Tag Archives: Sienna Miller

Burnt (2015)

burnt

I wasn’t all that interested in seeing Burnt, a film about a good-looking but emotionally damaged chef played by Bradley Cooper. And as it turns out, I probably should have stayed away, because I sure got burnt by it.

At least it starts off well. We find out that Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper), a former hotshot chef in Paris, is returning from some kind of self-imposed exile and is ready to take over the London culinary scene by storm. And he has a clear goal in mind: his third Michelin star.

The big names flash up during the opening credits: Sienna Miller, Daniel Bruhl, Alicia Vikander, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson. It was looking really promising, and I foolishly got my hopes up.

Burnt does have some positives. The stars do deliver in terms of performances, with Cooper and Miller in particular exhibiting enough thespian skills to make us believe that they are top-class chefs (that said, Bruhl, who I loved in Drive, was quite hard to understand because of his fast-talking/accent). The dramatic kitchen scenes can be intense, and people who like watching those cooking shows with screaming head chefs will appreciate all the swearing and humiliation. And of course there’s the food porn. There wasn’t an overemphasis on the culinary delights, but they sure did look very delicate and delicious. That said, I don’t think director John Wells (August: Osage County) did enough to sell the food — other food-themed films like The Hundred-Foot Journey and Chef did a better job of making me salivate.

The fundamental problem with Burnt is that Cooper’s character, Adam Jones, is a dickhead. And not just a little one. A massively conceited, bitter, douchey, self-important, vile, and unrepentant dickhead who doesn’t deserve our sympathy or empathy. I get that they’re trying to make him unappealing so that he can be redeemed — that’s blatantly obvious from the start — but his antics just build up so much animosity that it makes it impossible to care or root for the character. By the time he’s ready to be likable it’s already far too late.

Jones isn’t the only one, either. In fact, it’s hard to find one character you can truly root for in the movie. Some of them are okay, I suppose, but no one who can really make you care enough to develop a genuine emotional connection to the story. Maybe you need to have worked in that type of high-stress environment to understand how these people think and function, but I grew frustrated from not giving a darn about their personal predicaments.

I got the feel when watching this film that it was trying to be a hard-hitting, edgy, compelling drama, though when you strip away all the big names, yelling and the cooking it’s really just a cliched redemption story. I can’t go into specifics without revealing spoilers, but it’s not hard to guess how certain plot points are played out.

On the whole, Burnt was a disappointment. To sum up the experience with food puns (naturally) — despite the pretty presentation and fancy names, Burnt was an overcooked effort with too much bitterness, ultimately leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Boom.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: American Sniper (2014)

I still say there's a lot of Jason Batemen from this angle
I still say there’s a lot of Jason Batemen from this angle
Every Clint Eastwood film these days is a must-see for me, and American Sniper — which happens to be his first Best Picture nomination since 2007’s Letters From Iwo Jima — is of course no different.

The film is less a war movie per se than a biopic of, or perhaps a tribute to, US war hero Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper), the most lethal sniper in American military history. Yes, that means Kyle has the most confirmed kills, a staggering number most people cannot even comprehend. He was so good, in fact, that US enemies put a sizable bounty on his head.

The verdict? American Sniper is not quite what I had expected. With Eastwood, you know you’re going to get a very steady, subtle hand, with an almost muted style that somehow generates volumes of emotion and tension. In the case of this film, however, the emotions felt a little suppressed — much like how Kyle suppressed his in real life — and I wonder if it was a deliberate decision on Eastwood’s part to take such an understated approach.

Given that Kyle spends a lot of time on the battlefield (he served four tours), it’s no surprise that American Sniper is one of Eastwood’s more action-packed efforts, relatively speaking, though audiences expecting an all-out thrill ride are likely to be disappointed. The action in American Sniper, though at times aptly tense, is sporadic and aimed more at character development than providing visceral shocks, but there should be enough to keep most war-hungry viewers satisfied.

The focus of the film is firmly on Kyle, who is depicted as an extremely polite and selfless soldier devoted to his job of protecting marines on the field. That devotion, however, comes at a steep price, namely his relationship with his wife (played by Sienna Miller), children, and his mental health. Kyle wasn’t allowed to discriminate between his targets, which forced him to do some very difficult things in the line of duty, and despite his insistence that he only cared about saving the lives of the marines, there’s no doubt that his actions bred a darkness that haunted him even after he returned home.

And that’s the heart of American Sniper — the struggle between duty to country and duty to loved ones, the irreversible damage to a person’s soul from being exposed to the horrors of war, and especially dealing with the terrible decisions one must make.

All of this is brought out by Bradley Cooper’s astounding portrayal of Kyle. He might not have resembled Kyle in terms of facial features (Chris Pratt comes to mind, and apparently he was Cooper’s choice too had he not been cast), but Cooper bulked up to at least provide the same flavour of masculine beefiness. More importantly, he manages to channel Kyle’s demons so audiences can at least attempt to comprehend his inner conflicts and turmoil. It’s a nuanced performance that doesn’t build Kyle up as some kind of saint, but simply gives you a good sense of who he is and what he stands for — from his no-nonsense “yes mam, no mam” demeanour to the his uncomfortable awkwardness in the face of praise and gratitude.

The rest of the supporting cast, including the likes of Luke Grimes, Kyle Gallner and Eric Close — is solid but intentionally low-key, which is necessary for the film to maintain its focus on the protagonist. Sienna Miller does what she has to, though I wish her character would have displayed more depth than the typical soldier’s wife anguishing for her husband’s return.

For those who don’t know about what happens to Kyle, I won’t spoil it by revealing the ending of the film, though I believe the quiet approach had a lot to do with certain restrictions imposed by the timing of the film’s release. At a hefty 134 minutes, it was probably a good time to wrap things up anyway.

I don’t necessarily agree with complaints that American Sniper is a pro-war movie that justifies US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. As with most Hollywood productions, there are probably lots of factual inaccuracies, and the portrayal of Iraqis are admittedly simplified and weak, but the thing to remember is that this is a biopic told through Kyle’s eyes. For me, it’s important to separate Kyle’s story, regardless of whether his views are right of wrong, from any supposed underlying message being promoted by the film.

My problem with American Sniper lies more in the film’s relative lack of emotional impact and resonance. It’s as though the film stuck too close to Kyle, to the point where his own emotional detachment ended up getting passed on to us. Having seen the likes of Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Mystic River and even Changeling and Gran Torino, I know just how good Eastwood can be at tugging the heart strings and making me feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. As well made as the film is, there wasn’t nearly as much of that sort of brilliance in American Sniper — at least not executed as effectively — and as a result I found it less engrossing than some of Eastwood’s finest works.

Nonetheless, a slightly above-average Clint Eastwood film still classifies as a very good film by almost every other standard.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

gi-joe-int-poster

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the type of summer blockbuster that is fated to be panned by critics, regardless of whether it actually deserves to be reviled.  In my humble opinion, if you know what to expect with this type of film (and come on, you should if you go to see it), it’s not actually all that bad.

First of all, it should be noted that while I may or may not have played with the Hasbro action figures (which may or may not have been cheap rip-offs) when I was younger, I am not very familiar with the G.I. Joe ‘story’, if there is one.  Nevertheless, that isn’t very important to this movie.

I won’t reveal the plot because there’s really no point – take a guess and you’ll probably be close.  You don’t need me to tell you that the film revolves around the ‘Joes’ who are trying to stop their evil enemies from world domination.  Trust me, it’s predictable – even the so-called twists are.  It’s also likely to be the first of many G.I. Joe films to come, depending on the success of this first one.

Anyway, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is pretty much what you’d expect from a film of this kind.  It has a superb cast: Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Marlon Wayans, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jonathan Pryce, Arnold Vosloo (the Mummy!), Brendan Fraser (cameo) and Ray Park (Darth Maul!).  It also features some sub-par acting, at least by these actors’ standards.

Also as expected, the film is extremely loud and relentless, with non-stop action and all types of battle scenes, from the ground to the sky to the sea, from hand-to-hand combat to exhilarating sword fights, from bullets to hi-tech blasters to ninja stars, and of course the obligatory car chase scenes – you name it, you got it.  All of these sequences are filmed with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer, and while some of it was exciting, it still felt like something was missing.  Perhaps it was the predictability, the apparent invincibility of the characters, or maybe it was just a lack of heart.

The special effects go without saying.  It’s seamless and often eye-popping.  However, it is the stuff that doesn’t rely on special effects – the hand-t0-hand and particularly the sword fights – that really steal the show.  They are meticulously choreographed and there’s no over-use of quick-cut editing.  Oh, and there’s also the cool technological gadgets, weapons and machinery.  If you can suspend all disbelief then you may think they are pretty cool.

So far so good.  Unfortunately, as expected, the good parts also come hand in hand with the appalling dialogue, the cheesy one-liners and horrible jokes that only generate laughs because they’re so bad.  Cringeworthy bad.

There you have it.  G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is what it is.  As long as you don’t expect something else then you may find it quite enjoyable, though even then, it has its limitations.

3 stars out of 5!