AT LAST! January 23rd, 2015 — A Depressing Blockbuster?


Theater Thursdays


*Dear reader, please excuse my stupidity. I thought I had set this article to self publish last Thursday, January 22nd, but after a long weekend of work and very little sleep, I realized that I had somehow forgotten the important step of actually setting that up to happen. So, please forgive the fact that this article of Theater Thursday, is actually coming out on a Tuesday. I feel very dum.


Hello again, my fellow geeks.

Well, my epic re-read of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER series continues. I am 3/4 through the second book, THE DRAWING OF THE THREE, and I cannot believe how much of the book I had forgotten, hell, how much of the whole story I had forgotten. It’s a funny thing with a series of books. I guess it’s the same with a television series as well, actually, but once you get to the end of the series and know the complete story, when you look back on the books/episodes, sometimes you lose track of when you found certain things out. When details about a character and their background is revealed can become foggy.  I know that with The Drawing of the Three, there are character beats with Roland and Eddie that I was sure happened in this book, but it turns out, happens in a later book.  Interesting how our memory works sometimes.  Anyway….

I’m supposed to be talking about movies, so let’s get to it, shall we?

Last weekend was a very strange weekend for movies. We, the entire Theater Industry, were caught completely off guard by AMERICAN SNIPER. Not the fact that there was a film or that it was coming out, no, we knew that much, but what NOBODY saw coming was a 33 Million dollar Friday, a 39 Million dollar Saturday and a 21 Million dollar Sunday.

93 Million Dollars over three days. 106 Million by close of day, Monday.

Those are Summer Blockbuster numbers. In fact, last Summer, only one film opened higher than that, and it was TRANSFORMERS: LIMIT OF ENDURENCE, which opened at 103 Million. Granted, it was a very slow Summer, but those are still numbers that are usually reserved for Superheros, Sequels and movies with either the words FAST and/or FURIOUS in their titles.

It has made Bradley Cooper a certified movie star who can open a film by himself and is defiantly Clint Eastwood’s biggest debut as either a Director or an Actor.

What is interesting though, is that although the film is behaving and performing like a feel-good summer blockbuster, it most assuredly is not. What it is, is a dark brooding drama about PTSD and survivors guilt. There are several sequences of war and almost by default, scenes of action and tense battle, but being based on the true story of S.E.A.L sniper Chris Kyle, it primarily focuses on how his four tours of duty during the Iraq war impacted his family and his own ability to live a normal life. This is a guy who kept volunteering to go back to war, leaving his wife and two small children to wonder when and if they would ever see him again.

What is even more interesting is that in the past…the recent past….any kind of film dealing with the Iraq war was box-office poison. There is a long list of films, some good, some bad and a few great ones about the war that have been absolute disasters, money wise.

In fact, one of the very best films ever made about war and the effects of war on a man is THE HURT LOCKER, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in February of 2009. The film made a total of 15 Million Dollars.

Over the last week or so, there has been a strange, pointless but all too familiar battle of words between warriors of rhetoric on both sides….the right wing pro-war of any and all kinds and the left leaning, anti-war of any kind….about the relative merits of the film and its real life subject.  Chris Kyle, the real guy played by Bradley Cooper in the film, was shot and killed by another Vet, a vet he was trying to help, on Feb 2nd, 2013. No matter what your feelings on the subject, this was a tragedy and devastating for his family. It seems somehow crude and unbecoming to assassinate the character of someone who is no longer here to defend himself. Even more so given that almost everyone who has an opinion about the man now, only knows of him due to the film. This of course has never stopped anyone from blasting their opinion about a given subject to anyone in the world. It used to be that we were only able to “share” our deeply (and not so deeply) felt ideas about things to the people in our lives, the people who we dealt with day-to-day.  Now, thanks to social media and the internet, we can share our thoughts on anyone and anything to hundreds of thousands of people. Some of the “opinions” shared by people have been truly ugly.  People calling him a coward and a child killer, a hate filled monster who joined the military because he wanted to kill…those….people. I’m not going to dignify the choice of wording even in the service of telling you, but you can probably imagine.

Others have almost deified the man. Called him the greatest hero of the last fifty-years, said he only did the things he did to protect his brothers-in-arms.

This is not a political site and the day it became one, if it ever did, would be my last day here, so please understand that I’m not saying these things for no reason. I am pointing this out because people on both sides have distilled their feelings about the Man and funneled them into their feelings about the FILM about the Man.

In other words, if they like him, they like the film. If they don’t like him and what he stood for, they hate the film. 

This is the worst way to look at and judge a film. The value of a film isn’t the same as the value of its subject. They are two very different things.

To give you a blunt and very obvious example of this: Michael Corleone is an abhorrent human. He kills innocent people. He deals in drugs and corruption. He had his own brother killed for God’s sake. However, the film about him, THE GODFATHER PT. II is one of the greatest films ever made. A complete masterpiece from opening scene to last.

I can hear someone say  …But The Godfather isn’t real. Michael Corleone is a fictional character, it’s not the same.

To a point, I agree. But the character of Chris Kyle, as played by Bradley Cooper, isn’t completely real either. Anytime an actor portrays a real person, they bring something of themselves to the part. It’s Bradley’s charm and smile we see on-screen, not Chris Kyle’s.  He is basing his portrayal on the way other people remember the man. On home videos made of the man. You tell me, when is the last time you were completely relaxed and totally yourself when you were being filmed?  Exactly.

No matter how good of a job Bradley Cooper did with the voice and the mannerism, it is still a character. And just like every “Based on a true story” film ever made, situations were compressed, certain characters are composites of several different people. Things that happened over the course of several months are compressed to look as if they happened within a couple of days. It’s the nature of film. It’s both the blessing and the curse of telling a true story. A blessing because real life events are usually less believable than made up events, a curse because the family see’s a thousand things wrong in every scene.

I’m going a little left of where I’m trying to go, but at the bottom of what I’m trying to get across to you is this, I am not focusing on the “Based on a true story” part of the film, I’m focusing completely on the actual Film part of the film.

With that being said, I have to say, I was not all that impressed with what I saw. From a purely cinematic point of view, the film just isn’t very good.  It pains me to say that, because I love Clint Eastwood as a director. He has made some very good films, a couple of great ones. This is, in my opinion, one of his weakest.

The pacing is off. The film seems to be about 3 hours long, buts it’s only a little over 2 hours. That’s because the pacing is off. The battle scenes, which are very tense and engaging at first, get repetitious after a while. There is a sameness to them. I realize that he was a sniper and in the desert, so there is only so much they can change, but by the final battle, it’s just lost all the tension that was there. There is also the fact that we know going in that he isn’t going to get killed during any of the battles, so the sense of jeopardy that is crucial to a war film is gone.

There has been a lot of talk on-line about the shoddy effects in the film, and although they aren’t as bad as I had heard, there are some scenes where it just looks like they either ran out of money or time.

There is a scene though…it has been talked about on-line at different movie blog sites and I thought they were overdoing how bad it was. I was wrong. It’s a scene in a hospital nursery when Bradley Cooper holds what is supposed to be a live baby. What he is holding though is so plainly a rubber doll, that I thought it almost must have been a joke. Meant for the blooper reel at the cast wrap party, but accidentally used in the actual release print. You cannot see this scene and not wonder, where was Clint Eastwood while this was being edited and cut together? There is no way a director would or should allow a glaringly bad effect like this in their film. It just boggles the mind.

The ending is rushed. It’s so rushed, it feels like the outline of the last act of a script, not the actual script.

Bradley Cooper comes back stateside. Doesn’t tell his wife. Sits in a bar drinking. Wife calls, he tells her he is Stateside and just needed a little time. Wife asks him to come home. He says okay. Sits home, battle noise still in his head. Sits at picnic with family, blankly staring and not really connecting. Mistakes dogs playing with kid as attack, jumps up and grabs dog and is stopped at last-minute from killing poor dog. Sits in doctor’s office at the vet hospital. Doc asks if he’s okay. He Says he’s okay. Doc says I want to show you something. Sits in room with vets who have lost body parts and are physically scarred by war. Decides to help vets as way of helping self.

The above section reads like a quick description of the last part of the film. It isn’t. It actually happens on-screen in about the same time it took you to read it.

Like I said, Very Rushed.

It has been very depressing to see in some quarters, a review of this film as anything less than brilliant and an instant masterpiece is un-patriotic.  To me, that feels too close to Orwellian politics, and those of you who don’t know what that means, turn off your computer right now and go read 1984 by George Orwell and then come back and pick up right……here. 

When all is said and done, it’s just a film and I’m just a guy writing about it on a blog, so take it all with a grain of sand. If you feel you must go to see it to support the troops, fine. Just go in with very low expectations and you should be fine.

Also this week in wide release: MORTDECAI, the latest…um, film…..starring Johnny Depp. This film, starring one of, if not the most bankable and highest paid movie stars on earth, has been tracking to be an absolute disaster.

*As stated at the top of this article, there was a little delay in me getting this up, so I was able to go back and fix some things (Just like George Lucas) and I am able to insert this little factoid: The film was tracking for about 8 million. It came in at an even worse than expected 4 million. This is Depp’s fourth bomb in a row. He might need to rethink the movies he’s saying yes to and try playing an actual character instead of a cartoon. Just an idea.

Well, that just about does it for this week, but next week looks to be pretty quiet except for a Kevin Costner film that keeps getting its theater count lowered and the Michael Bay produced time travel found footage film, PROJECT ALMANAC.

Until then, Keep the Projector threaded.