Tag Archives: Bradley Cooper

This Weekend, See ‘Sniper,’ Skip ‘Blackhat’

My fellow moviegoers, is there anything more depressing than the fourth weekend in January when Hollywood inflicts its questionable choices upon us in a three-day period we’ll spend the rest of the year trying to forget?

Yes, this Friday brings us a disconcerting assortment of future Razzie nominees, including “Mortdecai,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Strange Magic” and “Spare Parts.”

My advice? Forget this weekend ever happened. Or take the opportunity to catch up on films you may have missed.

If you’re brave enough to venture forth on this, the worst moviegoing weekend of the year, I salute you and offer one film to avoid like the plague and another to warmly embrace.

Godspeed, my friends.

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Blackhat
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (violence, language, and apparently the MPAA fell asleep during this movie because there’s a pretty obvious sexual situation, too)
133 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you not to bother with “Blackhat,” director Michael Mann’s cyberterrorism thriller.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned a paltry $3.8 million over opening weekend, making it the worst showing for Mann since 1986’s “Manhunter.” That’s also the one of the worst debuts of all time for a movie playing in more than 2,500 theaters.

Still, lest you be tempted to give it a shot …

Let’s start with the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth. The strapping, young lead of “Thor” and “The Avengers” is certainly an arresting presence, and 2013’s “Rush” proved he’s more than just a pretty face, capable of radiating cocky intelligence.

But I draw the line at “Blackhat’s” depiction of Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, a rogue hacker doing hard time in a maximum security prison for past crimes. It’s beyond laughable that a dude who spends his waking hours in front of a computer screen would ever look as smolderingly sexy as Hathaway. It’s also highly unlikely he’d display the range of Jason Bourne-like skills he demonstrates throughout the film, including expertly firing a handgun in an insane shootout and infiltrating the site of a nuclear meltdown.

Sadly, the blatant miscasting of Hemsworth and the increasingly ridiculous situations he finds himself in are just two of the movie’s flaws. The film gets off to an excruciatingly slow start and its stakes are too vaguely defined for us to care much whether Hathaway succeeds in stopping a presumed cyberterrorist before he strikes again, creating international havoc.

Mann spends too much time on a completely unconvincing romance between Hathaway and the sister (Wei Tang) of a Chinese security expert (Leehom Wang) who happens to be the hacker’s former roommate. Meanwhile, more interesting characters languish in the background, like Viola Davis’ tenacious FBI agent.

As is his trademark, the director crafts several brutally kinetic action sequences, but on a visual level, “Blackhat” doesn’t rise to the gritty style befitting the helmer of “Collateral” and “Heat.” The movie is a letdown in almost every way possible.

AmericanSniper

American Sniper
Three stars (out of four)
R (strong and disturbing war violence, sexual references)
132 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you to see “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Navy Seal and deadliest-sniper-in-history Chris Kyle.

The drama struck a chord with moviegoers nationwide, topping last weekend’s box office with a record-breaking $89.5 million. When I went to see it Monday, the house was packed, the audience remained in their seats through most of the end credits and a respectful hush fell over the crowd when they left the theater. Such a reverent response is a rare thing to witness at the local cineplex.

Perhaps the movie resonates because there have been few heroes celebrated in more than a decade of murky Middle Eastern wars. Eastwood’s take on Kyle’s life, deeds and philosophy has stirred controversy but the film is surprisingly complex, a celebration of heroism, yes, but one that acknowledges the shattered minds and bodies war leaves in its wake.

At the heart of the film’s success is a modest, truly magnificent performance by Bradley Cooper, portraying Kyle as a man of simple but strong convictions, a walking contradiction — a warrior ruthless and tender. Eastwood’s very first shot of Cooper isn’t subtle — he’s wearing a white cowboy hat — but it firmly establishes the character, a proud Texan who views the good and evil in this world in stark black and white.

There have been complaints that “American Sniper” glorifies an “unrepentant killer,” but Cooper has never been softer or more vulnerable than he is here, even as his burlier, hairier appearance makes him physically imposing in a way that’s startling. With his slick, shark-like charm, the actor isn’t known for disappearing into a role, but he does this time, powerfully channeling Kyle’s anguish at the disconnect between deployment and domesticity. This is by far the best performance in the career of an actor who has just begun to find his way, judging by his recent turns in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”

Some critics have faulted the film, and Eastwood, for declining to make a political statement about America’s messy involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps they’re missing the point. The director has always been adept at painting gripping portraits of men of violence. In “Sniper,” he delivers a series of graphic, suspenseful missions — some fictionalized — with considerable grit and technical prowess.

More compellingly, he engages in an unexpectedly bold and sensitive discussion of topics that remain largely out of sight and out of mind — things like PTSD and the suffering and neglect of wounded vets.

Is “American Sniper” a perfect film? No, but it is an important one.

Photos: wqyk.com, zdnet.com

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Come and Get Your ‘Guardians’ Love

Guardians of the Galaxy
Three and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some language)
121 minutes

Everybody loves The Avengers, but let’s face it. When it comes to personality, the members of Marvel’s prize superhero team are kind of square. Patriots, Asgardian princes and scientists with anger issues are only so interesting. Even the wise-cracking Tony Stark is a bazillionaire and a genius. Not very easy to relate to.

Maybe that’s why the ensemble of sorry wretches at the heart of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is so appealing. It’s made up of outlaws and losers, like Drax the Destroyer (played by wrestler Dave Bautista), an elaborately tattooed muscleman who is out for vengeance and takes everything extremely literally. Naturally, this is the source of much hilarity.

Then there’s Gamora (Zoe Saldana in butt-kicking mode), a green-skinned mercenary with daddy issues. After all, she’s the adopted daughter of Thanos, the wrinkly, purple baddie first glimpsed in the end credits of “The Avengers.”

Even weirder are Rocket, a resourceful, genetically-modified talking raccoon with a temper (his feisty voice is supplied by Bradley Cooper), and his best pal, Groot (Vin Diesel), a self-regenerating tree — just go with it –- who is surprisingly clever but boasts a limited vocabulary.

The merry ringmaster of this improbably lovable menagerie is Peter Quill, who also goes by the cocky alias “Star-Lord.” In an immensely winning performance, Chris Pratt plays Quill as a roguishly charming space pilot in the mold of Harrison Ford’s swaggering, self-obsessed Han Solo. Truly, a star is born.

To say that “Guardians” director James Gunn was influenced by the early work of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is an understatement. Adapted from one of Marvel’s more obscure properties, the movie is a rollicking sci-fi-fantasy space opera with a rascally, retro vibe that recalls the original Indiana Jones and Star Wars flicks.

The film’s opening scene, in which Quill parts a valuable relic from its temple pedestal on the planet Morag, is pure “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” goosed to the groove of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.”  A sequence set in a mining colony faintly echoes that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Mos Eisley Cantina. There are thrilling space battles galore, and Rocket and Groot are basically C-3PO and R2-D2 with more attitude.

With its population of extraterrestrials in a rainbow of skin tones and its intergalactic fashions — that’s some wig, Glenn Close! — “Guardians” also calls to mind “Star Trek” … on crack … as Gunn pokes into the freakiest corners of the Marvel Universe. But the film never feels derivative and it’s a ton of fun.

Based on the comic book series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the movie begins on a somber note with the death of young Star-Lord’s mother. That formative chapter in Peter Quill’s life is followed by another major event, the arrival of a spacecraft sent by his long absent father to retrieve his son from Earth.

Cut to the grown Quill, who is now quite comfortable living in outerspace. To his chagrin, his Star-Lord alias is met with disdain by most residents of the galaxy, thanks to his reputation as a rather smug smuggler who frequently runs afoul of the law.

Quill is after his latest score — a coveted silver orb — when he literally collides with Gamora, who has been sent to retrieve the object for Thanos’ ally, Ronan (Lee Pace).

Ronan is the genocidal leader of warrior race the Kree and he’s also the movie’s weakest link. Pace, who was so adorable on “Pushing Daisies” but now specializes in playing menacing fantasy monarchs (see his elf king, Thranduil, in “The Hobbit” trilogy), doesn’t do a whole lot besides make cartoonishly dire pronouncements in a very deep voice. He also glowers at equally blue hench-lady Nebula. (Yes, Doctor Who fans, that is Karen Gillan, aka Amy Pond, under all that makeup.)

Ronan is after the same thing every Marvel villain seems to be after. I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to reveal that it’s an infinity stone. I know these glowing MacGuffins are one of the things that unify all the films in the franchise, but am I the only one who’s getting sick of them?

Back to the plot: While Gamora is after Quill in order to collect the orb, Rocket and Groot are after him as well, hoping to collect the bounty on his head. In the process, the whole posse winds up in prison, where they are joined by Drax and work together to mastermind one of the most entertaining jailbreaks in recent cinematic memory. Normally, these guys are out for themselves, but when they realize what will happen to their galaxy if Ronan gets his hands on the orb, they make an uneasy pact to save the place they call home.

After cutting his teeth on dark comic book satire “Super” and low-budget horror flick “Slither,” Gunn penned the “Guardians” script with Nicole Perlman, who is rumored to be toiling on a Black Widow spin-off for Marvel. (That could bode very, very well.)

Gunn and Perlman’s “Guardians” screenplay is hilarious and kinda sweet and just when it starts to get too cheesy, the director pulls it back from the brink with the perfect dose of snark and playful visual effects that put the considerable skills of the film’s VFX crew on eye-popping display.

The movie’s best device is a nostalgic one. Because Quill is from Earth, he’s constantly making references that baffle his alien buddies but connect with the audience, especially anyone who fondly remembers Troll dolls, the Walkman and Kevin Bacon in “Footloose.”

The film’s tone is dictated largely by its inspired soundtrack, built around Quill’s beloved Awesome Mix Tape of ’70s and ’80s pop.

Just be prepared. You will never, ever get “Hooked on a Feeling” out of your head again. It’s the new “Let It Go.

Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood Set Sights on ‘Sniper’

Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood set their sights on Acton, California, as a location for the movie “American Sniper.”

Cooper stars in the film as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a record-setting sniper who served four tours in Iraq, only to be shot and killed in 2013 at a gun range in Texas. Eastwood is directing the film, which features combat scenes lensed at Blue Cloud Ranch in Santa Clarita.

Cooper and co-star Sienna Miller have been spotted on set at several Los Angeles locations over the last few weeks.

Eastwood arrived about 3:30 p.m. Monday at a shopping center on Santiago Road in Acton, where an empty unit had been dressed as a Navy recruitment center. Cooper, star of “The Hangover” and “American Hustle,” showed up shortly after the director, wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. The actor was looking husky, having bulked up considerably for the role, but didn’t have the bushy beard he sported for much of the movie’s production. He spent most of Monday’s shoot inside the building.

The production involved a small film crew and a large crane to light the exterior of the building, located between the Dancin’ in Acton dance studio and the Rustic Cafe & Bakery. Several 1970s or ’80s era picture cars were parked outside the faux recruitment center, including a weathered brown pickup truck and a Dodge Magnum with a license plate reading “MGNUMPI.”

The shoot drew a small crowd of onlookers from neighboring businesses, which remained open for the day. They gathered to try to get a look at Cooper, but were disappointed when much of the filming revolved around several denim and cowboy boot-clad extras walking in and out of the recruitment office.

Eastwood is no stranger to the Antelope Valley. He shot a scene for his 2002 thriller, “Blood Work,” and footage for 2008’s “Changeling” in the area. Cooper recently spent time in Tehachapi, filming scenes for “The Hangover Part III.”

Based on Kyle’s memoir, “American Sniper” is among the modestly budgeted productions taking advantage of California’s film tax credit, according to the Los Angeles Times. Eastwood also shot his last project, the upcoming Broadway musical adaptation “Jersey Boys,” in L.A.

“Sniper” is set to be released next year.

Scroll down for more photos.

Melissa Medialdea contributed to this post.

photo (11)Clint Eastwood takes a look at the monitor on the set of “American Sniper” in Acton.

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Stop Grousing and Go See ‘Gravity’

This year’s Academy Awards race is one of the closest in recent memory with three of the nine films nominated for best picture in a tight heat. Oscar analysts agree that at the conclusion of Sunday’s ceremony, Hollywood’s most coveted prize will be presented to the producers of either “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle.”

Entertainment Weekly, in its Oscar predictions issue, forecasts that 19% of the Academy vote will go to “Gravity,” with 18% for “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle” with 16% of the ballots. Last month, in a rare occurrence, “Gravity” and “12 Years” tied for the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards. The ceremony is usually a good predictor of Oscar outcomes.

For months, the three front-runners have generated considerable buzz. “Gravity” racked up an impressive $700 million at the global box office. “American Hustle” crossed the $200 million mark and even the harrowing “12 Years” drummed up $100 million in ticket sales. The fact remains, however, that many people have not bothered to head to the theater to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course, this isn’t unusual when it comes to the Oscars, a ceremony that is treated with reverence in Tinseltown but tends to elicit yawns from an indifferent general public. Unless it’s one of the few years in which a major blockbuster is nominated — “Avatar,” for instance, viewed by practically everyone on the planet — it’s common for best picture candidates to languish unseen.

But this time around, the front-runners are worthy of your time and attention. In a year of exceptional films, they are the best Hollywood had to offer — a visually innovative cosmic thriller; a brutally honest historical drama; and a shamelessly entertaining glitter-pile of 1970s glam.

Oddly enough, it is “Gravity” that seems to have encountered the most resistance from a certain segment of filmgoers. I’ve talked to a number of people who stubbornly turn up their noses at Alfonso Cuaron’s space odyssey. Perhaps their reticence stems from the film’s minimalist but epic premise. At first I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be so compelling about watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in outer space.

Still, the skepticism is baffling, considering what a taut nail-biter of a thriller the film is, not to mention its stunning visual achievements and emotional heft. If you’re lucky enough to find a place where you can still catch an IMAX screening of the movie, it will be one of the most suspenseful, immersive, uplifting and intense cinematic experiences of your life. The film was released Tuesday on Blu-ray, so you can watch it from the comfort of your couch, but you’ll be missing out. If ever a film demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible — preferably in 3-D with a kick-ass sound system — this is it.

The story of a medical engineer adrift after her space shuttle is torn to shreds, “Gravity” features one of Bullock’s most fragile and moving performances. The film ingeniously registers on two levels – it’s one heck of a popcorn movie ride but it’s also packed with existential symbolism and musings on hope, rebirth and the significance of humanity in a terrifyingly infinite universe. It’s as deep or as shallow as you want it to be.

“American Hustle” is an easier sell. Directed by “Silver Linings Playbook” helmer David O. Russell and reuniting several members of that crowd-pleasing comedy-drama’s cast, “Hustle” is a trashy, over-the-top romp through 1970s sleaze and the most fun many of us had at the movies in 2013.

Nothing about the film is hard to love, from the gloriously kitschy period costumes and art direction, to the go-for-broke acting, to the twisty plot about a pair of con artists embroiled in a government sting operation. Bradley Cooper’s perm and Christian Bale’s comb-over may appear to steal the show, but it is the film’s leading ladies – both nominated for Oscars – who are the real stars. Amy Adams, as a chameleonic temptress looking for love, and Jennifer Lawrence, as an unstable, accident-prone housewife, deliver the most mesmerizing performances of their already accomplished careers.

“12 Years a Slave” is difficult to love, despite the fact that it is quite possibly the most authentic movie of its kind. While other films about America’s dirty, devastating past soft-pedal the indignities of slavery, director Steve McQueen lays them bare in merciless fashion, making for a film that is necessary, yet excruciating. After seeing it, my husband and I were silent the whole way home. There was literally nothing to say in the aftermath of so much shame and sadness.

McQueen specializes in depicting human depravity and desperation — he made a movie titled “Shame,” after all — and “12 Years” is his masterwork. It is brilliantly acted with performances so naked, it’s hard to look them in the eye — Chiwetel Ejiofor as the kidnapped Solomon Northup, Michael Fassbender as a lascivious slave owner and, most searing of all, Lupita Nyong’o as the tormented target of that slave owner’s twisted obsession.

Yes, “12 Years” is painful to watch, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it, even if you only watch it once. The film has profound and indispensable things to say about the insidious nature of racism.

There are great treasures to mine, great revelations to discover in Oscar’s favorite trio and time and opportunity to rectify what you’ve missed, long after the Oscars are over.

Why deprive yourself of greatness?