Showing posts with label The War Game (Movie Review). Show all posts
Showing posts with label The War Game (Movie Review). Show all posts

Friday, January 23, 2015

"American Sniper" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "American Sniper" and DVDs "A Five Star Life," "The Guest," and "Are You Here," plus the book "Foxcatcher (yes, it's the one the movie is based on)."  I also bring you up to date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project: "The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant" and "The War Game"]

American Sniper

Based on the true life memoir of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Navy Seal who has been credited with the most "kills" of any American military sniper.

The movie opens with Chris, his brother and his Dad out hunting. When they return home, the Dad tells the boys there are three types of people:  sheep, wolves and sheepdogs.  Sheep follow, wolves prey on people and sheepdogs protect people.  Guess which one the Dad wanted his sons to be?

The film follows Kyle through his brief stint as a rodeo cowboy, his training as a Navy Seal and his eventual deployment to Iraq where he served four tours.

What Director Clint Eastwood does best here is show how horrendous war is. 

My husband leaned over to me halfway through the film and whispered, "This movie is just making me mad all over again about the bastards who got us into that war," and let's just say I'm using the word "bastards" because the word my husband actually used was way worse - it starts with an "m" and ends with an "rs."

So war is hell and Eastwood shows that. But at the same time Eastwood is glorifying someone who reveled in what he was doing - gunning people down - or why would Kyle go back for three more tours?  I would like to have seen less war footage and more of the personal story, especially the character of Taya (Sienna Miller), Chris's wife, fleshed out. Here she just dates him, has his kids, gets upset when he wants to go off on another tour of duty and is occasionally annoying as in this really unbelievable scene.

Chris is on the battlefield talking on the phone to Taya (which right there seemed incongruous) when bullets start flying. Chris tosses down the phone to take cover and Taya keeps yelling "Chris!  Chris!" into the phone.  What did she think he was going to do?  Get shot so he could answer the phone?  Where did she think he was?  At the mall? 

And then there is the issue of the fake baby?  If they are going to use a doll as a stand-in for a baby, they need to do a better job of hiding the fact that it's a doll.  I guess the real baby was sick that day.  Didn't the baby have a stand-in?

I also agree with the controversy of how the issue of PTSD was treated in this film. If there was PTSD at work here, it was glossed over.  Yes, we saw him try to kill the dog, yes, he stared at the TV, yes, he had high blood pressure and yes, he didn't go right home after his last tour, but that was it.  Especially considering how Kyle died, there should have been more lead-up to that ironic end - that he was killed trying to help someone with PTSD. I knew how the movie ended so I was surprised that it wasn't shown.  I think the whole PTSD issue would have been resolved and for me, I wanted to know what actually happened at that shooting range that day.

Another thing that bothered me was the liberal use of the word "savages" to describe the Iraqis, who are not all Al-Qaeda, but many just people trying to defend their own country from foreign invaders.  Their culture is far older than ours. Eastwood hinted at the fact that the "other" sniper, the Iraqi Kyle was bent on eliminating, also had a wife and a life, but it was just one small unsatisfying scene.

Which leads me to the lingering feeling after the film that there was no real point of view.  What is this film really about? Are we glorifying this guy?  Is it about what military families go through?  Is it about PTSD? I could understand this as a rah-rah patriotic stance, but then there were moments that were definitely anti-war such as the poem read at his friend's funeral and his little brother's response to the war.  And by the way, what happened to the little brother?  I would have liked to see that character fleshed out more too.

Bradley Cooper, all bulked up and looking like he had a wad of chewing tobacco wedged into his lip the whole time, did a great acting job and is deserving of the Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards.  But was the guy he played a hero?  

Was Chris Kyle a hero?  He didn't seem to have remorse about the 160+ Iraqis he killed. He showed remorse for "his fallen brother," those he couldn't save.  He was a sheepdog.  But shouldn't a sheepdog want to save everyone?

Rosy the Reviewer says...a riveting, well-done film (especially if you see it in IMAX).  Best of the year?  I don't think so.

You Might Have Missed
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)
Irene (Margherita Buy) has a dream job:  she is a mystery guest/inspector at the great five-star hotels of the world, from Gstaad to Marrakesh.  She lives a life of luxury most people can only dream of.  So what's the problem?  It's a lonely life.

Irene lives the life.  She is opinionated and demanding.  Who wouldn't be living such a luxurious life?  When Irene inspects a hotel, she has a checklist:

Did the concierge look you in the eye?
Did the concierge call you by name?
Was the wait at the desk less than two minutes?
Were the bellman's clothes and shoes clean?
Was there a distinctive scent in the room?
Was the temperature suitable?
Is the room welcoming and comforting?
Did the bellman explain how everything in the room works?
Full length mirror?
DVD player?

and when her stay is over, she meets with the manager as to whether or not a five star review is warranted.  Needless to say, she is a powerful person and hotel manager's quake in their boots when she arrives to meet with them.  Unfortunately, Irene also judges her life by the standards she expects from the hotels and her perfectionism isolates her from others.

But for all of the glamour of her life, Irene lives it alone.  Irene is in her 40's and is writing a novel with her hotel experiences as the plot, but she is lonely and isolated and life seems to be passing her by.  Her ex is having a baby with a girl he had a one-night stand with. Her sister has a husband and a family and doesn't approve of Irene's independent life. 

Then Irene meets Kate (Leslie Manville), a feminist writer who is traveling to promote her book and who tells Irene that "luxury is a form of deceit...all this display of opulence is just a stage. Real luxury is the pleasure of a real life lived to the fullest."  Meeting Kate followed by a shock is an epiphany for Irene that her life is going nowhere and she needs to mend some fences and gain some intimacy in her life. But in the end, she eventually realizes she was living the life she was meant to live.

This is a female character driven story where not much happens, but it's beautifully photographed and well-acted.  Bey is beautiful and charismatic and her character's life and lifestyle will hold your interest for the 85 minutes. The fun part of this film is living vivariously through Irene.  It's a primer on what one should expect when staying at a five-star hotel, should you ever get the chance.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are a woman and would like to travel and vicariously live the life of The Rich and Famous, this is for you (in Italian with English subtitles).

The Guest (2014)

Downton Abbey fans!  Are you wondering what happened to our beloved Matthew Crawley after he died on Downton?  Well, he turned into a baddie.

Dan Stevens, our lovable and handsome Matthew Crawley is almost unrecognizable as "David," with his southern accent, face stubble and greasy hair.  "David" shows up on the doorstep of the Petersen family, Spencer (Leland Orser) and Laura (Sheila Kelly) and their teenaged children Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer, who looks a bit like Harry Styles from One Direction) saying he is a soldier friend of their son who died in action.  He is welcomed into the family, but then some sinister things begin to happen, stuff like people dying.

The family takes him under their wing and he endears himself to the bullied young son by teaching him how to defend himself and he tries to cozy up to Anna, the teen-aged daughter.  She thinks he's cool at first, but she becomes suspicious and calls the Army to discover that "David Collins" is dead. Didn't realize the army gave out that kind of information over the phone.  But she is our plucky heroine. The over the top melodrama and music when we see for real that our guy is not what he seems got a chuckle out of me. I don't think that was the intention. Turns out "David" is a psychopath and at the heart of a top secret medical experiment and our nice Midwestern family is taken hostage by a very bad guy.  Duh.  Saw that coming a mile away. As so often happens in these kinds of movies, the adults are clueless, so it's up to the teens to get the bad guy.  And by the way, if this is such a nice Midwestern family, why does the Mom let Anna go out all of the time in thigh high stockings and garters?  I'm just asking.

There is a bit of an homage to the hall of mirrors in "The Lady from Shanghai" in the last scene, which was kind of fun.

This film reeks of Lifetime Movie, which if you read my blog enough I am not necessarily saying is a bad thing. I like my occasional Lifetime Movie, provided it has something going for it.  Here I sensed a bit of tongue-in-cheek with the bloodbath that occurs and the accompanying music which elevated this film.  It's campy and fun.  As film critic Roger Ebert used to say, "It's relative. " You don't judge a film like this against "Citizen Kane."  For what it was, it was fun.  And in true Lifetime Movie fashion, at the end "David" is dead.  OR IS HE?  Da-da-da-da!

Playing a southern talking psychopath was probably attractive to Stevens so he could shed his Matthew Crawley persona once and for all and make it in American feature films.  Not sure this was the best vehicle, because I don't think anyone saw this but yours truly, but he did a good job. Didn't realize he could be so creepy. There was no sign of our Matthew here.  Maika Monroe was a stand-out.  We will be seeing more of her.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a good old-fashioned B-movie type thriller reminiscent of "Cape Fear."  If you like those kinds of films you will like this one. If you like Lifetime Movies, though, you will love this.


Are You Here?  (2013)

Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson), an Annapolis weather man, and his friend Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) embark on a road trip together when Ben discovers he has inherited money from his estranged father.

Steve is a smooth-talking, smart-ass womanizer who often goes to work drunk or stoned and sleeps with his co-anchor.  He can't pay his bills and no one takes him very seriously, including himself.  Ben is a man-child, somewhere on the spectrum, your usual Zach Galifianakis role.  They are childhood friends who basically get high together.  When Ben tells Steve his Dad has died and he has inherited some money, they go on a road trip together to collect Ben's inheritance.

But Ben's sister, Terry, played by Amy Poehler says, "Wait a minute!" Terry is mean and conniving and is not happy that he is inheriting all of that money.  Naturally our philandering Steve is attracted to the widow, Angela (Laura Ransey), a much younger woman than her dead husband, a nurturing sort who ends up "saving" Steve.  Which brings me to the issue of the women characters, your usual shallow characterizations often assigned to women.  It's either mean and conniving or nurturing earth mother.

Ben wants to use his money to change the world so Terry challenges the will on the basis that Ben is incompetent.  Of course, turns out the crazy guy is the only one who isn't crazy. Ever heard that before?  Duh. But that happens so fast, it's one of those "What the...?" moments.

This is Matthew Weiner's film directorial debut and he also wrote the screenplay (he's the creator of the TV show "Mad Men").  Maybe he should have stuck to drama, because I think this was supposed to be a comedy.  Otherwise, why put Wilson, Galifinakis and Poeller together?  Unfortunately, it's neither funny nor uplifting despite what appears to be a message in there somewhere, and the characters are all characters we have seen these actors play before: stern Amy, wacky Zach and "I don't give a damn" Owen.

Rosy the Reviewer won't "give a damn" about these characters and you won't "give a damn" about this movie either.  You can skip this one.


***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

284 to go!
Petra (Margit Carstensen) is a prominent German fashion designer living in Bremen with Marlene (Irm Hermann), another designer who Petra treats like a slave. When she meets Karin (Hanna Schygulla), a 23-year-old, Petra falls in love with Karin and invites her to move in and the rest of the film deals with this love affair and the aftermath.
A supposed homage to George Cukor's "The Women" and a tribute to the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, whom auteur director Werner Rainer Fassbinder admired, this marks a turn in Fassbinder's work where he began to make more emotional films. 
Filmed entirely in Petra's apartment in just a few long single shots and many close-ups, Fassbinder created the psychological claustrophobia inhabiting Petra and her sadomasochistic relationships. Petra interacts with the mute Marlene, her sister, Sidonie, the young Karin and finally her daughter. The film is more like a play (and is actually based on a play Fassbinder wrote earlier in his career), except for its beautiful photography and the way that Fassbinder frames every shot.  There is irony in the pop music that punctuates the film, especially since the film itself is like grand opera.
Why it's a Must See:  Not sure, but this is what "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" says.:
"Psychological domination and expert game playing are Petra's forte...and, in her lair, transactions are a dance in and around her bed...The possibilities that arise for camp humor are many...but Fassbinder keeps it cool.  His film builds to a simple but valuable life lesson for those embroiled in emotionally sadomasochistic relations, which for Fassbinder means everyone: "The weaker" in any situation has one ultimate, devastating weapon -- the power to walk away."
Rosy the Reviewer says...I am a Fassbinder fan, but didn't really get this one. For a more accessible example of Fassbinder's work, I recommend "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" instead (in German with English subtitles).
The War Game (1965)

A semi-documentary asking the question, what if there was a nuclear attack against the United Kingdom?

This film was made for the BBC in 1965, but was considered so harrowing and scary that the BBC banned it for over 20 years.  Despite that, it won an Oscar for Best Documentary as well as a BAFTA and countless other awards. 

Using a combination of documentary footage, actors and a phlegmatic narrator, director Peter Watkins imbues his film with a "you are there" quality that is highly unnerving, as he shows the possible effects of a nuclear attack on the general population: massive evacuations, burned skin and retinas, fire storms, chaos and "would the survivors envy the dead?"  You feel like you are watching a newscast after the fact.

I was a child growing up in the shadow of the nuclear bomb.  I had neighbors with bomb shelters and we went through the silly drills of getting under our desks should there be a nuclear attack.  I was scared to death of that and used to look at maps to see how far away I was from the possible strategic places a bomb might land. I used to have nightmares about it.  If I had seen this film back in 1965, I would have had nightmares for the rest of my life.

The BBC probably thought the most inflammatory statement was: "This could be the way the last two minutes of peace in Britain would look like."  The film had the sense that this had actually happened or would actually happen. 

Why it's a Must See: "[This film] was banned by BBC television, which produced it, ostensibly because (among other reasons stated or hinted at) 'it was too horrific for the medium of broadcasting.' The War Game fast became a cause celebre and won an Oscar, and remains the most widely known of Peter Watkins's films...The War Game is a tour de force that has lost none of its power to horrify since its initial release."
--1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Rosy the Reviewer says...Since even more countries now have "the bomb" than in 1965, a nuclear attack is still a real threat making this film relevant today and scary as hell.  It's a must see...if you dare.

***Book of the Week***
Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John Du Pont's Madness and the Quest for Olympic Gold by Mark Schultz (2014)

The film has Oscar nominations.  Now read about it straight from one of the key players.
John E. DuPont was one of the DuPont heirs as in THE DuPonts.  A child of privilege, he wanted to be an Olympian.  He tried various sports within his ability but failed on every one despite his money.  So he settled on setting up an Olympic training facility for wrestlers and pentathletes on his estate, Foxcatcher.  He came upon Mark and Dave Schultz, both Olympian wrestlers, and championed their careers. It turned out to be a deal with the devil. DuPont was mentally ill but money has a way of covering such things up. The story that led up to DuPont murdering Dave Schultz is here told by Dave's brother, Mark. DuPont was convicted of the crime, making him the richest man ever convicted of murder and sent to prison.  And that's where he died. 

The first half of the book is about Mark and Dave growing up and their wrestling careers, but it's mostly Mark's story.  The second half of the book is about their involvement with DuPont.  Ultimately, the book is unsatisfying because no motive for DuPont killing Schultz is ever revealed.  It seems that no one really knows.

It's a strange and riveting story written in a heartfelt and candid style that is ultimately disappointing as a true crime story.
Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like wrestling, you will probably enjoy this.  True crime lovers might be disappointed. 

Thanks for Reading!
See you Tuesday for 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"

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