FlixChatter Review: American Sniper (2014)

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The last time Clint Eastwood tackled a war story he made Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima back to back. The former I thought was a good film but contained too many clichés, while the latter I thought was one of the best war films ever made. I think his latest picture sort of fall in between his last two war films.

Based on the book and life of the late Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US history. The story begins with a flashback of Kyle and young brother being raised by a tough and religious father. He was raised as the typical all American boy – tough, a patriot and never give up. Years later he’s now a grown man and played by the buffed-up Bradley Cooper. He and his brother are still close but his life is not what you call a success. After seeing an American embassy building got blown up on the news in Africa, he decided to wants to fight and protect his country from terrorists. He went down to the local army recruiting office and told the recruiter he wanted to enlist. Since he’s already 30 years old and in pretty good shape, the recruiter suggested he should enlist in the Navy Seals unit. We then got to see a montage of him training with the other Seals recruits.

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Later he meets his future wife Taya (the unrecognizable Sienna Miller) at a bar. They hit it off and later got married. On their wedding day, Kyle’s Seals unit got a call to head over to Middle East. The whole movie was about Kyle’s life on the battlefield and how it affects his personal life once he’s back to the States with his wife and children. The story was told in two tiers, one you see Kyle and his men battled the enemies in the Middle East and the other shows his normal life in the States when he’s back from one of his tours.

I’m not the biggest fan of Bradley Cooper, ever since I saw him in The Hangover movies, I could never see him as anything but a frat boy type. However, he gave quite a strong performance here and displayed so many emotions that I didn’t know he could do. Kyle’s a man who wants to be strong for his family and comrades, but deep down you know he’s a troubled person. He keeps all of his emotions inside and refuses to talk about what he saw and done while in the battlefields. He’s a patriot and won’t question his superiors for the orders they gave him, but when some of his comrades were killed, he may have some doubts about the war itself. Since Kyle is the main character, Cooper appeared in pretty much 99% of the film.

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Unfortunately I wish Eastwood had cast a better actress for female lead, Sienna Miller changed her appearance make herself look more like a normal person but she’s still can’t act. Some of the dramatic scenes with her and Cooper were kind of cringe-worthy. The rest of the cast didn’t really make much of an impression on me because many of them only appeared briefly in the film.

Eastwood has always been a generic director to me but in a good way. What I mean by that was that he never tried to include any trick shots or weir filters in his films and best of all never go for the popular trends in movies. I was afraid he’s going to shoot the battle scenes in those annoying shaky cam and fast editing shots but thankfully he held the cameras steady and we can what’s going on during the action scenes. In fact, he staged some quite intense and exciting battle sequences. He and his editors, Gary Roach and Joel Cox, kept the pace moving quite smoothly. They never linger on scenes that could’ve dragged on. Also, for a war picture I thought it’s going to be quite gory but they didn’t show that much of the gore.

I’ve never read the book that the film was based on and knew only a little bit about the real Chris Kyle so I don’t know how accurate this film was to his life. Jason Hall wrote the screenplay and I thought it’s weird that he actually included some “villains” in the story. In fact, for most of the movie I thought I was watching a movie based on one of Tom Clancy’s novels instead of a real person and events. Since I’ve never read the book, I don’t know if the antagonists were real or were just made up for dramatic purposes.

With a good performance by Cooper and solid direction by Eastwood, I thought this was a good action thriller, but not a great war picture. Again, the inclusion of the villains took me right out of the reality of the story and I thought I was watching something Tom Clancy would write. But the movie did have some great battle sequences and some very intense dramas, I won’t mention it here but it’s definitely not a movie to bring your young children along.

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Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review – Jack Ryan: The Shadow Recruit

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It’s been over a decade that we saw a Jack Ryan film. Chris Pine now fills the shoes that’s been vacated by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck in the fifth feature of the long-dormant franchise. The major difference is, this is the first time that the film’s plot isn’t based on a specific novel by Tom Clancy, so in a way it’s a reboot. Before the title shows up, in roughly 20 min of so, we’re treated to an origin story of our hero. Instead of being set on the Cold War era, Ryan’s journey began post 9/11 as seeing the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers inspired him to join the army. He survived a chopper attack and had to undergo an extensive physical therapy for nearly two years, all the while a CIA agent Thomas Harper has been secretly monitoring his progress. As soon as deems Ryan is ready for action, Harper recruits him and send him back to college to finish his PhD in economics.

A decade later, Ryan working in Wall Street monitoring suspicious activity that might post terrorist threat. Soon he discovers that a stealthy Russian investment worth billions that could damage the US stock market down to the level of the great depression. The villain in question is a Soviet Army veteran Viktor Cheverin who’s none too happy about the US’ intervention of the Soviet’s invasion in Afghanistan. Posing as a broker on a mission to audit Cheverin’s account, Ryan is off to Moscow.

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The first fight sequence between Ryan and a Ugandan hired-assassin twice his size (you might’ve seen him in the trailer) packs a punch. Ryan somehow manages to outmaneuver a trained killer despite relatively limited training. After all, he’s more of an analyst than a Bourne-type killing machine, more brain than brawn but it certainly worked in his favor. Ryan’s ‘regular guy’ appeal and his humanity is what separates our protagonist from the typical action hero. After he kills someone, Ryan is in a state of shock. He doesn’t take killing lightly as if it’s ‘just a job’ like Bond would say. He’s haunted by the experience and that dread is written all over his face.

The action is not something you’ve never seen before. In fact, a lot of what happens in this film feel familiar, there’s nothing groundbreaking by any means. The most thrilling sequence involving Ryan breaking into the baddie’s office plays out like a Mission Impossible sequence, I expect the theme song to come on as I’m watching it! Even the story is somewhat predictable and not as suspenseful as one would expect, yet it’s got enough going for it to keep me tuning in. Chris Pine makes for a pretty good Jack Ryan in that he’s easy to root for in the same vein of his predecessor Harrison Ford. What he lacks in range he more than makes up in screen presence and likability. Kevin Costner has the effortless gravitas as his CIA mentor, apparently he was offered the role of Jack Ryan for The Hunt for Red October but he turned it down. I think he would’ve been excellent in the role and I must say he still looks fit enough to kick ass if need be. Which made me wish they had given him a bit more dynamic stuff to do in this movie.

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The weakest link here is Keira Knightly, who despite pulling off a decent American accent as Ryan’s girlfriend seems horribly miscast. She just isn’t believable in the role of a nurse who’s constantly worried her boyfriend is having an affair. Plus there’s zero chemistry between her and Pine. There is a pretty tense scene between her and Kenneth Branagh as Cheverin at the dinner table, and I have to say she has way more chemistry with him than with Pine. That brings me to Sir Branagh, whose direction here was the main reason I was somewhat anticipating this movie. Well, I can’t say that he acquit himself as well as a director here, compared to his previous work. I’m not too fond of his camera work here with the extensive use of unnecessary close-ups, though I’m glad he’s not a fan of the shaky cam technique. I do think he makes for a pretty compelling baddie. His scenery-chewing performance as Cheverin, complete with an over-the-top Russian accent, is quite a hoot. There’s a hint of chilling unpredictability when he stares at you with his devilish smirk, and Branagh gives himself a grand entrance if you will, the first time he comes on screen.

Overall I enjoyed this one despite many of its flaws. I think the key here is that I buy Pine as Jack Ryan, unlike Ben Affleck who lacks the confidence and charisma in the role. Though Pine plays Ryan as being unsure of his ability, he certainly has that inherent swagger. It’s also fun seeing Costner back in the action genre. It gets no point for originality however, nor does it inject as much life to the long-dormant franchise the way J.J. Abrams did with the Star Trek reboot. The score by one of my favorite composers Patrick Doyle also didn’t wow me as his last work in Branagh’s film THOR, which remains one of my fave soundtrack of recent memory. I think the script could’ve been a lot stronger to make this a memorable spy thriller. As it stands now, it’s just good enough to make me want to see what’s next.


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What do you think of the latest Jack Ryan movie?

R.I.P. Tom Clancy – Thank you for your Jack Ryan thrillers!

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Tom Clancy, the Baltimore-born author died Tuesday October 2nd in his hometown at the age of 66, two months’ shy of the publish date of his new Jack Ryan novel, Command Authority. It’s fascinating to see how the former insurance agent couldn’t find a publisher for his first book, The Hunt for Red October, until Naval Institute Press, which never bought original fiction, took a chance on him in 1985. It’s a great American success story as his work shot up to the NY Times’ best-seller list (17 out 26 of his books made the best seller list), he even garnered the attention of President Ronald Reagan who’s a big fan of his work.

Hollywood took notice and his film adaptations were box office hits. I happen to be a big fan of his Jack Ryan thrillers. Though The Hunt for Red October with Alec Baldwin as the original Jack Ryan is the best of the series, I also have a soft spot for the more action-packed thrillers with Harrison Ford in the role, Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. I enjoy spy thrillers but the strength of Mr. Clancy’s work lies in the protagonist who’s relatable and easy to root for. Even when the film itself is subpar (The Sum of All Fears), the valiant, patriotic but NOT a superhero Jack Ryan endures. Soon the character will be revived with the fourth actor playing the role, more on that in a bit.

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Clancy himself is ambivalent about being a Hollywood darling, apparently the lack of creative control bothered him, as I’d think it would any author. “Giving your book to Hollywood is like turning your daughter over to a pimp,” he famously said. (per ABCnews.com) His reach extends beyond films. His work had inspired TV shows like 24 and Homeland, as well video games like Splinter Cell, which according to NYTimes, were so realistic, the military licensed them for training.

Here’s a tribute from my friend and blog staff Ted S., who’s a big fan of Mr. Clancy:

Tom Clancy was one of my favorite fiction writers back in high school and college, I always get excited when his new novel hit the book shelves. But I have to admit after 9/11, I kind of loss interest in his books. I think I’ve read only two of his novels after the 9/11 attack. You see most of his novels were about what if scenarios and when a real tragedy happened, I just loss interest in his work. He in fact got some heat after 9/11, in one of his novels, Debt of Honor, a “terrorist” clashed an airplane into the State Capital Building in D.C., killing most the government officials, including the president. So of course some people blamed Clancy for writing things write that, but I thought it was pretty silly to blame a fiction writer.

Hollywood has turned four of his novels into films, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of all Fears. Out of the four films, I thought The Hunt for Red October was the best one, in fact I thought it’s even better than the book version, you can read why I thought so in this post. Funny enough though, out of all of the Jack Ryan novels, I liked The Hunt for Red October the least. Now, The Hunt Red October and Patriot Games stayed pretty true to the source material, while Clear and Present and The Sum of all Fears weren’t. I even remember Clancy was quite upset at the changes the screenwriters made to Clear and Present Danger, he even bad-mouthed the movie before it opened in theaters.

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He wasn’t too happy that Jack Ryan was made into the main character in the movie, in the novel John Clark (Willem Dafoe‘s character in the movie) was the main lead and Ryan didn’t show up until half way through the book. Of course when you have Harrison Ford as the star, he’s still a box office force at the time, you can’t make him a supporting character. So I didn’t mind the filmmakers decided to make that change.

I really like the Jack Ryan series, both films and novels, because he’s more of thinking man’s action hero. In fact in most of the novels, Ryan wasn’t part of the action at all, he uses mostly his brain to solve problems and leave all the action stuff to his comrades Clark and Chavez.

Out of all of Clancy’s novels, my absolute favorites were Without Remorse and The Cardinal of the Kremlin; the former has been in development hell for years, at one point Keanu Reeves signed on to star and John McTiernan was attached to direct but the studio went bankrupt before the cameras started rolling and the last I heard Tom Hardy was courted to play the young John Clark. I hope the new Jack Ryan film does well and maybe they can incorporate the storyline from The Cardinal of the Kremlin into the eventual sequel.

– Ted S.

Well, it’s a bit of peculiar timing that the new poster of the new Jack Ryan film is released on the day of Clancy’s death. But the pensive pose of Chris Pine actually looks appropriately somber, as if the character’s mourning the death of the creator.

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Apparently this film is NOT based on a particular Clancy novel, instead, it’s an original story initially conceived by screenwriter Hossein Amini featuring the Jack Ryan character (per Wiki). Glad they still put Clancy’s name on the poster though. The title seems to have been changed from Shadow One to Shadow Recruit, and it’ll focus on Jack as a young covert CIA analyst who uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack. I’m quite looking forward to it given I’m a fan of the character, and Kenneth Branagh directing (as well as playing the villain) doesn’t hurt. Nice to see Kevin Costner playing his military mentor, though I’m not too fond of Keira Knightley as the love interest.

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The trailer’s finally released today, check it out:

The film is scheduled to be released on Christmas Day in the US.

So THANK YOU Mr. Clancy for giving us such great thrillers, and an enduring character we can enjoy for years to come.


So what’s your favorite Tom Clancy work, are you looking forward to the new Jack Ryan film?