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Recent Movies: A Most Violent Year; American Sniper; Into the Woods

March 16, 2015

Recent Movies

A Most Violent Year

Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain portray Abel and Anna Morales, a couple who own and run a heating oil company in 1981 in New York City.  Abel tries his best to run his business as cleanly as possible in a corrupt industry.  One of their frequent problems is having their oil trucks hijacked, sometimes violently thus putting their truck drivers in danger.

Director/writer J.C. Chandor uses a lot bleak and dark lighting throughout the film which helps to keep the viewer distant from the characters.  While less distance might have created a more fulfilling experience, there is at least a consistency that can be commended.

Also commendable is a story with various plot lines but always understandable, a rarity in many modern crime films.  While the film is seen through the eyes of Abel, it includes the view of a working-class employee whose plight is almost dismissed as trivial to the the wealthy couple.

Isaac and Chastain do a fine job in their roles.  As the head of a wealthy family empire, it’s fascinating how much Isaac resembles Al Pacino (aka Michael Corleone of “The Godfather” films) at the same age.

While “A Most Violent Year” doesn’t meet the higher standards of other crime classics, it is still quite entertaining.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

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American Sniper

Based on the true story of Chris Kyle, an expert marksman and U.S. Navy Seal, Bradley Cooper portrays the main character who fought in the front lines during the Iraq War.

The first half of the movie is seen mainly through Kyle’s viewpoint.  He is a devout patriot and sees his mission as saving his country and its people.  This is a fair viewpoint but the movie avoids the many counter-arguments happening at the time of that very divisive war.

The Iraqi people are mainly portrayed as the “evil bad guys”.  None of them has a chance to express their story of how they feel about a foreign military invading their country or how they might feel the need to defend their people as Kyle does about his people.

Thankfully, the film doesn’t have a totally hawkish viewpoint.  It is quite honest in the difficulties faced by soldiers after returning home.  For Chris, this is mainly reflected by his wife, played by Sienna Miller, who is clear in her unhappiness about Chris’ drive and how he has changed.  Though Cooper gives a rather good performance, there could have been more depth and subtlety in the portrayal of someone who is driven while denying the effect of the traumas he has experienced.

At times, the film seems too long but it ends with a very moving finale that is felt well after the movie’s completion.  The ending also centers around an event that boldly and effectively takes place off-screen.

RATING:   * * 1/2

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Into the Woods

Based on the Broadway musical, four fairy tales (“Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Cinderella”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Rapunzel”) are mixed into another story in which a baker couple (James Corden and Emily Blunt) try to reverse a curse of infertility placed upon them by a witch (Meryl Streep).

The story of this film is quite creative and clever, not only for integrating four fairy tales together but also for boldly going beyond what might really happen after “happily ever after”.

While the film is quite entertaining, there is still a feeling that it might have been better.  The songs by Stephen Sondheim are all quite good though none of them stands out as particularly memorable.  They are all well sung by the performers, however, within a stunning set design and amazing costumes.  Streep shows her usual magic (beyond witchcraft) in that she’s as good a singer as she is an actress – which says a lot.

RATING:   * * *

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Dennis Bowman

 

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