Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American Sniper Review: No Politics here!

I finally went to see American Sniper.  I would probably have seen it sooner or not at all if it were not for my one day a week (at least it was supposed to be one day a week) job at a local movie theater.  It really is a lack-luster job with terrible pay but the benefit of seeing movies for free is what attracted me.  I did the math a while back and I was spending over $60 a month on films when good ones actually came out.  So, I went and saw it.  It was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be.  I did have a pressing question in my mind though, how would they address Chris Kyle's tragic murder.  I  thought that the filmmakers (Clint Eastwood and company) might not even go there, but they did and it was very respectable.


As far as the movie is concerned, they did a good job.  It is a mix of war and the emotional toll that it takes upon anyone that is involved in the implementation of it.  War is terrible, we all must agree on that.  Anyone that believes otherwise has a screw loose.  The military aspect of it was mostly true to life and I must say, they put the most horrific things in the movie.  Since it s pretty hard to spoil the movie for anyone that has an internet connection and googles the life of Chris Kyle I will forgo the niceties and not worry about spoilers other than not revealing the plot itself.  That is about the only thing that may keep you subtly guessing about this movie.

Chris Kyle
For those of you who haven't heard the account, here is a little recap:  Chris Kyle was a rodeo man who decided to join the military after watching the news about terrorist attacks on US forces and innocent people overseas.  He was somewhat of a simple man, not to be confused with a simpleton, they are distinctly two different things.  Chris joined the U.S. Navy and graduated BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL) training then went on to specialize as an elite sniper.  After September 11th 2001 he was deployed to Iraq and fought in the toughest campaigns, serving four tours.  Chris Kyle went on to become the U.S. Navy's deadliest sniper.  After his deployment ended, mostly by his own choice according to the movie, Chris Kyle learned to deal with his own demons by helping out his fellow soldiers fight theirs as well.  From all accounts it comforted him and allowed him to move on with his life.  Sadly, another Veteran was unable to deal with the emotions and tragedy of his own life and murdered Chris Kyle when Chris took him to a shooting range.  

Alright, now that everyone is up to speed on the story, here is my review of the movie itself.  This is not a commentary on Chris Kyle, the U.S. Military or anything political.  I am solely interested in the movie's technical aspects, actors and screenplay.  Just so you know.  No hard feelings to those who love the movie and definitely No politics here.

I would liked to have seen some more care taken with the artistic beauty of the film.  The effects were underwhelming at times.  The helicopters that flew through the air were right about 75% of the time but I did see some scenes where the effects were revealed.  Believe it or not, the process of creating realistic looking 3d models is not as refined as one might think.  In an action movie the film maker can cover up effects that aren't quite right with some trickery in post.  You can oversaturate, use a mask or manipulate the gamma settings to hide flaws in animated objects easily when the entire film is somewhat based off of fantasy.  The real trick is to do it when you are looking for reality.  The sun is a tricky thing and while we have figured out most of it, the fine details are still very difficult to master.  All in all I was't distracted by the effects and most moviegoers will not notice.  So, that's actually a win in my book.  Not a home run, but a win.
Bradley Cooper

The acting is another story.  Bradley Cooper did an amazing job.  I mean really amazing.  Growing up in the south I have met and I am friends with rodeo men.  They have a demeanor about them, something that is found only in the culture.  Bradley nailed it.  For those of you that have seen the movie, I would not suggest just walking up to the cats, Chris Kyle is somewhat more friendly than most, you have been warned.  Bradley Cooper portrayed Chic Kyle in such a believable way, it makes me wonder if Bradley knows some of these men.  Well, I guess he did, he met Chis Kyle and spoke to the man himself.  If any of you wonder why a war movie about a sniper who has killed more enemy combatants than any one else in a war that has been so controversial over the years has spurred so many award nominations, I have two words for you; Bradley Cooper.  I never found myself seeing through this mans acting.  To be honest, its about 50/50 when it comes to my ability to see when an actor is "acting".  So many actors seem like the same character over and over again, Micheal Keaton for example, because it is the person behind the mask that we are interested in.  Bradley Cooper's performance in this film was not one of these performances.  He stepped outside himself and portrayed the man and at no time did I feel that Bradley Cooper came out in the performance, Only Chris Kyle.  In fact, this performance has driven me to proclaim that Bradley Cooper is one of the greatest major actors alive.   I would have no problem casting him in just about anything.

There is one thing that bothered me though is it's screenplay.  The screenplay lacks depth and substance for the supporting characters.  Chris's wife Taya Kyle (Sienna Miller) finds Kyle in a bar, becomes his wife and has children.  Thats about all I know about the character, there really wasn't anything other than that.  Ok, she tells him how she wants him to come home and that she "wants her husband back": as his personality has been muted by war in order to deal with the overwhelming grief that he feels (which is lightly portrayed in the film) for killing.  The other supporting characters that he served with felt like day players or even throw away characters.  I know this is not what the screen-writers intended but that's the way it is.  I believe we were supposed to feel the grief Chris experienced when he lost a man but I didn't.  Ok, I did because they represent actual men with families but if it were a fictional story, I would have felt very little for them.  In fact, the only feels I had when we lost a character Chris Kyle served with came from the knowledge that they are real people and they really died.  It wasn't the actors who portrayed his team members fault I felt this way, that weight strictly falls on the screen-writer's shoulders.  If more time was spent with Taya and the other soldiers in the film, it would have been a truly heart wrenching story.

One last thing that I want to address.  it is something that I let slide and I assume everyone else did too.  It is something that everyone must have noticed.  It would surprise me if no one did.  In one scene where Chris and Taya are talking in their homes nursery a doll is used.  It is obviously a doll.  I would put money that they had a real baby for the role and the child was either sick or would not stop crying, forcing Clint Eastwood to just deal with it and move on.  It could be for other reasons with are just as palatable but it disappoints me very much with how little care they used in this scene.  Watching it unfold with he glaring baby doll drew me out of the scene 100%.  I would suppose that some audience members chuckled when they handed the doll off.  I was embarrassed  to be honest.  Wrap the doll up in a blanket or something Clint.  I would even have done that.  

All-in-all The movie was decent.  I would stop short of saying it is, in comparison to other movies of the year, an award winner, but good.  I felt the portrayal of the man himself was honest and care was taken to not soil the memory of the man and what he did.  Clint Eastwood did a good job showing what war is like and the toll it can take on even the toughest of us.  It didn't come across as anti-war tripe or NRA propaganda.  It was about a man and who he was.  I would say, for a movie that is about real life, it holds its ground and tells a good story in the most respectful way possible.  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sci Fi 4 Me "12 Monkeys" review and my new "freemium" gig.


So all of you know that I am an avid film buff.  Duh, right!  I have been toying with helping with some SciFi type stuff with Jason P. Hunt out of Kansas City who runs the site SciFi4Me with some movie and TV reviews.  I finally jumped into the fray and recorded my first review of SyFy Channel's TV show "12 Monkeys".  It is a take on the original movie directed by Terry Gilliam starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.  I know that I have been posting a lot about Gilliam lately but this just landed in my lap.  I thought, why not!  So I decided to have a little fun with my review and went a little long. Oops!  Jason didn't mind that I went over the original 3 minute time limit so there is that.  I bet it's because I am making it for free, yeah, that might be it.  I do know, I am not a fan of the cover art he chose.  I guess I will do it myself next time, sorry Jason.

One of the interesting things about the show is that you kind-of have to see the original movie before you watch it if you want to get up to speed fast enough to keep up with it.  I would dare say that most will not have to go back to "the source material" but it might be a 50/50 split.  It moves so fast in the pilot that if I wanted to browse Facebook on my phone or text my filming buddies I had to pause and come back to it.  There is a lot of information you have to absorb in order for the sow to make sense.  For one, time travel seems to confuse most folks who aren't up to speed on the genre.  I write about time travel in my shorts and screenplays quite often so my mind has "worked out" the paradoxes, to a point.  I mean, it is time travel after all, it can be hard!  Thinking about the speed of the program's pilot I completely understand why they did it.  As a writer that can coherently take you through three acts in less than twenty minutes, I am not sinless.  A TV sow like this has three jobs: Selling Advertising, Keeping you interested and making you want to return and watch the next one.  Thats a tall order when you pack on the load of keeping it relevant to the story line set forth in the movie and actually telling a story that makes sense involving time travel.


The lead character is a man named "Cole" (Aaron Stanford).  He is a vagrant from the future that has been incarcerated for some offense.  He lives in a world where the population has been struck by a virus that is believed to be man made in 2015 by Leland Goins (Zeljko Ivanek), the owner of a large company that develops pharmaceuticals as well as many other things.  Cole must travel back in time to find Leland and stop him from creating the virus that destroys humanity, but has no way of tracking him in the past.  In his attempt to find Goines, Cole returns a little too early (same as in the movie, btw) in an attempt for find Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), kidnap and interrogate her, as she is the only person the scientists of the future believe can be sure to know where Goins might be.  Any of  you that have seen the movie will know that because Cole has arrived years before she would be introduced to Goins, Cassandra doesn't know who he even is.  There is a confrontation with police, Cole is shot and then disappears only to show up two years later for Cassandra with the same gunshot wound he sustained during her kidnapping.  She nurses him back to health and the game is on.  What, really?  Yes, really.

This is where I got a little pushed out of the story.  For me, the prospect of a kidnapped woman helping her kidnapper two years after her abduction stay alive puts me a little sideways.  I was even more put out when I watched some behind the scenes stuff on the SyFy Channels website.  If you watch long enough the show is cast as an "epic love story".  Ok... She falls in love with her kidnapper.  That's a tough pill to swallow.  If you watch Cassandra's reaction to Cole, you will see she is already falling for him.  I guess Munchausen syndrome is a thing in this show.

As far as the technical stuff; I wasn't overly impressed with it.  There is a scene where Cole scratches a watch from his past which, in turn, creates a scratch on the watch from his future and proves to Cassandra that his time traveling is real and not a delusion on his part.  The effect of the scratch appearing was cool but the shaking of the camera is somewhat cheeky.  The level of expertise to do this shake is not too hard, I even did it in my review.  There is some lens flares and an addition of light using an after market program.  It is ok, but to me it felt a little cheap.  I suppose it is the pilot and the money may have not been there just yet due to the fact that pilots are usually shot before major funding has been secured.  You can tell that they tried to color it "film Style" but the video look is still underneath it all as it is with most SyFy Shows.  In fact, I might have done a better job at getting the film look on my review.  I said Might,

All in all, I find the show somewhat entertaining.  It is dialogue heavy with not much Terry Gilliam camera work and shot set up going on.  It really is just another TV show as far as "prettiness" is concerned.   I plan on reviewing the as they come out, or until it is cancelled.  As of this moment I was unable to see the total viewership for the show and it might be next week before we know if anyone at all is watching and eventually, returning.