Category Archives: Movies

American Sniper: A Flawed Character Study

Not an honest study of a flawed character.

My expectations were really high for American Sniper given the star, the director, and the outstanding trailer. Bradley Cooper nails it to be sure, but I just found it lacking over all; especially the first half.

Seth Rogen is of course taking a lot of flack from the hive mind over his take on the film, and Michael Moore is an idiot, but the first half was so clichéd that I felt like it was recruitment marketing aimed at rednecks. This was before reading any reviews or comments about the movie, mind you.

Now, if that’s the story, then that’s the story. It is supposed to be based on a real one, and the movie becomes more compelling as we start to see the stress and the job take its toll on the protagonist and his family.

American Sniper, Chris Kyle, Bradley Cooper

Bearded Instrument of War

When evaluating the movie and not the controversial subject matter, there are some big problems structurally. Poorly edited, poorly paced at times, and most surprisingly for an Eastwood film, some scenes were poorly shot. If not for Bradley Cooper’s performance, American Sniper would likely have flopped.

Then you look at Chris Kyle himself. It sounds like he may have been a hero, certainly to the men he was deployed with in the very least.

He was also a narcissist with delusions of grandeur.

Taking only second-hand sources into account, he was very accomplished with skill and bravery to be revered, but given some of the outrageous lies he told about his deeds he must not have felt like it was enough. This actually makes him a much more interesting character, with a lot more depth to explore.

I am not going to pretend that I know all there is to know about Chief Petty Officer Kyle, and I obviously cannot say that I knew him personally, but he made himself into a public figure before his death. Naturally by doing so he opened himself up to the public scrutiny that accompanies that. Under that scrutiny it was proven* that some of his wildest stories were only just stories.

They were lies.

Kyle did not gun down assailants in a gas station parking lot, just like he did not set up on top of the Superdome and hunt looters in New Orleans during the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. These non-events didn’t make the big screen version of Kyle’s story because they did not fit the narrative, and likely because some support for the project would have been lost—namely that of Mrs. Kyle and image conscious republicans.

Perhaps the rights to his story came with restrictions, but what a missed opportunity to examine the different facets of an extraordinary, but deeply flawed man. Unfortunately most can only see Chris Kyle in black and white; either he was an infallible hero of great accomplishment and integrity, or he was a sociopath with a license to kill.

Neither interpretation represents the basis of a character study of this man. He stated in an interview that he is just a man, and he deserves to be evaluated as such.

The filmmakers have even come out and said American Sniper is not a movie about the war, but a movie about a man. A character study; but an important part of the character was left out to create a more palatable product.

*I understand that lacking any proof does not necessarily equate to being disproven, but some claims just do not hold up to logic without any evidence.

Z Reviews: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

To preface my review I will begin by stating my expectations for this movie, to serve as a frame of reference for my impression of it.

I enjoy movies of all kinds and I can usually find something to appreciate in even very bad movies. I also enjoy being critical of movies, including the best ones; a fact that doesn’t preclude an overall enjoyment of a movie. For myself, it adds to the experience.

My expectations for the new Captain America are not the same as the ones I had for The Wolf on Wall Street, not just in content, but in quality. Which would seem to go without saying, but that does not mean my expectations for The Winter Soldier were low. To the contrary, my expectations were just different.

The Whedon Effect

If I were to base my expectations exclusively on the first Captain America, I would undoubtedly be expecting less. The First Avenger was not terrible, but “comic book movies” have come a long way in the three years since its release. The Avengers has been released within that time and with the masses exposed to a Joss Whedon script now even cheesiness is expected to have a certain level of polish and charm.

The Winter Soldier

The real ultimate frisbee.

The Winter Soldier begins with an action sequence and I quickly come up against one of my few complaints with the movie: shaky cam. A “technique” that is used to make actions shots seem more frenetic, or often to hide bad choreography; which makes its inclusion a little confounding. The shakiness to an extent masks how fast paced and well choreographed the early fight scenes actually are. Thankfully this was at its worst in the beginning and quickly improved to a tolerable level.

When it comes to Cap’s choreography there is a superb subtlety to his skill as a fighter. Captain America is strong, fast, and resilient—but he was not always so. His character did not spend a lifetime studying martial arts, nor did his means of acquiring superhuman abilities in any way bestow upon him superhuman fighting skills as well. He at first relied on his superior physical attributes and the skill came through trial-by-fire experience.

This is well reflected in Cap’s utilitarian, no-frills fighting, which cannot always be described as realistic, but manages to feel authentic within the context. More importantly it is satisfying—which correlates to what The Winter Soldier managed to do over and over again: satisfy. More than once I realized while watching that I, the viewer, was being given exactly what I wanted at that given point in the movie. Especially commendable considering the movie did not succumb too much to predictability.


Shit gets real.

The Captain

Captain America, by name alone, paints a picture of the consummate über-patriot; loyal and ever the unquestioning good soldier.

Which is not very compelling.

By placing the word “no” in Cap’s vocabulary the team behind The Winter Soldier manages to add both depth and complexity to the character. A patriot without a doubt, but not a blind one, this current incarnation of Captain America is not a yes man, following the company line. He is more introspective, questioning himself and his allegiances when it becomes necessary to do so. A character so uniformly moral is usually flat and uninteresting, but here Cap comes across as dynamic and relate-able.

The titular antagonist similarly appears initially to simply be an archetype; cold (winter…), ruthless, unrelenting, cunning, and nearly unstoppable. Were this the case it would still be well done as the Winter Soldier seems sufficiently sinister as initially presented, but learning more about his sub-plot and where it may lead makes him a compelling character in his own right. The other villains are standard issue for the genre, and are fairly one-dimensional; though several do represent a strong nod to the source material.

Exceeding Expectations

For someone who professes to be a critical movie-goer, this review has been awful glowing, has it not?

To put it candidly: The Winter Soldier delivers exactly what is desired from it; epitomizing what a good theater movie should be. I didn’t analyze the delivery of every line, or stay vigilant for plot holes, in the same way that I don’t sit in eager anticipation of a Matrix-esque shootout during a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier did not have to do much to surpass the original, and with the slavering Marvel addicted masses, needed to do even less to be a box office success. No one would have been surprised to find this franchise on cruise control as Marvel rolls on toward The Avengers 2. Instead, we are treated to a well-written, tightly paced, action-thriller that, like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, can be held in judgement without the “comic book movie” moniker, and still be found worthy.