Once again, director Clint Eastwood lurks in the background, springing a stunningly atmospheric thriller on audiences when they least expect it. Honestly, for an 84-year-old Eastwood is an astoundingly nimble filmmaker, able to take an audience right into a tense situation while never cheating with flashy movie trickery. This film grabs us without mercy, pulling us into a morally complex situation that gets our head spinning.
It's the true story of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the Navy Seal sniper credited with the most official kills after serving four tours of duty in Iraq. Based on his memoir, the film traces him from his religious upbringing, during which he's taught about guns and encroaching evil from an early age. So after the 9/11 attacks, he enlists in the Navy. His sharp-shooting skills are quickly apparent. And as he prepares for his first assignment abroad, he romances local girl Taya (Sienna Miller), a feisty woman who knows what she's getting into. Chris, on the other hand, is instantly thrown into a quandary when his first targets as a sniper are a woman and child who seem to be carrying a bomb. Over the next few years, his marriage to Taya and his moral centre are tested by his military service. And when an Iraqi sniper challenges him, he takes it personally.
Jason Hall's script sticks close to Chris' perspective, which is intensified by Eastwood's coolly efficient direction and Cooper's beefy performance. By putting the audience so tightly within Chris' point of view, we are unable to escape the psychological impact of his experiences, even if real warfare is no doubt much more horrific even than what's depicted here. Cleverly, the film never asks us to judge Chris, merely to see how battle changes him. And Cooper is terrific at finding tiny details that reveal both Chris' altered state and the core stability that never leaves him.
Continue reading: American Sniper Review
Music-lover Clint Eastwood adapts the long-running stage musical for the big screen with mixed results: it recounts a terrific true story but has an uneven pace. It also fails to put the events into any kind of context in the period, which leaves the achievements of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons feeling isolated from the rest of the music industry of the time. So it's difficult to engage in much of what happens.
In 1951 Newark, Frankie (John Lloyd Young) works as a barber's assistant, hangs out with a mafioso (Christopher Walken) and sings in a band with his pals Tommy and Nick (Vincent Piazza and Michael Lomenda), troublemakers up to all kinds of scams. But it's when they added songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen) to the band that things begin to take off. Working with ace producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle), they release three No 1 singles in a row: Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like a Man. And their fame grows from there. But Tommy's money problems eat away at the band's unity, and Nick begins to think that he's had enough.
Oddly, there the story of the Four Seasons feels dragged out to sustain a two-hour 15-minute film. The narrative is fractured and episodic, with long stretches in which nothing happens that hasn't been portrayed in every other musician biopic. Eastwood directs the film like a serious period epic, draining much of the colour from the screen while concentrating on shades of grey and brown. But the real problem is the script, which never manages to build up any momentum. Big events pale in interest next to the fantastic music, while a confusing flashback jumbles the timeline unnecessarily. And occasional scenes are narrated by the actors straight to camera, which is extremely distracting on a film screen, especially when Nick stops singing and starts chatting to us in the middle of the band's iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Continue reading: Jersey Boys Review
With beautiful but bland direction and a script that can't help but overstate everything, this film is an odd misstep for Eastwood and his assistant-turned-director Lorenz. Instead of being an intriguing exploration of ageing, the film isn't much more than a trite inspirational drama. Fortunately the solid cast manages to inject some subtle touches here and there that bring out more interesting layers of the issues at hand.
Eastwood plays Gus, a scout for the Atlanta Braves who refuses to admit that he's going blind. And he's also in trouble with his boss (Lillard), who's more interested in computer stats than Gus' finely honed ability to see the potential in young players. As a final test, Gus is sent to scout a rising-star teen pitcher (Massingill). Meanwhile, Gus' high-powered lawyer daughter Mickey (Adams) is up for partnership in her firm. She can barely stand to be in the same room as her dad, but abandons the biggest case of her career to accompany him and help him see this young player, because she's even more adept at spotting talent than he is. Along the way she meets Johnny (Timberlake), a charming scout who helps take her mind off her work and her dad.
This is one of those films that undemanding audiences will think is just fine. It never expects us to think at all, telling us everything that's happening and how everyone is thinking while dropping painfully obvious hints about where the plot is going. So the film feels shallow and superficial even though it touches on some intriguing themes, such as the difficulties of ageing gracefully and mending relationships, or the challenge to move forward without forgetting the old skills.
Continue reading: Trouble With The Curve Review
Gus Lobel is one of the most formidable baseball talent scouts around, however his age starts to fail him in his career as his eyesight deteriorates and he is unable to focus properly on the Atlanta Braves games he goes to watch. Worried about his health and career, his long-time boss and good friend enlists Lobel's daughter to accompany her father on what is to be the last talent scouting trip of his career. Mickey Lobel has never had a strong relationship with her father, since he was unable to look after her alone following the death of her mother. Nonetheless, she compromises her high status lawyer job and agrees to keep an eye on Gus, despite his protests. On the way, Mickey meets Gus's friend Johnny Flanagan; a former baseball player and aspiring talent scout who looks up to Gus and takes an interest in the beautiful Mickey. Much is to be discovered for everyone on this journey as it becomes less about baseball and more about truth, love and family.
'Trouble with the Curve' serves as the first film that Clint Eastwood has starred in without being the director since 1993 when he appeared in 'In the Line of Fire'. It is directed by Robert Lorenz in his directorial debut (though he has previously worked as an assistant director on various blockbusters) and written by Randy Brown. It is set for release on November 30th 2012.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Chelcie Ross, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Ed Lauter, Clifton Guterman, George Wyner, Bob Gunton, Jack Gilpin, Scott Eastwood & Tom Dreesen.
Clint Eastwood isn't going to be living down his now infamous empty chair speech at the recent Republican convention any time soon. The venerable actor and director spoke at an event to show his support for the Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and opted to have an imaginary conversation with an (of course absent) President Barack Obama. The images of Eastwood talking to an empty chair have become internet meme sensations, whilst impressions have adorned television screens worldwide, culminating in actor Bill Hader doing his own version on a recent episode of Saturday Night Live.
You'd think he'd be safe at the premiere of his latest film though but apparently not. The 82 year-old appeared at the showing of Trouble With The Curve and walked past the press, only to have it pointed out that there were 16 chairs being carried behind him. Eastwood took the reference pointed out to him in his stride, laughing "Oh my God, yes."
The chairs were only set dressing for the stage, but Eastwood had it made clear that he didn't want to answer any questions about his speech whilst at the premiere. Reflecting on its impact on the film, director Robert Lorenz pondered "I don't know. Some people may come and some people may not because of it. But, in the end, it's not a political movie. Myself, the other cast (members), we all have different political ideas. We all came together and put those aside. So, I hope people treat it as such."
John Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) was only 29 when he became director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), and he ruled supreme until his death in 1972, holding eight US presidents in the palm of his hand with his notorious files of personal secrets. But he also had loyal friends, including his secretary Helen (Watts) and his right-hand man Clyde (Hammer). As a young man, his mother (Dench) instilled in him a hatred of liberalism and homosexuality, so his enemies included Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy (Donovan) and himself.
Continue reading: J. Edgar Review
George (Damon) has a gift: he can see into the afterlife and help people communicate with their lost loved ones. But he feels it's more like a curse.
Meanwhile in Paris, star journalist Marie (De France) has just recovered from a near-death experience. Instead of working on her planned biography of Mitterand, she instead starts investigating why accounts of after-death experiences are so shunned. And in London, pre-teen Marcus is looking for ways to communicate with recently deceased twin (they're played by Frankie and George McLaren).
Continue reading: Hereafter Review
After 27 years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela (Freeman) was released in February 1990 and four years later became South Africa's first democratically elected president. Caught between the black majority's yearning for revenge and the white minority's fear of violence, he tenaciously plots a course of reconciliation. His focus becomes the Springbok rugby team, a loathed symbol of white rule. Working with team captain Francois Pienaar (Damon) as the 1995 Rugby World Cup approaches, he knows that getting the whole country behind them will unite people more effectively than political willpower.
Continue reading: Invictus Review
Fit snug into the mother superior of self-reflexive roles, Angelina Jolie once again finds herself the eye of the storm in Clint Eastwood's epic melodrama Changeling. Armed with her thick, crimson lips, period duds, and that ever-present cloche, Jolie goes all gooey as Christine Collins, a single mother who finds herself a media fulcrum when she denies that a boy returned to her by the LAPD is Walter, her son who had been kidnapped five months prior.
Based on a catastrophic piece of the infamous Wineville Chicken-Coop Murders, which ran from 1928 to 1930, and the ensuing trials that yielded a major ousting of the LAPD's top tier and almost no real answers, Changeling is an exceedingly visual film yet one that lacks confidence in its imagery, relying too often on clunky language and an unsteady lead performance. This is no loose adaptation of actual events: Collins fought against the terminally-corrupt LAPD for years, became a martyr for forced institutionalization, and kept her job as a roller-skating switchboard operator while continuing the search for her lost boy. That's no small feat for a lone woman in the late 20s/early 30s.
After taking the boy the LAPD presented home, Collins begins to document inaccuracies between the delivered boy and her son, only to be brushed off by Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), the man in charge of the investigation. Support comes in the form of Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a flamboyant radio preacher who's been hounding the LAPD for years. When Collins finally takes her story to the media, it's Gustav who starts yelling for her return as she is forced into a psychiatric hospital with a gaggle of mistreated women, the most vocal of whom is played by Amy Ryan.
In its third act, Eastwood switches focus to the trial and execution of Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner), the man who kidnapped and slaughtered over 20 children on his ranch in Wineville, one of which was Collins' son. The introduction of Northcott disrupts the tone and mood of the film, stumbling from feminist parable to legal drama. It does permit a final scene between Collins and Northcott, allowing Jolie a final, enraged plea for closure: It's later revealed that Walter might have escaped Northcott's ranch, a fact that's meant to bolster an infuriating feel-good ending.
Changeling, like most of Eastwood's excellent latter-day work, is a classy affair, but one of technical weight rather than dramatic. Shot by Tom Stern, the brilliant cinematographer who has been working with Eastwood since 2002's Blood Work, the director's latest is covered in dehydrated colors and beautifully scored by Eastwood himself with lilting pianos and blustery strings. While Jolie overplays her scorned mother, the supporting cast blends in beautifully, especially Donovan's complexly-composited policeman and Malkovich's propulsive, lively clergyman. Schematically unstable, it's J. Michael Straczynski's woozy script that proves the film's most incapable cog, handling its cerebral and narrative shifts with the subtlety of a race car hitting a speed bump.
At a hulking 141-minute runtime, Changeling suffers from more than its fair share of showy moments, none more egregious than when momma bear profanely tells off the head of the psychiatric hospital. Eastwood's direction is proficient, but he finds it impossible for his actress and his aesthetics to coalesce. Unable to internalize the drama, Jolie engulfs every scene with an utterance of "I want my son back!," often cheapening the meticulous production design, courtesy of the talented James J. Murakami. It's a gaudy, showboat performance, trading nuance and grace for simple presence; I'll eat a small fishing boat if she doesn't get an Oscar nomination. British director Michael Winterbottom tempered Jolie the starlet as another single mother left as residue after a media-centric tragedy in A Mighty Heart by centering on the procedure of retrieval. With Eastwood, however, Jolie's weeping caterwaul reduces a firebrand of corrupt politics into a work of enthused pageantry.
First we're gonna catch this Zodiac guy, then we'll find your boy.
Some manage, but most do not, and River drowns in tedium and cumbersome symbolism as a result. The 73-year-old Eastwood remains a meat-and-potatoes filmmaker. He's not afraid to take chances when selecting material, but his no-nonsense approach regardless of the content dooms this and other projects to a static and mind-numbingly wearisome state.
Continue reading: Mystic River Review
What's new in the music world this week?
'Sounds of Silence' was released on this day (January 17th) in 1966.
Listen to Alex Bayly performing 'Animal'.
Two weeks ahead of Independent Venue Week, Dry Cleaning made 'Britain's Best Small Venue 2015' (NME) the second port of call on their 2020 tour.
'Leave Home' was released on this day (January 10th) in 1977.
For their last gig of the year, The Libertines came back to their adopted hometown of Margate to finish off their latest tour.
Celebrating the birthday of David Bowie with his most legendary songs.
Once again, director Clint Eastwood lurks in the background, springing a stunningly atmospheric thriller on...
Music-lover Clint Eastwood adapts the long-running stage musical for the big screen with mixed results:...
With beautiful but bland direction and a script that can't help but overstate everything, this...
Gus Lobel is one of the most formidable baseball talent scouts around, however his age...
Exquisitely designed and directed, with finely tuned performances that shine even through some heavy make-up,...
Eastwood's skilfully unrushed direction merges with Morgan's astute, thoughtful screenplay to create a thoroughly unusual...
Based on John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy, this is an almost too-inspirational story of...
Fit snug into the mother superior of self-reflexive roles, Angelina Jolie once again finds herself...
In his landmark book of military history The Face of Battle, John Keegan did something...
At some point during the process of adapting James Bradley's nonfiction book about the battle...
Around this time of year, select projects start entering theaters powered by an invisible yet...