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American Sniper

Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) dreams of being a Cowboy – that’s all he’s ever wanted to do. He’s a born Texan, he’s grown up in a religious family in Texas and he lives for the Cowboy lifestyle. When he’s just a boy of 8 years old, his daddy Wayne, (by Ben Reed) teaches him to hunt and shoot. He loves it and he’s a natural … a real “dead-eye”. As an adult, he gives the Rodeo a go for a while, but he gets injured and retires too early from it, feeling totally unfulfilled. His life lacks something – he needs a way to really use his talent. In September 2001, he watches as the Twin Towers fall in New York City and he decides he can put his talent to good use by helping America in the global fight against terrorism. He joins the Navy and trains as a SEAL. While he’s at training camp, he meets Taya (by Sienna Miller) and they marry just as he’s called to his first Tour of Duty in Iraq. He soon gets a name for himself as the best sniper in the military. He gallantly serves his country over four Tours and he receives several commendations for his actions and heroism. Throughout the conflict, he observes the horrors of this warfare and watches with utter disbelief and sadness as his squad buddies are wounded or killed. Between Tours, although he thinks he’s doing fine, his wife can see he’s changing and starting to withdraw. He never speaks of his experiences and she can’t get through to him. In 2009, he is honourably discharged and he writes a memoir about his experiences. He finds solace through helping other returned servicemen work through their own emotions – until one day in 2013 when he attends a shooting range near Chalk Mountain in Texas and is shot dead by a veteran Marine.

This true story is based on Chris Kyle’s bestselling 2012 autobiography, “American Sniper”. The director, Clint Eastwood, has depicted Kyle very well in this movie – the scenes of his work as a military sniper are particularly gripping. Bradley Cooper’s performance is compelling as the crack-shot who seems to take it all in his stride – he appears to think nothing of taking another life in defence of his brave fellow countrymen. He goes about his “business” with a steely gaze and a solid determination. It’s as if he’s born to do this and will stop at nothing as long as there’s still a person alive who threatens a US hero. At the 2015 Academy Awards presentation, the movie won the award for Best Sound Editing. It also won an AFI for Movie of the Year and received BAFTA nominations for Best Film, Screenplay and Sound. In my opinion, the movie is too long and could be told in much less time, but overall it’s an interesting piece and he’s a fascinating person.

Made in 2014. Directed by Clint Eastwood.

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Posted by on June 18, 2015 in Movies

 

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Still Alice

Alice Howland (played by Julianne Moore) has a very settled, happy life. She loves her work as Professor of Linguistics at Columbia University, her marriage is solid and she and her husband John (by Alec Baldwin), have raised three great children. Now adults, Anna (by Kate Bosworth) is married to Charlie (by Shane McRae), Tom (by Hunter Parrish) is a successful lawyer and Lydia (by Kristen Stewart) studies drama in Los Angeles. Alice starts to notice some weird things happening to her … just tiny things, but still … things that worry her. She forgets words usually second nature to her, then loses her way around Columbia campus, then forgets her son’s girlfriend – what on Earth’s going on?  Distraught with worry, she sees her doctor and after several investigations she is diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease – very rare in a person Alice’s age of early 50’s. Hugely distressed, she now faces the challenge of a terminal degenerative illness herself and the added risk that she may have passed it on to her children. Alice bravely steps along her significantly changed life path and faces her unknown future …

I can’t imagine what such a situation would be like to face – knowing that you are afflicted with a degenerative disease that will cause your memories to disappear more and more, until you don’t know who you are or what your life is. Also, that no matter what support and love you have around you, this will happen to you alone and nobody else will know how it’s affecting you. This would be tragic and a huge challenge for anyone. However … there’s something missing in this movie. The story is all there – and it’s interesting to watch this intelligent, ambitious, hard-working and successful woman face her illness and all that comes with that. But somehow the relationships, her portrayal of her own experience and the general mood just misses the mark for me. It’s not the deeply moving piece that I anticipated. Does Julianne Moore deserve the Oscar for this? I’m not sure – perhaps it’s that she is so good and so accurate in her portrayal of Alice, that she makes it look like nothing – perhaps that’s the answer. Alec Baldwin’s seems to be just “going through the motions” with his character, John, who appears superficial and almost extraneous to the story. Even the children’s experiences – each different, as is appropriate with people – are all weirdly and disappointingly distant. It is based on the novel “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. Julianne Moore also won a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors’ Guild award for her performance here. Well done, I guess.

Made in 2014. Directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2015 in Movies

 

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Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley), is born in India in 1869. He is educated as a solicitor in Britain and develops a deep belief in non-violence and a balanced, peaceful life for all. An intense and passionate thinker, his beliefs lead him to become active in the civil rights movement in South Africa in 1893 and in the early twentieth century he returns to India where his reputation grows quickly. He becomes known across all India as “Mahatma” – the venerable Gandhi. His followers multiply as he spreads his pro-independence message across the sub-continent. Gandhi becomes the leader of India’s non-violent, non-cooperative independence movement against British rule. This is the dramatization of his life and his work to bring India to independence through the underlying principles of non-violence and non-cooperation. He is particularly noted for his non-secular approach – a practising Hindu, he embraces and models acceptance of the other significant faiths in India – Islam and Christianity. Coverage of his entire life is difficult, but the key milestones are here between his initiation into Civil Rights, his leadership of the independence campaign and his eventual assassination in Delhi in 1948.

This is a glorious movie about a fascinating and influential man known as “Mahatma” Gandhi. The masterful direction and excellent cinematography depicts India as a sprawling, beautiful, mysterious landscape that’s colourful and romantic – and that in itself is a job well done. Filmed on location at many of India’s key political locations, such as the Red Fort in Delhi, it is true to life in that sense, but anyone who has visited India will know that this version is not quite like the real life India. However, the way the drama unfolds and the visual pleasure of it can perhaps be interpreted as how the calm eyes of Mahatma Gandhi may see his world. Richard Attenborough deserves all the accolades he gets for his work in this movie – it’s marvellous. The story itself is significant to India’s history, but like most cultural and political upheaval it’s violent, difficult and doesn’t always go as planned, nor end well – but the telling is beautiful. There is no doubt that Ben Kinglsey, a newcomer to movies in 1982, is hugely deserving of the Academy Award (Oscar), Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards he receives for this performance – it’s remarkable and he is wonderful. The cinematography thoroughly deserves it too – although the movie is long (3 hours), the landscapes and panoramic presentation make it very watchable. Along with the copious awards for Ben Kingsley, the movie receives Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Writing, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costumes and Editing. It also receives Golden Globes for Best Foreign Film, Director, New Star of the Year (Kingsley) and Screenplay; BAFTAs received are for Direction, Film, Outstanding Newcomer (Kingsley) and Supporting Actress (Rohini Hattangadi – who plays Gandhi’s wife). Excellent job.

Made in 1982. Directed by Richard Attenborough

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Movies

 

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Moonstruck

Loretta Castorini (played by Cher) has been unlucky in love. She’s got a good job as a bookkeeper for many local Brooklyn businesses, she has a loving, supportive family, she lives in a safe clean home and is healthy and strong – but she’s lost out in the romance department. She married the love of her life seven years ago, but he died in a tragic accident and she now lives at home with her parents Rose (by Olympia Dukakis) and Cosmo (by Vincent Gardenia). They despair at their daughter’s bad luck – Loretta has given up on finding her one true love, convinced she must just “settle”. She agrees to marry the hapless Johnny Cammameri (by Danny Aiello) as he heads back to Sicily to his dying mother’s bedside. Loretta has no expectations of romance, but expects Johnny to “do things right” – they’ll marry in a big church wedding as soon as he returns. In the meantime, she goes to visit Johnny’s brother, Ronny (by Nicholas Cage) to try to patch up a long-standing family feud. But when she meets Ronny, she realises she’s stepped right into the middle of a “situation” – she gets involved in so much more than she ever expected ….

This is a little more than a family comedy – it’s a living, breathing, caricature of Italian culture in Brooklyn. All the characters are larger than life, their beliefs are strong, superstitions run deep and life principles are direct. “Do you love him, Loretta?” asks her mother Rose, – she replies “No, Ma.” … “Good” says Rose “… if you do they drive you crazy – because they can”. Her father, Cosmo, is hopeless, but provides well for his family. Loretta is accepting of her lot, not expecting much to improve – and suspicious of anything that might bring happiness to her.  As Ronny, Nicholas Cage is passionate and earnest – he plays that way past the point of what’s necessary, so the whole thing is over the top. I’m a fan of Cher in the movies and she does well here – hence her Academy Award (Oscar) and Golden Globe for this in 1988. John Mahoney is great, as is Olympia Dukakis – she won an Academy Award and Golden Globe also, well done.
Made in 1987. Directed by Norman Jewison


 
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Posted by on March 8, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Graduate

Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) has recently graduated from college. On the day of his triumphant return home, his father (by William Daniels) and mother (by Elizabeth Wilson) have arranged a huge ‘Welcome Home’ party for him. All their friends come along and can’t wait to congratulate Benjamin on his marvellous, prize-winning academic achievement. Benjamin is reluctant to join the party, but does so – just to appease his parents. He gets a chance to escape – one of his parents’ friends, Mrs Robinson (by Anne Bancroft), asks him to drive her home. When they arrive at the Robinson’s home, Mrs Robinson asks him to accompany her inside to wait until Mr Robinson returns, as she is frightened to be alone. Benjamin obliges and inside the house they have an encounter which leaves forthright Mrs Robinson frustrated and innocent Benjamin alarmed and confused. As soon as Mr Robinson (by Murray Hamilton) arrives home, Benjamin rushes away. But somehow the interaction with Mrs Robinson leaves an impression on Benjamin that he can’t shake – they begin an affair. As the weeks pass, Benjamin becomes moody and disengaged, his parents and friends try to cheer him up and suggest he dates the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine (by Katharine Ross). Under sufferance, he takes her out. Benjamin finds Elaine curiously alluring and things start to get complicated when her mother, Mrs Robinson, realises her young daughter may draw Benjamin away from her. Benjamin realises he’s falling in love with Elaine so he decides to come clean with her – that’s when things get really messy …

This movie is strange and great at the same time. The story is quite provocative as it covers issues of infidelity, loyalty, honesty and morality. As Benjamin Braddock, Dunstin Hoffman’s performance, whilst award winning – is strangely wooden. His dialogue is robotic and in several places he appears to be in a trance – perhaps I’ve missed something. The performance of Benjamin’s parents is funny – but I guess that’s how all well-heeled parents behaved at that time. Anne Bancroft is good and she deserves the nomination for Best Actress – Mrs Robinson is a manipulative, frustrated and jealous woman who tries to satisfy her own needs first but also looks after the security of her family (regardless of the lies she has to tell to do it). As Elaine, Katharine Ross is lovely – it’s such a wide-eyed innocent performance. She won a Best Newcomer BAFTA and Golden Globe and was nominated for Best Support Actress Academy Award (Oscar) for this work. Dustin Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar and a Golden Globe and BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer. The Screenplay is award winning also, and co-writer Buck Henry appears as Hotel Desk clerk in the movie. It’s great to see a very young Richard Dreyfus in one short scene also. The production is certainly different – somewhat stilted, in several places it reminds me of Stanley Kubrick’sClockwork Orange”, which came later (1971). Cinematography is dramatic, probably innovative for its time. The director, Mike Nichols, and the movie won Academy Awards, Golden Globes, BAFTA and several other awards. It’s great to hear this score – the original versions of the Simon and Garfunkel songs “Sounds of Silence”, “Scarborough Fair” and of course “Mrs Robinson” – the Original score won Paul Simon and Dave Grusin a Grammy in 1969.  It’s certainly a movie that leaves an impression.

Made in 1967.  Directed by Mike Nichols.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in Movies

 

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Platoon

In the late 1960’s, Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen) arrives in Vietnam – fresh-faced, keen and naiive. He’s already one of a minority – he’s dropped out of college and volunteered for the Army. He joins his Platoon – lead by Sergeant Barnes (by Tom Berenger), a worldly-wise career soldier with facial scars to prove he’s experienced violence before – and Sergeant Elias (by Willem Dafoe), the complete opposite to Barnes, he manages to keep a spiritual calm despite the high stress jungle environment and his doubts about the war. Chris’ platoon buddies help him to familiarise with the ways of jungle warfare – the longer he’s here, the more he learns and the higher he’s valued by his platoon. Life in Vietnam for these soldiers is frightening and punctuated by incessant bugs, damp, exhaustion, rations, drugs and marking off a mental calendar until leaving again for home. Rainforest encounters with the enemy are difficult, chaotic and terrifying – and when violence erupts between highly stressed soldiers and Vietnamese villagers, things can get nasty very quickly. As the weeks pass, Chris becomes less and less confident in his quest and more and more distant from his home and much loved Grandma. His letters home are his journal – his thoughts, once moral and positive, become doubtful and sceptical. Who’s the real enemy here? … is this really what he signed up for?

This is a graphic war movie and it’s good. If you want a ground-level view of Army life for a jungle solider in the Vietnam War, this is probably a great place to start. The day to day boredom and terror of this life is depicted well by Oliver Stone – the viewer can feel the humidity, sweat, grime and horror that is experienced by these soldiers. Charlie Sheen is marvellous as Chris Taylor, it’s perhaps his best ever performance. Tom Berenger is excellent as the unpredictable and terrifying Platoon Sergeant Barnes – he was awarded Best Support Actor by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for this performance and nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar). Oliver Stone’s directorship earned him awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press, Directors Guild of America, Independent Spirit Awards, BAFTA, Berlin International Film Festival and Academy (Oscar). Willem Dafoe’s portrayal as Elias is a great counterpoint to the irrational Barnes and he was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for this. The Platoon features several actors who went on to do marvellous work after this – Forest Whitaker, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley and a very young Johnny Depp. The cinematography is great (it won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Academy Award [Oscar]) and the editing and sound are Academy Award winners too.  It’s a good war movie.

Made in 1986. Directed by Oliver Stone.

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in Movies

 

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Her

Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) lives in a high-tech, digitised world where practically everything is done in the virtual space. He’s a writer – of personalised letters on behalf of his clients. He spends his days composing tender, empathetic and meaningful prose, sent as personal letters by email to people in relationships who have neither the words or time to write their own. Outside work, Theodore’s life is beige – he is constantly connected into his virtual news feed, emails, calendar and internet. His instructions are all verbal and the content is all fed back to him through his earpiece – his “window” to the world. Since his marriage to Catherine (by Rooney Mara) ended two years ago, he’s been on his own, but he really wants a new relationship. His neighbours, Amy (by Amy Adams) and Charles (by Matt Letscher) are great – they care about his welfare and even set him up on blind dates from time to time. In his solo, digital world he plays video games and browses the web-sphere for things to spark his interest. One day, he sees an advertisement for the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system – but, not just a plain operating system, this one will “learn as it goes … it will change and adapt the more you use it”. Theodore is intrigued and gets right into it, he loads the new system and starts to chat with it. He gives it a female voice and when he asks its name, after reading the entire encyclopaedia of baby names in two seconds flat, it calls itself “Samantha”. Theodore is delighted. Samantha (by Scarlett Johansson) has a sweet, charming and quirky personality and Theodore quickly warms to it. He develops a friendship, then a relationship with Samantha and she responds to him the same way. He finds a refreshing happiness with his new OS – but then things happen in this relationship, just like they’d happen in any other – there’s excitement and joy, but there’s anguish too … Theodore feels a familiar dread as their relationship evolves and Samantha’s personality develops further. What’s the future for this seemingly ideal partnership? … What awaits Theodore?

This is a beautifully made movie. The production alone is meticulous – everything in Theodore’s world is neutral … beige, grey or cream … with specific flashes of colour only from Theodore’s clothes or personal items around him. This is very well done and gives the audience an appreciation of the way Theodore sees things. The entire piece is thought provoking – it brings forth familiar issues in relationships and will no doubt raise questions in the mind of anyone who sees this … What’s common about all relationships? Why do we seek “human” interaction, or at least interaction that includes passion and emotion? Can we exist without it? What’s the right balance of intelligence, spontaneity, trust and respect in a successful relationship? Are the best relationships the exclusive “one-on-one” type? The depiction of the three support characters, neighbours Amy and Charles, the office co-ordinator Paul (by Chris Pratt), is masterful and they all provide a good opposition to the virtual relationship of Theodore’s. In a bizarre twist, nobody’s particularly surprised to know that Theodore is in a relationship with his “OS” – he’s not the first, it’s almost commonplace in this future. Amy and Charles are robotic – particularly Charles, whose wooden character’s speech is staccato and forced. Whether this is the script, the direction or the actor’s natural style, it works really well here. Amy Adams’ character, Amy, is superficial and she is weirdly vacant, but that also works. In some ways, Paul is soul-less too – it’s all very curious. Theodore is lovely – he’s so sensitive, tender and yearns to have love in his life. He’s never really recovered from his marriage breakdown and his interactions with Catherine (Rooney Mara) are thoroughly realistic. In 2014, the movie won the Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Writing, Original Screenplay and was nominated for Motion Picture of the Year, Music, Original Song and Production Design. It also won a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and an AFI Award for Movie of the Year. It’s great. Well done everyone.

Made in 2013. Directed by Spike Jonze.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in Movies

 

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