Mindless Action Mondays: Sniper No Sniping

MindlessActionMondaysBy Drew Parton

I believe that this is the first Oscar-nominated film that I’ve ever reviewed for this column. This week, I went to the cinema to watch the new Bradley Cooper movie: American Sniper.

Full disclosure: The movie is divisive and controversial for a number of reasons (more on that later). I should say that I’m going to be as objective as I can for most of the review before giving my more personal opinions. That being said, they are just personal opinions, I don’t mean to disparage or disrespect any veterans or active duty members.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

American Sniper is based on the 2012 memoirs of United States Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (played here by Bradley Cooper). Now, when I watch Biopics, I usually try to treat them as entirely fictional departures. Not just because they take liberties with things (not to disparage the dead, but Kyle was sort of infamous for making things up and heavily exaggerating his deeds), but because nobody’s real life follows an arc or a narrative structure. So I’m going to treat this as a fiction film, not as a documentary.

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Second Breakfast: ‘Sad Scientist 2′ (The Imitation Game)

SecondBreakfast-01This week I continue to punish myself with biopics. They’re a tricky business, and can be incredibly good, but I feel like the mentality pulsating through Hollywood these past few years and on to the coming few is something along the lines of, “Everyone should have a movie made about them. Why are we wasting our time with all these fictional character, people who don’t even exist, when there are billions of humans in the world who have lived and died for real, but still don’t have a movie made about them?” Here’s the thing. Martin Luther King Jr. probably should have a movie. Abraham Lincoln should maybe have a few. Alan Turing should have a movie, too, but should he have this movie?

The Imitation Game (2014)

The Weinstein Company

The Weinstein Company

The Plot: In 1951, brilliant English scientist and professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is under investigation following a burglary of his house. Investigating detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear) uncovers the shocking truth that Turing’s been trying to hide: he’s a homosexual, which is illegal. This prompts Turing to tell the incredibly top secret story of how he invented the computer during World War Two in order to break the German Enigma code and win the war. Joining him in his efforts is a crack team of other scientists, including the smart-despite-being-female Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), with whom Turing develops a somewhat awkward relationship, prompting flashbacks to his schoolboy days of battling with his blossoming homosexuality, blossoming genius, and some form of autism maybe (?). Continue reading

SciFridays: “The Taking of Deborah Logan” (2014)

Bad Hat Harry Productions

Baddie – Possession, I guess.

Lesson – Alzheimer’s is pretty scary, but Alzheimer’s + Demon is scarier.

I’ve been disappointed with possession movies for a long time. The Conjuring, for example, popular with many, failed to capture my attention after a promising first half. The Quiet Ones was super disappointing. The Taking of Deborah Logan has been making noise around the interwebs as a really solid possession movie, so here we are!

Much like others in the genre, this is found-footage style, and follows a filmmaker/med student Mia who’s grant money will support Deborah and her daughter Sarah. Deborah Logan suffers from Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is already a terrifying disease. Seeing someone slip away from you little by little is very scary, particularly when it’s a parent (which I’ve talked about here and here). Sarah is clearly stressed out, and her mother’s memory coupled with the financial problems that come with it is very taxing. Their relationship as mother and daughter is strained as Sarah tries to adopt her role as caretaker and keep her mother. Deborah, in turn, is a formal lady and her Alzheimer’s is somewhat helped by tradition and rigor. The film begins with a series of interviews, which serve an excellent job of educating the audience about Alzheimer’s, and a fair representation of how daily life is affected. Jill Larson is apt at displaying the frustration and the confusion and the anger at having Alzheimer’s. Anne Ramsay, in turn, plays Sarah with the kind of defeated selflessness that everyone recognizes at least a little. Continue reading

The Tuesday Zone: Who Made ‘Labor Day’?

The Tuesday Zone

Jason Reitman. Once upon a time, when his name was attached to a film, you knew you were in for something interesting. In Thank You for Smoking, he took a despicable man and made us care about him and laugh with/at him even when kidnapped by a group who tries to kill him with nicotine patches. In Juno, he tapped into a youthful aesthetic and style of humor that seemed to resonate with everyone from your middle school locker neighbor to Roger Ebert. In Up in the Air, he blew everyone away with his incredible mix of style, humanity, and humor in what was easily one of the best movies of 2009. With Young Adult…well, Young Adult was pretty good, but it was a bit too cynical and cranky to capture the broad appeal of his first three efforts.

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Indian Paintbrush, Mr. Mudd, & Right of Way Films

This overlong preamble is meant to provide some background for why I found Labor Day (2013) to be the most baffling movie I have seen in a long time. Sure, the story is straightforward, and it’s not exactly going to spark a Postmodern Neo-expressionist movement, but I have rarely sat through a movie that made me feel like I’d never heard the word “narrative” before. How did Jason Reitman, who made a cigarette lobbyist hilarious and affable, make the most overwrought, melodramatic, humorless movie that I have ever seen? How did this director–whose dialogue and style made me laugh throughout the emotional complexity of Up in the Air–create the most jumbled, over-dramatic, poorly structured pile that I’ve seen in the past two years of major cinema? Continue reading

Mindless Action Mondays: Please, Just Let Me Go I Don’t Want To See Another Taken Movie

MindlessActionMondaysBy Drew Parton

I really like Liam Neeson. I just wanted to start out this review by saying that. I think he is an amazing person and if given the right script- a superb actor. Yes, he was Qui-Gon Jinn- but remember, this was before we knew that the Star Wars prequels were going to stink more than the Pacific Trash Vortex.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Go look it up.

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Second Breakfast: Selma, Snubs, and Cinematic Standards, Oh My!

SecondBreakfast-01How about those Oscar nominations, eh? There seems to be a whole lot of blandly inspiration “true story” movies this year. Of course, we could hang around counting snubs until, as the kids say, the cows come home, or we could focus on just one, because despite this misleading intro, this article concerns something totally different, as implied by its title. I’m just gonna hop right to it, then.

Selma (2014)

Selma-Featured

Cloud Eight Films

The Plot: Following his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech and his Nobel Peace Prize win, Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) directs his attention towards the next big step in the American Civil Rights Movement: securing the right to vote safely. Technically, African Americans possessed that right for years, but most of the South managed to find ways to keep them from the ballot boxes and registration forms. King heads to Selma, Alabama, to organize the townspeople and any other sympathizers in a nonviolent march on Montgomery, the state capital. Of course, things aren’t that easy, and they must face opposition both direct and indirect from Gov. George Wallace (Tim Roth) and the FBI.

The Theory of Everything sought to inspire its audiences with a story about a man who achieves greatness in the face of adversity. Its primary tactic involved ending every scene with one character looking directly at the camera and asking, “Isn’t this inspirational?” Rather than offering anything to encourage that feeling naturally, it just tells you to feel a certain way. In case you skipped that review, I didn’t much care for The Theory of Everything. Selma has the same basic premise and objective: man achieves greatness against overwhelming odds, based on a true story. Both men even have unflappable wives to whom they’re unfaithful. Obviously, beyond that, the two films don’t have much in common. One man seeks to explain things through science despite his crippling disease; the other seeks to grant basic human rights to a mass populace despite outright physical violence and institutionalized murder. Who’s to say who achieved more? In light of those differences, I think the comparison justifies itself, as both films have the same basic goal: to inspire audiences through the lens of real human achievement.

Cloud Eight Films Again, with a few minor set-backs.

Cloud Eight Films
Again, with a few minor set-backs.

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SciFridays: “Dead Snow 2″ (2014)

Tappeluft Pictures

Baddie – Pesky nazi zombies.

Lesson – Fight zombies with zombies.

I’ll admit, Dead Snow 2 was supposed to be my Christmas movie, but instead of watching it I was busy having my appendix removed, so I lived my own private zombie movie in a sanitary controlled surgical environment instead of watching it in a timely fashion.

In case you were unaware, the first Dead Snow is (Norwegian) film about nazi zombies, in this case somewhat enraged/risen because of buried nazi gold. Now, like most horror movies that find success with a ridiculous premise, it takes place in your classic horror cabin setting with a bunch of teenagers of varying personalities and proclivities, so for me the first film was ultimately very enjoyable. The beginning of the second film makes it clear that they know exactly the level of ridiculous they’re approaching but they don’t care, featuring our lead zombie continuing the chase from the first film, getting run over by a truck and then biting the innocent truck driver who attempts to give him CPR. If you were wondering about the subtitle of this movie, Red v. Dead, it’s because there’s about to be Russian zombies. Continue reading