells a VA psychiatrist that he is “haunted by all the guys he couldn’t save,” that he finally finds the road back to a fulfilled life.

Clint Eastwood would seem to be an excellent directing choice for “American Sniper.” He does capture the camaraderie of the soldiers especially well. The good-natured ribbing, even while waiting on targets to make a move, comes off as very genuine. He also does a very good job in showing how boring the life of a sniper can be…the hours of just waiting for movement…while still remaining sharp. Unfortunately for a movie viewer, sitting there waiting with Chris and the other men isn’t very interesting and while the players may change a little over four tours, it feels like one is watching the same thing over and over. And while Eastwood does show us Chris’ home life and the strain tours take on families in general and his in particular, there just isn’t enough of what Chris does to overcome this and get on with his life. We see some of this activity, but it would be meaningful learning more. Eastwood concludes the film on a somber note. To underscore the solemnity, the ending film credits roll in silence. It’s a brilliant touch.

As noted earlier, Bradley Cooper gives an outstanding performance as Chris Kyle. He’s very believable as a man who sees things in terms of black and white, who loves his country and his family—both military and familial. Sienna Miller, as Chris’ wife struggling to cope with the changes she sees in Chris, is also very convincing. The supporting cast of actors playing soldiers is extremely good and those actors make the film feel very realistic.

Unfortunately, even with compelling performances, “American Sniper” too often feels repetitive and flat. The man himself was anything but, and it’s too bad the film doesn’t capture more of that spirit.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4

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Guardians of the Galaxy: Goofy Fun—Movie

August 3, 2014

Based on the Marvel comic, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a lighthearted film full of witty dialogue and terrific special effects. Directed by James Gunn with screenplay by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, based on the comic book written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his very diverse team of newly-found friends trying to save the Galaxy from destruction.

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“Guardians of the Galaxy” begins somberly enough on Earth in a 1988 hospital, with a young Peter listening to his Walkman, basically waiting for his very ill mother to die in a nearby room. When this happens, Peter runs out of the hospital, sees a flash of something and is gone. The next time we see Peter it’s 26 years later, and he is on the planet Morag, calling himself Starlord, which amusingly no one takes seriously. He’s searching for the Orb, which seems to have some kind of power. He finds it and escapes with the Orb to his spaceship, the Milano. From here the plot gets a little overly complicated. Let’s just say everyone seems to want the Orb and at some point, Peter and some of the “folk” chasing him get arrested by the Nova police and sent to a space prison called The Kyln.  There a very funny exchange takes place between the prisoners and one of the head guards (John C. Reilly). Peter and those arrested with him, calling themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy, manage to escape and go back to chasing the bad guys.

While everyone in “Guardians of the Galaxy” is very good, the two standouts have to be Chris Pratt and Bradley Cooper. Pratt is simply fabulous. He imbues Peter with a sense of fun and a tinge of sadness, but mostly fun. He’s utterly charming and this man can dance. He makes Peter so adorable that one can’t help but root for him. For too long Pratt has been relegated in films  to the best friend status, so it’s wonderful to see him in a starring role and making the most of the opportunity. We only hear Bradley Cooper, but his voice is perfect for Rocky, the raccoon. Cooper does something that makes him sound like Rocky just came off the Borscht Belt circuit, but it works hysterically well. Zoe Saldana is also very good as Gamora, who meets Peter early on in the film and decides to finally work with him (watching him sing and dance doesn’t hurt either…who could resist that?). It would appear that Saldana is gradually working her way through the Pantone color chart—blue in “Avatar” and now a lovely shade of green in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” No one rocks a tailored suit like Glenn Close, be it in the present or future, and in “Guardians” she’s just right as the austere Nova Prime. And as noted earlier, John C. Reilly has some good moments as the cop who finally sees the good in Peter and his crew.

As Groot, Vin Diesel has finally found a part that suits him perfectly…that of a tree. He heads up a supporting cast comprising Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou and Benicio Del Toro, just to name a few.

What separates “Guardians of the Galaxy” from other big-budget, special effects laden action/super hero movies is an intelligently amusing script, a story that doesn’t take itself seriously and special effects that actually add to the film.  In addition, the movie has chosen to feature some of the best 80s music which just contributes to “Guardian’s” good-time feel.

At 122 minutes “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a tad too long and lags in some spots. Also, one is never really sure when someone is dead. It is hard to tell just what has capacity to knock someone out for good. But those are just small quibbles in what is ultimately a fun movie with heart…and Chris Pratt.

3 nuggets out 4

American Hustle: Happy to be Played—Movie

January 3, 2014

American Hustle” is a three-ring circus of a movie with juggling extraordinaire by the ultimate ringmaster, David O. Russell, the film’s director. Somehow he makes it all work. Written by Russell and Eric Singer, “American Hustle” is loosely based on the Abscam FBI sting of the late 1970s. The film localizes the story and takes us behind the scenes for the New Jersey aspect of the operation.American Hustle

Christian Bale is Irving Rosenfeld, who owns a legitimate dry cleaning firm, but runs financial scams on the side. He meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) at a Long Island pool party and the two connect over a shared love for Duke Ellington. Although Irving is married, the two become a romantic couple. She joins forces with Irving in his illegal activity and all goes well until they scam the wrong person, undercover FBI agent, Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). He’s looking to make it big in the Bureau and in exchange for no prosecution, Irving and Sydney agree to help him with his plan to bring down Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) as well as other politicians.

Actors seem to do their best work in David O. Russell’s films and “American Hustle” is no exception. Christian Bale, with a paunch and comb-over to match Donald Trump in its elaborate badness is terrific. He’s done some amazing work over the past few years—each role completely different from the next—and in “American Hustle” he shines. There’s not a false note in his performance…Bronx accent and all. Amy Adams gives a wonderful portrayal as Irving’s soul mate and partner in crime. Sexpot is not the word with which one would normally associate her, but when she gets the chance to turn on the glam and sex appeal—yowza! She is utterly believable as a classy English criminal or sexy girlfriend to both of the two male leads. And when she needs to be tough as nails, Adams delivers. Bradley Cooper’s Richie is very good—perm’d hair and all—as the conniving agent on the rise…he hopes. Cooper seems to have more complicated, quick dialogue than anyone else and is terrific with it all. He does a great job in the comedic scenes with Patsy Meck who plays his mother. His Bureau work is also very good, especially in the scenes with Louis C.K. (who is also wonderful) as his boss, Stoddard Thorsen. Jeremy Renner is fine as the targeted mayor who wants to revitalize Atlantic City and is very convincing in his sense of betrayal.  Finally, there is Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn. To say she is fabulous is an understatement. Lawrence may be her generation’s most versatile actress. She can play a broad range of ages and her commitment to each part makes us believe her in whatever she does. In “American Hustle” she makes spectacular entrances in a variety of scenes—talk about opening doors—and certainly house-cleaning will never be the same. As a couple, she and Christian Bale perfectly illustrate the concept “can’t live with him/her, can’t live without him/her.

“American Hustle” has a few surprising cameos, but they are more than stunt casting. They actually work. There is a very large supporting cast and they all add immensely to the film.

The late 70s and early 80s produced some of the most hideous fashion and hair-do’s in our nation’s history and “American Hustle” captures them all to perfection. Even the electric rollers that Amy Adams wears are spot on.

This is a complicated movie, but Russell does a fantastic job in guiding the ship. The mark of a good film is when you want to learn more about the topic. It’s not often that a historical film piques your curiosity for more while being plain fun on every level. “American Hustle” is such a film.

4 nuggets out of 4

The Place Beyond the Pines: A Place to be Visited—Movie

April 24, 2013

Shakespearean in nature, “The Place Beyond the Pines” takes some huge risks and succeeds on most levels.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance and written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder, “The Place Beyond the Pines” revolves around two men, their connecting stories, and how their early encounter impacts their lives and the lives of their loved ones forever. If this seems ambitious, it is, and explains the nearly 2 ½ hours running time. However, the film is so engaging that you are never bored and the time flies by.The Place Beyond the Pines

“The Place Beyond the Pines” features three actors at the top of their game. Ryan Gosling has yet to turn in a bad performance and he doesn’t disappoint here as Luke, the motorcyclist drifter struggling to find himself and a life. Eva Mendes is very compelling as Romina, Luke’s yesteryear girlfriend. But the real star of “Pines” is Bradley Cooper. He is fantastic as the cop with so many inner conflicts it makes one’s head spin as he struggles to do right by his father, his marriage and family, all while trying to live up to his own expectations and moral compass. It’s the role of a life-time and Cooper is more than up to the challenge.

“Pines” is set and filmed in Schenectady, NY. The area is immediately familiar to anyone from upstate New York and lends an air of authenticity to the film. “The Place Beyond the Pines” features a terrific supporting cast. Ray Liotta, on a career resurgence, shines as the cop with questionable ethics. Ben Mendelsohn is equally good as Robin, the mechanic who takes Luke under his wing…for good and bad. Also look for standout performances from Bruce Greenwood and Harris Yulin.

Based on previews and commercials, ” Pines” was not at all what I expected. It was so much more.

3 1/2 nuggets out of 4

 

 


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