Tag Archives: Bradley Cooper

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American Sniper (2014) 3.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.8
Genre: War, Drama
Duration: 133 mins
Director: Clint Eastwood
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner

Bradley Cooper takes on the role of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, in Clint Eastwood’s take on the personal politics of war and the wearing effects it has back home. Putting in another immense shift, Cooper constructs a strong character that sways and bends under the stresses that come with his elite skill. Beginning with his training as a Navy SEAL, we follow Kyle through his four tours in Iraq and his intervening attempts to build a family, where a number of plots play out in successive manner. Plots ranging from the SEALS’ mission to take out a local warlord to Kyle’s personal but often thrilling battle with an elite enemy sniper. Eastwood is to be commended for maintaining the integrity of each of these plots while sewing them into the wider dramatic story concerning Kyle’s wife (Sienna Miller in a solid turn) and his increasingly debilitating PTSD. In fact, American Sniper is arguably the veteran director’s most artful film from the point of view of its structuring. His use of flashback and parallel scenes help to move the film forward so the audience is informed and engaged at an equally steady rate. The action sequences are less inspired with respect to Clint’s directing but their sheer scale tend to compensate for that. Where Eastwood’s touch truly lets him down, however, is yet again in the dramatic stakes. Always a relatively cold director, he fails to make the camera one with his protagonists and while this could have allowed for a more realist style, his pedestrian camera work is incapable of serving that end. In the end, much of Bradley’s good work is left unharnessed as what should be a very personal movie feels decidedly impersonal. American Sniper has been the subject of much political discussion concerning the “War on Terror” and the lauding of an elite killer who showed less remorse in real life than is depicted here but such criticisms are outside the scope of a straight up film critique and so, as a war movie with a dramatic edge, American Sniper must stand on its artistic merits alone. In that respect, it has much going for it even in spite of some directorial limitations.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 2.5/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.4
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Duration: 121 mins
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro

Yet another comic book blockbuster from the Marvel stable of sci-fi fantasy. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are the eponymous heroes whose self-interests bring them together against a common foe who, like every other super villain these days, will settle for nothing else but the destruction of the galaxy. What saves this film from the black hole pull of a mind-numbingly familiar genre is the fresh sense of fun James Gunn brings to the script and its direction. The characters are drawn and played out with a care-free irreverence that drives the movie as a whole. There are no erroneously earnest pauses in tone to allow for some heavy handed emotional button pushing – well, none that aren’t cleverly rescued in time. Guardians of the Galaxy is a joke and everyone’s happy to play it that way. It all lays the groundwork for some genuinely side splitting humour, most of which, involves Cooper’s talking and brilliantly mental space rodent.

Though Pratt is a wonderfully unassuming lead with lots of self-deprecating charisma and Bradley is in rich vocal form, most of the credit must still go to Gunn. Making a funny movie doesn’t just require you to write funny but to direct funny and armed with his anthology of vintage pop tracks and a very wry sense of editing, he rocket propels the humour in his script. Okay, so a few of the jokes are taken a step too far but most are delivered with polish. And when we’re not laughing, the simply astounding visual effects ensure that we have something impressive to look at too and, while it never escapes the CGI look, the movie remains an immaculate piece of visual artistry. On this canvas, Gunn (particularly early on) crafts some dazzling action sequences and the ceaselessly fantastic gadgetry and conveyor belt of amazing aliens adds handsomely to their enjoyment.

Where the movie inevitably falls flat however, is in the wearingly repetitive plot that seems no different to that which the likes of Thor, The Avengers, or any number of the endless comic book adaptations (that we’ve been utterly plagued with these last five years) have offered up. Plots that seem to serve no other purpose than to provide a platform for endless battles and flashy explosions. For all the good this movie does with its character construction and comedic dialogue and for all the ingenuity of Gunn’s action, the brain eventually just switches off during these protracted sequences because the premise is too flimsy to support them. It’s part of Hollywood’s magic formula so it won’t soon change but anyone who doesn’t have the hormonal constitution of a 14 year old boy, is liable to find this movie’s visual narrative veering towards 3rd act tedium. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up at just under two hours and while still perhaps 15-20  minutes too long, it’s a damn sight shorter than most other modern comic adaptations. Alongside its richer character and dialogue base, that saving grace, gives Gunn’s movie a significant edge on  the generic horde of superhero vehicles.

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American Hustle (2013) 2.38/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 87.8
Genre: Crime, Gangster
Duration: 138 mins
Director: David O. Russell
Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

As much as great scripts inspire great performances so do great directors. That we have seen fewer and fewer Stanley Kowalskis, Michael Corleones, and Jake LaMottas in the last 30 years is a testament not necessarily to the lack of great actors but perhaps the lack of great writers and directors or at least the lack of all three elements at the same time. Well fret no longer because 2013’s American Hustle represents as explosive an intersection between all three elements as we’ve witnessed probably since Goodfellas. “Seminal”, “sublime”, “iconic”, “defining” are just some of the superlatives that might swirl through your head while watching David O. Russell’s latest claim to directorial greatness. A near perfect immersion in the era and (partly fictitious) personalities of one of American history’s most infamous sting operations, the ABSCAM operation.

Christian Bale stars as the best conman in America, Irving Rosenfeld, who moves from one small time scam to another always staying off the radar. Amy Adams is the love of his life and partner in con artistry who eventually gets them in trouble when an eccentric FBI agent in the form of Bradley Cooper arrests her and forces the two experts to help him bring down a bunch of corrupt politicians and even the casino backing mobsters. What could go wrong? Well nothing – apart from Irving’s bipolar wife (a hysterical Jennifer Lawrence), a nice guy mayor (a brilliant Jeremy Renner) whom Irving is forced to double cross, and an infamous mobster who takes a dislike to Irving from the start (Robert De Niro in classic form).

The first thing to strike you about this film is its authenticity. Linus Sandgram’s cinematography, Judy Becker’s production design, and Michael Wilkinson’s costume design help largely in setting the era under the auspices of Russell’s urbane vision. Along with the (thankfully) less obvious and excellent source music, Russell channels his sterling cast’s performances through this visual aesthetic and wraps the whole thing up in several quietly impressive innovations in camera angles, editing, and overall narrative construction. The performances are universally meritorious with the five leads rating as exquisite but in different ways to each other. Cooper and Lawrence are wired to the moon with the former doing particularly well in bedding his character’s temperament in a believable personality. It’s a gleefully incendiary turn with a fair dose of humanity to make you feel for him. Lawrence’s character is more extreme in her mania and wasn’t required to play it as close to the ground as Cooper did. She has less screen time than Bale, Cooper, and Adams too but her few scenes are a riot of alcohol-fuelled insecurity-bridging mayhem.

Bale, Adams, and Renner have most of the straight acting to do. Adams is genuinely terrific in imbuing her character with a difficult conflict while Renner shows a charming level of humanity in his clever turn. Bale, on the other hand, does nothing short of deliver the best performance in a gangster movie since De Niro’s Jimmy Conway. From his barely noticeable hunch, his biting attitude, his touching concerns, to the intonations in his Bronx accent, he is simply sublime. The plot hinges on his quality and while Russell arguably spreads the story too thin by spending too little time on him, Bale ties it all together with his understated acting manoeuvres. The only other thing as exciting as watching him work is De Niro’s single scene in which he tantalises us with a powerfully intimidating piece of work that recalls the menace of his very best gangster roles.

At the feet of these acting masterclasses is Russell and Eric Warren Singer’s pitch, tone, and cadence perfect script which from very early on binds us to the principals. Picking up where Pileggi and Scorsese left off, it streams the narrative around not two but three cast narrations. The intimately autobiographical tone of Henry and Karen Hill is very much present but even more tapped in that regard as conversational like pauses become emotional lacunae in which Russell paints a far more intricate picture of personhood. It’s an immensely effective narrative adaptation and it sets the bar for the remainder of the film’s direction.

Intricacy is the key here as themes of friendship, rivalry, passion, fear, and above all, duplicity are brought together in unprecedented manner. It’s dramatic, it’s tense, it’s gripping, and thanks to that searing script, there are some impeccable moments of black humour littered throughout. There’s not much action compared to other gangster classics and both the heartbreak and payoff is more emotional and cerebral than we are used to seeing but the manner in which Russell weaves his tapestry is at times spellbinding. Yes, the story is large in scope and it feels like Bale’s Irving should’ve featured even more centrally than he did and yes, his seems like a persona we are not used to rooting for but, at all times, Russell looks to have an ace up his sleeve. Whether you believe he played it too late or not might be disputed but his timing undisputedly has one hell of an effect. And isn’t that what storytelling is all about?

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The Hangover (2009) 1.5/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 46.7
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 100 mins
Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha

The hangover recounts a series of events which a bachelor party experience one night while partying in Las Vegas. In order to guess what those events might be, just ask your average teenager what would be the craziest series of things which could happen to a bachelor party in Vegas and that’s them. Sound like a great premise to a movie? Well, there’s a couple of major problems: your average teenager is not a screenwriter so simply listing a series of madcap events which the characters happen into does not make a film. Scenes need to be written into an overall story, they need to complement other scenes, maybe even be sacrificed for the integrity of more important scenes. None of that happens here. Instead, we have a series of unrelated events linked together with all the subtlety of a Jackass script (not to mention the painfully obvious jokes the scenes are littered with).

That brings us to the second major problem. When speaking of the discipline involved in writing a film, William Goldman famously omitted a real life battle from A Bridge Too Far because it was so heroic he felt the audience wouldn’t believe it, and if they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t relate to the film. Well on the basis of The Hangover’s script, writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore seem incapable of understanding such a principle. The events in this film are so wild that they are simply not real. This makes them less relatable and, thus, less funny. Instead they come across as the imaginings and estimations of guys who have never actually experienced their “wild years”. Think Mean Streets, Swingers, The Deer Hunter, or Das Boot. The party scenes in those films are funny because they’re real and familiar. The events depicted in The Hangover merely pop up as a series of lazy vignettes designed to make a particular target audience laugh – not because the jokes are witty but because they abide by some adolescent archetype of craziness. And what happens? Young people laugh not because it’s funny but because they think that they should find it funny. That’s not comedy, that’s crass manipulation of your target audience.

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