American Sniper is the most representative movie yet made about the Iraq Warbecause, like the war, it's a pack of lies. It's based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle, a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper who scored more than 160 kills during four combat tours. But director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Jason Hall start hallucinating from the very first scene, when Kyle must decide whether to shoot a child carrying a grenade. (Never happened, according to Kyle's book.) They continue by fabricating additional characters ("The Butcher") and by building much of the drama around an enemy sniper who merits only passing mention in Kyle's book and whom Kyle never killed. Hollywood filmmakers always fictionalize true stories to some extent, but this film is shameless. As a final insult, Eastwood doesn't show us how Kyle died, probably because this genuine war hero didn't die heroically in combat. Instead, he died by foolishly thinking that a shooting range would be good therapy for a shell-shocked veteranwho abruptly lost control when a gun was placed in his hands. Although the movie is filled with graphic combat scenes, the climax of Kyle's life story was apparently too ironic and contradictory for Eastwood's target audience.
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Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as a broken woman who seeks redemption by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alonea grueling trek through deserts and mountains for which she is wholly unprepared. Based on the bestselling autobiography by Cheryl Strayed, this is a rare movie in which the central character is an adult woman who isn't primarily concerned with romance. Witherspoon delivers a fine performance as Strayed, and Laura Dern makes the most of her flashback appearances as Strayed's mother. The female viewpoint runs so strong in this film that many of the male characters come across as unsettling, creepy, or downright dangerous, which is probably realistic for a lone woman on such a perilous journey. Gorgeous cinematography and acute sound editing complete the picture. This would be a great double feature with Into the Wild (2007), which tells a similar true story from a male viewpoint.
The Imitation Game is another misguided account of the British cryptographers who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma-machine cipher to help win World War II. This film focuses on math genius Alan Turing, who helped design the machine that defeated the machinethe world's first programmable electronic digital computer. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as the brilliant but eccentric Turing. Kiera Knightly ably plays one of his assistants. But the screenplay, adapted by Graham Moore from a book by Andrew Hodges, commits the same sins as Enigma (2001), a previous film adaptation. It bastardizes a true story already dripping with drama by inventing things that never happened and needlessly altering things that actually did happen. A truer account would have been just as dramatic and more intelligent. Nevertheless, a thread of truth survives, and Cumberbatch's performance is not to be missed.
Big Eyes is a satisfying drama based on the true story of artist Margaret Keane, whose paintings of big-eyed children first became popular in the 1950s. Dismissed by art critics as kitsch, Keane's paintings nevertheless were a hit with middle-class buyers. But director Tim Burton focuses on Keane's tumultuous relationship with her second husband, who publicly claimed he painted the works, shoving Margaret into the background. Her story parallels the subservience of wives in the 1950s and the emergence of feminism in the 1960salthough this film attributes her awakening to a religious conversion, not a political movement. Amy Adams, as Margaret Keane, advances her growing reputation as a skilled actress. She is matched by the always-excellent Christoph Waltz, who plays Walter Keane, Margaret's domineering husband. Historical accuracy is always questionable in Hollywood movies, but I appreciated the balanced portrayal of Walter as a glib opportunist who slips into his sham somewhat reluctantly, not from premeditated malice.
>> See more mini-reviews, including Nightcrawler ... The Theory of Everything ... Interstellar ... Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ... Before I Go to Sleep ... Fury ... Kill the Messenger ... The Giver ... Boyhood ... Lucy ... Magic in the Moonlight ... Begin Again ... Godzilla ... Edge of Tomorrow ... Maleficent ... Finding Vivian Maier ... The Grand Budapest Hotel ... The Monuments Men ... and many more!
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