Christopher Kyle

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Serena Review


OK

Gorgeously shot, this period drama has a terrific setting and vivid characters, but is edited together in a jarring way that distances the audience from the situations. As the story progresses, the film also shifts strangely from a riveting exploration of a power couple with a pioneering spirit to a more melodramatic thriller about corruption and murder. It's consistently engaging thanks to the power of the cast, but it should have also been darkly moving as well.

The story is set in the late 1920s, as lumber baron George (Bradley Cooper) struggles under the economic pressures of the impending Great Depression. Then he meets Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) and it's love at first sight. A feisty, outspoken woman with a background in logging, she immediately ruffles feathers in George's camp by giving out advice that's actually helpful. George's two righthand men, accountant Buchanan (David Dencik) and foreman Campbell (Sean Harris), both quietly wonder if this woman is going to mess up their all-male world of underhanded bribes and physical danger. But she develops a rapport with George's hunting tracker Galloway (Rhys Ifans). Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Toby Jones) is trying to get George's land declared protected national parkland.

Oscar-winning Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) gives the film a grand scale with expansive mountain landscapes and a sweeping romantic tone. The Western-style bustle of the logging camp is lively and authentic, as is the continual threat of death or dismemberment on the job. Against this, Cooper and Lawrence have terrific chemistry both with each other and the characters around them, sharply portrayed by strong actors who know how to invest plenty of attitude into even a small role.

Continue reading: Serena Review

Alexander Review


Unbearable
To paraphrase the obnoxious David Spade, I liked Alexander a lot... when it was called Troy.

In fact, Oliver Stone's overblown biopic detailing the global conquests of Alexander the Great (Colin Farrell) would make a nice bookend to Wolfgang Petersen's lopsided sword-and-sandal epic. One day you'll be able to tap Netflix for the two titles and combine them for a battle-worthy double feature. You'll only need an entire weekend to wrap it up.

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K-19: The Widowmaker Review


Good
K-19: The Widowmaker is based on a true story about a Russian submarine sent to test a nuclear missile at the height of the Cold War. The boat is ill-equipped for its task, and Capitan Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) loses his command by insisting that the sub won't be ready in time for its scheduled launch. Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford) is given control of the ship, and his stern demeanor and commitment to military efficiency soon make him enemies onboard.

He runs the crew through relentless drills, offers little encouragement, and seems to take unnecessary chances. We soon learn that Polenin -- who remains aboard the sub -- is a father figure to the sailors, while Vostrikov aims to inspire fear. These opposing command styles lead to power clashes throughout the movie, a la Crimson Tide.

Continue reading: K-19: The Widowmaker Review

The Weight of Water Review


Grim
Like Possession, The Weight of Water tries to tie together a period romance and a modern-day one, held together by ancient letters calling out from the past. Like Possession, this fails to work well, as the link between now and then is relatively meaningless.

In the present day, our heroine (the dour Catherine McCormack) asks her brother (Josh Lucas) to sail her to an island off the coast of New Hampshire in order to take pictures of the site of an ancient murder for some photography assignment. Already dubious (I've seen few magazine spreads that feature only grass and rocks), the story gets iffier when her "famous poet" husband (Sean Penn) and bro's girlfriend (Elizabeth Hurley) tag along on the trip.

Continue reading: The Weight of Water Review

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