Acclaimed writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson gets nostalgic in his latest feature Licorice Pizza, set in 1970s San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles where he grew up. The hangout romantic comedy follows confident teen-actor Gary (Cooper Hoffman) and 20-something photographer’s assistant Alana (Alana Haim) after they cross paths on high school picture day. After some unrequited flirtation, the pair strike up a friendship and begin an entrepreneurial partnership selling waterbeds.Continue reading “DVD review: Licorice Pizza”
Bradley Cooper makes the transition from actor to filmmaker with his directorial debut A Star is Born, the latest incarnation of a musical romance fable that has spanned generations of cinema. As well as directing and producing, Cooper also stars as Jackson Maine, a heavy-drinking rock musician. After stumbling into a drag bar after one of his many sell-out shows, he meets aspiring singer Ally (Lady Gaga) and the pair bond over song writing and their desire to have their voices heard. The chance encounter marks the beginning of Ally’s rise to fame and Jackson’s downward spiral.
Chris Kyle is the most deadly sniper in US military history, with an astonishing 160 kills to his name. His stretch as a Navy SEAL on and off-duty is documented in war drama ‘American Sniper’, directed by Clint Eastwood and based on Kyle’s autobiography of the same name. Kyle (Bradley Cooper) was sent to Iraq following the September 11 attacks of 2001, leaving behind his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) to become a highly respected figure among the American forces, and dubbed ‘the Devil of Ramadi’ by Iraqi insurgents. The film has a clear target, aiming directly at the mindset of the protagonist, and how circumstances of warfare affect him psychologically as he serves four tours for god and country. Shrouded in controversy because of the arguably misguided patriotism and political themes throughout, this biopic isn’t your typical war movie, but is the filmmaker’s directorial vision as clear as that of the marksman himself?
A hugely intense opening scene immediately places the audience at the heart of the conflict, and we get a glimpse into the laid-back psyche of Chris Kyle before his run of kills. Flashbacks and the structure of the narrative then go on to illustrate an acute character study, tracking the pressures he faced during his childhood, his American Dream-like family life and of course his experiences of the war on terror. Bradley Cooper’s impressive performance goes a long way to giving a strong portrayal of Kyle, his inner traumas demonstrated through his facial expressions rather than his words. His priorities become increasingly blurred as his need to defend his country outweighs his responsibilities as a husband, and as a father. Creative flourishes to dramatise scenarios and introduce an arch-nemesis figure cheapen the true events as the plot develops, meaning that the marital drama, which is possibly the most interesting aspect of the film plays second fiddle to repetitive shoot-outs. As a result of this, Sienna Miller doesn’t get the screen time she deserves as Kyle’s suffering wife, but when she is called upon, she is used effectively.
Despite being marred by a fictionally heightened sense of heroism, ‘American Sniper’ is a solid addition to the modern-war genre, boosted by the two central acting performances. Cooper’s turn offers some insight and understanding of the narrow mental state of those fighting for their country, and the struggles they encounter when trying to adjust back into their day-to-day lives. I feel there’s been much stronger leading male performances across the year of cinema, but the timing of the release and the subject matter have no doubt contributed to his third consecutive Oscar nomination. Chris Kyle, though not an entirely likeable personality, has a fascinating story that deserves to be told and Clint Eastwood delivers a cinematic tribute that strays between gripping and grim.
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Derek Cianfrance previously got the best out of Ryan Gosling with ‘Blue Valentine’ in 2010, and this time around, he’s topped it. ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ spans three generations, following motorbike stuntman Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) and rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) in Schenectady, New York, the English meaning of which gives the film its name. When. travelling loner Luke discovers by chance that he has a young son, he abruptly quits his job to stick around, disillusioned by the concept on settling down and starting a family. In a desperate attempt to provide for his child, he begins a life of crime, robbing banks in a smash and grab but calculated fashion, using the ill gotten gains to buy a cot and gifts for his offspring. A brooding illustration of fatherhood and all that comes with it, fixed in an ambitiously brave structure assisted by standout performances, this quietly intelligent tale hits hard.
Split into three acts, shown chronologically, this approach to filmmaking is certainly admirable, though the cinematic impact of the first act is so strong that I feel it outshines the second and third. Hitchcockian in its camera work, the one take sequences and extreme close ups draw the audience into the story brilliantly, straight from the opening over the shoulder scene of Luke as he enters a spherical cage to join his ‘heartthrobs’ ahead of their death defying travelling fair performance. This provides an instant intimacy with the character, giving a very humanistic insight into his flawed and psyche. To jump from the first act to the second through a tragic twist, the focus shifting from Luke to Avery, is a remarkably bold move, which clashes with the traditional method of storytelling, but unfortunately signifies a slight lull in interest, with the moral dilemma of the young policeman failing to garner quite as much likeability as the rock n’ roll fable it follows. Though it picks up again in the final act, coming fifteen years later, showing the sons of Luke and Avery, and the lives they lead, consequential of the paths their fathers led before them, bringing the beautifully poetic arrangement to its somewhat predictable conclusion. Holes can be picked in the plot, like the sons AJ and Jason coincidentally meeting across a school dinner table and becoming friends when their backgrounds are so contrasting, but it is difficult to be over critical when the overriding messages of class and justice are so powerful, and presented in such an effortlessly stylish way, memorable shots throughout and a subtle soundtrack resonating, tying the trio of tales tightly together.
In a story which offers a brutally realistic take on family, a trait which appears a developing trademark for director Cianfrance, the acting is spot on, wholly doing justice to the rich characters. Gosling, who worked closely in developing the ‘Handsome Luke’ creation, is mesmerising. With shades of his portrayal of ‘the driver’ in crime cult hit ‘Drive’, he is again mysterious and moody, and has another super cool jacket, his damaged persona dripping with magnetism, but here he takes it to another level. The performance is multi-layered, and the character is immediately iconic, with his doodle tattooed physique and platinum blond hair. His onscreen chemistry with love interest Romina (Eva Mendes) is electric, though this is probably helped by the fact they’ve been dating off screen for two years. The other star, dominant in the second part is Bradley Cooper, who also gives a career best piece as the dislikeable Avery Cross. Though Gosling is undoubtedly difficult to follow, Cooper does a professional job. Flimsy and overrated in the past, here he takes a deeply conflicted character, with dividing loyalties and surprisingly carries it off exceptionally. A suitably great supporting cast includes Ben Mendelsohn as bank robbing grease monkey Robin, and Ray Liotta as sleazeball cop Deluca, both heavily involved in pivotal plot devices. Even the two youngsters playing the sons in the closing third do very well, carrying attributes of the roles prior, and showing promise for the future. Dane DeHaan with the recklessness of Luke admittedly impressed more so than Emery Cohen as the cocky rich kid son of Avery and Jennifer, his rap star wannabe attitude seemed off-key and unnecessary, but this fault is with the writing I guess, not with the acting itself. Both hold their own in a tense finale to the father and son epic.
A commendable slice of cinema with a unique storytelling method, ‘The Place Beyond The Pines’ is a thought provoking piece of work, boasting a memorable and intriguing character in daredevil Luke Glanton. Ryan Gosling is the stand out, epitomising cool and continuing his working bond with Cianfrance, now competing with his other director/actor partnership with Nicolas Winding Refn who has worked with him in Drive and Only God Forgives. He announced a break from the silver screen, to sit in the director’s chair for his own project ‘The Lost River’, but with the media tipping him all the roles going, let us all hope he isn’t away for long. ‘If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder’ is the tagline alongside Luke’s rapid path, but with the Gosling fan base ever increasing, his own ride surely won’t be crashing anytime soon.