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americansnip.jpgAmerican auteur Clint Eastwood has delivered yet another provocative work in American Sniper. A physically transformed Bradley Cooper, as legendary marksman Chris Kyle, leans into the addictive allure of the Iraq conflict and illuminates Eastwood’s latest masterpiece.

An unflinching anti-war film that is draped in the American flag, Sniper forces us into the chilling midst of modern ground level warfare. Cooper, bulked up and Texas drawled, plays real-life Navy SEAL sharpshooter Kyle, who in his unimaginable four tours of duty performed feats of heroism and marksmanship that earned him the nickname “The Legend,” among military aficionados, and a bounty on his head among the Iraqi.
Eastwood and his cinematographer Tom Stern plant us in the dust and rubble of war-torn Ramadi, while the SEALs hunt and seek and attempt to take out the savvy and wily enemy, including a brutal assassin called “The Butcher.” Kyle became a born-again (radicalized?) patriot on the morning of 9/11 and believes without question that his duty was to take out the “bad guys” who threaten his fellows and his country.

Working with the cool confidence of a master, Eastwood believes in his subject—that war is hell, that sometimes we are capable of selfless actions, and that the emotional disconnect between vets and their families is often irretrievable. Eastwood is at his best at probing the quiet moments of unconscious damage done by Kyle’s kill count. (more…)

nexubxbyaxecbb_2_c.jpgI can’t stop thinking about how perilously close Benedict Cumberbatch is to becoming one of those actors doomed to circle their own groundbreaking performances. Over and over.

With his odd physiognomy and quicksilver reactions, Cumberbatch has given us some compelling geeks, socially-inept geniuses, and brooding, suffering weirdos. But as I look ahead to the roles he is slated to embody in the upcoming TV, stage, and screen pantheons, I am growing uncomfortable. Cumberbatch is about to become a stereotype!

Richard III in a three-part mini-series for TV. Yes, that Richard III! Then there will be Doctor Strange, with Cumby as Strange. He’s already filmed the next season of his eccentric and dazzling Sherlock Holmes. And I know—because I already have tickets—that he will be playing Hamlet (more…)

turing.jpgAs a devoted Benedict Cumberbatch groupie, it pains me to have to say that even the theatrical genius who dazzled us in Sherlock, and amazed us in Frankenstein cannot raise The Imitation Game—by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum—above the level of a made-for-TV Hallmark special.

Perhaps it was a hopeless task after all, attempting to express on-screen tension and drama about the creation of a code-busting device that anticipated today’s computers. Not exactly the visual equivalent of parting the Red Sea, is it? As mathematical innovator Alan Turing, Cumberbatch offers dazzling micro-gestures via twitching eyebrows, quivering lips, clenched (and unclenched) jaw, not to mention the required sort of physical awkwardness one expects of Cambridge geniuses. But these alone do not a film make. Even the surrounding cast of remarkably good-looking British actors (many recognizable from Downton Abbey) as Turing’s fellow code-breakers (more…)

interstellar-movie-mcconaughey.jpgFor two and a half hours I waited for something to pump energy, concept, or even engaging visuals into this bloated Hollywood block buster.

And for two and a half hours I waited in vain.

Interstellar is excruciatingly bad. Bad, B A D! Why do I say this?  Here’s why! It pops up on our collective event horizon after the following truly engaging films: Alien, Contact, 2001, Gravity, The Right Stuff, Star Wars, hell, even Star Trek, to name but a few. Christopher (Inception, The Prestige) Nolan has gotten his knickers in such a twist paying homage to these earlier, far better films, that he seems to have forgotten that we’ve all seen them too.

We know about wormholes. We’ve seen spaceships leaving earth’s gravitational pull. We’ve watched scientists writing equations at the blackboards that somehow explain how relativity works. The very people who would be willing to sit through a new, highly-hyped sci fi film—for two and a half hours!—would be savvy about these basic space voyager tropes. What was Nolan thinking?!!!!

The only person who seemed to have forgotten these concepts (more…)

jennifer-lawrence-katniss.jpgApparently while I wasn’t paying attention (i.e. during the second installment of the Hunger Games film trilogy, which I failed to view) Katniss has destroyed the very Games that put her, her buddies and her lumpen no-necked boyfriend Peeta in such deep owl pucky. But at any rate, Mockingjay Part I opens with a glassy-eyed Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) along with her mother and sister living in a giant silo community called District 13 many many levels underground. Somewhere, far away, the malicious leader of all this mischief, Snow (Donald Sutherland) is still wearing white Nehru jackets and wringing his hands like the Roman dictator upon which his character is styled. Donald Sutherland began life as an actor playing smug, cloying smart alecks (M.A.S.H., etc) and he’s never stopped.

I figure I had to watch this phenomenon if I wanted to crystallize my growing insight into the Millennial mind set. Don’t get me wrong. I certainly applaud the actress in Lawrence as much as the next aging girl. But at a certain point in Mockingjay I found myself wincing. Katniss isn’t simply a tough action heroine. She’s the Messiah. And all of the survivors (more…)

hawking.jpgI expected treacle, but The Theory of Everything turned out to be a beautifully-crafted biopic about astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, his intellectual ascent and his physical decline. Kudos to confident director James Marsh.
Made from a book by his wife Jane—who married Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) while he was a student at Cambridge and stood by him during the entire devastating course of the onset of motor neuron disorder — the film moves swiftly thanks to a superb cast and cinematic expertise. Hawking is a well-known figure, both in the rarified halls of cosmological theory, and in popular culture. His disease, his wheelchair, his electronically-generated “voice”, his impish grin—all are fairly iconic to anyone who can pick up a copy of People magazine.

Smartly photographed and well played, The Theory of Everything, reveals a bit of the back story we’re all keen to discover. As the sympathetic, brave, and ultimately weary wife, actress Felicity Jones is perfect. Her resolve, her deep interest in him and in maintaining his dignity, are all etched on the screen in the actress’ deft and very lightly-drawn portrait.

As Hawking, British theatrical wunderkind Eddy Redmayne outdoes Daniel Day Lewis’ left foot, if you know what I mean. It manages to avoid being the predictable freak show, and yet it also avoids shedding insight into the bold and controversial theories that have made Hawking the stuff off Isaac Newtonian legend.

A nice way to pass a few hours. Watch Redmayne, on the fast track to be next year’s Benedict Cumberbatch.

birdman.jpgI’m still trying to wrap my head around this surreal bit of brilliance. Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman is blazing.

In one of the purest cases of art imitating life, this stunning film casts former action hero Batman Michael Keaton as a former action hero “Birdman” movie star Riggan Thompson. Like his character, Keaton seemed to have dropped off the big screen for the past decade, and in both metaphorical and literal senses Birdman is his comeback as a leading man. A resounding, unforgettable, Oscar-contender comeback!

Directed by Babel’s Alejandro Iñarritu, with taut camerawork by Gravity’s Oscar-winner Emmanuel Lubezki, the film defies easy categorization. A mannered—at times surreal—black comedy of backstage egos, psychodrama, and promiscuity, the film follows the three final days of theatrical rehearsals and previews before Thompson’s opening night on Broadway. Starring in a play he wrote and directed, Thompson is an engaging mass of anxieties. His daughter (Emma Stone) fresh out of rehab is working in the theater and loaded with attitude. His co-star (Edward Norton) is gunning for top billing. Various current and former mistresses, as well as an ex-wife, continue to plague his last grasp at self-worth. Throw into this mix a stalwart producer buddy (Zach Galifianakis) and a caustic New York theater critic (Lindsey Duncan) determined to destroy his new show and you have every stereotype needed to explore the thorny jungle of theater.

Whether we get to be the hero of our own life, or whether we simply play that part, (more…)

crawler6_0.jpgTravis Bickle—meet Lou Bloom.

In the nocturnal swamp-crawl through Los Angeles that is Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sardonic psychopath against the gorgeous cinematic sweep of Don Gilroy’s new film. Shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) the film offers a riveting elegy on the loneliness of 21st century urbanity, a landscape upon which Gyllenhaal’s desperate, crafty opportunist Bloom fashions a career out of capturing news footage of grisly, graphic car crashes, suburban shootings, and blood-drenched explosions. “If it bleeds, it leads,” local TV station news director (played by Rene Russo) tells freelance photographer Bloom, who quickly convinces both her, and us that he can and will do anything to get his footage broadcast.

A sobering morality play fusing Yankee ingenuity with narcissistic ruthlessness, the film bristles with all the visual chill of a David Lynch dreamscape painted by Edward Hopper. Oozing eerie geek charm, Bloom and his ill-gotten video equipment stake out violent crime scenes and spectacular accidents, acquiring more skill and sensational footage the more he discards all shreds of decency or compassion.

Gyllenhaal’s gaunt glassy-eyed character thrives on this blood-drenched quest for (more…)

gone-girl-11-600x421.jpgDirector David Fincher has done some competent, stylish B movies in the past, e.g. Zodiac, The Social Network, and I guess you could call his latest, Gone Girl, a competent, stylish B movie.

I went to see the film because as a writer I was curious about the plotting of the original story. And I came away impressed with the intricate, he says/she/says twists and turns of this lurid domestic saga. I also came away with the sobering lesson that it doesn’t matter how smart your story is, if you don’t deliver an ending that satisfies all of your plotline teasing, your reader (or in this case, viewer) will come away feeling unsatisfied and ripped off.

First off, could anyone tell me why Ben Affleck is allowed in front of a camera? Listless and wooden, he is impossible to like. Yes, I know. His character was supposed to be questionable. Is he telling us the truth when he says he doesn’t know where his wife is? Did he kill her? Is he hiding some huge horrible secret? Maybe Affleck is fine for that character — typecast even. But he is almost unwatchable.

I was curious to see what the fuss was about—the book by Gillian Flynn is such a huge hit.

Okay we meet the couple and their first five years together, mostly in flashbacks told by the wife’s diary. Amy and Nick Dunne have been a dream couple, until (more…)

bn-ek167_joan_g_20140904162629.jpgJoan Rivers - wow - how many times did I use her “Can we talk?” line when I was a smart aleck kid?

A brilliant, genuinely funny trailblazer who definitely did it her way. Admit it, the world is a less edgy, less honest place without Joan’s witchy tongue and spot-on zingers. Such brazen chutzpah! Such cheek! What a woman!

Thanks for the laughs!

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