Tag Archives: Sienna Miller

Live By Night

“This, right here, is heaven. We fucked it up.”

From Ben Affleck, the director of Argo and The Town – and starring Ben Affleck, the star of Argo and The Town – comes an early competitor for most infuriatingly boring film that should never have been so infuriatingly boring: Live By Night.

Maybe my expectations were set a little high? Maybe I was hoping for a little too much? Maybe, the pedestal I’ve put Ben Affleck on in recent years is too lofty for him? But this film – a film that stars Affleck, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoe Salanda and Brendan Gleeson, to name but a few – and Affleck on directorial duty; this film disappointed in such a massive way that I felt crushed as I left the screening on Saturday afternoon.

After a stint in prison for his part in a bank robbery, long time petty crook Joe Coughlin (Affleck) hits the streets of Boston a free man with money, power and revenge on his mind. Aligning himself with the head of the Italian mob, the Irishman is sent to Florida to remove certain entities from power and start making the boss some money.

Coughlin uses his smarts and is quickly the top dog in the sunny state, making a fortune selling dark Cuban rum in the height of prohibition America. Of course, working your way up from nickel-and-dime hood to being the most powerful man in Florida brings you an enemy or three and now Coughlin’s found himself on the wrong side of some very powerful people.

Pretty much “30’s Gangster Movie 101”

Based on the novel of the same name by writer Dennis Lahane – writer of books like Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone (Affleck’s directorial debut) – Live By Night is surprising in its awfulness considering just how good its inspiration is.

Whilst it’s not the worst film Ben Affleck has starred in (not by a long shot) Live By Night is most certainly the weakest of his directorial efforts. By quite a margin. The man has no one else to blame but himself.

Writer, producer, director and star may have been too much for the current Batman to do all by himself this time around as every role that he took responsibility for in the creation of this film suffered a lack of care and attention: This, considering The Town is one of my favourite crime thrillers (I’ll forgive it being an ADD, Boston based remake of Heat), a film I think is beautifully made and superbly paced with excellent acting all around. Affleck’s latest seems to have forgotten all the skill that made his 2010 crime thriller great and has decided to make himself a paint-by-numbers prohibition movie in an age that includes Boardwalk Empire having once been a thing.

Lacklustre, badly paced direction and a beyond poor script do little to take away from the terrible acting in this film. Not just from Affleck, but his whole cast.

Chris Cooper’s police chief, who a penchant for burying his head in the sand, looked bored on screen. As did Elle Fanning – fresh from an excellent performance in The Neon Demon – as the chief’s daughter: A woman with Hollywood bound aspirations. Both Sienna Miller and Zoe Salanda are neither convincing (nor apparently convinced) in their roles as Coughlin’s fancy pieces at various stages. The whole ensemble seem like puppets with someone’s hand up their arses doing the talking. Only their puppet master is asleep at the wheel.

Live By Night takes a tremendously long time to get to its wholly predictable conclusion. Considering how much good quality strong coffee I get through on a standard Saturday and the venti double shot Americano I take in with me to almost every screening, there is no way I should have been dozing off whilst watching this. Yet there I was, nodding off in my chair like your old man after Christmas dinner.

Not bad considering I don’t remember feeling tired when I went in.

High-Rise

high rise

“That’s right. You sit there and think about what you did.”

Honestly, I had no idea what to expect when I sat down for High-Rise. The trailers and marketing purposefully tell us nothing useful about the film or its story. Outside of “stars Tom Hiddleston and directed by Ben Wheatley”, I wasn’t entirely sure this would be something worth seeing. But, you know, sometimes playing a hunch pays off.

In mid-70’s London, Tom Hiddleston is Robert Laing, a doctor at a teaching hospital who has just moved into his new place in a luxury tower block. One of a handful of high-rise buildings developed by renowned architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), Laing has found what should be the perfect home on the 25th floor of this new community. Designed with isolation in mind, the high rise is a self-contained society with its own social hierarchy where those with the most money live at the top and the closer you get to the ground floor, the closer you get to the lower classes.

No sooner has Laing moved his stuff in than he finds himself in the middle of a very literal class war. Those on the top floors behaving like the aristocracy and ensuring that their fair share is much more than those below them. On the lower floors, documentary maker Richard Wilder (Luke Evans); a man intent of documenting the injustice of living literally at the bottom of the food chain and his pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss) turn out to be the kind of people that Robert gravitates to more than those above him. At the same time, with his place cemented with the middle class, he strikes up a friendship with this upstairs neighbour Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and as the building’s occupants slowly lose their minds and the isolated society descends into anarchy, Laing must decide who his loyalties lie with and how to survive as his new found home has its very own little apocalypse.

I know what you’re thinking. At least, I hope I do, because I thought the same thing. “This sounds like Snowpiercer in a block of flats”. You’re right, it does; and that feeling doesn’t leave you once you’re done watching High-Rise. Kill List and Sightseers helmer Ben Wheatley has been handed a large budget and a big star or two and given free reign to create his own little world for us, and boy does he surpass all expectations. I’ve said in the past that Wheatley has shown flashes of Kubrick-esque brilliance in his films, and this is his A Clockwork Orange in so many ways. Most obviously is in the aesthetic the man has created inside the Tower Block. The 1970’s setting is full on Kubrick: when you see that the tower has been built around the 70’s idea of what the future will look like, with residents “living in a future that is already here”, we are told.

I admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced when I saw the cast list. I wasn’t Luke Evans’ biggest fan after that dumb Dracula film he did, and Sienna Miller has never really hit my radar as someone worth watching. But both are amazing in their roles as the filmmaker trying to climb the ladder a little and the wannabe socialite with her ear to every wall. Most surprising to me though was Elisabeth Moss. I loved her all those years ago in The West Wing but I’ve not really enjoyed anything I’ve seen her in since. She does manage to change my mind here though, in a dramatic way. She is easily one of my favourite characters in this film and she does such a great job as the wife just trying to scrape by in the lower levels. Adding those to the always stellar Hiddleston and the unable-to-disappoint Irons, we’ve a stew pot filled with talent and amazing performances.

Based on J. G. Ballard’s novel of the same name, slightly-unhinged director Ben Wheatley has brought us yet another darkly funny, twisted and completely surreal way to spend a couple of hours. As Hiddleston’s quiet doctor falls for the madness of the block’s twisted self delusions, his struggle to keep sane and keep the right people on his side is one that keeps us all on the edge of our seats. The creeping sense of horror that comes from the tension between the guys at the top and the wasters at the bottom has with it this tremendous sense of foreboding from the second the violence is hinted at. We all know the direction this is going, the opening minutes showed us; but to watch the anarchy play out over such a short space of time as the high rise’s residents go from perfectly fine to near feral is pretty terrifying.

High-Rise, like almost all of Wheatley’s films, is likely to divide audiences straight down the middle. But one thing is for sure, his little slice of dystopia, love it or hate it – and believe me, I loved it – will be talked about and analysed for years to come.

Burnt

burnt

“If it isn’t perfect, throw it away.”

I tried my very hardest to find something positive to write about Burnt. But as I sat in the cinema watching it, wanting desperately to leave after the first twenty minutes, I couldn’t think of a single good thing to be said about this, the most awful of films I’ve watched in recent memory.

I’m not talking about films like The Intern, shitty, not at all funny comedies, I’m talking about a film that doesn’t have a shred of decent filmmaking anywhere in the nearly two hours I suffered through to bring you this review. I was already a bit skeptical when I read other write-ups on it, how its star power can’t save it and how it’s just not that good, but I tried to go in open-minded and not be swayed by the naysayers; maybe they were wrong?

It turns out they were. Just not in the direction that I was hoping. The reality of the film was far worse than I thought it could be.

The story of Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones, a once great chef who lost it all to booze, drugs and women is nothing short of cliché ridden nonsense. Having served a self-imposed penance; going sober, celebate and cracking oyster shells, Jones finds his way to London where he convinces his friend Tony (Daniel Brühl) to open a new restaurant an let him chase his third Michelin star. He gets himself an all-star team of chefs, including Sienna Miller and Omar Sy and starts on his journey for the most hallowed of restaurant accolades, all while his past – including ex-girlfriend Alicia Vikander – is trying to catch up with him.

On paper, it sounds a bit, well, meh. But actually watching this ghastly piece of shit was far more painful, and brought on far more anger, than I thought possible. Let’s start with the really, really obvious shall we? You and I are supposed to feel sorry for this clown. Oh, he’s had such a hard time and he’s trying so hard to make amends, fuck right off. This guy is a spiteful, hateful asshat and to feel sympathy for him would mean I first gave the slightest shit whether he was allowed to cook or not. And let’s be clear about this, we aren’t seeing him drag himself up by his bootlaces and find his way in the world. Within ten minutes of him being on screen we are well on the way to him opening a restaurant with his name on the poxy door; to be filled with pretentious twats that think it’s ok to spend £300 on a third of a plate of food made by an equally pretentious twat that thinks it’s ok to throw away £300 of food because it’s “not perfect”. Cooked in a room filled with utter tool bags that think it’s ok to have pictures of cleavers and wooden spoons tattooed on them. I couldn’t care less about your situation pal, you want my sympathy? You want me to care about you? Get thee to a Harvester and shut the fuck up!

You can’t endear yourself to me by being such an abysmal human being that you don’t let your chefs have the day off for their kid’s birthday, yelling at people Gordon Ramsey style and physically abusing the one chick in your kitchen, mate. But “oh no, your dream is vanishing before your eyes” as the mate you fucked over years ago returns to fuck you right back! Good. You deserve nothing less for the pain and suffering you are putting all of us in the theatre through watching as you try to prove you’re not a has-been, as you try to bring drama to a plate of fish and as you swear off women for life but get the girl anyway. Please, dear god, just piss off.

Do yourself a favour, there is nothing here to see. Even the usual talents of the usually decent Cooper and the awesome Vikander aren’t worth swiping your Unlimited card for. There are far better ways to spend an afternoon. I mean, you could watch that latest John Lewis Christmas ad on a constant loop for a couple of hours. It’d be far more entertaining and less like a household chore you’re being forced to do naked in front of your entire family.

American Sniper

By design, American Sniper has nothing to say which makes it a waste of both my time and yours.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Film Fact Based FracasLike it or not, a war film is inherently political.  The act of war is inherently political and ideological, so a war movie, by extension, has to be about something.  A “just the facts” war movie is a documentary and even then many have things to say about war and/or the people being forced to fight in it – Restrepo, for example, ends up making a sharp point about how war can affect the men and women forced onto the front lines, and the absolute mess that comes from having to establish relations with citizens whose language you don’t speak and who do not trust you at all, purely by stepping back and “just showing the facts”.  A non-documentary film, though, cannot subscribe to that and needs an overall point to power it, otherwise it’s just wasting the viewer’s time.  Something to say about the war, about PTSD, about politics, about the men and women who pull the triggers, something, anything.

American Sniper, the newest film from director Clint Eastwood, has no point.  By design, it has absolutely no point to make.  When faced with the task of adapting the life story of Chris Kyle (here portrayed by Bradley Cooper), a decorated war hero who went on four tours of Iraq between 2001 and 2009 and whose official recorded kill count of 160 makes him the deadliest sniper in US military history, Eastwood and the film’s writer, Jason Hall, have opted to simply print the legend.  “Just the facts.”  Consequently, American Sniper is a film that goes out of its way to avoid making any point whatsoever, which is the single worst possible thing it could do.

See, again, war films are inherently political.  War films about the Iraq war, one of the most political wars of at least the last 30 or so years, are especially inherently political.  The conflict is so muddled, so ideologically driven in such different ways, so tied to the current world landscape, and such a mess that any film made about it or set during it is going to make a point regardless of how hard it tries not to.  American Sniper, therefore, most resembles the Modern Warfare-era Call of Duty games.  Those are war games set in the Middle East that just want to be fun video games and not make any major ideological points.  However, by aiming to do that, they do, in fact, end up taking a side: that side being jingoistic pro-war slightly xenophobic glorification, insidiously so.

And that’s what American Sniper ends up doing.  Without even meaning to, it glorifies the war, its subject, and the murdering of any being who even dares resemble a terrorist because of its desire to try and make a “just the facts” film.  Because there can be no such thing as a “just the facts” dramatisation because a film has to decide and construct certain things that will get in the way of “just the facts”.  A filmmaker will bring their own personal baggage and ideologies to a film and that will influence them on what they end up doing, consciously or unconsciously.  So Kyle’s shots are always justified, the American military’s response is always justified, and the war is always justified because the film refuses to linger on any of the aftermath, or to characterise any of the Iraqis as anything other than Western-hating insurgents – save for one Sheik which is the film equivalent of “I can’t be racist, one of my best friends is Iraqi!” – because Eastwood and co. are all trying so hard to avoid making a point.  The irony of a film trying so hard to avoid saying anything about the Iraq war ending up saying something is not lost on me, but is completely lost on the film.

Then there’s the character of Chris Kyle himself who, once again, the film completely refuses to try and say anything about.  Kyle is a man with a ridiculously long kill list, who went on four tours, had a loving wife (played thanklessly by Sienna Miller) and family back home, and who struggled with severe PTSD upon finally remaining at home… and yet, despite spending two hours and ten minutes in his company, the film has nothing to say about the man.  Nothing about his upbringing, nothing about his time overseas, nothing about why he keeps re-enlisting despite having a loving wife begging him to stay home, nothing.  It utterly refuses to dig into his psyche and figure out why he does what he does, instead presenting the things he does as stuff he did.

This, ultimately, means that the film also fails as a biopic about Chris Kyle.  Bradley Cooper is trying really hard – in a relaxed manner that isn’t straining for awards consideration like Eddie Redmayne was in The Theory Of Everything, another film with nothing to say about its subject – to find the character of Chris Kyle and what makes him tick, but the script gives him next-to-no material to work with on that front.  Occasionally, we will be given the slightest slither of an insight into Kyle – there’s a sequence late on where he quietly begs a child he has lined up in his sights to not go for the recently dropped RPG, as well as a very understated scene in a bar when he returns home early – but then we’re back to this cold, distant, closed-off look at what he done did, with pretty much every other time that the film threatens to question what makes him tick – usually signposted by his wife asking him point blank “Why do you keep going back?” – immediately cutting away before anything can be revealed.

As a result, the extent of the film’s insight into what made Chris Kyle the man he was boils down to “When he was a young boy, his dad took him hunting and gave him a talk about being a man who stands up to bullies.  Also, he’s just such a goddamn patriot.”  And maybe it really is that simple.  Maybe he really was just a man who wanted to save the lives of his fellow and prospective fellow soldiers, and maybe he really was just a man who didn’t question or self-reflect on his actions.  There is a difference, though, between a portrait of a man like that and a film that doesn’t want or can’t be bothered to reflect on a man like that, and American Sniper is the latter.  This is a film that relegates Kyle’s fight with PTSD to a barely five minute montage near the end and doesn’t have the guts to spend any time on the circumstances leading up to and surrounding his (off-screen) murder, because those would risk having to actually probe Kyle psychologically and that goes against the apparent “just the facts” edict that seemingly informed the whole production.

American Sniper is not a badly-made film – there’s Cooper’s aforementioned performance, Eastwood is able to extract some decent tension out of some scenes, and there are times when the film threatens to start on the road to making a point – save for a prominently featured plastic baby standing in for a real one, but it is a completely pointless one.  Yes, it insidiously promotes and glorifies a jingoistic patriotic attitude towards war, but that’s completely by accident.  The fact is that American Sniper has nothing to say about war.  Not about Iraq, not about the men and women who fought there, not about its subject Chris Kyle, not about the moral quandaries behind his actions and most certainly nothing about PTSD or his post-war life.  It has nothing to say and the fact that it actively goes out of its way to avoid having an intentional point or something to say is infuriating.

In other words, it’s two hours and ten minutes of active squandering of anything interesting to say.  It is literal timewasting that inadvertently pushes a glorified pro-war viewpoint.  If it were open about it, I’d still disagree with the film, because of my own staunch anti-war and anti-violence beliefs, but I’d at least respect it for being open about it and saying something.  Instead, American Sniper is a film that runs out the clock for two hours and ten minutes of admittedly well-made pointlessness.  That offends me.

Callum Petch likes to destroy all the things that bring the idiots joy.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch) and listen to Screen 1 on Hullfire Radio every Monday at 9PM BST (site link)!