Movie Review: “American Sniper”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell
Director
Clint Eastwood

There are some amazing stories that have come from the ashes of the Iraq War, but so far, it appears that Kathryn Bigelow is the only person capable of making them pop on the big screen. Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” has a whale of a protagonist, a carefree good ol’ boy who gave up his easy-going existence to serve his country and became one of the most decorated soldiers in American history. Sadly, the movie about his life does little to separate itself from its Iraq War movie brethren, save for the occasional moments where our hero has qualms about killing complete strangers. It is perfectly enjoyable, and it is well made, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. To add insult to injury, the off-camera ending feels like a cheat.

From an early age, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was raised to be the kid who protected the bullies from the sheep. He was a good shot and, as an adult, he enjoyed his simple life touring as a rodeo cowboy, but after watching 9/11 unfold on his TV, he volunteers for military service. The recruiter suggests the Navy SEALS, and Chris impresses his superiors with his marksmanship. Chris is assigned to assist a troop of Marines as their eyes in the sky, as it were. The job was not easy – his first two confirmed kills are as brutal as it gets – but Chris excels at it, and before long, his fellow soldiers are calling him The Legend. The Legend, however, is having issues dealing with the moral dilemmas that come with his work, and the ‘don’t be a baby’ aspect of his military training leads him to internalize much of his anxiety, at the great expense of his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and their children.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker
Director
James Gunn

Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most moviegoers (if Iron Man used to be considered a B-list character, then the Guardians are on the D-list), but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, the bigwigs at Marvel clearly saw something in his earlier work (the horror comedy “Slither” and the superhero satire “Super”) that suggested he was the right man for the job, and Gunn has definitely repaid their faith in him by producing the best possible version of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and one of the most purely fun Marvel movies to date.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a member of an intergalactic group of thieves and smugglers who was kidnapped from Earth as a young boy. When he’s sent by his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious orb, only to double-cross him in order to keep the artifact for himself, Quill becomes the target of a power-hungry alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who’s made a deal with the Mad Titan Thanos (the purple-skinned figure teased at the end of “The Avengers”) to give him the orb in exchange for destroying his enemy’s home planet. After he’s captured and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together a little longer in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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Potential 2014 Best Picture Nominees

With the full Academy Award nominations due January 16, 2014, the time has come to start sizing up favorites for the Best Picture Oscar. Voters’ tabulations will determine between five and ten films up for the top prize. From familiar directors and stars to surprising breakout performances, this year’s crop features these films and any of a number of other dark horses. On March 2nd, the Oscars will be broadcast on DirecTV Chicago and through many other U.S. cable providers.

12 Years a Slave

The epic narrative about slavery stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free African American man from the north who is kidnapped and sold as a slave, while Benedict Cumberbatch plays the plantation master in Louisiana who purchases him. Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano also star in this gripping true story, directed by Steve McQueen (director of Shame).

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Movie Review: “American Hustle”

Starring
Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Louis C.K, Michael Peña
Director
David O. Russell

David O. Russell’s “American Hustle” opens with a title card that playfully states: “Some of this actually happened.” But considering that the movie was originally titled “American Bullshit” and is populated with characters who are bullshit specialists, it’s meant to be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, Russell has adapted what was an already outlandish story into a ’70s-styled farce filled with a flying circus of conmen, feds, politicians and casino mobsters. Immensely entertaining, impeccably structured and featuring excellent performances from its entire cast, “American Hustle” is one of the year’s absolute best films and a serious contender for every major award.

When we first meet Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), he’s seen carefully assembling his elaborate comb over with a combination of a toupee, glue and lots of hairspray. But what the paunchy conman lacks in good looks, he makes up for with confidence and intellect, which is what’s made him so successful at ripping people off. Everything changes when he meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), a former stripper who partners with Irving under the guise of a British businesswoman with royal connections named Lady Edith. Their business practically triples overnight, drawing the attention of ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who catches the pair red-handed and forces them to work undercover for the bureau. Richie wants to make a name for himself by taking down some white-collar criminals, and his first target is Camden mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), a family man so desperate to revitalize the New Jersey economy that he’s willing to get his hands a little dirty in the process. It quickly turns into a game of who’s conning who, and yet the one thing that threatens to bring the whole thing crashing down isn’t their mistrust in each other, but Irving’s unpredictable wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

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Movie Review: “The Hangover Part III”

Starring
Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
Director
Todd Phillips

After the last “Hangover” film left most people with a sour taste in their mouth, it was no secret that director Todd Phillips would have to change up the formula if he ever made another sequel. Unfortunately, despite heeding that advice on the latest installment, “The Hangover Part III” is a really bad movie (like, worst film of the year bad) – a joyless and humorless cash-in that bears little resemblance to the 2009 original except by name. Say what you will about the first sequel, but at least that one actually felt like a “Hangover” movie. I’m still not even sure if “Part III” is supposed to be a comedy, but the shocking lack of laughter would suggest otherwise.

The film opens with a silly gag involving Alan (Zach Galifianakis) buying and subsequently killing a giraffe while transporting it home, and it only goes downhill from there. (Sadly, that’s also just the start of the movie’s streak of animal cruelty.) When his latest antics cause his father (Jeffrey Tambor) to have a heart attack and die, it puts Alan in a bit of tailspin. Concerned about his well-being, the guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Justin Bartha) stage an intervention and convince him to get help at a mental health clinic in Arizona. On the way there, however, they’re kidnapped by a surly gangster named Marshall (John Goodman), who blames them for introducing Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) into his life. Apparently, Chow stole a lot of money from Marshall and has evaded him ever since, so he tasks the Wolfpack (minus Doug of course, who’s kept as collateral) to track him down, taking them from Tijuana to Las Vegas, the city where it all began.

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