Sunday, February 15, 2015

American Sniper

Today I saw American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

Chris Kyle (Cooper) is a hard-working American cowboy who feels moved to fight for his country and enlists at age 30. He trains to become a Navy Seal and soon becomes a legend for his precise sniper skills in the desert.

His wife back home, Taya (Miller), is proud of the man he's become, but tired of playing single mother to their two children while he keeps returning to duty. Each time she speaks with him, she begs him to quit the service and come home.

The entire film, based on a true story, details Kyle's wrestle with his sense of responsibility to defend his country and his genuine love for his family. Much like we've seen in films like The Hurt Locker, when soldiers come home, they have an understandably tough time acclimating back to "real life." They've endured so many horrors in the field, there's perhaps a survivors' guilt for enjoying the basic things that Americans are free to experience. In Kyle's case, he also carried the burden of being "the best in the business" at his particular craft, so he felt no matter who was fighting in the war on our behalf, he would do a better job (and save more lives) if he was there.

Director Clint Eastwood does a predictably great job making us feel as if we're in the war with these Seals. Cooper holds his own with a convincing Texas drawl and pained look in his eye; Miller genuinely captures what so many military wives must endure on a daily basis.

Basically? It's a good, solid, sad, inspirational entertaining film.

I procrastinated seeing it because war is hard to watch, but I'm glad I went because now I'm aware of a real-life hero who I previously knew nothing about. I also understand the Oscar nominations and the box office success, both of which I believe are well deserved.

If you can stomach the violence, and don't mind shedding some tears, you shouldn't miss it.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey

Tonight I saw Fifty Shades of Grey, starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.

Those who were able to make it through the not-so-well-written book know the story: a handsome Seattle billionaire becomes enamored with a virginal college student and requests that she become his submissive. There is paperwork and playrooms, and all sorts of kinky toys.

At the heart of the "plot," Christian Grey (Dornan) and Anastasia Steele (Johnson) play an extended game of cat and mouse, each giving up parts of themselves in pursuit of the other, while deciding whether or not to stay the course.

The film stays pretty faithful to the book, which means there's really not a lot to it, but that is no fault of the actors, who do the absolute best with what they are given.

Dornan is like a young Colin Firth, endearing and doe-eyed; Johnson just sweet and innocent enough to be convincing. Their chemistry is strong and they sell the love/lust debacle as best as could be expected (though I could have done with less of Johnson's bony rib cage and more of Dornan in general).

But the dialog is ridiculous (again, faithful to the book) and the pace is painfully (no pun intended) slow. The only saving grace is that if you view it as pure camp, it's actually pretty fun.

Go into the film not planning to take one tiny moment seriously and you will laugh sincerely as you blush your way through the (not so) explicit sex scenes. Cheer every time you see a shot of Seattle (the local audience I saw it with did) and chuckle when the pillow talk is nonsense.

You'll have fun with it (and maybe even anticipate the sequel).


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Two Days, One Night

Today I saw Two Days, One Night, starring Marion Cotillard.

Every one of us can name a time in our lives when we've been at the mercy of others—whether it be due to issues of health, finances or circumstance. The vulnerability that we feel in those moments is gripping.

Take that vulnerability and pile it on top of a woman who has just recovered from a terrible spell of depression and you have our main character here, Sandra (Cotillard). Her horrible boss has just asked each employee at her place of business if they would prefer to get a bonus or keep Sandra on the team. Financially, the business can't do both. Naturally, the majority choose the bonus, but after a confrontation with Sandra (and her supportive colleague), the boss agrees to have a 're-count' via secret ballot on Monday in case some felt pressured to vote against her.

With the eleventh-hour appeal granted, Sandra sets about (with the help of her husband) to visit each of her colleagues over the weekend and convince them to change their vote. This is a humbling feat, to say the least.

Sandra is the perfect hot mess; she wears bright-colored tops that contrast her unwashed hair and ashen face, only intensifying the pain she feels each time she has to 'beg' someone she works with for a second chance. She drinks water almost compulsively (choking down the pills that dull her feelings) and passively admits defeat when some say there's no way they will change their vote.

Marion Cotillard plays her straight, as the directing team of the Dardenne brothers always command. She's clearly the most beautiful person on screen, but you wouldn't know it from her demeanor. She just seems like someone who loves her family and tries harder than most to get out of bed each day.

The entire film is really a series of uncomfortable conversations, but as find ourselves shifting in our seats, we realized we're also glued to them—not even dreaming about getting up until we learn the outcome.

The gift the Dardenne brothers have for making us care about those down on their luck (see: The Kid with a Bike and L'Enfant for further reference) still burns bright.


Thursday, February 05, 2015

Still Alice

Tonight I saw Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin.

Alice (Moore) is a linguistics professor who has just turned 50 when she realizes she's becoming very forgetful. To be on the safe side, she begins working with a neurologist, who slowly rules out strokes, a tumor, etc. leaving her with the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's Disease.

Alice takes the news as well as can be expected, but harbors horrible guilt over the fact she may have passed the same gene on to her children. Her husband John (Baldwin), is a pillar of support, never leaving her side, never making her feel a burden.

Things are more complicated with her youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who she has always wished would do more with her life than pursue an acting career. They bicker and battle even after the diagnosis, though they clearly both love one another very much.

It's a solid movie about a horrible ailment with a very authentic fictional family demonstrating how hard it can be in every aspect of the patient's deterioration. Events like this are every person's worst nightmare, but somehow we keep watching films and reading books about them, perhaps to prepare ourselves in case it strikes someone we love.

The performance by Julianne Moore here is predictably phenomenal. She communicates the strength of her character well, while also showing the complexity of her vulnerability as her condition progresses. Baldwin is also great in what is perhaps his most understated dramatic role.

It's not an easy film to watch; nor enjoyable, but will serve as a catalyst for tears if you're in place where that sort of release would be welcome.

A piece of cinema that will be difficult to forget.