Monday, September 19, 2016

American Sniper (2014)

The verdict is still out on whether or not Clint Eastwood hasn't just been dead for years, and really it's some kind of voodoo sorcerer using his reanimated corpse puppet to bitch about “political correctness culture,” like he's so senile in his old age that he forgot that Gran Torino was just a movie and is now just acting it out forever in some hellish loop. And we're all too nice to tell him.

But maybe we shouldn't be so nice. Eastwood, after all, hates what pussies our generation has become for caring about racism. So I think we should toss the baby out with the bathwater and stop caring about offending senile old people like him, too.

If Eastwood wants the kind of culture where we just say whatever we want with no repercussions, allow me to say his movies have sucked ass for years. He can't do it anymore. All his recent movies are hack work garbage. And yes, especially the one about the American military. What was that one called?

Oh yeah – American Sniper.

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

Co-written with Michelle.

I realize it's weird that we're doing this so soon after 9/11. There. The elephant in the room has been addressed. This is a supremely lame and boring movie for something that should feel so important. It chronicles the life of Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper,” who killed a record number of people over in the Middle East in the war. The way this movie tells it, though, is more like an overt love letter to blind patriotism with no actual character or drama. Watching this thing was like listening to my conservative uncle blather on over a Thanksgiving dinner, getting drunker and drunker. So, yeah – not fun.

Not that I expected “fun” out of this movie, but I did expect something. And it didn't deliver! The first 20 minutes rushes haphazardly through Kyle's childhood and into adulthood, when he and his brother find his wife cheating on him in his house. None of it is really given any importance or drama – why should we care about any of it and why is it being shown? It's not very interesting. The dialogue fucking sucks, too. Gotta love when he finds his wife cheating on him and she just flat out says “I'm doing this because I want attention!”

...That is not good writing. Unless her character is just super self-aware and in touch with her emotions, it's god-awful dialogue.

"I have a deep well of personal issues stemming back to the absence of my father in childhood which now causes me to act out in ways that some men may find to be dishonest. I use sex as a crutch to hide my crippling emotional deadness and during the day I feel ashamed, but I can't stop," - a deleted scene in the film involving this character, who is the most in-touch with her emotions out of any of the characters

It just gets worse from there Рhe meets a girl at a bar and they hit it off in the most cliché and hollow way, exchanging horrendous dialogue on their second scene together about how perfect she is and how he wants to be together forever. Pass the barf bag! She even admits that they barely know each other, which I think was her character breaking from the mundanity of the script and saying something that made sense before the idiocy pushed her right back down.

Love at first sight.

There's just no complexity to these characters. Every interaction between every character is a safe bare minimum slice of vanilla, like the writers were afraid any diversion from the most standard, nonspecific dialogue would alienate their viewers, like they are that fragile-minded. Is there even a point in going over much more of it? Every relationship is exactly what you'd expect it'd be if I told you who was talking to who, AND you were just a really boring, unimaginative person. Kyle and his brother? Just the most empty, banal jocular quips back and forth, bro! Kyle and his wife? “I love you, please don't go back overseas, you can't see what this is doing to you.” Repeat ad nauseam. That's literally all there ever is in this fucking movie.

"My whole existence is based on wanting you not to be in war. I have no other personality. Oh God, I'm having an existential crisis! What is the meaning of anything in life? Am I just a two-dimensional character written down sloppily and hastily to finish a script? Is life just a meaningless black void of nothingness?" 

If it seems odd that I am harping so much on this, well, shouldn't a biopic trying to honor and respect a guy's life be a bit more interesting than just this stale, generic kind of characterization? It's practically a Made for TV movie so far as the writing goes. Yes, as Michelle and I both noted when watching this, it's obviously going for the whole “rah rah America, fuck yeah” conservative attitude. But does that mean it also has to be a bad movie? I just have to ask these questions.

Also, there's really not much conflict to be had when the whole point is that he is a great and untouchable shooter in war. Not like he ever struggles with THAT aspect... and since there's no real drama otherwise, it just comes off as flat.

But speaking of politics, let's talk about this movie's shitty politics. Do you think every Muslim is a terrorist? Do you think the Middle East is nothing but a bunch of gun-toting, bomb-loving terrorists who want to KILL AMERICA? If so, then this movie will really speak to you.

What kind of erudite, hard to glean point could he be trying to make here??? I just don't know.

And, look, I know they aren't going to take time out of this military war movie to show a bunch of peaceful Muslims playing with a dog in a park. I get it. But that's the problem in itself. If I can't tell whether your movie is racist or whether you were just cramped for time, that isn't a really good problem to have.

The bulk of the movie is taken up by fairly passe, dull scenes of military guys wandering around, shooting stuff, wandering around some more, and shooting stuff some more. I can't even believe how many fucking scenes there are in this movie of guys walking slowly and tensely up stairs or driving around corners in their military vehicles. It's seriously way too many.

The above two pictures = 95% of the movie. And you know I never exaggerate anything.

They do vary it up a bit, though, when they show a military funeral for some guy we didn't know. It's so boring I can't even describe it properly. Am I an asshole if I was looking at Facebook on my phone during this scene? Does it count if it was only a fake military funeral? No? Phew.

So then after some more boring action scenes, he goes back home and spends a fuckload of time with a bunch of disabled vets, and sure, it's god-awful that they got blown up like they did. But I will say there's a reason that Eastwood is showing you this in such a gratuitous manner and hammering it home, and it isn't because he really liked the concession stand in that veteran's hospital. Do veteran's hospitals have concession stands? They do for the purposes of this. Shut up.

Obviously it's horrific when things like this happen to people. It sucks. But isn't it really creepy and weird that he's basically using amputees as a political prop to make his shitty point? "See? Look at what those Muslims did to our American soldiers!" If they were real characters we already knew from earlier, and not just appearing on screen for a second at the end of the movie, maybe it'd be something else. But it just can't be ignored with the tone of this whole movie being "America good, Muslims bad." It's uncomfortable.

The film ends with Kyle going off to hang out with the guy who would kill him that same day in real life. Like many true-life biopics, this doesn't actually show anything and instead fades to black on them standing in place outside Kyle's house, making it yet another disappointing choice in a movie full of them. I get why they wouldn't want to show the guy dying. But I dunno - the way they did end it just feels a bit weak to me.

Honestly, this is awful. It sucks because it's relentlessly boring, generic, vanilla scriptwriting and moviemaking that does nothing to tell a good story. Instead it just serves as a hollow pro-America propaganda piece. And I'm not against the troops or anything – certainly, good for them if they chose to go over there and do what they do. I wouldn't want to do it. But it's not like I needed THIS movie to tell me America is good. If Eastwood thinks he needs to make this to drive that point home, maybe he needs to have a bit more faith in his own country if he needs to try this hard to convince himself.

It's just so bad, though. Even if it wasn't a propaganda piece of shit, the characters are bland, the action is dull and the writing is plastic and hollow. I may disagree with Eastwood's politics, but the film is bad no matter what. This isn't some kind of lost masterpiece that just has a political view I disagree with. Bradley Cooper did a good job and I enjoyed some of his performance, but others like Sienna Miller as the wife are just bad, probably because she was given very little to work with. The other soldiers and side characters are entirely unmemorable.

Apparently, Steven Spielberg was going to direct this, but the idea he had for it was too much money for the studio's budget. So they threw Eastwood in as a consolation prize I guess. I dunno. Watching the scenes set in Iraq, I think this could've been good with a more noirish, slow-burning, artistic style of filmmaking, maybe a style that really drove home the desperation and eerieness of the darkness over there and the danger the troops faced. You don't really get a sense of that in this movie.

But the way it shows the Middle East, as solely a hive of evil villains waiting to kill the good Americans, comes off as shitty and ignorant too. I don't think it was just Eastwood being crunched for time like I joked about in the review – I think he deliberately portrayed the Middle East this way to make a fucking awful "point." And given our country's current climate, it's not helpful and is actually more harmful than anything. Again, there's no exploration of any of the complexities of this war or why we're there or whether or not we were doing any good at all, and the movie would've been more interesting with some of that. The only exploration of Kyle's character at all is "war is hell," and that isn't enough to carry a two-hour movie in the 2010s. Not exactly a striking, in-depth characterization...

Remember – Eastwood wants a world free from the political correctness he claims is destroying us. So here's me not being politically correct: this movie sucks, and Eastwood is a cranky old man who needs to hang up his hat and retire. Fuck American Sniper.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cinema Freaks Live: Don't Breathe (2016)

Well, last week we did the movie about a deaf heroine fighting off a home invasion, and this week we're doing the movie about a bunch of home invaders fighting a blind man inside his own house. What can we say? We just like movies about the disabled here at Cinema Freaks.

Director: Fede Alvarez
Starring: Stephen Lang, Jane Levy

Co-written with Michelle.

This is our new podcast on the movie. I really liked doing this one, because it feels like our normal text reviews, with play-by-plays of the scenes in order, except done through talking. Michelle and I had fun with this one. I hope you enjoy it, too.

Oh, and as per usual, there are SPOILERS in this thing. Quite a lot of them!



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Friday, September 2, 2016

Hush (2016)

Let's talk about Mike Flanagan. He's one of horror's best new directors – probably THE best in my estimation, even if only for the film Absentia, which is still one of my favorites of any era of horror. He followed it up a few years later with Oculus, which was also good if not as good, perhaps a bit less layered and character-driven, but still one-upping most contemporaries at the supernatural horror genre. Now he's come out with the Netflix exclusive Hush, which, if nothing else, does show us here at Cinema Freaks that the best way to survive a home invasion is to be deaf.

There are also SPOILERS in this review, so tread with caution!

Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr.

Co-written with Michelle.

Up front: We both think this is a really cool movie. It's very inventive and has a lot of cool, subtle touches that raise it above the average thriller in this genre. I'm not even very big on the home invasion stuff – I think a lot of it is pretty trite trash. But this one is good.

So, then. Let's talk about why.

The film starts off pretty quaintly – a deaf woman, Maddie, is cooking dinner and still sort of conflicted over her old boyfriend, which is a plot never quite elaborated on and I'm glad the film didn't spend much time on it. She gets a visit from her friend, who talks to Maddie about her book, which the friend apparently loved. Maddie says she gets the ideas for her stories from a voice in her head, which, while interesting, could also have much in common with schizophrenia.

Not to imply that writers would ever be anything less than sane.

It does set up the main undertone of the story, though, which is Maddie's talent for seeing all sorts of different endings. She has seven for her book on her computer, as we see later – and she's frustrated because none of them are working out right. Her friend leaves after a mishap with the food she's cooking. Little did she know Maddie wanted everything to be burnt to a crisp – it's that special kind of cuisine.


Later on we get some more shading and backstory – apparently Maddie moved out to the country to be alone. Her sister and family think it would be better if she moved back into the city, but she doesn't want to. And this guy who she used to date, I guess, keeps calling her incessantly after she starts to call him and then stops. Stop creeping on her, asshole! And, while this is all going on, a guy has broken into her home and has killed her best friend outside!

I wonder if the killer doesn't know she's deaf. Maybe he's thinking "wow, this girl must really hate her best friend to not even LOOK over here when I am killing her." I wonder if that makes him mad, like a spoiled kid whose parents won't even pay him mind. I hope it does.

Oh, wait. That isn't backstory. It's actually just the regular, real and very tense plot.

I do like how the killer just pops up with no warning. Like a fucking Jack in the Box. That's badass. He comes like a force of nature and there's zero explanation for his appearance. He doesn't get some sort of secret connection, some soap-opera shit where you find out he's Maddie's long lost cousin who she once killed his pet hamster, or something like that. No, this guy is just some random psycho, stalking the house with a crossbow.

Maddie finally realizes something is wrong and tries to escape in vain. This starts the meat of the movie – the long, darkly-lit cat-and-mouse thrill sequence where Maddie tries to survive the torments of the man outside, who proves to be very sadistic. I mean, I know that's a hell of an accusation. But look at this – he uses her dead friend as this sick puppet and knocks her hand on the window. Over and over, he does this. I'm not one to judge by first appearances. But I think this guy is probably a fucking whack job.

Hey, we all have issues and we all deal with them in different ways.

Fortunately, Maddie is no slouch herself. She maneuvers all kinds of shit during this movie. She's able to stay alive with gusto, even. Like a female, deaf John McClain, which is really what I think John McClain was all the time inside. A deaf woman. That's what every action hero is inside – a kick ass deaf woman.

The film goes along quite swimmingly, with not a whole lot to pick apart or criticize – it's just a very solid, tense home invasion flick, and the scenes are well constructed and engaging. The film is good because it doesn't insult your intelligence. There are no dumb scenes of Maddie trying to talk and reason with the killer – well, for obvious reasons, actually. And there's no implausible torture-traps or twists of fate where it makes the killer look to have superpowers, a la The Collector. It just gives you good, lean, mean suspense and thrills. Which really should not be some sort of revolutionary thing – but there you go; that's the state of this genre.


One scene I liked that also bucked cliché was when that dead girl's boyfriend shows up later on and distracts the killer. The killer does pretend he's a cop, which is a bit silly. But it never goes the way I expected it to Рthey do NOT have the killer immediately overpower the guy, tricking him like he's some sort of omnipotent force. The guy almost gets the drop on the killer, actually. The only reason he doesn't is because Maddie distracts him from far away, not being able to tell that he had the upper hand. That's a really cruel fucking twist of fate, and works macabrely in the movie's favor. The killer does kill the guy and it's much closer than it is in other films.

Another great scene: Maddie makes a break for it running outside. The killer catches her immediately with a rock to the head, then straddles her and smashes her head in with another rock.

Cut to her back in the house, having imagined the whole thing. It's her “writer brain” from earlier kicking in – she's a better strategist than most main characters, it appears, being able to judge bad ideas before actually trying to do them.

Instead, what ends up happening is a more closed-in fight scene inside the house, in which she blinds him with bug spray to the eyes and then deafens him with her super loud fire alarm device. Then she ends up stabbing him with a wine opener that appeared earlier in the movie. The old Chekhov's Wine Opener plot device. I know it well...

This is just a solid as fuck horror film. I think this is well done for its tense atmosphere, its clearly defined and exciting series of events and the main character, Maddie, who is very capable, badass and interesting to watch, not to mention actually likable and sympathetic – not always a given with horror movies.

But there are also a few other subtle things I really like about this. For one, the use of sound – the movie's name, Hush, isn't an accident. The film does well to point out and play around with Maddie's deafness as a sort of aesthetic device. The moments in the film where she's alone and then a sound appears to the viewer, piercing the silence in that way that we know she can't hear, are interesting and different, and they're very small, mostly cropping up in the beginning before all the action starts – but it's little, subtle touches like this, very well woven into the film, that establish her character, set the tone for the film and add a detail that the film would've been a bit worse without.

And I like that she's deaf – that she can survive while being a deaf woman trapped in this situation. Those little moments I mentioned? Those are kind of like the butterfly flapping its wings before a storm happens – Butterfly Effect type shit. She figures out new, inventive ways to escape the killer and holds her own, and thus, her deafness is actually what sets this whole movie apart from its parent 'home invasion' genre. It's very fresh in that way.

I also enjoyed the minor theme running through of Maddie's writing career. The 'writer brain' concept is very cool, and developed subtly but well over the film's course. She starts out the film unable to finish her book, leaving a computer full of half-finished notes and a lot of frustration as her attacker then traps her in the house, cuts off the power and kills everyone she knows. But she's able to survive the ordeal, at least in part, because she's adapted so well to being deaf. Kind of a “other senses amplified” sort of deal. But she actually survives because of what she can do that others can't – her disability forces her to be more crafty than someone who could hear might be, but it's her writing talent and creative mind that helps her actually come out on top.

That's pretty fucking cool. Go see Hush. It's on Netflix so you have no excuse if you've got that. Otherwise, I guess you have plenty of excuses.

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