American Sniper (Clint Eastwood) 2014

Posted in What I've Seen This Week on November 27, 2017 by moviemoses

Me and the war have not been on good terms in recent years to put it lightly. From the reasons we started the war to human rights violations that have gone on even through the Obama years (and this is by no means a comprehensive list), I could go on for hours. So when the prospect of a Chris Kyle movie coming out I gave a quick pass. Nothing about Kyle’s politics or Eastwood’s for that matter seem like they would be opposed to the war and word of mouth didn’t necessarily help it. But its been years, and some people have tried to educate me on the anti-war sentiment of this movie. So with that in mind and a genuine interest in seeing a good movie, here are my thoughts on American Sniper.

First off, let’s talk about the technical bits before going into the meat of the story. Clint Eastwood’s direction is superb. I wasn’t sure how the usually reserved Eastwood (direction wise at least) would shoot the frenetic action of this war. The man’s work profile is so extensive you (or at least I embarrassingly) may forget he’s worked on war movies previously with Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima and to a lesser extent Heartbreak Ridge. The action scenes are exciting and the scenes of Kyle sniping provide a tense contrast where their tension is wrung out for all its worth. The sound design and music are both excellent. I am getting tired of Eastwood’s fascination with desaturization of colors as he seems to be the only person to make the bright desert dull and gray but that’s just my opinion. And finally we get to Bradley Cooper who really does give a great performance as Chris Kyle. He has the usual Cooper charm but in this movie he has to do a lot of emoting with his face; especially in scenes where he’s looking down a sniper scope. This, maybe more than other movies he’s done has sold me on his acting. So from all the technical aspects this movie is a thumbs up.

Now we get to the heart of the review which is the story. To start let me talk about the decision to make a movie about Chris Kyle. Its problematic to say the least. Proof of this comes from the huge debate that was sparked about Kyle’s life as the movie was being released. This is a man who lied about some pretty big things, stated he enjoyed killing, and who referred to Middle Eastern people as “savages”. It would be like making a movie about Hollywood and framing it as a biopic of Kevin Spacey. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done well, but again, its problematic. I think the best course of action would have been to make this story about a fictional character so you didn’t have the personal politics of Chris Kyle drawing attention away from your movie. On some level, Eastwood seems to agree with me as he fictionalizes parts of Kyle’s life. There is no Mustafa and the whole climax around killing him is bullshit. So just go full out and make him a completely different character.

But let’s say I just do that. Let’s say for the purposes of this review I make the character into a fictional one and distance it from Chris Kyle. How does the story play out then? As I mentioned before I have heard people try to say the movie has a powerful anti-war message. You have Kyle who was raised to value God, family, and country, and you have a war that is systematically destroying all those values. This isn’t as simple as “wolves” and “sheepdogs” as Kyle has to make horrifying decisions in a war that is not simple good and evil. I get it, I just still don’t buy it. I could start by saying at this moment I personally don’t believe there is such thing as an anti-war movie. That no matter how hard you try, you end up glorifying some part of war. I won’t simply say that as a blanket condemnation of the movie. Instead I will just say that in my viewing the movie, it comes across as very simplistic in its depictions of peoples. The Americans are righteous, god fearing good guys trying to bring peace, and the Middle Easterners are for the most part evil drill/bomb wielding sociopaths. It comes off as propaganda to me at times and I don’t think its me either. In speaking with my friends about it they got that impression to and in the aftermath of the movie, and it was reported that threats against Muslims increased in America. It may have been Eastwood’s intent to make a personal anti-war movie, but the execution feels like something different.

There is one last part to the movie that almost salvages it and that is the depiction of PTSD in combat veterans. This is also something that has stuck out in reviewers as being good and I can agree. So much so that I feel the movie should have just been a personal movie about soldiers dealing with PTSD. As it is it takes up a minority of the movie and majority comes down to Kyle hunting for Mustafa.

American Sniper is technically speaking a very well made movie. The direction, sound design, music, and acting, are all top notch. That does not change the fact that at the heart of this movie is a story about a soldier that is problematic to say the least and can be offensive to say the worst. I think Eastwood tried to make a movie divorced from hot button issues and make an apolitical movie about a soldier with PTSD. I don’t believe he succeeded though.

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Posted in What I've Seen This Week on November 27, 2017 by moviemoses

I’ve been away from the blog for a long time but that doesn’t mean I’ve gone away from writing.  I’ve been doing mini reviews for my Facebook to keep in the habit.  I initially didn’t want to include them in my blog because I tend to put more effort into my blog posts and what I tended to write on Facebook were just simple thoughts.  But lately I’ve seen no reason to exclude them and only remark to people that these are just my initial thoughts on a movie in case you guys were interested.  So I hope you enjoy these mini reviews.

The Last Stand (Kim Jee-woon) 2013

Posted in L on May 1, 2014 by moviemoses


Production Budget: $45 million
Worldwide Gross: $48 million

The Last Stand is about the leader of a drug cartel breaking out of federal custody and making his way to the Mexican border. The last stop in his path is a town with Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced deputies.

Something that is only a problem for me is I usually watch these bombs on their opening weekend (cause I have no life) and it is only months later that I find out they bomb. By then I have to watch it again to refresh my memory to write a review. Again, this is only a problem for me (especially for the really bad movies) and I am essentially complaining to the open air.

Anyway, The Last Stand is the tale of two halves. The first half is so painfully dull I got so close to turning the movie off. You see, it takes nearly half the movie to get this ridiculous plot underway. We have to explain how the most notorious drug cartel leader in history escapes from federal custody, escapes road blocks, escapes helicopters, escapes every police agency and the military, and the ONLY person able to stop him is Arnold Schwarzenegger. A killer robot from the future is frankly more plausible after seeing the things the writers pull out of their collective asses. But the worst part is none of it is interesting. We know this is the dirty work of getting the plot underway and there is no chance of the bad guy getting stopped prior to getting to the town so we are just sitting as the movie goes through the motions.

It might ease the pain if the characters are interesting or if the dialog were fun but outside of Arnold, there is no one I care about. Forrest Whitaker has the thankless role of barking out feeble administrative lines like “Talk to me people!” or “Get so and so on the line!” or “I want this guy caught yesterday!” Every once and a while we check in on Arnold and he gives his usual cheesy line reads that make you wax nostalgic or laugh at Peter Stormare who I think is trying a Texan accent but if it is it is officially the worst attempt at an accent ever. But all of that is fleeting as we have to sit through another scene of tension-less driving from the bad buy or another scene of boring exposition about how an attack helicopter couldn’t blow this guy’s car off the road. I don’t care.

It is not until the halfway mark that we finally get our main characters in an action scene and I let out an enormous sigh of relief. The movie spent a long time establishing the climax and when it comes, it thankfully does not disappoint. The action is fun and Arnold does enough badass things to make you squee. There is a good dose of self-deprecating humor and all in all it is a well choreographed action scene. If it is one thing the director got right, it is how to effectively use Schwarzenegger in action at his age.

The Last Stand is solely for those who are Arnold fans yearning for his comeback. And even on those terms, your mileage varies. While I had a blast with the climax of the movie, it is incredibly hard to muck through the slow and uninteresting first half. Really, I want a Phantom Edit made which starts off in the second half and you can just open with a title card that explains “Bad guy has to escape through town to get to Mexico. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the sheriff of the town. Don’t ask about what the feds, military, or state police are doing because crappy writing. Enjoy.”

The Host (Andrew Niccol) 2013

Posted in H on April 26, 2014 by moviemoses


Production Budget: $40 million
Worldwide Gross: $48 million

The Host is about an alien species that comes to Earth and takes over humans like pod people. Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) nearly dies during the bonding so there is a complication. The alien Wanda, still has control, but Melanie is able to talk to her. Wanda/Melanie make their way to the resistance where a love triangle develops between her Melanie’s lover and a new man.

Now, it is no secret that I am not a fan of the Twilight series. Like many critics, I’m sure I could write a book on just about everything that I plain don’t like about the books/movies. But make no mistake, this is not about me being a guy and not being part of the target demographic. True I am not a teenage girl or a middle aged housewife, but I can certainly understand romance and escapism. At the end of the day, when you cut through all the bullshit, I just plain don’t like any of the characters. At best they are merely hollow shells by which the unimaginative audience can project themselves in and at worst Bella is a despicable excuse for a human and the two male leads not much better.

So why watch The Host? Well, because it bombed. And I don’t know what it says about my taste that of all the Stephanie Meyer films I have seen this is the best. Now, that still doesn’t make The Host a good movie, it just means it rises to the level of merely bad. Compared to Twilight, the protagonist of Wanda/Melanie is far more compelling and there is a reason for the love triangle. Two people are sharing a body and each has fallen in love with another person. Oh it’s silly and having Saoirse Ronan doing internal commentary of how icky it is she is kissing another man can be quite comical. However the issue is one of a real conflict and not because our protagonist is a selfish manipulator.

Also, unlike Twilight, there is a clear conflict going on. In The Host, aliens are hunting down Wanda and the remaining humans to completely conquer the world. In each of the Twilight movies, the conflicts seem to be of the pulled out their ass variety. I have seen every Twilight movie, and I honestly cannot tell you why for example, why vampires wanted to fight the Cullens in the first one. Now again, that doesn’t make The Host’s plot any good. Most of the time the humans aren’t really fighting the aliens as much as they are milling about their secret base doing nothing. This movie is dull more than anything else. Not much happens in the conflict between humans and aliens and not all that much is done with the love triangle.

It is kind of pointless to talk about the direction. As evidenced by the Twilight movies, it doesn’t matter how good a director you have attached to the project, they still have to work with the material of Stephanie Meyer. I love Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Lord of War. And while he adds an interesting visual flair to the movie, he can’t do anything to make the script any more interesting.

Maybe I caught this in a good mood, but I didn’t hate The Host. It is mostly dull and at times the premise and the hamfisted dialog can lead to very hammy exchanges with the actors. But I can at least appreciate that the fact I didn’t want to murder the main characters. Would I recommend it? Oh hell no. I’m just saying I can admit this is not the worst thing ever.

The Big Wedding (Justin Zackham) 2013

Posted in B on April 25, 2014 by moviemoses


Production Budget: $35 million
Worldwide Gross: $21 million

The Big Wedding is about Alejandro (Ben Barnes) who is getting married to Missy (Amanda Seyfried). Alejandro’s mother is coming to the wedding from Columbia and she is an ultra conservative Christian. Alejandro believes if his mother finds out his adoptive parents are divorced, she will not give her consent to the wedding. So Alejandro lies and tells her his adoptive parents Don (Robert DeNiro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) are married. They must now pretend to like each other until the wedding concludes.

Doesn’t the plot of this come off as severely outdated? It is especially weird as this isn’t about how Alejandro or Missy appear to their parents but how Alejandro’s adoptive parents seem to Alejandro’s mother. You could maybe, MAYBE do a movie where the mother disapproves of Missy’s religion or portray her a crazy free spirit as opposed to the mother’s ultra conservative views on what a wife would be. Pardon my language in advance, but who gives a flying fuck what Alejandro’s mother thinks about his adoptive American parents?

Nothing about this plot really resonates with or is relatable to the audience. The comedy is especially toothless as nothing is really done with it. Yeah, you heard me. The writers don’t really do anything with the main plot of the movie. You see, the mother speaks only Spanish, so our characters don’t even have to pretend very hard to like one another to fool mommie dearest. All they do is give a fake smile and mutter curse words at one another. So there isn’t really any comic potential where there is not a chance in hell she is going to find out Don and Ellie are not married.

But I don’t want to give the impression the Don, Ellie, and mother storyline is the only one working here. This is kind of an ensemble piece so there are several subplots I guess to show how crazy weddings can be and other such crap. Jared (Topher Grace) is a virgin who is saving himself in yet another strangely outdated character trait. Anyway, Madonna (Alejandro’s mother) brought his daugther Nuria as a translator and she is something of a flirt. Hilarity supposedly ensues as she will, for example, go skinny dipping and we see Topher Grace try to conceal a boner. When you are being upstaged by Two and a Half Men on purile sex humor, you are doing something wrong.

What else do we have. Don is a recovering alcoholic who is being driven to drink by the wedding. Wait, that’s not funny. Okay, well we have Lyla (Katherine Heigl) who is separated from her spouse because she can’t have kids. That’s not funny either. Oh, we have Bebe (Susan Sarandon) who is Don’s current girlfriend who is kicked out of the house when Don has to pretend to be married to Ellie. This provides no real conflict and Sarandon is out of the picture for long stretches of the film.

This movie is supposed to be absurdity after absurdity in the quest of keeping Madonna in the dark, culminating in the wedding when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. But there are no big set pieces and the jokes are what you would get from the weakest episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I would mention the acting, but it doesn’t matter. You have very good veteran actors who try their best but they can’t do anything with this flat material. It is clear to see why this bombed. Why spend good money on a comedy that is less inspired and less funny than stuff you can get on free TV?

Dirty (2005) Chris Fisher

Posted in D on December 4, 2013 by moviemoses


Production Budget: $3 million
Domestic Gross: $274,000

Dirty follows Officer Sancho (Clifton Collins Jr.) through a day in which all he is supposed to do is go to IA over a shooting incident he was involved in. His partner Salim (Cuba Gooding Jr.) gets him involved in an illegal scheme to get close to higher ups in the department. Sancho soon finds himself in over his head with stolen drugs and several people out to kill him and his partner.

So from that description, the box cover, and everything else you get the clear impression this is a quick cash in on the success of Training Day. One of the responses from people when I mention this movie is “Cuba is playing the Denzel Training Day role!? Really?” While I certainly admit he’s not playing his usual type with this role, I was at least more hopeful about this movie. I mean, I’d rather want a Cuba who is at least trying than some of his other DTV crap like The Devil’s Tomb where he is almost sleepwalking through it. There I go with that ‘hope’ thing again.

Dirty is so incompetent and over the top I was laughing quite a bit throughout. There is no subtlety to anything in this movie. Salim is not just a bent cop, he might as well be tying women to railroad tracks and bombing orphanages while twirling a mustache. In five minutes alone he sexually assaults a woman on a public beach in broad daylight, all the while screeching the N word at anyone within earshot, then goes back to his patrol vehicle where he guzzles from a gallon size bottle of vodka. He gets into several shoot outs over stolen drugs he took from the evidence locker, then gets in his car to go to IA with a bullet wound in his leg wrapped up in duct tape.

Why does he do this? There is a vague promise of getting in good with the dirty captain and whatnot but what it boils down to is a pair of playoff tickets. Yup, playoff tickets. I was absolutely laughing my ass off when Salim, after going through hell and is going to IA, the Sergeant takes back the playoff tickets since he won’t be using them stuck in IA. It’s like, not only is this guy evil, but he is a Lumberg from Office Space type douchebag who will take back gifts. What an asshole.

Cuba Gooding Jr. is hilariously miscast in this role. He tries to do the “King Kong ain’t got shit on me” act but he just can’t pull it off. He tries by using every racial epithet and curse word and is screaming to the rafters and yet he still carries about as much menace as Meg Ryan. Now I know Cuba has cultivated a persona of an action hero. And while I normally buy him as a soldier or a hit man, I just don’t get the fear of god dread from his act. Someone like Clint Eastwood in his 80’s can still say “You every meet someone you know you just shouldn’t have fucked with *spit * That’s me.” and people would still be nervous. With Cuba I still think he should be driving an ice cream truck with Skeet Ulrich.

Obviously this movie doesn’t work on its own terms. Every character is irredeemable from the start so we don’t care what happens to them. The writing is so heavy handed and over the top and the plot gets downright confusing with unnecessary double and triple crosses. And despite my laughing at the insanity of it all, I was missing some action scenes. I mean there are some minor shoot outs but in a movie so crazy in every other department, why are they shirking on the violence and nudity? You should at least strive to be more outrageous than the movie you are trying to rip off.

I really don’t know how to adequately sum up here. Obviously for most of you out there don’t watch this. It is a terrible movie. What I am more struggling with is if bad movie aficionados should watch it either. Like I said, I was laughing pretty consistently at the terrible writing and the over the top acting. But that being said, it feels like it is missing out on the action or the gross excess that would make this a must see bad movie. Ultimately I think with all its lacking, plus the fact every character is so patently unlikable, that I can’t even recommend Dirty in that regard either. But at the very least, it is more interesting than The Devil’s Tomb.

Annapolis (2006) James Wan

Posted in A on October 3, 2013 by moviemoses


Production Budget: $26 million
Worldwide Gross: $17 million

Annapolis is about Jake (James Franco) who gets accepted to the US Naval Academy. Jake is having trouble especially under the strict instructor Cole (Tyrese Gibson). Jake is an amateur boxer who joins the academy boxing tournament in the hopes of beating champion Cole.

This movie received absolutely rotten reviews, garnering a 10% on Rottentomatoes. Most of the reviews seemed to focus on the similarities between this and An Officer and a Gentleman and even Top Gun. Now I’ll make a confession that I have not, as yet, seen An Officer and a Gentleman. But despite that just by reading the plot description I can’t see it being a rip off. Yes, both are about a Naval academy and a tough drill sergeant type character. I personally don’t care if Lin was remaking or ripping off An Officer and a Gentleman as long as he does it well. It just strikes me as odd that is front and center in their dismissal of this movie. I have my problems with Annapolis but it has nothing to do with that.

Right off the bat though I will say this isn’t nearly as dreadful as the tomatometer would have you believe. At the very least Annapolis is a functional movie. It is surprising that despite being about Annapolis the movie doesn’t bash you about the head with ‘Rah Rah America Fuck Yeah’ rhetoric. It is focused on a guy getting through a boot camp which could have taken place just about anywhere at anytime. I really didn’t see anything to indicate Annapolis is any different or any more difficult than any other basic boot camp. But at the heart of it is a simple story about a loner learning to accept help from friends and about the power of teamwork.

Everything is basic but functional from the plot elements to the acting. It is mediocre, but none of it flat out sucks. That might be an even worse thing to say really. People can laugh at a movie that sucks but being forgettable may be a worse crime. It doesn’t help that the acting is all so bland. James Franco is just so unbelievably bland. He gives you absolutely no reason to care about our main character at all. That might be forgiven if he had a good antagonist but Tyrese Gibson is in a competition to see who can give less of a screen presence. Gibson is supposed to be the ruthless drill instructor. This is a part begging for scenery chewing but all Gibson can manage is his constipated face to everything. Jordana Brewster exists. That is about all I have to say about that. Okay, in all honesty she’s fine, rather her character is non-existent. I like she started out as an empowered female character but by the end the movie does the lame predictable thing by making her the token love interest. Keep in mind this is not due to anything in the story really showing a relationship growing but just because we need a romance I guess.

Now I said everything is basic but I will give a few more flaws with the overall movie. You notice my initial plot synopsis? You notice how it seems disjointed? You know, in the first sentence I mention boot camp and then in the next I’m talking about both doing some boxing tournament. Well, the movie plot is just as disjointed. Now I know what the writers were trying in theory but in execution it fails. In theory instructor Cole is supposed to be Darth Vader in dress whites. I mean we are supposed to hate him with a violent passion. Normally you can’t go around slugging your superior but in this tournament there is no rank. So the events of the film are supposed to lead up to Jake (and subsequently the audience) getting so pissed off at Cole that he will do anything to take a shot at him in the ring.

But much of the movie is spent with Jake trying to get through boot and getting over his own problem of accepting help from others. The conflict comes from Jake himself and the challenges from boot aren’t all that crazy. That’s another thing too; it’s because of that I don’t consider Cole all that bad of a character. We are supposed to think he is evil incarnate and he deserves to be knocked out but he doesn’t really do anything any other instructor would do. So in the third act we switch gears to a Rocky training montage and the tone also switches with an audible thud. To use Top Gun as an example, it would be like going through the Top Gun tournament complete with Iceman winning and then instead of the regular third act, Maverick spends 20 minutes training for a squad kickboxing tournament. It would be something poorly established and I wouldn’t consider Iceman to be someone who needs knocking out. They are rivals yes, but they take it out in flight exercises and in volleyball games; not real fighting though. Point is, the third act doesn’t mesh with everything that has happened so far in the film.

I didn’t hate Annapolis as I was watching it. Keep in mind I do this for a review blog so I’m kind of forced to sit though this. Just because I don’t object to having to watch it doesn’t mean I would recommend it. It has its problems but none of it amount to it being a horrible movie. If you were interested in the trailers and caught it on TV then go ahead. But really the movie is too bland and generic for you to take time out of you schedule and watch it.