Oscar Double Dose Review: American Sniper & Foxcatcher

americansniper_posterClint Eastwood is a legend, no doubt, and I have had quite the love/hate relationship with the films he’s directed. Bradley Cooper is a talented actor, one who I have had no doubt could carry a movie and one day be nominated for an Oscar. So with Eastwood and Cooper collaborating you would think AMERICAN SNIPER would be a harmonious true story about the most lethal sniper in American history- and you’d be wrong…at least in my opinion.

I guess I’m not being entirely fair- you wouldn’t be wrong for having loved this movie, I simply just wouldn’t agree. First things first though, AMERICAN SNIPER simply follows the life and military career of Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). The film does not get into deep detail of Kyle’s early years aside from a few scenes with his father, then moves on to events leading to his decision to become a Navy SEAL, meeting a pretty girl at a bar and starting a relationship, and eventually deciding to join the war in Iraq. As a sniper in the war Kyle racks up a startling amount of kills, earns the title of Legend amongst his peers, becomes a high priority target in the eyes of the enemy and alienates the his wife and growing family.  (more…)


Movie Review: Killing Them Softly (2012)


If nothing else Andrew Dominik wants at least one concept to be on your mind when you walk out of KILLING THEM SOFTLY- economy, economy, economy, economy. Never mind the fact that Brad Pitt is chewing up scenes and trying out his anti-Anton Chigur performance- the real issue we should all be focused on is that it is damn tough to make an honest living, hell, even a living as a hitman isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The truth of the matter is that as much as I really loved Dominik’s film, it is impossible to walk out of it without rolling your eyes at least once at the constant onslaught of political messages regarding the state of the economy- for me, by the end it became somewhat of a reflex.

It’s not even that I don’t agree to a certain extent- I even nodded in agreement at the end of the last monologue in the film, but to a lot of people the persistence of the message is extremely heavy handed. I also can’t say that it isn’t a breath of fresh air to see the glitzy Hollywood-ized vision of a contract killer/hitman lifestyle scrapped for something a little more stripped down and “realistic.” This isn’t dime store shoot em’ up cinema by any means, but there’s definitely something about it that’s easier to digest and gritty at the same time.

The plot is simple- two guys knock over a secret Mob enforced poker game and the Mob subsequently send, Jackie (Brad Pitt), in to track down and take care of everyone responsible. With a premise that light it takes a pretty sharp script to keep the energy flowing and that’s exactly what Dominik’s script- adapted from George Higgin’s novel “Cogan’s Trade”- excels at. There does tend to be an excessive amount of needless storytelling in a couple scenes involving James Gandolfini’s character, but the dialogue in those scenes is funny enough and interesting enough to overlook. A special shout out to Ben Mendelsohn for solidifying his place as the single most disgusting looking character in any movie I’ve seen this year.

Pitt stands out from the rest of the cast-largely because he’s Brad Pitt, but also because he does a pretty great job with the material. At times he employs a lot of the same mannerisms as his Billy Beane performance in MONEYBALL yet he still manages to pull off a hitman that, while predictable at times, has hints of being genuinely threatening and darkly comedic at the same time. Every role in the film is laced with extremely dark humor and it all shines because the dialogue flows so well- and in a film with this much talking, that’s an extremely important piece of the puzzle.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY isn’t action packed, but it’s exciting to watch- the violence for the most part is quick, but packs a punch and it is more than a tad alienating in its political approach. Dominik’s script is fantastic and the performances are great, but somewhere along the line someone should have stepped up and said, can we maybe cut out a few of these radio/TV economy speeches? In the end that was my biggest issue with the film- excess does not enhance and in the case of KILLING THEM SOFTLY it hinders its own message. In spite of my reservations over the abundance of money talk, I really love this movie and found myself constantly loving the extended scenes of dialogue and the pitch black moments of humor. A crowd pleaser this is not so be warned before buying those tickets based on the Pitt factor.

Rating: A-

2012 Oscar Nominations

Like them or not the 2012 Oscar nominations are in and there are a number of surprises both in what got nominated and movies as well as actors that got snubbed. The sad thing for me is that I really wanted to be able to give detailed insight on what I feel could and should win in every category but every year it always ends up being that I haven’t been able to see every movie that often gets nominated.

You can check out the nominations below and as a bonus if I felt inclined enough to put in my two cents on a category I’ve included some of my own commentary on the nominations. The selections in bold are my personal favorites of the nominations and the selections in italics are the nominations I’m giving my best guess as far as what may actually win. Make no mistake that these are purely based on my own opinion and since I have yet to see a lot of titles it’s based only on speculation. In fact if you see a title that has no commentary or a bolder or italic selection then I chose not to weigh in on that category. The Oscars will air on February 26, 2012.

Best Picture

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Luke says: Having only seen a few select titles on this list I have very little input outside of the fact that I loved MONEYBALL and the THE DESCENDANTS pick is riding its win at the Golden Globes. The shocker seems to be EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE given its very mixed reaction critically- in fact I’ve read lots of very harsh criticism in regards to that film so I have to go out on a limb and say that is a questionable call. THE ARTIST seems to be somewhat of a sleeper pick given the tremendous reception and the use of classic cinema technique, but lots of opinions rest on more appreciation than calling it an outright best picture of the year option.

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist Alexdander Payne, The Descendants Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Best Actor In a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Mellisa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Luke says: I loved BRIDESMAIDS and Mellisa McCarthy was hilarious, but enough so for an Oscar nomination, I don’t know about that.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Luke says: I have heard a lot about Michael Shannon’s performance in TAKE SHELTER so I’m even a little surprised to see his name missing from this category.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Animated Feature Film

A Cat in Paris, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Puss in Boots, Chris Miller
Rango, Gore Verbinski

Luke says: I will give props to RANGO for the gorgeous visuals and incredible animation but overall it just didn’t click with me. I really dug the story behind KUNG FU PANDA 2 and the animation again is quite good and overall the film is a lot of fun. It’s a shame HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON couldn’t be released in a year like this instead of opposite TOY STORY 3 then it could have walked away an Oscar winner as it should have been. Sort of shocked that TINTIN didn’t even get a nomination here.


The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo, Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse, Janusz Kaminski

Foreign Language Film

Belgium, “Bullhead”, Michael R. Roskam, director
Canada, “Monsieur Lazhar”, Philippe Falardeau, director
Iran, “A Separation”, Asghar Farhadi, director
Israel, “Footnote”, Joseph Cedar, director
Poland, “In Darkness”, Agnieszka Holland, director

Music (Original Song)

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets, Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio” from Rio, Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Luke says: THE MUPPETS I feel really deserve some sort of win at the Oscars and if any this is the one. I love this song but even more so I would have liked to see “Life’s a Happy Song.”

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

The Descendants, Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Hugo, Screenplay by John Logan
The Ides of March, Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball, Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The Artist, Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids, Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call, Written by J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris, Written by Woody Allen
A Separation, Written by Asghar Farhadi

Art Direction

The Artist: Laurence Bennett (Production Design); Robert Gould (Set Decoration)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration)
Hugo: Dante Ferretti (Production Design); Francesca Lo Schiavo (Set Decoration)
War Horse: Rick Carter (Production Design); Lee Sandales (Set Decoration)

Costume Design

Anonymous, Lisy Christl
The Artist, Mark Bridges
Hugo, Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre, Michael O’Connor W.E., Arianne Phillips

Documentary Feature

Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Pina

Documentary Short

The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement, Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
God is the Bigger Elvis, Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
Incident in New Baghdad, James Spione Saving Face, Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing

The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker
Moneyball, Christopher Tellefsen


Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)

The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams

Short Film (Animated)

Dimanche/Sunday , Patrick Doyon
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
La Luna, Enrico Casarosa
A Morning Stroll, Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
Wild Life, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)

Pentecost, Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
Raju, Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
The Shore, Terry George and Oorlagh George
Time Freak, Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
Tuba Atlantic, Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing

Drive, Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce
Hugo, Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
War Horse, Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
Hugo, Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Moneyball, Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
War Horse, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
Hugo, Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
Real Steel, Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Dan Glass, Brad Friedman, Douglas Trumbull and Michael Fink

Luke says: Loved RISE OF THE APES and as much as impressed as I was with the special effects in TRANSFORMERS I cannot chose that to win over a vastly superior overall film. Along with it though RISE OF THE APES had great performance capture and the effects towards the end were just as impressive.


Top 10 Movies of 2011

I enjoy looking back over the year that was and reminiscing over my favorite movies. I believe it is important to point out though that when I write a list like this and call it a Best Of it’s just one way of conveying that what is to follow are the movies that I enjoyed the most throughout the year. I do not claim to have better taste in movies than any single person or that my list is the definitive version, it’s simply a collection of movies that I got the most enjoyment out of. Unfortunately as I compiled the titles I enjoyed the most I was left with a collection of movies that I enjoyed just as much as the rest it just became difficult to try and decide what ones I wanted to give the recognition to.

The other disappointing aspect I was faced with was the fact that there is a great amount of movies I really wanted to watch before making this list and just haven’t had the time. So please once you’re done reading feel free to continue on for a list of movies I haven’t been able to see to get a little more context to why something may not be on my best list.

10. The Muppets – When I went into THE MUPPETS I was fully prepared to melt in the nostalgia. This movie is number one in my heart, but wasn’t quite as triumphant as I felt it should be to be higher on the list. I had a grin from beginning to end and had some of the musical numbers been as great as “Life’s a Happy Song” I would have indeed left to immediately shatter glass reciting every beat to every song. As I mentioned though, THE MUPPETS may be at number 10 as far as this list is concerned, but they are so delightful and fun that they will always be number one in my heart.

9. Crazy Stupid Love – This one really came out of nowhere for me. The title, the premise and the fact that I’m not the world’s biggest Steve Carell fan did not have me convinced I was going to walk out of this happy. To my utter shock I walked out of this with a huge grin on my face and surprised by how funny and heartfelt it all was without hitting the rom com pitfalls so many other movies fall victim to. Ryan Gosling is incredibly smooth and charismatic and I even enjoyed Steve Carell quite a bit. Few romantic comedies get to me quite like this so CRAZY STUPID LOVE deserves its props.

8. Super 8 – When I saw SUPER 8 for the first time I ended up be much more enamored over the experience immediately after than I was weeks and even months down the road with every new movie that came out. You will notice the film is still on the list because I really do love it and it is a great example of a Spielberg movie not directed by Spielberg. The kid actors are phenomenal and the tension throughout the film before the actual reveal of the monster was great. SUPER 8 is even just worth sitting through to get a look at the short film the kids are making throughout the course of the movie.

7. X-Men: First Class – 2011 has been stuffed full of superhero movies- X-MEN: FIRST CLASS got its licks in before they really started to wear me down. The thing is that X-MEN works as a thoroughly engaging character piece just as much as if not more than it does as a superhero movie. If you had asked me before this year that any superhero property turned to film would end up on my best list and the movie didn’t involve Batman I would have had a good laugh and now X-MEN: FIRST CLASS has come around to make me think twice.

6. Warrior – I can’t tell you how many times I went out to catch this in theaters only to have my efforts thwarted by errands or other time sensitive issues. Luckily I did finally check it out because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to include one of the best emotionally driven sports dramas in recent memory. WARRIOR may have been released in the shadow of the equally as fantastic film THE FIGHTER last year where Christian Bale received Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. I believe each actor here is worthy of at least a nomination here as Tom Hardy is mysterious and even frightening at times, Joel Edgerton is sympathetic and has a bit of built up rage and Nick Nolte at times is heartbreaking as the father seeking forgiveness and redemption from his sons for his past mistakes. WARRIOR is a winning formula and a great piece of emotional drama and fun sports flick.

5. Drive – On some level I believe I expected a little more out of DRIVE before actually sitting to watch it. I didn’t have overly lofty expectations but I was kind of hoping for something more like the opening scene except I wanted that all the way through. What I got was different, not in a bad way, but different enough for it to not land higher on the list. Every actor is pretty great, the score is great and there are quite a few memorable visuals. Overall, DRIVE is quietly thrilling and exciting in a very subdued way and strikes at a visceral level in the extreme outburts of violence.

4. Source Code – Duncan Jones’ name has been planted on my directors I have to keep an eye on, then again he’s been there since I watched MOON. SOURCE CODE didn’t quite enthrall me as much as MOON did, but it is still a very engaging and entertaining movie boasting a premise/concept that could carry subsequent films or even a TV show. Jones’ film is sci fi action that works on every level.

3. Win Win – It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve seen WIN WIN that I nearly forgot it was even released this year. That’s just the way it goes with the amount of movies that are released each year and ones from the previous year that I catch up on when they hit DVD not to mention the amount of straight to DVD movies I try to check out. WIN WIN is an indie film that has plenty of heart and humor to spare. I originally sought it out because of some nice things I was seeing about it and when finally saw it not only was I not disappointed, it made me laugh and connected emotionally more than I thought it could.

2. Moneyball – I love baseball, but did that mean I would automatically love MONEYBALL. Not even close, I love a lot of things but how many times have you lifted the curtain of things you like only to be exposed to the more unflattering aspects of it. I found the peek behind the baseball world and the front office politics as well as the process behind bringing a team to play every year to be fascinating. Brad Pitt is great and he has great chemistry with Jonah Hill. MONEYBALL did for front office baseball what THE SOCIAL NETWORK did for computer programming by making something boring and mundane extremely engaging and entertaining. Forgive me for this, but MONEYBALL is a grand slam.

1. Attack The Block – I don’t get to do this often but for me, ATTACK THE BLOCK is about as close as it gets to a movie that is nearly perfect. I’m not saying it is perfect, but to be perfectly honest there is not one thing about this movie I don’t like- there’s things I don’t like as much as others but otherwise everything falls on the positive side of the spectrum. Are the thick British accents tough to decipher- at times yes but after subsequent viewings they get a bit clearer. The actors are all great but I fully get people having trouble accepting the troubled youths as heroes after how the movie begins. I was able to make the jump from disliking them to liking them by the end and once the film gets to the slow motion chase towards the end I feel completely satisfied with my own love of the film.

Honorable Mentions: Bridesmaids, Red State, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Kung Fu Panda 2, Super, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Feel like I missed something? Don’t fire up the keyboard just yet to spit vile and venom at me. Due to various restrictions, time and availability mostly, I haven’t been able to see everything I often want to see. If you think I missed a title check the list below of movies I haven’t seen that I feel had the possibility to make it to the list had I been able to see it. Once I do finally see it keep an eye out for a review to see how I ultimately came down on it.


The Descendants



Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Ides of March

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Take Shelter

Young Adult

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Movie Review: Moneyball (2011)


Billy Beane may very well have achieved something great in Oakland during the 2002 season- but from this point forward he will be able to include this statement in the same breath, “Brad Pitt played me in a movie.” MONEYBALL combines two of my biggest passions, it’s a movie and it’s about baseball- beyond that it’s also an underdog story, a story about not settling for second or third best, being scared to believe in yourself….heck at one point it’s even partly about the fact that David Justice doesn’t like paying for soda. Really though, MONEYBALL does what THE SOCIAL NETWORK did just a year ago- it takes an in depth look at the more mundane details of a bigger picture- and it is phenomenal.

MONEYBALL is the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and GM Billy Beane, played Brad Pitt. The team made it to the playoffs in 2001 only to be eliminated by the New York Yankees in the Division series. During the off season GM Billy Beane and his scouts were faced with losing three of their best players and needing to replace their numbers on a shoestring budget. With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) the two use an extremely methodical stats system to pick players they can afford to create a winning team. Beane is looked at as crazy as his system fails at first, but begins to miraculously turn around later on in the season.

I have a deep love for baseball- yet I’m also not an Oakland Athletics fan. The beauty here is that you do not have to be an Athletics fan to appreciate MONEYBALL- you don’t even have to be a fan of baseball. MONEYBALL involves the Oakland Athletics, but it is not ABOUT the Oakland Athletics. It’s the story of a former baseball player turned scout, turned General Manager that works against budget constraints to create a winning team- the team just happens to be the Athletics because that’s what happened. In fact there’s even a nice integration of archived footage mixed in to the film. The message and heart of the film is much deeper than being just a movie about scouting and managing baseball.

With a star like Brad Pitt in a film like this it may be hard to separate the star from his character. I myself had trouble at times, but Brad Pitt is a great actor and he still does a fantastic job. Jonah Hill also does an admirable job standing next to Pitt and even Philip Seymour Hoffman in select scenes. MONEYBALL is Pitt’s movie though and he has great comedic timing and delivers all his lines with charisma and charm. The performances all around are great and even the brief moments with Pitt and Hoffman have a sense of tension but also comedy in them.

The thing to know about MONEYBALL is that this is not your typical sports movie. There are in-game sequences but they are not the entire focus. In many ways MONEYBALL has a lot in common with Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar Nominated script from last year THE SOCIAL NETWORK- where it takes a recognizable topic and gives you what happens behind the scenes. Instead of long scenes of play by play games we get lots of stat crunching and Pitt making deals for players or arguing with scouts about who he wants to pick up for the team. MONEYBALL uses lots of smart baseball talk to win over the audience much like Sorkin’s Facebook movie used rapid fire computer lingo to engage the audience.

I do not believe you have to be a baseball fan to enjoy MONEYBALL, but I truly believe anyone who loves baseball will love this film. Baseball hatred can latch on to the great human drama within the film- Pitt’s relationship with his daughter, the friendship between Pitt and Hill, and the way it conveys the overall love of the game Billy Beane had. It was incredibly easy to get lost in how well the movie pushes across the monotony of going through the motions year after year and the driving need to make a change or it can kill the enjoyment of something you once loved. I connected fully with every aspect in regards to Beane’s love of baseball and how fun it is to experience something new amidst the day to day tedious aspects. I also felt the absolute frustration when people refuse to see it from a different perspective and the selfishness that is present not only in sports bit life in general.

MONEYBALL is a quiet film in regards to score- there is a lot of talking so there is no need for loud boisterous music. Baseball lovers will find the general use of baseball jargon and techniques a suitable replacement to a musical score, much as I did. Don’t get me wrong there is a great score it just doesn’t dominate the film. Lots of the best scenes are almost devoid of music at all. The standout scenes for me are the early scenes where Pitt is in meetings with scouts as they argue back and forth, a fantastic monologue at the end when Pitt is meeting with the owner of the Red Sox and the final scene involving Pitt in his car listening to a CD. The two latter scenes pushed me over the edge from loving MONEYBALL to adoring the film outright.

As mentioned earlier on- I believe that MONEYBALL is this year’s THE SOCIAL NETWORK for baseball fans. It might be difficult to make the disconnect that Brad Pitt is not playing himself but an influential member in the baseball community- but Pitt still gives a great performance as does everyone else in the film. What it lacks in a truly memorable score it makes up for with witty dialogue that ranges from dramatic to very funny. America’s greatest past-time deserves a film that loves the game as much as the fans and I truly believe that MONEYBALL is that film.