Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Groff’

The Alpha Male Syndrome

American Sniper

american_sniper

Director: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Eric Close, Kier O’ Donnell, Jonathan Groff

After Bradley Cooper’s amazing performances in two of director David O. Russell’s films Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Cooper utterly transforms himself physically for the role of Chris Kyle, the most honoured sniper in the American military in director Clint Eastwood’s sparse and taut war film American Sniper.

Cooper plays the ultimate Alpha Male, who is taught to hunt as a boy by his masochistic father and is heavily influenced by the notions of God, country and family something that pervades most of the Republican ethos of Texas. Kyle’s unsuccessful career as a cowboy rodeo rider is short lived after he decides through a series of mediated Television coverages first of the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and then more crucially in the historic events of 9/11 that he must do his part in protecting America from the ever growing threat of Al-Qaeda and join the almighty US military.

Kyle joins the auspicious navy seals and through a rigorous training programme soon transforms into an Alpha male, a lean, mean fighting machine ready to protect American borders at any cost. Kyle is not interested in the politics of the situation, his unrelenting patriotism drives him to commit to the US war effort with an unflinching ferocity.

At Kyle’s wedding to the flirty yet insubstantial Taya following a bar room pickup, he is soon called up to fight in Iraq. Fallujah to be exact, which is hell on earth and symbolic of urban terror and warfare at its most bloodiest.

Kyle’s special gifts as a sniper are put to good use although controversially his targets are not always his equals in those he kills. Sometimes he is forced to pull the trigger on woman and children, a decision which haunts him profoundly on his return trips to the States, where his pregnant wife Taya is attempting to establish some form of domestic bliss.

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Something which Kyle after witnessing and participating in the atrocities of a vicious war in a foreign land, finds himself difficult to reconcile with. Kyle’s shock at being back in American domestic life is akin to the World War One soldiers suffering from shell shock after attempts at reintegration have failed.

After spending four tours in Iraq at the height of the US-Led invasion of Iraq from 2003 onwards and over 1000 days in a conflict zone, any recourse to settle down is a long way off. This conflict between Kyle’s wartime experiences and his scenes with his wife and children back home, especially those between him and Taya, played by Sienna Miller, is not as convincingly portrayed as in Kathryn Bigelow’s superb war drama The Hurt Locker.

Unlike Zero Dark Thirty which delved into the complexity of the American invasion in Iraq and Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, American Sniper clears politics from the cinematic palette, making it a much harsher film especially the unnerving scenes in Iraq which Kyle handles with an intensity and bravado which Cooper imbues with his complete physical transformation. In short Bradley Cooper utterly captivates the audience with his tragic and sombre performance of Chris Kyle, a quintessentially doomed American hero.

Eastwood’s direction is steady and besides the domestic scenes which are questionable due to Sienna Miller not having the emotional resonance to make Taya Kyle utterly believable, the warzone sequences are utterly riveting and Bradley Cooper’s performance as Chris Kyle lifts this films out of being just another patriotic tribute to American heroism especially considering the bizarre circumstances of Kyle’s tragic end to his life, which is underscored with irony and a profound message about America’s constant fascination with artillery and the second amendment.

American Sniper is an excellent film, highly recommended viewing for those that enjoyed The Hurt Locker and Fury and is sure to spark controversial debate especially in light of the current Geo-political tensions occurring between America and the Middle East specifically Iraq and Syria.

 

Death of Fire Island

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The Normal Heart

NB: This is a made for TV film

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Stephen Spinella, Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons

HBO’s The Normal Heart directed by Glee and Eat, Pray, Love director Ryan Murphy is a startling and heart wrenching tale of the outbreak of AIDS in New York’s gay community in the early 1980’s. Mark Ruffalo plays a middle aged openly gay man, Ned Weeks who gives one of the best performances of his career as he becomes the outspoken champion of gay rights and one who urges the American government to do more to fight the stigmatisation of AIDS as it ravaged the homosexual community in the mid 1980’s.

This film is set at a similar time as Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club, but unlike this Oscar winning film, is a made for Television, bravely done by HBO featuring some exceptional performances besides Ruffalo that includes Matt Bomer as his lover, Felix Turner, a young, handsome New York society journalist dying of AIDS related illnesses along with Julia Roberts as Dr Emma Brockner a wheel-chaired bound no nonsense doctor who is adamant that the American gay community need to be sufficiently educated about this disease. She goes onto advocate that the New York gay community need to immediately curb their promiscuous lifestyle, so lavishly explored in the film’s opening scenes on Fire Island, in upstate New York, the gay resort famous in the 1980’s for White Parties, wild sex and unabashed homosexual hedonism.

Audiences watching The Normal Heart should be warned this is a sad, graphic and dramatic tale of a community ravaged by an illness which they were not equipped to handle, both physically and emotionally. Remember that this is set at least 30 years ago before all the medical advances in ARV treatment globally and when AIDS research was in its infancy. Without the sufficient funding from the American government, those that suffered at the forefront of the epidemic, was an already marginalized community known only for their lascivious and risky sexual behaviour.

What director Ryan Murphy does so brilliantly is remind the audience that despite all the stigma and the prejudice, these were real professional people dying of a yet unquantified illness with a virtually non-existent health care regime and support structure.

At the core of The Normal Heart based upon a play by Larry Kramer is the remarkable performance by Mark Ruffalo who certainly has proved his worth as a serious actor in recent years especially after his recent Oscar nomination for The Kids Are Alright.

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The Normal Heart as a mainstream film, like Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra would have a fairly limited appeal, but it is comforting that HBO takes a bold leading in making these films and even attracting such A list talent like Julia Roberts, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

Watch out for an unrecognizable Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Lone Survivor) as Bruce Niles a young, arrogant and gorgeous gay man who appears to be immune to all the community activism and terrible threat affecting his friends along with The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson’s in a brilliant and touching performance as Tommy Boatwright who counts the dead on his Rolladex.

This drama is brutal, heart wrenching and truly inspiring film making even if it only was made as a TV film, but really should be seen by everyone gay or straight especially in the wake of the recent commercialization of gay culture in Western mainstream media along with the associated rights and civil liberties which the gay and lesbian community have been granted in Europe and America recently, viewed within the 21st century progress made in transforming HIV into a manageable disease through a strict regime of medication controls.

The Normal Heart is highly recommended viewing, boosted by superb performances all round which should go a long way in deconstructing the stigma surrounding marginalized communities especially at the outbreak of an initially incomprehensible disease.

 

 

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