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American Sniper (2014)
Gripping character study of a warrior
What happens to a man who is exposed to constant violence?Does his humanity begin to erode? These are some of the issue raised in American Sniper directed by Clint Eastwood. Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, the true story of a Navy Seal sniper who served four tours in Iraq. Kyle proves himself a skilled marksman, who acts as a guardian angel for the Marines by picking off threats like potential suicide bombers. Kyle becomes a living legend.
Cooper plays Kyle as a dedicated killer who loves his team, and is a patriot.He is certain of his mission and the wider cause that has brought the United States to Iraq. This is not a movie that asks big questions like The Green Zone or Fair Game. We also see the toll that the war takes on Kyle's family.
His wife,Taya as portrayed by Sienna Miller, finds it harder to re- connect with him.Can a man be the same person after he returns from a war zone? Miller is a revelation, as the spouse who becomes increasingly frustrated with her husband.
The battle scenes are well done as you would expect from the man who directed Flags of our Fathers.
In one scene, Kyle comes very close to killing a child. You can feel his relief when he does not have to pull the trigger.Eastwood's film seems to be saying that no matter how macho you are and no matter how battle hardened, you can never be whole again.
Green Zone (2010)
Thrilling political thriller about the Iraq War
The Green Zone is a well crafted thriller set in Iraq just after the invasion by the Allied coalition in 2003. Director Paul Greengrass who we know from the Bourne movies, again teams up with Matt Damon to explore the aftermath of the invasion and the behind the scenes machinations of the American government.
Matt Damon plays Roy Miller a Chief Warrant Officer who is tasked with finding WMD sites in Iraq. The only problem is that he keeps finding nothing. He is told the intelligence is solid, but he soon starts to doubt what he is being told. He soon bumps into a CIA officer Brendan Gleeson, who is trying to prevent the country falling apart. Miller soon realises that various branches of the US government are not on the same page.
Greg Kinnear's character Clark Poundstone is a slimy official who is not above using lethal force to enforce the Penatgon's agenda.Special mention must go to Jason Isaacs as a ruthless Special Forces type who does Poundstone's bidding.
The Green Zone is quite a subversive film as it is highly critical of the American government's actions after the invasion. Greengrass depicts chaos everywhere,highlighting the lack of planning post invasion.Miller, through whose eyes we see most of the action, is shocked at the lies that he and his men have been told by his superiors and a compliant media.
A well made thriller that will be better appreciated in the future. Keep in mind the state of Iraq when you watch this film.
Fascinating story about a little known rescue mission
Ben Affleck proves yet again,that he is a gifted director and that his previous offerings (Gone Baby Gone and The Town)were not flukes. Both films were set in Affleck's native city of Boston.
His latest film, Argo, tells the story of the rescue by the CIA of American diplomats in Iran during the Hostage Crisis.We are give a crash course in Iranian History taking us up to the events in 1979 when the US Embassy was stormed in November of that year.
The diplomats, six of them, hid in the Canadian Ambassador's residence, while the main hostages were held in the American Embassy. Affleck, plays CIA agent, Tony Menendez,who is tasked with getting them out of Iran. His plan is so outrageous that it could have come from an episode of Mission Impossible. Why not have the diplomats pose as a film crew making a sci-fi movie called....Argo? For this, Menendez travels to Hollywood where he creates a fake production with media notices, a producer and a script.The previous ideas for a rescue floated by the CIA were even more far fetched.
Comic relief is provided by Alan Arkin as the movie producer who realises what is at stake, and yet treats the whole thing with a world weary movie mogul air. Arkin gets the bulk of the film's funny lines. There are lots of visual gags about Hollywood especially about the poor Star Wars knock offs that Hollywood produced in the late 1970s.We are also given snippets of the tension between the CIA , the State Department and Jimmy Carter's White House.
Affleck assembles a huge cast of talented actors including Tate Donovan,Clea Duvall,Bryan Cranston and John Goodman and gets great performances. He also shoots his film with a grainy stock to give it that 1970s feel. The crowd scenes depicting the stormy of the Embassy compound are well done. You can smell the panic inside the building as the staff decide to burn all the classified papers.
Well done,Mr Affleck. Oscars nominations ahoy???
The Imposter (2012)
Totally absorbing tale
The Imposter is one of the most fascinating documentaries you will see this year. The story is so bizarre that if a Hollywood screenwriter had written this story, no producer would touch it!!
In 1994,Nicholas Barclay then 13 years old,disappeared from his home in Texas. His family were understandably distraught. Three years later, a teenager claiming to be Nicholas was found in Spain! He looked nothing like Nicholas, and he spoke English with a French accent. Can this person be the Barclay family's lost relative? The clue is in the film's title. He was in fact a French man called Frederic Bourdin.
What makes this story compelling is the fact Bourdin hoodwinked both the Spanish and the American authorities. Even more shocking than that is that the Barclay family believed that he was Nicholas and welcomed back into their home!Nicholas's mother, sister,nephew and brother in law are were all deceived.The desire to believe was so strong that they embraced him and his story about his abduction. His story of how he got from Texas to Spain is shocking.
We are given insights into what motivated Bourdin, who is an extremely skilled conman. He came from a troubled background, and he wanted to be loved and accepted by a family. The Barclays fit the bill.
We also see how a traumatised family that would swallow his lies even when it's clear to us, the audience, that he is clearly a bullshit artist on an epic scale.Special mention must be made to dogged private investigator Charlie Parker, who smelt a rat from the moment "Nicholas" hits the media spotlight. He steals every scene!!!The tragedy of this story is that we are no nearer to the whereabouts of the real Nicholas.
This is an amazing documentary that will grip you from start to finish. Go and see it and then tell everyone you know about it.
Running on Empty (1988)
A touching saga about love, family and breaking free.
Running on Empty is a gem of film, with some great performances, especially the late River Phoenix.This is one of those films in the late 1980s that looked back on the recent past. Mississippi Burning is another film that springs to mind.
The Pope family are fugitives.They have been on the run from the FBI since the early 1970s.Arthur(Judd Hirsch)and Annie (Christine Lahti) were once student radicals who blew up a lab that produced weapons, as a protest against the Vietnam War. Think Weathermen Underground and you get the picture.Their act of terror resulted in a fatality.
We meet met them years later, when they are the parents to two boys. One of them, Danny played by River Phoenix, is now a teenager. He is tired of running, never having time to put down roots or make real friends. Danny also has to assume a new identity each time the family move. Whilst enrolled at his latest school, Danny, under the alias of Michael Manfield comes to the attention of a music teacher who notices what a gifted piano player he is.
The teacher's daughter Lorna(Martha Plimpton) also notices Danny and begins to fall for him.The scenes between Danny and Lorna are well done. He slowly lowers his guard and starts to trust her
This film covers so much ground. Its about identity, love and how your past can both trap and mould you. Danny learnt to appreciate music through his mother, Annie who was from a wealthy middle class family. She knows how good he could be, but can she and Arthur let him go? Can he keep running forever without being able to live his life?
There are two stand out scenes for me in this film. Annie meets her father for the first time in years. She clearly rejected everything he stood and yet there is so much emotion between them. The other scene is the pivotal one where the Popes make a decision about Danny. It is a clear indication that River Phoenix would have been huge had he lived.Just watch the look in his eyes as they bid farewell.To execute that range of emotions, you got to have acting chops. River definitely had it.
The late Sidney Lumet shows what a skilled film maker he was, taking a difficult subject matter and getting great performances from the main players.
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
An all time classic war too
It is rare that Hollywood makes a war movie about a disastrous campaign, and yet A bridge too far is just that and more. If you love epic war movies like Midway, The Longest Day or Battle of the Bulge, then this is for you.
Directed by Richard Attenborough, and scripted by William Goldman,based on Cornelius Ryan's best seller.Bridge delivers all that you need from a good war film such as courage, bravery and sacrifice. Boasting an all star cast that includes Michael Caine, James Caan,Sean Connery,Dirk Bogarde, Robert Redford and Elliot Gould, this is a must see.
The film focuses on the attempt by the Allies in 1944 to end the war by capturing key bridges in Holland and then advancing into Germany. It was an audacious plan, devised by Field Marshall Montgomery who believed that the Germans were near collapse. The plan, named Operation Market Garden, required a three airborne divisions to capture and hold the bridges long enough so that a mechanised army can relieve them. It was the largest airborne drop in history. It would have been an amazing victory had it succeeded.
Needless to say, it all goes terribly wrong. The film does not hold back in depicting the mistakes of the Allies from bad intelligence, massive egos ,poor planning and down right incompetence. The film also shows the thinking from the German side, and also we get the point of view of he Dutch people.
My favourite scene is the attempt by Major Julian Cook, played by Redford to capture Nijmegen Bridge by a river crossing. The paratroopers are subjected to merciless barrage of machine guns and mortars by the Germans.
A mark of a classic is that you can watch time and again, and still be entertained.Bridge delivers in spades.
The Iron Lady (2011)
Streep is great in a disappointing film
Meryl Streep proves yet again that he is one of Hollywood's finest actresses in her latest role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Streep is great, playing Thatcher from her rise to power in the 1970s to her fall and subsequent lapse into near dementia.
The weakness of the film is that the script is not good.We have too many scenes with Maggie speaking with her dead husband Denis,a wasted Jim Broadbent,and not enough of her relationship with her father.We see very little of Maggie's relationship with Edward Heath, the man who promoted her to Education Secretary in 1970, and whom she challenged for leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975.
One of the other flaws with this film is that it is too short for such an eventful life, and it rushes through key events in Maggie's political career.For example, the Falklands War is dealt with so swiftly that it hardly registers. And yet this war lasted 77 days.It was one of major achievements of her administration.It would have been better to focus on one event like this or the Miners Strike to highlight Mrs Thatcher's strengths and weaknesses.
Credit must go to Streep an American, who gets the accent right.We see the Grantham accent replaced with a much more media friendly (trained)accent.
A great cast of actors such as Richard E Grant, Olivia Colman ,Anthony Head and Roger Allam play small roles as colleagues, family and advisers.
Should have been a much better film given the talent involved.
Presumed Innocent (1990)
One of Harrison Ford's best films
Presumed Innocent is a murder mystery, a character study and also an examination of the criminal justice system. Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) plays a Prosecutor who is tasked with investigating a murder. The victim is his former mistress, Carolyn Polhemus played by Greta Scacchi in her first big Hollywood movie.
Soon he is charged with Carolyn's murder.The irony is that the system, he once served for years, now turns on him. He finds himself in the same position of the character played by Kevin Costner in the movie No Way Out which came out in 1987.
Quite early in the film, we are given hints that all is not well in the Sabich household. The blow back from the affair still creates tension.
Ford gives one of his best performances, as a decent man who becomes bewitched by a sexy(and very ambitious) colleague. We want to believe that he is innocent.Harrison is one of those actors who does so little,but his eyes give so much away.He is so wounded by his actions and the fallout.The scene at the end, when all is revealed is great.Rusty says nothing, but his face reveals so much :hurt, guilt, sorrow and pain.
The supporting cast is excellent, from Brian Dennehy as Rusty's shifty boss Raymond Horgan to Bonnie Bedelia as Rusty's wife. Look out for future West Wing Star Bradley Whitford in a small role. Greta Scacchi's role is basically a cameo, but her performance is central to the whole story.
This is a great thriller that still stands up after all these years due to great performances and a great direction from the late Alan J Pakula.
Fair Game (2010)
Revealing behind the scenes view of the lead up to war
Fair Game is the portrait of a marriage under extraordinary circumstances. The film is set the period before and after the invasion of Iraq.Naomi Watts plays Valerie Plame a career CIA officer who worked mainly under cover.
Her husband, Joe Wilson is a career diplomat who is asked to investigate a claim that Iraq is seeking to acquire yellow cake from Niger in order to manufacture uranium. He does as he asked, and writes a report stating that the Niger claim is false.
The White House, determined to prove that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the world,goes ahead and says the Niger claim is true. This is when things gets tricky for Joe and Valerie.The professional becomes very personal as Valerie is outed by the press leaked by the White House.All hell rains down on the Wilson household once Joe publicly challeges President Bush's claims.
Sean Penn is great as Wilson, he bristles with anger as he sees a ruthless White House turn on him. Naomi Watts is just as good as she plays a woman who has had to live a life of secrets and deception in the service of her country.She is shocked when that country turns on her for political reasons. Her face when she is outed is a picture of pain. She knows that her career is dead.
There is a great supporting cast from Sam Sheppard, Bruce McGill and Noah Emmerich.Credit to Director Doug Liman for getting committed performances from all concerned.
The film also gives us a sneak preview of the machinations of the White House especially the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and the pressure exerted on CIA analysts.
This film would make a great triple bill with The Green Zone and W.
Neat little Conspiracy Thriller
This film hardly gets any showing on television, but it fits in nicely into the sub genre of conspiracy thriller movies like Executive Action,Winter Kills and The Parallex View.
This is a sideways look at the Kennnedy Conspiracy from the point of view of two bystanders who happen to be cops.Kris Kristoferson and Treat Williams play Border Patrol officers who stumbled upon a buried jeep, a body, a rifle and a whole lot of cash in the Texas desert.Who could it be?Why have the Feds shown up all of a sudden?Could there be a link?Should they take the money and split or investigate? It has a great cast of actors who would go on to be familiar faces like Tess Harper, Miguel Ferrer,Kurtwood Smith and Jean Smart.Kristoferson and Williams are always reliable actors.
This an interesting movie that asks what happened to the Other Gunmen if you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was not acting alone on 22 November 1963.Oliver Stone's JFK was then first big studio movie to explicitly challenge the Warren Commission report.Some films are made just before their time, which means that it will be overlooked.