Posts Tagged ‘Clint Eastwood’

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

Jersey Boys: Four Seasons Full of Song and Drama—Movie

June 23, 2014

In the early 1960s, before the Beatles and the Stones, there were the boys from the Beach and the boys from Jersey. There was no mistaking one sound for the other. Each group reflected the environment from which it came. The Jersey Boys…aka…The Four Seasons mirrored its urban roots with something else…an almost indefinable something. “Jersey Boys” tells how that group and sound came to be. Directed by Clint Eastwood with screenplay and musical book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, based on the Broadway musical, “Jersey Boys” is full of the Four Seasons’ music, masterfully led by Tony-Award winning actor, John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli.    Jersey-Boys-Poster

Although the movie flushes out the play, the structure is much the same, with various members of the ensemble narrating the action and speaking directly to the audience throughout the movie. The film opens with Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) talking about the New Jersey neighborhood in which they grew up and introduces us to Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) and Frankie.  Nick and Tommy are several years older than the somewhat innocent 16-year-old Frankie, and both, but especially Tommy, look out for him. Even when they get into trouble, the two make sure that Frankie stays clean. Frankie earns money working in a barbershop where Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), a “made man,” is a regular and has taken a shine to Frankie and his voice. Tommy and Nick have a singing group with ever-changing names, with Frankie occasionally singing lead. Nick and Tommy have a few minor jail setbacks, but once that is in the past…or is it… they try to put their singing career back on track and make Frankie, with his amazing falsetto, a full-fledge member of the group. However, the group is going nowhere fast until Joey (Joseph Russo) from the neighborhood (who becomes the Joe Pesci of movie fame) puts them in touch with Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). Gaudio is a singer/songwriter who had recently written the hit Short Shorts. Although from New Jersey, he is most definitely not one of the guys. He’s educated, well-read and doesn’t have their New Jersey attitude. What he does have is enormous talent and some connections. Tommy is immediately jealous of Gaudio and his smarts, but once Gaudio puts them in touch with record producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle) and writes their first hit record, “Sherry,” animosities are put on the back burner. With the group’s appearance on American Bandstand (be on the lookout for the Dick Clark stand-in), their success is assured for some time. Unfortunately, life is not all lollipops and roses, and there are breakups, sadness, and then the re-emergence of Valli as a solo artist. And what a re-emergence that is with the mega-hit, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”

To say these actors can sing and make you believe they are the Four Seasons is putting it mildly. Their voices, coupled with amazing choreography, put you back in the 60s for real. John Lloyd Young is absolutely phenomenal as Frankie Valli. It is like watching and listening to Valli himself. And it wasn’t until I heard Michael Lomenda’s Nick that I realized how important his bass voice was to the group. Mike Doyle and Erich Bergen as Crewe and Gaudio give “Jersey Boys” real depth. Their performances seem very genuine. Christopher Walken is also very convincing as the connected mobster with a soft spot for Frankie. Finally there is Vincent Piazza’s Tommy. If not for Young’s singing, this actor would have stolen the movie (which is fitting, given his character). The film bursts with energy every time he’s on screen. Even with the nastiness of his character, he makes you feel for him.

Despite all of this exceptional talent, something about the film feels a little off. For some reason Eastwood’s direction doesn’t give the movie enough oomph. Maybe it’s “Jersey Boys” lack of color…the shots often seem muted…but something is off that doesn’t infuse the viewer with the same spirit as did the play. Maybe as a movie that’s just not possible.

How much of the back-story is true? The film and play had the blessing of Valli, Gaudio and Crewe. That said, Valli’s New Jersey-Italian parents seem just a tad too stereotypical. And the early scenes with the police are almost Officer Krupke in nature.

Dings aside, “Jersey Boys” is still highly entertaining. The singing, dancing and acting will make you wish the film went on a little longer. And if you don’t exit the theatre humming Big Girls Don’t Cry…well, I don’t know what to say.

3 nuggets out of 4

 

Invictus—Movie Review

January 18, 2010

Invictus is based on the book, Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation, by John Carlin. Directed by Clint Eastwood (screenplay by Anthony Peckham), Invictus was recommended to me as a must-see movie. So, based on that recommendation and Clint Eastwood’s track record as a filmmaker, I decided to see it. I was expecting some treacle, ” kumbayah” film, but I was very wrong and thankfully so. Invictus has a compelling story to tell, is well-acted, and the rugby games are absolutely great!

As recently elected President Mandela, Morgan Freeman literally embodies the role. Early in his first-term, against the advice of his closest advisors, Mandela decides to use the South African rugby team, the Springboks, and the 1995 Rugby World Cup as something around which the entire country can unite, regardless of race. He enlists the assistance of team captain,  François Pienaar (well-played by Matt Damon), who helps motivate his underdog South African team.

I admit that I know nothing about rugby, so I don’t know how well-cast the actors are, but the games are extremely entertaining and have a new fan in me. Far more exciting than soccer, it’s more like American football but without the padding, helmets or even long pants.

Invictus is not ground-breaking filmmaking, but its actors tell the little-know story well.

2 ½ nuggets out of 4


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