No matter where you stand on the war in Iraq debate, American Sniper is a film worth watching. I was torn when the film was released. Did we need another war film? Did we need a film before we were out of Iraq telling us whether the war was good or bad?
So I waited for the film to come out on DVD and Blu-ray, which happened this week, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
I was surprised at how good the film was. I know, I know, it was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper). (It only won Best Achievement in Sound Editing). American Sniper is not an analytical film about war, instead war is the reality of the narrative. It is the story of a father, a husband, and a service man, Chris Kyle (Cooper).
Answers to Nothing join films like Crash and Babel in the multiple-stories-that-interlock genre. In this Crash-like (or lite) film, director and co-writer Matthew Leutwyler interweaves various lives in Los Angeles to tell a story of loneliness and brokenness.
Ryan (Dane Cook) is having an affair with rock singer Tara (Aja Volkman), all while trying to have a child with his wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell). By day, Ryan is a psychologist who is treating Allegra (Katie Hawk), the only African-American writer for a television show. Allegra meets Evan (Zach Gilford) while walking her dog, and they begin a relationship. Evan is the sound engineer for Tara’s band. In the meantime, Kate is a lawyer whose client Drew (Miranda Bailey) is fighting with her parents for custody of her ex-marathon-running, now-paralyzed brother Eric.
Kate is also friends with Officer Frankie (Julie Benz). Frankie is investigating a missing girl case. Frankie’s daughter is in Carter’s (Mark Kelly) class. Carter is a school teacher who rushes home to get on his computer and play an online fantasy video game. One of Carter’s neighbors is Jerry (Erik Palladino) who ritually gets ready each day by putting his police uniform on and walks his beat around his apartment.
London Boulevard is the directorial debut of William Monahan. Monahan won an Oscar for his script for the film Departed, which would explain the similarities between the two films. The cinematography drapes the London cityscape with blood, grime, and smeared lipstick. At other times it is reminiscent of The Bodyguard—the protector and the protected falling in love.
Mitchel (Colin Farrell) has been in jail for three years for “grievous bodily harm.” His buddy Billy (Ben Chaplin) picks him up and immediately begins coercing him into criminal work. Mitchel tries to explain to him that he is never going back to jail. Billy, however, doesn’t seem to care. He continuously puts Mitchel is awkward situations where he has to defend himself. Eventually, Billy will make it near impossible for Mitchel not to confront Gant (Ray Winstone), the gang boss.
Serge Gainsbourg, born Lucien Ginsburg in Paris in 1928 to Russian-Jewish emigrants, was possibly the greatest European cultural icon of the twentieth century, most widely known (and celebrated) for the songs he wrote for beautiful female singers. Not to mention the affairs he had with each of them. This French film follows the life and career of this cultural icon, including his troubled relationships, bouts with depression, and abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Just as celebrated in France is the writer-director Joann Sfar who is a comic book artist and musician. The animated opening of the film is all the work of Sfar. Throughout the film an animated version of Gainsbourg might pop up here and there. When we consider Sfar’s artistic inclinations, it becomes clear that he is the perfect candidate to explore Gainsbourg’s roller-coaster of a life and career.
Hart Crane was an early 20th century modernist poet. His poetry was difficult to understand, it was highly stylized, and very ambitious. James Franco, as writer, director, and actor, brings to us the complicated life of the mustachioed gay romantic living mostly in his own head in The Broken Tower. As complicated as Crane’s life and poetry was, so is this biopic based on Paul Mariani’s biography of the same title. Shot in black-and-white video, Franco’s film uses repetitive, stop-and-start-like cuts that are very chaotic and could simply mirror Crane’s life, that of a man who ended his own life by jumping from the steamship SS Orizaba at the age of 32.
Franco tells the narrative of Crane’s life using a chapter-based structure (not unlike a technique used by director Lars von Trier). These chapters are called “Voyages,” which is the title of a series of erotic poems written by Crane. The Voyages help guide the film through Crane’s narrative, moving us from his early years in Cleveland, to the streets of New York, to trips to Paris and Mexico.
There is a delicate balance to be found between the legalism of the Old Testament and the astonishing grace of the New Testament. Too often we are either overwhelmingly consumed with following the “rules” that we ignore the power of grace in our lives. Or we put so much focus on grace that we forget that the “rules” are there to guide us.
Grace is not a license to sin.
Grace is an amazing, unmerited, undeserved gift given to us freely by God through the redeeming act of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because we have been given this grace so freely, we can give this grace to others through forgiveness and reconciliation.
Emilio Estevez’ The Way joins the ranks of other classic “journey” films (think Wizard of Oz). Tom Avery (Martin Sheen) is an ophthalmologist, making a career in helping people see. He and his son Daniel (Estevez) see the world differently. Life has changed after Tom’s wife dies. The relationship, we can gather, between Tom and Daniel has become a difficult one. Daniel decides to go to Europe to walk El Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a walker’s trek that stretches across France into Spain. On his first day on the journey Daniel dies in bad weather. Tom, already lamenting that he hasn’t heard from his son, gets a call from the French police explaining the situation. And with that, Tom begins his own pilgrimage.
Clint Eastwood is a brilliant filmmaker. We know this. Just take a look at Million Dollar Baby (2004) or his World War II films Flags of Our Fathers (2006) and Letters From Iwo Jima (2006). I had to remind myself of this fact throughout J. Edgar (2011).
Like Invictus (2009), this is a slow-paced film. Eastwood is not in a hurry to get you somewhere. But that’s part of Eastwood’s storytelling—getting you there—the journey. This slow-paced storytelling makes you pay attention to the camera angles, the shades of light, the seemingly random inclusions in the camera shot, and so on. We are hanging on through it all for the good parts.
As Eastwood weaves this tale through the shadows of Hoover’s complex life visually, I expected a juicy political drama. That’s what I was waiting for. Instead I got a tale about relationships. A somewhat unexpected tale.
Dylan Baker is known for his various roles in television and film. Namely, his role as Colin Sweeney in The Good Wife. Most recently he was J. Edgar Hoover in the film Selma. Many will remember him from other films like Anchorman 2, Secretariat, Spider-man 2 and 3, as well as Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
Baker has added director to his IMDB list of achievements with 23 Blast. In the film, Baker also fills the role of Larry Freeman, the father of Travis Freeman whose real-life story Baker brings to the screen. Travis (Mark Hapka) is the high school football star who keeps up his grades and helps his mom, Mary (Kim Zimmer) keep the concession stand stocked.
© 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.
Margaret Keane, the painter famously known for the big, oversized doe-like eyes of her subjects, is the subject of the new film, Big Eyes. Tim Burton, a Keane collector, directs Amy Adams as Margaret Keane, with the script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewksi (who collaborated with Burton on Ed Wood) tells this real-life story of truth buried under years of lies and deception.
After relocating to San Francisco, Margaret attempts to make a living as an artist. But, in the 1950’s San Francisco, she finds that it is difficult for a divorced, single-mother like herself to get a job, much less make it as an artist. Then, in a moment of serendipity, she meets Walter Keane as portrayed by Christoph Waltz.