CGB Review of American Hustle (2013)

I loved Silver Lining Playbook and I despised Joy, so I had no idea what to expect from this David O. Russell flick.

This is my review of American Hustle!

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Between this and Joy, I’m starting to see a pattern with David O. Russell films: His movies can be hard to summarize.  Alas, I will do the best I can to provide a summary.
American Hustle is the wild story of Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, two con artists who are forced by F.B.I agent Richie DiMaso to set up elaborate sting operations on corrupt politicians, which include Camden, New Jersey, Mayor Carmine Polito.  While that’s going on, Irving must balance his tumultuous romance with Sydney and his troubled marriage to Rosalyn, an unstable woman who may have Histrionic personality disorder (“a mental condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves…” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001531.htm).

I remember coming home one night and my parents were watching this movie.  “How’s the movie?” I asked.  My mom gave it a thumbs down while my dad had fallen asleep.
After watching this flick, I can see why.

The Hits
This is what film reviewers called “an actor’s piece.”  It’s the kind of the film that is made specifically to showcase an ensemble cast of A-list actors.  I kept watching this flick for the performances.  I commend Christian Bale for putting on all that weight and he sells the character of Irving as a scheming, self-preserving con man.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Rosalyn is the only character I cared about.  With a believable Boston accent, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Rosalyn as an endearing basket case.  She is manic without becoming annoying, immature without coming off as too childish, and incredibly sympathetic.  Honestly, I wish the movie was told from her perspective.  I could watch her confrontation with Amy Adams’ Sydney over and over again.
The costumes, hair styles and make-up in this movie all resemble the craziness of the late 70’s and early 80’s.   If there’s one thing David O. Russell does really well, it is dressing his actors in a way that captures the mood of the era that his movie is set in.
Finally, I would like to point out that David O. Russell does handle his unlikable characters correctly.  Basically an unlikable character is made easy to root for if:
A. They get their comeuppance
B. They are forced to rise above their flaws.
C. Their reasons for being scum is well explained.
American Hustles takes Option C by writing Irving and Sydney as survivalists.  These characters are con artists because they have both grown up knowing the world to be a cruel and corrupt place where survival is the only option.

The Misses
It’s pretty obvious that Amy Adams doesn’t curse often in real life.  Granted, cussing excessively isn’t exactly a desired talent, but if you are making a movie and you want your actors to use choice language, make sure that they’re convincing at it.  Also, and I don’t mean to pick on the talented Ms. Adams, but was her character written to be British or American?  She keeps changing her accent sporadically.  This makes sense when she is pretending to be Lady Edith Greensly, but when she keeps changing accents during an intense argument with Irving, it comes off as odd.
Oh, Bradley Cooper, I don’t like picking on you (I’ve done it three times now with Aloha, Burnt and Joy), but am I the only one who feels that Bradley Cooper didn’t have much to work with in this film?  Irving, Sydney and Rosalyn are fleshed-out, but Richie (Cooper) and Carmine (Renner) are only identifiable by their hairstyles and not by their personalities.
It has been said that you can make a good story about anything.  However, to pull this off, good writing is a requirement.  American Hustle is a case of great actors trying to make do with a scrambled story.  Just like Joy, American Hustle is the equivalent of walking in on an intense conversation between strangers and having absolutely no idea what’s being said.  I was totally lost during the first five minutes of American Hustle and that’s because it throws us into a convoluted argument between characters we’ve just met.  A storyteller doesn’t have to spell out every minute detail, but there need to be some clarity about what’s going on and what’s at stake.  I couldn’t be engaged in the story because it’s poorly structured with gigantic leaps in time and too many characters.  By the second act, scenes either go on for an eternity or move so quickly that you’ll miss something if you blink.

If you enjoy movies that showcase a large cast of A-list actors, then you might like American Hustle.  However, personally, I could only be invested for so long before the scattered story became difficult to follow and I just stop caring.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

CGB Review of Joy (2015)

Two hours after seeing Joy…

ME: (walks into living room, sits on the couch in a exasperated fashion)
MOM: What’s wrong?  How was the movie?  You saw Joy right?
ME: (Tired nod) Yeah, I did…
MOM: Jennifer Lawrence, right?
ME: (Takes Fandango ticket out of my pocket) Oh, yes!  I saw Joy with (rips ticket in half) Jennifer Lawrence–(rips ticket again) filmed by–(rips violently) David stupid O’Russell–(throws shreds on the couch) with Bradley Cooper!  (Takes deep breath)
MOM: So…it wasn’t very good.
ME: (Stands up) This is the worst movie of 2015.

This is my review of Joy!

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Let me tell you what this movie was supposed to be about.  Joy was originally the true life story of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano.
Then director David O’Russell said, “Nah, that’s not interesting enough.” So now Joy is a film loosely based on the life of Ms. Mangano (they never use her last name in the movie for reasons I still don’t understand) with the other stories of different businesswomen mixed in with Joy’s story.

The result is a clusterflick narrative, a projectile idea vomit, an overacted and overdirected story with so much going on that I gave up caring about any of the characters long before the credits rolled.

The Hits
Bradley Cooper, why do you keep showing up in my bad movie reviews? Do you think I like picking on your work?
The only good parts were the few and far between scenes with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.  They are the only people in this entire production who knew what they were doing.  The three coherent scenes were the ones they were in.
Before I go into Super Saiyan rant mode, I will say that if you grew up with a ridiculously dysfunctional family, I guess you might relate to Joy and her struggles.  If anything, this movie does attempt to capture the chaos of a quirky, yelling family.
However, if you are a person who has trouble staying focused, this movie will not be kind to you.  Here is why…

The Misses/Everything Else
Have you ever walked in on a conversation where the people involved knew what they were talking about, but no one was filling you in on the things being said, so you’re stuck and surrounded by competing voices? Imagine enduring this scenario for TWO HOURS!
Focus is an urban legend in this movie’s universe.  David O. Russell uses fifteen different filming styles in just the first act alone.  The editing is frenetic, the story is riddled with way too many leaps in time and there are two random dream sequences that come right out of nowhere and are never mentioned again.  Less is more, dude!
The dialogue is all trailer-fodder (i.e. catchphrases that are great for the movie’s trailer, but have no reason for being there in the finished film). It’s not even clunky expositional sentences; it’s just a random collection of words that no one would ever say in real life.
All right, I’m going to say what every other reviewer has said: Jennifer Lawrence is too young to be playing a divorcee with young children.  She is playing a woman who invented the Miracle Mop in her mid-30’s.  Jennifer Lawrence is unable to give a fleshed-out performance because every other actor around her seems to have guzzled down eighteen cups of coffee before coming on set and are suffocating the screen with over-the-top performances.
Joy’s family is insufferable to watch.  Robert de Niro is the despicably selfish father who berates his ex-wife in front of his grandchildren, Virginia Madsen is the weak, TV-obsessed mother who never once asks Joy, whose roof she is living under, “Hey, can I help you out in any way?” Joy’s sister Peggy, played by Elisabeth Rohm, is annoyingly bitter.  Not once do any of these unlikable people get their coumppence or rise above their flaws to band together as a family.
One more thing: Joy has two young children and she is wonderful to her daughter Christie, but basically ignores her son Tommy.  Now I’m not a mother myself, but I was getting pretty mad at Joy for casting her young son off to the side with no explanation.

This movie was practically begging me to walk out on it, but I said, “No. I’m going to stick with it.  It has to get better.  It just has to…”
To my dismay, it never did.

This being Bradley’s third strike (see my reviews for Aloha and Burnt) and Jennifer’s first strike, it is with a heavy heart and a pounding migraine that I cast Joy into the nether regions of atrocious cinema.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to heal my brain by seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens (a good movie) for a second time.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal, pray for us.

CGB Review of Burnt (2015)

Oh, look, another CGB review of a Bradley Cooper flick. How many of his movies have I reviewed by now, five? (Looks through archives) Yeah, five, which makes Burnt the sixth Bradley Cooper movie that I reviewed, hence proving that Bradley Cooper movie reviews are a part of CGB canon.
This is also the second WORST Bradley Cooper movie that I have seen all year!

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Burnt is eerily similar to its even more abomidable cousin, Aloha.  Just like in Aloha, Bradley Cooper is playing yet another talented screw-up who hits rock bottom off-screen (we only hear about his past frick-ups through expositional dialogue), but is now working towards redemption.  He plans to open his own restaurant and he does so by recruiting equally skilled cooks to come work for him, even if it means SABOTAGING their own professions (Example: He gets Sienna Miller’s single mother character fired from her old job so that she has no choice but to climb aboard the Bradley express).  His goal is to have his restaurant gain three Michelin stars and all that jazz.
I’m going to be honest: I walked out halfway through this flick.  Bradley, I really don’t like picking on you, but you need to fire your agent because this chef drama is a dish served sour.

The Hits
Bradley, are you trying to land a villain role somewhere?  Is Rocket gonna betray Starlord and company in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or something? That’s the only plausible reason I can think of to explain why you agreed to star in this lackluster serving of cinema. Bradley Cooper’s character, whose name I’ve already forgotten, is so despicable that it’s like this movie only exists to provide a strong case for why Cooper should play a villain at some point in his career.  There is one scene where Cooper does this menancing laugh, and if he were to end up being a Marvel villain or the next nemesis of James Bond, I could see him doing a great job.
The food in the film is very pretty to look at.  They’re colorful, well-crafted and are appetizing to the eye.  If this movie did anything right, it’s that it shows a raw look into the intense pressures of culinary culture.  Food critics, or michelin men/women, are like movie critics; If your food is awesome, the reviews will be ever in your favor.  If your food sucks, the reviews will kill ya and your restaurant will die faster than Geena Davis’ movie career after Cutthroat Island.
This movie has an awesome cast! I love Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, the luminous Lily James (she played Cinderella in the live-action Cinderella remake), Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Alicia Vikander (Ex_Machinia) and others. With a talented group of people like that, we’re bound to see some great performances….
If only this hope came to fruition.

The Misses
(Commencing Super Saiyan Rant Mode) The last time I walked up to my best friend and began telling her the history of our friendship was NEVER! This movie has no concept of how people talk. It’s Aloha all over again with actors approaching each other and telling we, the audience, their backstory in a clunky, unrealistic fashion.  However unlike Aloha, some of the dialogue is hard to hear. It’s the “God-forbid-someone-turns-their-head-away-from-the-camera” scenario where once that happens, there’s no way you’re gonna hear what is being said.
Why is it so hard for Hollywood to understand how to write an unlikable character correctly?  Difficult protagonists are made easy to root for if they either have moments where they put their selfishness aside for someone they care about or if they frequently get their comeuppance.  This movie tries to make Cooper this hip rebel with philosophies on food that make no sense, but I’m sorry–I just can’t sympathetize with a guy who gets a woman fired from her current job to come work for him, loses his shiz and throws a tantrum when under pressure, and breaks into an old associate’s hotel room in the first five minutes of the movie.  I love Bradley Cooper’s striking blue eyes as much as anyone else, but if he broke into my house, I’d call the cops, not engage in expositional chit-chat.
I should clarify what I meant by “With a talented group of people like that, we’re bound to see some great performances….If only this hope came to fruition.” Here’s what I mean: No one in this movie gives a bad performance and that’s because except for Cooper and Miller, no one else is given time to give a performance of any kind.
WHAT DID THEY DO TO YOU, LILY?  Lily James gets two minutes of screen time and then she’s gone in the blink of an eye.  Alicia Vikander shows up for a five minute schppiel and then–poof!–she vanishes into thin air.  Uma Thurman gets a good ten minutes and then good-bye!  Emma Thompson gets three short scenes, which is the deluxe treatment in this flick.  As for Sienna Miller, she plays a bland, watered-down version of Taya Kyle (American Sniper).  She is given no opportunity to bring the same level of depth and development to the table that she brought to American Sniper.  Lo and behold, I have already forgotten what her character’s name is in this movie!
The icing on the cake of incompetency is that the writing is on autopilot.  Things just happen with no rhyme or reason because none of the plot points are properly set up.  Cooper is double-crossed by another character because–potatoes!  There’s a suicide attempt that comes right the frick out of nowhere because–turnips!   There’s a weird joke about how Thurman is a lesbian who, at one time, got frisky with Cooper because–filet mignon!  In addition, the tone is off its rocker.  The first act is all light, cool and funnyish, but then the act two gets going and that is when we suddenly get drug dealers, betrayal and the out-of-left-field suicide attempt.
By the way, I walked out right after the suicide attempt.

After I stumbled out of the theater, I began driving home and had such a headache from the mediocrity that I had to pull over.  I wandered into Albertson’s and found myself in the fruits and vegetables section.  I remember holding a green apple in my hand, staring it down as I came back to reality.  “What did I come in here for?” I said to myself with a deer-in-the-headlights look on my face.
I ended up buying a case of water and some veggies.
Yes, Burnt is such a bad movie that I actually lost my sense of time and place.   The Albertson’s veggies that I steamed and ate for lunch were far more delectable than this badly-cooked film.

Saint Lawrence, pray for us.

CGB Review of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I know this seems like a random CGB post.  This movie isn’t in theaters anymore and I didn’t even announce that I’d be reviewing this movie on the CGB Facebook page.  However, there is an explanation as to why I’m reviewing this today.
On Friday, I wrote my first article for The Catholic Response.  It was an op-ed about Kim Davis, the Kentucky County Clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to both homosexual and heterosexual couples.  When I posted the article on my personal FB page, it didn’t take long for a war to break out in the comments section between my conservative friends and my liberal friends.  Anywho, playing defense for two days wore me out, so I thought I’d do a more light-hearted post.

This is my review of Guardians of the Galaxy!

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Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that had Marvel Studios bitting their nails. Based on an obscure series of comics, Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of Peter Quill, aka Starlord, a fast-talking, brash space collector who ends up coming across three misfits; an alien named Gamora and two genetically engineered creatures, Rocket the racoon and his tree hybrid friend, Groot.  The four of them are taken into custody after a brief quarrel with one another and meet another outcast named Drax.  From there, this ragtag group must come together to save the world.

I’ve seen this movie four times and it wasn’t until my fourth viewing when I finally gave in to the film’s charms and embraced it as my favorite Marvel movie.  This is the ultimate popcorn flick!

The Hits
I have always had a soft spot for stories about a group of oddball people who have to set aside their differences and stick together.  The five leads are well-established and identifiable not just because of their unique designs, but also because of their personalities and backstories.  Peter/Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are all fleshed-out characters and never come across as cliched tropes.
I LOVE Rocket and Groot!  Rocket is hilarious with his sardonic humor and quips. Groot is just charming with his humility and classic line, “I am Groot.”  I appreciate how his one line never becomes annoying.  It’s made clear that he has a limited vocabulary through no fault of his own, so him saying “I am Groot” all the time is understandable.
Guardians of the Galaxy does what Fant4stic Four couldn’t achieve; it establishes Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot as a family unit.  They bicker and argue without bailing on each other.  They disagree, but begrugingly come to necessary compromises.  There’s a dynamic within the group.  They have a rapport with one another.  What’s interesting is that the five characters start out using each other, but as a journey goes on, their selfish agendas are gradually replaced with sincere loyalty and a sense that sticking together is essential for their survival.  Actually, this movie depicts how everything falls apart when people come together for self-serving reasons, and that the greater good can be accomplished once those same people put aside personal gain.
C.S. Lewis once said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”  This movie is a great example of that.  The villains, Thanos, Ronan and Nebula have the same demeanor and are all self-centered.  Meanwhile, Starlord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot all have distinct personalities and different backstories, yet come together for the same cause.
Yes, I love the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack.  I’ve listen to “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Cherry Bomb” and “Come and Get Your Love” about a dozen times. Making Peter Quill/Starlord a lover of 80’s rock music was a brilliant way to incorporate the songs into the film.

The Misses
Why did it take four viewings for me to like Guardians of the Galaxy?  Well, for one, you almost have to watch it a second time because the plot gets convoluted, especially with its space talk and technobabble.  I found myself caring more about the characters than the actual conflict.  Despite all the emphasis placed on the Inifinity Stone thingamajig, the object itself doesn’t have much presence.  I kept forgetting that the Infinity Stone was even a thing unless characters brought it up via expositional dialogue.
Am I the only one getting sick of weak villains?  I understand that no one is born evil, but come on, screenwriters, step up your game when it comes to writing villains!  Mind you, the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is handled by the same people who gave us the entertaining, yet intimidating Loki (Thor’s brother).  Loki is the best comedic villain that I’ve seen in a while, so I know that Marvel Studios is capable of bringing great villains to the big screen.  As for Guardians, Ronan the Accuser is the reason why I didn’t care for the story’s conflict.  The script tries to make him a narrow-minded traditionalist, but that arch goes nowhere.  His rivalry with Thanos is partially realized.  Two villains who don’t like each other is an interesting concept, but the movie doesn’t execute it very well. Ronan himself is just not very interesting.  His design is passable and the actor portraying him is fine, but the character never frightened me.  How am I supposed to be concerned about the safety of the protagonist(s) if the villain isn’t an intimidating threat?
Finally, there is one thing I should mention.  The movie opens with a hospital scene in which young Peter Quill says good-bye to his dying mother.  This scene might be uncomfortable for those who have lost a family member (specifically a mother or grandmother) recently.  The scene is only a few minutes long, but I thought I’d give you all a heads-up.

Honestly, I love this movie because of the five titular Guardians.  Their evolution from selfish outcasts to a family unit that would go through Hell and back for each other is executed wonderfully.  Other than the heartwrenching opening scene, the majority of the movie is an exciting action comedy with heart and humor.

Saint Ignatius of Loyala, pray for us.

CGB Review of Serena (2015)

I just realized that this is Bradley Cooper’s fourth appearance on Catholic Girl Bloggin’ (see my reviews for Aloha, American Sniper and Silver Linings Playbook). I swear that’s a coincidence, though it doesn’t hurt to see his chizzled face and those baby-blue eyes more than once.

Before I ramble on about my crush on Bradley Cooper, this is my review of Serena!

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These two have insane chemistry.

Serena tells the story of timber industrial tycoon newly-weds George and Serena Pemberton.  The film chronicles their passionate marriage, the rise of their logging business, and their inevitable downfall as George must reconcile with his past that involves an illegitimate child with a worker and Serena must cope with a devastating event that shakes the foundation of their love.

So this movie has a very shaky production history.  Long story short, the filming finished up in 2012, but director Susanne Bier took more than eighteen months to edit and polish the final product.  It was submitted to a film festival in London, and then it bombed at the UK box office.  Finally it got picked up by Magnolia and had a limited theatrical release and a VOD (video on demand) slot.  There’s a reason I bring this up, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

I’ve watched this movie twice; once in a hotel and last night on Netflix.  This film is like Courageous; there’s a lot of good stuff here and there’s also quite a few hiccups.

The Hits
I think it’s safe to say that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence should keep doing movies together.  Their performances show that they enjoy each other’s company and love working side by side.  I like that the movie shows us that George is enamored with Serena without having other characters tell us outright, “She fascinates him, can’t you tell?”   The first act shows us how ideal their marriage is; George is tender with her and respects her intellect.  Serena stands by his side and works with him as a competent business partner.  Their relationship is centered around their admiration of each other and the combining of their goals.  Think Ella and Prince Kit from the live-action Cinderella movie if they ran a business together.  The movie succeeds at being an observant character study of George and Serena, these two people who think the world is theirs only to have it come crashing down on them.  All of the performances from the likes of Toby Jones and Rhys Ifans are top-notch, but it’s Cooper and Lawrence who bring home the bacon.  I will admit that after they were so electric as Pat and Tiffany in Silver Linings, it was a little jarring to see Cooper and Lawrence giving subdued performances.  However J-Law is believable as the capable, steeley feminist Serena while Cooper brings out his American Sniper chops as George, a once self-serving man who is softened by his marriage.

The Misses
So what holds this movie back?  Remember what I said earlier about how the director took more than 18 months to finish editing and what not?  Yeah…it starts to show in some of the transitional shots.  After George and Serena first meet, the film cuts to a faraway shot of people dancing, then it just cuts to a close-up of Serena’s smiling face, then it just cuts to her and George consummating their marriage.  Now I’m no film editor, but some of the transitions could have been smoother.  Also because a lot of the actors are attempting late-1920’s North Carolina accents, the audio of their dialogue is hard to hear every once in a while. Finally my biggest issue is that this movie is very, very slow.  Now there is a grace to a movie that is slowly-paced; you get to know the characters more intimately and the movie is allowed to create atmospheric tension.  However the downside is that because the story is taking its sweet time, the conflict that arises lacks a sense of urgency.  I wasn’t invested in the Pemberton’s money troubles or even when one character named Buchanan turns on George because the slow-pacing makes the conflict lag.

Putting aside the techincal flaws, I don’t think Serena deserved the scatching reviews it got from critics.  If I had to rank the four Bradley Cooper movie I’ve reviewed, it would look like this: Gold medal goes to American Sniper, Silver Linings gets the Silver (ba boom pssh!), Serena is given a generous Bronze, and Aloha gets…NOTHING AT ALL!

Saints Felicity and Perpetua, pray for us.

CGB Review of Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

This movie is like being a frog in a boiling pot; you’re burning alive and it feels so good.

This is my review of Silver Linings Playbook!

BRADLEY COOPER stars in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

So this is the first movie I watched on Netflix (I finally got a Netflix account! Hooray!)  Right off the bat, I have nothing but good things to say about this movie. Honest to God, I cannot find a single thing that I didn’t like.  So here is everything right with Silver Linings Playbook!

The chaotic chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence is the vehicle that this film drives all the way to the finish line.  Bradley Cooper plays the volatile optimist Pat Solatano, who is hellbent on winning back his estranged wife and getting his life in order after being released from a mental institution.  Just like in American Sniper, Cooper completely disappears into the role of Pat.  His optimism is grounded by his determination to keep his head above water.  Did I mention this movie understands how to write the No-Filter Character arch correctly?  Yeah, well, it does just that.  It’s made clear that Pat is socially-stunted, so what he says to offend other characters never offends the audience.  You believe that he’s not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but has no concept of how his words could be received by others.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Pat’s equally dysfunctional match, Tiffany Maxwell.  Am I the only one who thinks that JLaw should stay brunette?  She looks fantastic with dark hair!  In her first couple scenes, I was getting worried that she was just playing a female version of Pat.  Then came the diner scene.  Tiffany goes off on Pat after figuring out that he thinks she’s crazier than him.  I’m just going to quote her verbatim: “Because I am so much crazier than you.  I’m the crazy slut with a dead husband–hahahahaha!” She curses him out as she shoves all of the plates and cups off of the table.  If you want to experience it, go on YouTube and type in “Silver Linings Playbook diner scene” or just watch the movie.  🙂  Anywho, her rage in that moment sums up her character: Explosive, isolated, and can be only be understood by someone of equal temperment.  Pat is the heavy gust of wind while Tiffany is the rain and thunder.

This movie is so emotional, but not in a forced way.  Why did I compare this movie to being a frog in boiling water?  Because the characters are so well-realized, I actually got distressed during the scene where Pat is tearing up the attic in search of his wedding video, or when he almost gets arrested after Tiffany shouts “he’s harrasing me!”  The two scenes I mentioned are among the tough scenes in this movie.  Because I was so invested in these people, I felt for them, so the bad things that happen to them were difficult to watch at times.  That, my friends, is the mark of a good movie.

Top-notch writing, great chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, and a humanistic portrayal of people who struggle with mental illness make Silver Linings Playbook a home run from start to finish.

Saint Dymphna, pray for us.

CGB Review of American Sniper

So I actually saw this movie on January 16th, the day of its wide release (its limited release date was Christmas Day of 2014).  Now I have no military experience and no one in my family has ever been deployed.  Because of this, war movies tend to alienate me.  Going into this movie, I thought I would either be bored or hate this movie.

By the end credits, I seriously considered buying another ticket for the next showing.

This is my review of American Sniper!

A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulder.
A man who bears the weight of two worlds on his shoulders.

This movie is a character study of Chris Kyle and his experiences as the most lethal sniper in American history.  The Chris Kyle we meet is a man with a savior complex and a sense of duty.  The savior complex comes not from a need to boost his own ego, but rather a mentality of “If-I-don’t-who-will?” His trauma is revealed in subtle ways, like how the sound of a car engine running or a dog barking makes him stop in his tracks and look around cautiously, as if anticipating something terrible. He’s neither ashamed nor proud of his job; it’s a job that forces him to do horrible things, but it has to be done for the greater good.  This character is played to perfection by Bradley Cooper.

I criminally underestimated Cooper.  Before this movie, I only saw him as that guy from the Hangover movies.  It was jarring to see a bulked up Bradley Cooper (he’s an average sized guy in real life), but his peformance is mesmerizing.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Actually, if you see this movie and then go on YouTube to watch Conan O’Brien’s interview with the real-life Chris Kyle, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the movie character and the actual person.  Cooper nails the manerisms and physical appearance of the man he is portraying.  During one scene where he is walking through the veterans’ hospital to see his friend Biggles, I started calling him “Chris” in my mind.

His wife Taya Renae Kyle is played by Sienna Miller, and I like how she never comes off as nagging or imposing.  She’s a woman who fiercely loves her husband, but because she’s a civilian whose never been in combat, her ability to understand is limited and this (justifiably) frustrates her.  When Taya expresses her concerns, Chris’ stoic demeanor does come off as cold and uncaring, but it becomes clear that while he does love and care for his wife, he can only say and express so much because what he’s really feeling inside is too great to bear.

War in this film is portrayed as an inescapable situation that no one wanted, but is the reality they have to live in.  There are some really hard scenes to sit through, including one scene that involves an Iraqi insurgent holding a drill to a child’s head.  That scene had me crying like a baby.  Other than one scene that involves a dust storm, the editing allows you to see what’s going on and the pacing never skips a beat.  Every scene serves a purpose and there is no filler to be found.

Just a disclaimer: To any Muslim moviegoers who are afraid of seeing any Islamophobia in this movie, you should be okay.  The Qur’an is mentioned only once in a conversation that has nothing to do with Islam, and none of the characters bring up the Prophet Muhammad or Allah.  Actually, now that I think about it, Islam is a non-factor in the movie.  The antagonists are Al Qaeda terrorists, but we never see them reading the Qur’an or using a prayer rug. Meanwhile Iraqi civilian characters are portrayed as vulnerable people who are just as trapped and unknowing of who they can trust as the soldiers are.

Bradley Cooper’s thoughtful and subdued performance is the rock that this movie stands on.  If you want to see what this actor is capable of, forget Aloha and watch American Sniper instead.  This is a powerful film.

Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.