Wednesday, January 28, 2015

American Sniper, Blackhat, Mortdecai, Paddington Reviews

Hey guys! I saw a couple of these movies nearly two weeks ago - so sorry for the delay. Unfortunately my life outside of this silly blog had my schedule blocked up. Talking about Blackhat at this point kind of seems totally irrelevant, but my OCD prohibits me from not posting a review for every movie I see in theaters, regardless of how long it takes me. I can't help it, guys.

American Sniper
Dir. Clint Eastwood
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American Sniper has given rise to some weird film-related controversies. Based on the memoir of Chris Kyle, who the tagline touts was the 'Deadliest Sniper in US History,' the movie, regardless of how it actually handles its subject matter, has been a bizarre platform from which celebrities and politicians have been voicing their political opinions. Two strange tweets posted immediately after the release of the film by Michael Moore and Seth Rogen, two guys I usually admire, had me scratching my head in puzzlement. Moore cryptically mentioned how his grandfather was killed by a German sniper and that 'snipers are cowards,' and Rogen, fresh off his already world-reknowned controversy with The Interview, posted another insensitive post comparing American Sniper to the Nazi Propaganda film in Inglourious Basterds. I have mixed feelings about the film, but in the end it portrays war as anything but glorious. It's a bit one-sided, but if American Sniper does anything well, it's showing the effect that war has on its soldiers via one man's singular experience.

Bradley Cooper plays Chris Kyle, and is the best performance I've seen him in yet (discounting CGI Raccoon voice-overs of course). Every choice Kyle has to make, including whether or not to shoot and child and his mother, weighs on him both physically and mentally. The movie isn't preachy, or at least nowhere as preachy as one might think, because it simply shows what Chris had to do to serve his country and keep his fellow soldiers safe. Some reviewers are saying that the film is making some sort of pro-war statement, but it simply follows history. Eastwood's movie is entirely told through Chris Kyle's experience, for better or worse.

That's not to say there aren't some big problems with the film. Even though I don't think this movie is offensive, there was definitely a lack of showing any kind of humanity on the part of the Iraq-side of things. It similarly got a lot of crap for being jingoistic, but Lone Survivor actually did show that not every non-US citizen was a one-note potential terrorist.  This is by far the most lacking thing in the film, and it's interesting to note that in the original version of the movie (set to be directed by Steven Spielberg), the main "enemy sniper" was given a much larger role in the script to give a parallel perspective to Chris - like how Captain Phillips brilliantly juxtaposed the two "captains." Not only are the Iraqis one-note, but so is Kyle's wife, Taya (Sienna Miller), who more or less exists to beg for her man to come back. Again, the movie handles Kyle's story pretty well, but the world doesn't feel fleshed out beyond his narrow scope.

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about the film, but at the end of the day, it felt like another mindless war film. Considering its VERY similar themes, this felt like a watered-down Hurt Locker. That being said, I highly recommend it for the fake baby scene alone.

Rating: C

Dir. Michael Mann
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Michael Mann sinks to a new low with his latest film, Blackhat, a "cyber thriller" so outdated and boring you'll want to bang your head repeatedly against a steel barrier just to feel something again. The movie is about a convicted hacker, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who's brought out of prison by the FBI to track down some unknown hackers responsible for breaking into a Hong Kong nuclear power plant. Yes, Chris Hemsworth, known primarily for playing Thor and his thick biceps, is playing a COMPUTER HACKER. This movie is just crap all around. The actors (save for Viola Davis playing an FBI agent for a few scenes) are terrible, and the script is seriously boring, A-to-B pointlessness.

There's no chemistry between the stars, the script makes huge leaps in logic (at one point a major government figure clicks on a mysterious e-mail that says "download this." He clicks on it. Seriously?), and - somewhat spoilers - the ultimate "bad guy" confrontation is laughably anti-climactic. The only redeeming things about the movie are the very first pre-title sequence that takes you inside a computer, and a couple classically "Mann" shootouts, with that awesome echo-y bullet reverberation sound we've come to love from him. But I don't have to tell you to skip this one - it made a paltry $4.4 million at the box office on its opening weekend (on a budget of $70 million; it only reached 11th place). Nobody saw it, and nobody should see it. I expect someday to see Blackhat on one of those 20-movie packs that Mill Creek dumps into bargain bins at Wal-Mart.

Rating: D-

Dir. David Koepp
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The character of Mortdecai originally appeared in an anthology series of books from the 70's written by Kyril Bonfiglioli - but while the books were somewhat successful, most people, at least stateside, have no idea who Charlie Mortdecai is. But for god knows what reason, the advertisements, along with the film itself, for Johnny Depp's latest character-piece Mortdecai assumes every audience member knows who the heck this dude is. The movie's opening line even says something to the effect of "...but you already knew that about me." Um, no I didn't. Have we met? This relentlessly off-putting unearned tongue-in-cheekness of the film makes the 1 hour 40 minute run time feel like the run-in you have at the supermarket with someone who talks to you as if you're old friends, but you simply can't place who they are, and also don't care.

Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) is a moustached, aristocratic, shady art dealer that struggles to maintain his lavish lifestyle with his wife (Gwyneth Paltrow). But when an MI-5 agent (Ewan McGregor) tasks him with recovering a lost Goya painting, he accepts, and takes along his trusty "manservant," played with a real tough guy gusto by Paul Bettany, named Jock Strapp (sigh...yes you read that right). EVERY "joke" completely falls flat in this turd, and most of them are repeated ad nauseum. You'll hear over and over again how Jock is always sleeping around with various women, and you'll have to endure the literal repeated gag where Gwenyth Paltrow kisses her husband, but his moustache makes her dry heave. It's just painful.

The characters themselves might have worked in a different context - they're zany enough, and played by talented enough actors that this could have been a fun Austin Powers-y British farce. But Mortdecai commits the worst sin a comedy can make: it's not funny. At all. The story is convoluted, the script is terribly written, the dialogue is hard to make out over the character's exaggerated accents, the entire movie has the same bland tone, and it looks and feels so much like a "safe," PG-13 movie when it should've grown a pair and earned its R-Rating. Its forced quirkiness makes Mortdecai feel like a cheap, imitation street-peddler version of The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Other than Paul Bettany, who seems like the one actor in the entire film who left the production with any sort of dignity, I can't think of a single good thing to say about this.

Rating: F

Dir. Paul King
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Paddington Bear, the polite, mild-mannered English critter from a series of beloved children's books, seems hardly fit for a film in today's cinema landscape - one that promotes over-the-top, annoying-as-hell characters (Minions) and going on grand-scale adventures. But Paddington, directed by Paul King of the popular British comedy program The Mighty Boosh, doesn't sacrifice its storybook origins to fit the mold of today's ADHD generation. Paddington is one of the sweetest, most cleverly written little family movies I've seen in a while, and is a refreshing wide-released kids film that feels more intimate and charming than your standard fare.

The movie follows Paddington as he travels to London from Peru, giving the film some unexpectedly deep themes on immigration and learning to accept strangers. When he arrives at London, he expects to immediately be adopted, but finds himself only with the company of hungry pigeons and indifferent travelers. But one family, the matriarch of which is played by Sally Hawkins, takes him in despite the father's (Hugh Bonneville) reservations. Slowly, though, the five family members (Bonneville, Hawkins, Madeleine Harris, Samuel Joslin, and Julie Walters) come to love him as one of their own. Throw in a Cruella de Vill-ian taxidermist played by Nicole Kidman, however, and their togetherness is put to the test.

Though the story is pretty formulaic, and some jokes land better than others, the movie just gets the tone of the characters completely right. Hawkins channels her character from Happy-Go-Lucky and brings a real motherly warmth to the picture, and Hugh Bonneville, replacing Colin Firth at the last minute, is also wonderful as the over-protective dad. Paddington himself is a beautiful creation; his fur in particular looks very realistic, and the animators did a fantastic job finding the balance between being anatomically correct and anthropomorphizing him just enough to make him personable and lovable. Although he causes mischief, Paddington is such a source of pure innocence and heart he never becomes annoying.  The comedy, when it works (which is often enough), is quite clever in a very irreverent, Muppets sort of way. It may not be a groundbreaking film, but Paddington is a nice, enjoyable watch, with a sweet message about family and acceptance, and I'd be lying if parts of this didn't choke me up a little. A great little movie that you definitely shouldn't cast away just because of the kid-friendly marketing.

Rating: B+

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