Thank You For Your Service

October 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Miles Teller, Beulah Koale, Haley Bennett
Directed by: Jason Hall (debut)
Written by: Jason Hall (“American Sniper”)

While war movies have been a part of the cinematic landscape for the last century, there are far fewer examples of post-war films that explore the harrowing issues of life after military service.
Post-Vietnam films like Oliver Stone’s critically-acclaimed 1989 classic “Born On the Fourth of July” and Emilio Esteves’ lesser-known 1996 drama “The War at Home” made an impact in their respective ways at the time, but civilian life after wartime has never really been looked at during more recent conflicts on foreign soil, specifically soldiers suffering from a mental diagnosis like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Jason Hall (“American Sniper”) makes his directorial debut with “Thank You for Your Service,” one of the first feature films in recent memory to confront the trauma of PTSD. Hall, who touched on the issue in 2014’s “American Sniper” with the story of late Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle, expands on the topic with heart, compassion and sensitivity, but also refuses to take it head on with kid gloves. It’s an effective portrayal of men fighting even in their weakest state, and each performance brims with authenticity and emotion.

In the film, which is based on a true story, Miles Teller (“Whiplash”) plays Adam Schumann, one of three U.S. soldiers the film follows as they return home after serving their country in Iraq. Finding it difficult to integrate back into civilian life, Adam, along with fellow soldiers Solo (Beulah Koale) and Billy (Joe Cole), try to put the horrors of war behind them and forget what they saw on the battlefield. Faced with their own personal demons, each man is forced to come to terms with their depression, all while doing the best they can to maneuver through a broken health care system that doesn’t seem to be working in their best interest.

“TYFYS” is a tough film to witness and process, specifically if you are one of the estimated 460,000 U.S. veterans currently with PTSD or a friend or family member of a vet who has seen first-hand how debilitating the disorder can become if not treated. Still, “TYFYS” is essential and inspirational cinema. It cuts to the core of the crisis and should be a wake-up call for anyone in a position of power who can make decisions on the post-war lives of these men and women.

Hall has presented a problem and almost seems to be challenging those in power to come up with a solution. We’ll have to see if “TYFYS” can actually create some kind of meaningful change. As a far as making a case for itself on a cinematic level, however, it makes a lasting impression.

The Martian

October 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)

In recent years, director Ridley Scott has gone from Oscar-nominated visionary director, to that guy who made that movie where Cameron Diaz copulates with a car windshield, among other recent cinematic atrocities. It’s a cold streak that, save for the unfairly over-criticized but still average “Promethus,” has firmly moved Scott out of the list of prestige directors. “The Martian,” which is adapted from one of the best received novels of the last few years, tests the theory that perhaps Scott still has the talent and just needed some help tapping into it again.

During a storm on a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and separated from the rest of his crew. Presumed dead, the crew takes off and heads back to Earth. Hours later, Watney wakes up realizing he has been stranded on Mars. With no communication, no clear way to let people know he is alive, and limited supplies, Watney is forced to find a way to stay alive and get in touch with Earth before he runs out of resources.

The sprawling cast of “The Martian” is impressive, with strong supporting turns from actors like Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejoifor. The film, however, belongs to Damon. Displaying why he is the movie star that he is, Damon devours every second of screen time he gets. Watney is a character that, despite his situation, stays in relatively good spirits, which is a testament not only to the character design, but to the nuances of Damon’s performance as the sarcastic botanist.

The other star of the film besides Damon is the screenplay by Drew Goddard. Filled with tension and artfully told through the use of video logs, Goddard is able to bring life and humanity out of isolation. Perhaps the greatest quality of Goddard’s fantastic script is its use of humor. “The Martian” is legitimately funny, largely thanks to the way Damon’s smart-ass, witty character is written, but is even successful with a few sight gags. It adds a level of levity to an otherwise serious situation, keeping the film engaging, thoroughly entertaining and striking a tonal balance between drama and humor that few movies are able to accomplish. It also helps bring out the best in Damon, who delivers his dialogue with comedic ease. He radiates charisma.

Another great quality of the screenplay is how time is split between Damon on Mars and NASA back on Earth. There are little pockets of parallel storylines that unfold and keep things engaging, primarily between Watney’s ingenuity and NASA trying to avoid a PR catastrophe. It’s edited well enough that neither story goes untold for too long and each is fascinating in its own light.

“The Martian” is the total cinematic package. It’s humorous, gripping, intelligent and extremely entertaining. It could have possibly use a touch more of an emotional pull, especially in terms of what is at stake and relationship building, but that feels like a nitpick considering everything else that “The Martian” masterfully accomplishes. Welcome back, Ridley Scott. Perhaps next time you should make sure you bring Goddard along with you.

Belle

May 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson
Directed by: Amma Asante (“A Way of Life”)
Written by: Misan Sagay (“The Secret Laughter of Women”)

In the last couple of years, films like “Lincoln” and “12 Years a Slave” have given some important historical context to the subject of slavery in the U.S. and the steps it took to eradicate and overcome it post-Civil War. That shameful part of history, however, was not exclusive to America as we see in “Belle,” a beautifully-shot true-life story set in England where one courageous woman attempts to understand where she fits in society since both her rank and ethnicity seem to contradict each other.

In “Belle,” actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as the title character, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy admiral (Matthew Goode) who is called back out to sea and decides to leave his motherless young child in the hands of her wealthy great uncle, Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), and his wife (Emily Watson) despite their initial objection. As Belle grows up, she finds herself stuck in a sort of no man’s land of social status. While Belle’s lineage gives her privileges, she is not allowed, for example, to dine with the family when they have company or be matched with a suitor of equal rank because of the controversy it may stir up.

While much of “Belle” follows along the same path as most Jane Austen-inspired costume dramas, it’s not all that makes up this exquisite era piece. Sure, Belle is just as desperate to find a man as any of the Bennett sisters (although she hides it fairly well), but there’s more to this heroine than a fairy-tale ending. She knows there are more pressing issues in the world than finding the ideal husband. When she meets aspiring lawyer and abolitionist John Davinier (Sam Reid), she is introduced to a host of cases (in particular, one where a slave ship owner kills his slaves for the insurance money) that open her eyes even more to the injustices people like her mother faced their entire lives.

Anchored by a strong performance by Mbatha-Raw, “Belle” comes up short on an emotional level, which is surprising given the topics raised, but is fascinating enough to keep our attention on the more historically significant points rather than the conventional romance. There are still corsets, yes, but director Amma Asante’s (“A Way of Life”) ability to loosen them up a bit so our main character can fight the good fight is reason enough to stay invested in this little-known history lesson.

AFF Film Review: Scrapper

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Michael Beach, Aidan Gillen, Anna Giles
Directed by: Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”)
Written by: Ed Dougherty (“Blackout”) and Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”)

An offensive, obnoxious, unfunny and badly-acted comedy/drama by director and co-writer Brady Hall (“Hello, My Name is Dick Licker”), “Scrapper” is one of those movies that will give filmmakers everywhere reason to believe their shoddy project has a chance to be accepted into film festivals. If something as staggeringly bad as “Scrapper” can get pulled out of the junk heap, anything is possible.

“Scrapper” stars Michael Beach as Hollis Wallace (terrible movie character name!), an independent scrap metal collector who makes a living by driving around neighborhoods looking for unwanted items he call sell to the scrap yard. For whatever far-fetched reason, Hollis decides to hire Swan (Anna Giles), a down-on-her-luck teenager who will do just about anything for a buck.

Despite Beach’s best attempt to keep the film grounded, the “Scrapper” script is an ugly one to say the least. If Hall’s intention was to create some sort of emotional bond between Hollis and Swan, he fails. Beach and co-writer Ed Dougherty try to write Hollis as this father-figure type character that gives advice to his new employee, but the dialogue they share (not to mention the word vomit spewed by the rest of the cast) is far from inspiring. We won’t even attempt to dissect what Beach was thinking when he has Hollis and Swan have awkward sex on the couch with each other. Without a scrap of emotion, authenticity, or real-world consequences behind it, “Scrapper” is a lost cause from every angle.

“Scrapper” plays at the 2013 Austin Film Festival Saturday, Oct. 26 at 10:30 p.m. (Rollins Theater) and Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 10:00 p.m. (Alamo Drafthouse Village).

For more Austin Film Festival Coverage, click here