AMERICAN SNIPER REVIEW

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Has Bradley Cooper got that Oscar in his sights? Only one way to find out . . .

Clint Eastwood delivers a riveting, if overlong, war biopic on the most lethal sniper in US history.

Bradley Cooper in one word. Fantastic.

I have been impressed by his versatility and range. To be able to go from The Hangover to American Hustle. His performances continue to surprise. As does this one.

The 132 minute length does test you a little in parts but every time I felt my eyes wandering, there was a revelation or a battle sequence to bring me back into the action.

It’s not perfect by any means BUT certainly one of the better ones.

The cinematography by Tom Stern (a regular Eastwood stalwart) provided a grainy murkiness to the Iraqi war zone. The panning shots as we followed the troops through the labyrinthine cityscape (now an open battlefield) got me right in the thick of it.

I couldn’t believe how much Cooper looked like Chris Kyle. Bulking up for the role and delivering a dusky drawl. A deserved nomination.

A simple cowboy who decided one day to become a SEAL. There were moments where I felt the whole ‘Murica spiel was a little schmaltzy for me BUT hey, that’s the cynic talking. I respect the man for his patriotism and that’s what he was. A patriot. He wanted to fight for his country. People have fought for less. So make of that what you will.

It didn’t spoil or hamper the film for me. The first act zipped along quite well. The opening certainly grabs your attention with Kyle having to make a serious judgement call involving a young boy and a suspected weapon.

It flicks back and forth showing his life as a young boy, his days as a cowboy and his SEALs training. The training montage was covered extensively in the opening of Lone Survivor BUT it was good to see the cast go through the process.

To be honest, I was happy to see more of this. It zipped along a little too quickly. It didn’t really put Kyle’s father in the best light. A stern man who wants his sons to be sheepdogs NOT wolves. Yeah, that didn’t make sense to me in the film. Nothing a good belting won’t straighten out.

It certainly gave you a sense of the man Kyle would become but maybe a little bit more depth would have been better.

The sniper sequences were tense and riveting. Seeing it through the POV of Kyle’s scope was harrowing and brutal. Hardly original to the Call of Duty nuts but effective.

There were moments of horror and suspense. It certainly plays the ethics card. Split second decisions that could save or kill the unit. Decisions I couldn’t even imagine making. Some heart in mouth stuff.

The sandstorm sequence was exhilarating. Some would argue that it was shot terribly but that’s kind of the point. You couldn’t see a thing. You couldn’t tell who was your enemy and in an ambush?! Words fail me.

I felt Eastwood spent a little too much time on the unit dynamic with a supporting cast that for a majority of the time either kept changing or were hardly that memorable. This was where marks got knocked down. I know this is Kyle’s story but there aren’t many who get a look in, including his own wife.

Sienna Miller was very good as Taya Kyle. She had great chemistry with Cooper. I never rated Miller’s past roles; the sex pot. But we got to see some actual acting from the gal. She nailed the accent and played it really well. I would have liked to see more of her. (No, not like that. Acting wise. Honest!)

I wanted more of the family dynamic. The last act does focus on that which certainly hits home by the closing minutes. BUT (for example) I wanted a little more explanation on Kyle’s brother, Jeff. Someone who we followed, with Chris, for a good 30-40 minutes of the film who then disappears without a real reason.

You get a general idea of what happened by how Jeff acts after his first tour in Iraq BUT it would have been nice to see him again, a passing comment OR at least a mention in the closing credits.

You can see Kyle’s dedication soon become an obsession. The more tours he embarks on, the harder the strain on his family. It certainly doesn’t paint Kyle as the all American patriot. Intent on catching The Butcher (Mido Hamada) and a (free-running) sniper hell bent on claiming the bounty of the legendary sniper felt like a morbid competition.

I’m a little concerned that Hamada and Navid Negahban (Homeland) have become typecast in the terrorist roles. They both play them so well but still . . .

Kyle’s re-adjustment into civilian life was heartbreaking. Every little sound keeping him on edge. His inability to cope. It was captured well and was subtle in it’s approach. The legend around him taking its toll.

This is where I became more engrossed. The final 30 minutes unearthed more on the treatment of the returning veteran and allowed for some harrowing statements.

I felt the CGI left a little to be desired. Cooper superimposed on a bull and the deer really stuck out. Also, don’t let the fake baby put you off. If you’re thinking, “What?” and are not aware of this; there is a scene in which Cooper is supposed to be holding his daughter and it is the worst fake baby I’ve seen. BUT don’t let this little plastic prop spoil what was a well acted scene.

This may not be the best war film. It’s tough not to compare it to so many other classics BUT it hooked me for the majority of the time (A challenge in itself) and by the closing minutes it got to me. I don’t want to spoil the film too much because I want people to see this.

BUT now, I find my loyalties torn on the Best Actor category now. I have to agree after seeing the majority of the Oscar nominated pics (Whiplash this week! EXCITED!) that the right people have been chosen this time around (Tatum should have got a nod BUT that’s another review 😉

With all the Oscar excitement, Cooper has to ask himself one thing. Does he feel lucky? Well . . .

If my pick loses, then I wouldn’t complain if Cooper took his place.

A sterling performance from a fantastic actor and an engaging, if flawed, biopic makes this one worth taking a shot.

3.5/5

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PLASTIC REVIEW

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Surprisingly watchable and entertaining. Hardly original or groundbreaking. Pretty much a darker Hustled up Hollyoaks hybrid but with a likeable and talented young British cast, I can think of worst ways to kill 90-odd minutes.

I went in expecting the worst and was relieved. A watchable easygoing crime caper, even if the end result is predictably the same. Ed Speelers has finally found a project to show off his talents after a number of misfires; Eragon and ITV’s Echo Beach. Playing the charismatic lead Sam, desperate to make a quick buck, he leads a rag tag team of chosen criminals who inevitably end up messing with the wrong people. In all fairness, the first 20 minutes zipped along quite nicely with the little fraudsters starting off as little Del Boys, fobbing off stolen merch to stereotypical posh toffs at uni. Stereotypical if hilarious riffs on the Made in Chelsea numpties.

The team of grifters get a passion for plastic. Stealing credit card information and data to buy a lot of expensive jewellery and  harvest a lot of wonga. The ease in which the team obtain their data is scarily realistic; perfectly demonstrated in a petrol station sequence in which cameras are positioned perfectly to catch pins and fake machines. A crime that does need to stop as the world goes DPA crazy. The “subtle” social commentary on the fact that students who are studying their degrees or have achieved them are probably not going to get a job in that field is a harsh reality that I can relate to. But resorting to corporate espionage and card crime, meh, I’ll stick to blogging. The lazy jibes about the economic crisis wasn’t necessary. We’re all stuck in it. Been there. Can’t afford the t-shirt. Felt like a mere excuse to help justify the cockney rebels’ cause.

However, the team soon rip off the wrong man, the ever reliable slithery Thomas Kretschmann (Dracula/Wanted). Not enough of him to be honest but he manages to make a mark. Hardly Brick Top from Snatch but impressionable none the same. He gives them a deadline of two weeks to pay up a £2 million “compensation” fee, leading to one massive, crazy, can’t-believe-it-but-apparently-a-true-story, con. Will Poulter (We’re the Millers/Son of Rambo) was arguably overshadowed. And for some reason, the lad had not grown up enough to carry the conviction his character craved. In one scene, the gruff gangster worked, the other he seemed more like he was doing one of his performances in School of Comedy. He delivers some of the more comical one liners. I mentioned overshadowed as one culprit in particular steals every scene and that goes to old Theon Lovejoy (prefer that comparison to sibling of Lily Allen) Alfie Allen.

Allen has always been able to play the shady, slick faced shithead but he does it so well and delivers yet again as the volatile Yatesey. A necessary, if untrustworthy, evil. A ticking timebomb waiting to explode. The beautiful eye candy, I mean, Emma Rigby (Hollyoaks) doing her best to be nothing more than a stocky love interest. I couldn’t believe that Graham McTavish (Dwalin from The Hobbit franchise) was in this, playing the ridiculous OTT and gullible mark to perfection, lapping up every minute.  It was great to see Ashley Chin (Starred Up) and Robbie Gee (speaking of Snatch) in somewhat limited roles. But talented enough to stand out. And Malese Jow. I only ever remember her from that Nickelodeon show Unfabulous. Wow. Stunning. But perverted comments aside, she plays the supporting role well. Sebastian De Souza (Skins/The Borgias) was originally quite a funny character and you did feel for him as he is rewarded the more irritating gigs but his character soon gets quite annoying and luckily subsides into the background. Shame.

As Sam says at the start of the film, “it’s not how it started but how it ends. How you got there”. And that’s a little bit of the problem, the start was highly watchable and once the con gets going, the plot holes start appearing and once the crazy Mission Impossible costume work comes into it, well it all gets a little silly. There were missed opportunities; most notably in Sam’s recruiting techniques. Intriguing at first, it soon didn’t surmount to anything by the end, without spoiling too much. And when I say, silly. The strange overuse of slow motion by the end of the film was irritating. I mean, a tense build up to an inevitable shoot out sequence borders on parody by the end, with people being shot left right and centre, then popping back up like they have been re-spawned in a game of Call of Duty.

Arguably this could have been a TV movie but in comparison to the bigger budgeted and supposedly more talented counterparts that have been released this year, this fares reasonably well. More so for me as a movie aficionado after an atrocious April of one star cinematic car crashes. Enough to stay afloat. At this moment, I’m looking for films that are watchable and this one falls into it. If you’re expecting Lock, Stock then you will be disappointed. I’m glad that this didn’t try to be, it’s better for it at that sense. But maybe a little of that ambition would have helped it fare a bit better and all. It’s 3 (just) out of 5 for me!

Currently ranks #86 out of 170!

RIDE ALONG REVIEW

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Chug along? Cube and Hart make a cracking good duo. Fun enough BUT will it compare to the relentless list of cop comedies?

Security guard Ben (Kevin Hart) must prove himself to his girlfriend’s brother, top cop James (Ice Cube). He rides along with James on a 24-hour patrol of Atlanta.

A mixed bag. It all starts off very predictable, formulaic and unfunny with a deal gone wrong, an inevitable car chase and Cube tearing the place up. He played the straight faced Payton perfectly. BUT beneath the bravado there wasn’t much to his character.

A groggy start (with a feeble story line about infiltrating a crime ring and a rat in the office) is given a fresh boost when Hart is thrown into the mix. His military style precision on a Call of Duty style video game under the alias Black Hammer had me in stitches alone. I’ve been a fan of Hart for some time ever since the Scary Movie films. It’s great to see how far the little man’s gone.

He pretty much steals the show. His verbal diarrhea and high pitched screeching can get a little irritating. Inevitably, it took a little while for Ben and Payton to warm up to one another and the gags were few and far between. I could feel my excitement dropping quicker than Cube busting out a fresh freestyle.

Once the pair got going (Luckily) so did the film. There was a fantastic scene at the shooting range in which Hart is trying to show off. His feeble attempt blowing up in his face . . . literally. They did their best and it’s not a complete write-off. Hart upsetting a biker gang and picking a fight with a child. Brilliant.

Being held up in a warehouse in a battle of wits. Done to death. They had a nice angle with the Training Day parody but never really took full advantage of it. Maybe the 12A rating softened it all up but more could have been made. Hart being thrown about was only funny up to a point. He’s little. We get it. It got a chuckle. BUT doing it several more times? Come on now.

I liked the chemistry between Hart and Tika Sumpter (Salt). I would have been happy to see a little more of that than Cube’s stone cold expressions. Pardon the expression. BUT it was great seeing Cube keeping it dead pan with Hart coming out with all sorts of crazy stuff. Brilliant.

I was surprised to see the likes of John Leguizamo and Laurence Fishburne in this BUT they struggled to make a real impression with their dull and unmemorable characters. And that’s part of the problem. The terrible plot about a generic arms deal with the “surprise” twist being some predictable double crossing stretched the film out. It left little opportunities for gags and wasted a good cast.

When it was funny, it was on fire but when it’s wasn’t, it was slow and repetitive. Less Ride Along and more chug along. Hart was the man. I just wish he’d had better material. It did just enough. But if you’re looking for a consistently laugh out cop comedy, check out The Heat.

Cube and Hart did their best. And it did enough to get me excited for the upcoming sequel. Let’s hope they make amends with more gags or a better plot. If you’re up for a laugh, give it a go. Just don’t expect too much.

3/5 (Just)