Mobi’s Moscars (Part 5) – 25th January, 2015

Mobi’s Moscars (Part 5)

I’m not 100% sure, but I kind of get the impression that a majority of my readers are not particularly interested in my movie reviews; that is,  if I understand my ‘view stats’ correctly, 

Come to think of it, there are so many people out there reviewing movies – from the professionals, down to rank amateurs, (I include myself in this category), I am hardly providing anything particularly original to a journalistic genre that is already overflowing with writers.

There are so many other topics that I can write about where I can maybe offer a fresh perspective, so maybe I should stick to those.

So this may be my last year of Mobi’s Moscars – unless there is an overwhelming demand to the contrary, but I will finish what I started, and then gracefully bow out.

I don’t rule out writing the occasional review of a movie or TV programme in the future – as I have always done that from time to time when I have seen something worthy enough, but this could well be my swansong, as far as a mass review of movies during the ‘awards season’ is concerned.

There are still six movies remaining to review, and this week I will review two more.

 *

American Sniper

Before I comment on the film itself, I just wish to comment briefly on the avalanche of adverse criticism from many  who claim the film is all lies, and is just a massive piece of Republican propaganda.

When I heard and read this, I wondered if I had seen the same movie.

American Sniper is based on the autobiography of the former – now deceased – sniper, Chris Kyle, and as with every bio-pic, nobody can deny that the film contains its fair share of distortions and dramatic inventions.

The movie was commissioned by a major Hollywood studio and had originally signed up Steven Spielberg to direct, who is well- known for his left-leaning sympathies.

Eastwood is also a major Hollywood director of much distinction, as is Bradley Cooper a major box office star, and it seems very difficult to believe that the Republican Party (who 99% of Hollywood hate with a purple passion), would be able to exert any influence on how this movie was put together.

The movie is a major hit all over the USA, particularly in the liberal sates of New York and California, where it breaking box- office records for an Eastwood movie. The movie was made because Hollywood knew it would put bums on seats, not because the Republicans told them to make it.

The fact remains that Chris Kyle is credited with being the most lethal sniper in US history, with 255 kills of which 160 have been officially confirmed.

So where is the disgraceful distortion and fabrication?

It seems that many in the anti-war brigade seem to think that any war films that are made about Iraq and Afghanistan should proclaim from the hilltops how wrong it all was. The anti-war brigade complain bitterly when Kyle and his fellow marines call the enemy ‘savages’, and that the film doesn’t try to show the enemy’s’ point of view.

Why should it? This is a film about an American Sniper – pure and simple. They call the enemy ‘savages’ because it is their job to kill them – or more  accurately – kill or be kill. What would they have them call the enemy? Maybe:-

“Our poor, unfortunate Arab brothers, who we hate to kill because you have been so wronged by the evil Bush and Blair, so sorry….boom!’

They are trained American killers, and they are doing what they’ve been ordered to do. If you want to see a film about the wrongs of war and how we should never have been in Iraq – don’t go and see American Sniper.

It is an irrefutable fact that he was a sniper and all armies have snipers – they always have had and always will have. It’s a not particularly glamorous or even heroic part of warfare, and I didn’t see anywhere in the film where Kyle tried to suggest that it was – in fact if anything, the contrary is true.

His fellow SEALS said he was a hero – but not Kyle, he knew better. He was just doing his job. Even his own brother, who was also in the army, made some serious anti-war sentiments when Kyle met him at the airport

The out and out left leaning Michael Moore withdrew his initial criticism of the movie on twitter and said that he was criticising snipers in general, and not the role that Kyle played.

The best summary that I could find was penned by Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter who wrote: “A taut, vivid and sad account of the brief life of the most accomplished marksman in American military annals.”

I’m sorry, whatever the movie it is, or isn’t  it’s hardly a piece of republican propaganda. Retired snipers have stated that the movie is very realistic in how a sniper is portrayed. It is a particularly unpleasant , un-heroic ‘profession’.

As with all movie bio-pics, it contains scenes that were based more on the creative minds of Hollywood writers than in fact – what’s so new about that?  Has there ever been a war film that is based 100% on fact? I doubt it.

Now to the movie itself.

I must say up front that I’m not a big fan of war movies.

No matter how well made they are, I always become confused when I am watching war action sequences. I never know exactly what it is they are trying to do, which fighters are on which side, who is killed, who are the killers and even when the fighting comes to a ‘ceasefire’, I don’t even know who has won, or who gained the advantage.

To me most war scenes in movies are just explosions of violence where people from both sides are killed and wounded, but I rarely have any idea what is really going on. No doubt film directors would be horrified to read this as I’m sure they plan and create their war action sequences with meticulous care, but for me and many – it goes right over our collective heads.

In this respect, ‘Sniper was better than most – especially when Kyle working as a sniper, as we can see who he is aiming to take out, and whether he succeeds. 

But as soon as Kyle joins his squad on the ground then things become murkier, although I have to say, I did more or less follow most of the action.

The film is a very interesting account of an American patriot who went back to Iraq time and time again, (four tours of duty), saw countless of his comrades killed or maimed. He eventually takes retirement for the sake of his wife and family; only to be killed back home by a mentally deranged veteran he was trying to help.

He was clearly troubled by what he was doing; he knew he had to kill to protect his fellow fighters, but took little pleasure in it. When he went back to the USA at the end of a tour of duty, demons haunted him, and he had great difficulty adjusting back to civilian life.

The film also does an excellent job in showing us the pain and distress of the families back home in America.

Sure, the movie erroneously shows Kyle taking out an Iraqi sniper called Mustafa who was an Olympic level marksman operating in Fallujah. In his autobiography, Kyle himself states that “other US snipers killed him”. Does it really matter? He is indeed credited with killing an insurgent from a mile away.

Some critics have said the Sniper is a companion piece to Hurt Locker, and in this I agree, although I believe Hurt Locker is the superior film.

Hurt Locker was certainly more of an anti-war film. Sniper makes no effort to justify or criticise the war and takes no sides. It simply sticks to showing us what went on, which in my book is just fine.

Eastwood is one of my favourite directors and he never makes a bad film. This is not his best, but all in all it is a pretty good effort and is worth seeing – even if you are a bleeding heart, anti-war liberal.

It depicts life as it happened, both in Iraq and back home, in interesting, entertaining and dramatic ways that held my attention throughout.

It is a film worth seeing, whatever your personal feelings about war may be, but I’m not sure it is quite up to Oscar awards standards.

Bradley Cooper and the team all acquit themselves very well, but in my view there was nothing that exceptional in their performances that might justify any Oscar wins.

Best Director? Possibly.

The cinematography wasn’t half bad either.

*

Wild

Wild is yet another biopic; this time about a woman, Cheryl Strayed, who, following her divorce, the death of her mother and years of destructive behaviour, went on a 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Alone, with no previous experience, and totally unfit for the task, she drove herself on by sheer determination.

I quite liked this movie, although it has some serious faults.The main one was that there was so much mumbling in the flash backs that I struggled mightily to understand much of the dialogue.

I do wish American actors wouldn’t mumble so much – it has spoiled my enjoyment of so many movies and TV dramas.

Strangely, during the parts when she hiking along the PCT trail, I can pretty much hear everything that she and others say, but during the flashbacks of her disintegrating life, including her last moments with her mother (who dies of cancer), I can barely follow what is going on.

I quite liked the idea of the flashbacks – which were usually presaged by something Cheryl sees which reminds her of her past life, but they really weren’t done very well. Apart from the fact that I couldn’t make out most of the dialogue, many of the flash-backs were so short, ephemeral and surreal that it was really hard to figure out what the heck was going on.

There were times in the flashbacks when I didn’t  know whether I was watching Cheryl as a child – or Cheryl’s own daughter. In fact for a while I thought it was her daughter who she had lost – not her mother. (It turns out she had no daughter).

But while the flashbacks spoiled some parts of the movie, nothing could detract from the stirring, true story of this elfin woman hiking more than a thousand miles along a rugged trail, through sweltering deserts and deep snow drifts and just about everything else in between.  

Her encounters with rattle snakes, men who all but rape her, losing her toenails (and her walking shoes), and much more besides, make for riveting viewing.

The scenery was beautiful and Reese Witherspoon herself has never looked more desirable. For me, Witherspoon has always been little more than a nice piece of eye candy, but in Wild she comes of age as an actress and is a tour de force in holding the movie together. So much so that I can almost – but not quite – forgive her mumbling in the flashbacks.

Surprisingly, the professional critics have given Wild high praise, yet many of viewing public have not been so complimentary. A few really liked it, but a majority found much fault, and many didn’t like it at all.

This only goes to show that sometimes I agree with the professionals – as is the case with Wild, and sometimes I agree with the viewing public – as is the case with the execrable Birdman.

This movie has only been nominated in the best actress category, and I would concur that Reece Witherspoon is definitely a major contender. The director, Jean-Marc Valléewho also made the wonderful Dallas Buyers Club, is not quite on song here – especially with the flashbacks where he tries to be a bit too ‘arty-crafty’.

 

Next week: Whiplash and Foxcatcher – I’ve seen them and they’re both pretty good….

 

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