American Sniper (Full Review)

The art of war is a very delicate subject. Why soldiers fight, and how they fight, will probably always be a subject that is taboo. But, no matter how you feel about war, there is no denying that it takes someone with a special constitution to voluntarily thrust themselves into the filth of it. American Sniper gives us a fascinating glimpse inside the life of the noblest of the sort.

American_Sniper_posterFilms by Clint Eastwood (Jersey Boys, J.Edgar, Gran Torino) can be an acquired taste. They often flutter around with no clear intent or perspective or they give off a certain sense of gloom that saps the energy out of everyone watching. Luckily, here he has a subject that would be difficult to mismanage. The film follows the memoirs of U.S. Navy Seal, Chris Kyle. A man documented as the greatest sniper in our country’s history.

At the start, the film seems too much like a movie and not enough like the recount of an actual person’s life. We begin with shots of Kyle’s childhood where he beats up a bully for hurting his younger brother then receives a seemingly made-for-movie speech from his father about sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. These scenes are relevant, but so hurried and overblown that they feel like the intro to a superhero movie. Luckily, things pick up when Kyle (Bradley Cooper) decides to quit his life as a cowboy and join the navy in his mid-30s.

Bradley Cooper has come a long way since his days of playing comedic tools in films like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Here, he takes his game to new heights. I’d never heard of Chris Kyle a.k.a. “The Legend” as he was known in the military circuit, and odds are you haven’t either. So, a poor performance could’ve easily made this man seem like a naive, robotic, jarhead brainwashed by the American ideal of patriotism. But instead, Cooper is utter perfection. He portrays Kyle with fierce passion and nobility that makes him feel like a true, flawed hero.

Thanks to Cooper, this Chris Kyle feels as real as if we knew him. Cooper guides us through every emotional moment, from each conflicting kill, ranging from maniacal butchers to women and children in the name of protecting his fellow soldiers, to Kyle’s bouts with post traumatic stress disorder after returning home to his wife (an equally brilliant Sienna Miller) and kids. The film also succeeds through several solid supporting roles (Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman) and also manages to address the controversial perspectives of the “War on terror” through the eyes of the men engulfed in it.

There is nothing enjoyable about war. War is always horrific and grim, and movies on the subject share the same sentiments. In that sense, American Sniper is just like any other war film. Luckily, we have stellar performances to help an otherwise dull film transcend into something incredibly compelling.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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Selma (Full Review)

Selma_posterEvery year we are given on-screen history lessons. These lessons can often be dreary and redundant, because they rarely teach us anything new, and instead are meant to be reminders. They are meant to slap us with truth so that we never forget what, and where, we once were. So we always sit through them, even though we know what will happen. Even though they make us uncomfortable or stir up our deepest regrets and resentments. But… every so often, a history lecture can hit us at just the right time to invoke something more. And striking the right chord is how a history lesson becomes a beautiful sermon. Selma is a beautiful sermon.

The film tells the story of the marches from the rural Alabama town of Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery in 1965 as blacks fight the harsh, non-violent fight to gain voting equality, led by Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo). They are continuously met with violence fueled by racial hatred along their journey, but you can learn this in any 20th century American History course. Where Director, Ava DuVerney’s film shines is in its ability to understand its own relevance. Instead of just hitting us with facts and powerful imagery, we are given perspectives. We are shown why a simple protest was so important. We are given the step by step political and intellectual steps taken to cross this historical hurdle. And in doing so, we leave not just reminiscing on a dark time in American history, but instead thinking about what we can do to further our progress as a people.

Masterful performances help push DuVerney’s ambitious narrative. Tom Wilkinson is wonderfully shifty as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth is brilliant as snake-like, Alabama Governor George Wallace. Oyelowo conjures up the necessary skills to make a convincing MLK and Carmen Ejogo is the spitting image of his wife, Coretta. This film pleasantly humanizes the civil rights legend the way no other film ever has. And because of that, we are able to further appreciate the works of his pivotal and equally valiant entourage (Wendell Pierce, Common, Oprah Winfrey, Keith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Stephan James) while also rooting for a very vulnerable Dr. King.

Selma may be a history lesson, but along the way, it ceases being history and begins to feel like modern social commentary. And it should be, because we haven’t come as long as we may think and there is still work to be done. Other films may remind us of this, but few manage to break down the intricacies of revolution the way this up-and-coming director has. This lesson gives us each indelible perspective coupled with the harsh truth to create something reminiscent and poignant. And there is so much more power in poignancy.

FINAL GRADE: A

MY TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2014

As promised, here are my Top 10 favorite movies of 2014. Click on each one to read the full review. And remember, these are MY favorites, but feel free to comment below with your Top 10.

  1. JOHN WICK Keanu Reaves was cooler than he’s ever been. This B movie was as smooth and stylish as any action movie this year and it made me feel like I was watching a comic book. I wouldn’t mind a sequel.
  1. INTERSTELLAR Not exactly Christopher Nolan’s best work… and yet, he still provided a strong story filled with emotion while managing to maintain his trademark, spectacular scope.
  1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY There may not have been a more fun film in 2014. Filled with unforgettable characters and some awesome action sequences, Guardians was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
  1. THE RAID 2 The sequel to one of the greatest action films ever made certainly lived up to the hype. The plot may have been a little too convoluted, but once again it delivered the same jaw dropping action scenes I’ve come to expect.
  1. TOP FIVE Ironically, Top Five just misses the Top Five. Still, Chris Rock gave us the best comedy of the year along with some thought provoking anecdotes about the nature of fame.
  1. GONE GIRL An intense thriller that left me on the edge of my seat. No other movie this year felt more unpredictable.
  1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL Beautifully crafted and hilarious. Ralph Fiennes was at his very best in this murder mystery/ dark comedy that included the perfect dash of heart and soul.
  1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER A comic book movie that redefined the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie felt more like a spy-thriller than a superhero flick and was the best film in the MCU since the first Iron Man.
  1. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Bryan Singer made his triumphant return to the series by ingeniously crafting a story that united old and new. Well acted and well paced, this is arguably the best X-Men movie ever and one of my all time favorite superhero films.

  1. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Caesar will go down as one of the best characters of the decade. This movie had intense action, emotion, humor, and poignant political and social commentary. It also provided, to me, the best villain of the year in Koba. Simply put, the only flaw I could find was that the movie had no need to be in 3D.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Birdman, Dear White People, Into the Woods, The Maze Runner, The Equalizer