Once upon a time I had a thing for war movies that has been long forgotten, with the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates or Black Hawk Down fading in my memory. Even if some of all those desaturated late 90s and early 00s pictures still have merits to discuss, I guess that kind of thing represents a long forgotten phase where the content that mattered to me at the time differed from what I am interested in today. But every so often something comes along that I want to check out, in this case a new feature directed by the man himself Clint Eastwood; someone with a strong career behind the camera - particularly with recent releases. And while my interest in the subject matter at hand may have waned, he had certainly made a great double feature with the two Iwo Jima stories back in 2006. But unfortunately his latest just doesn't satisfy me in the same way as that Second World War diptych, and it's unable offer the same kind of character conflict or depth.
Things start of in a fairly simplistic fashion with Bradley Cooper's performance as marksman Chris Kyle offering a fair impression of someone drawn into military service by the events of terrorism. He signs up, sees his share of the action, falls in love and has to choose between his family and his country at times - all pretty standard. But things never seem to progress that far into what could have been a story of a naive guy being hit by the reality of war as the death toll multiplies. During his different tours in the middle east there are a number of battle sequences, some more dramatic than others, but as the years pass a sense of him becoming changed never really comes to pass until the very end when he gets home and hangs up the camo for the last time, and this seems a little light in terms of character progression. His brother after joining another branch of the armed forces gets only a handful of scenes but the effects are far more noticeable. They don't take the time to debate the reality of his ideals or the difficulties he has readjusting to domestic life - after a quick bout of helping other veterans things seem to be fixed up rather easily and the real life events of the ending seem rushed. It's clear this is someone with a lot on their plate, a man who has seen things perhaps he would rather have not lived through, but it's all touched on so briefly.
Characters elsewhere have a similar fate, particularly the enemy combatants and civilians. While there must be some truth to the SEALs being taken out by a single enemy sniper, this feels a little one dimensional and should have been handled differently to avoid feeling unrealistic. The same can be said of militant forces led by a man who punishes the locals with a power drill - it feels exaggerated to set up a villain even if this is all taken from written accounts. Some subtlety would have done wonders. There was a moment in which some layers seemed to be added when a family being held by the soldiers offer them a meal, but this is immediately turned into a betrayal instead of suggesting they might just be normal people. The kind of characterisation on both sides is very flat, and while the main character talks about fighting evil in the world and become the guardian 'sheepdog' there is never any serious examination of this idea. The kinds of thought provoking scenes in Letters From Iwo Jima are just not here, which is a little strange. Perhaps the biographical details offer more, but as a movie this doesn't quite cut it.
BIG HERO SIX
I hesitate to say it, but it feels like the last few Disney efforts have got a lot more fanfare than they deserved, in some ways it was true of Wreck It Ralph, but in particular it was the case for Frozen. Which isn't to say either were big let downs for me and they were entertaining movies, but they lacked a certain vibe that made them more than the sum of their parts. So with Big Hero Six let's note the elements they have decided to go with this time; a protagonist without a father figure, a team of heroes learning to work together, a series of comic book action scenes... and a comic relief character being put in front and centre of the marketing. Not in the least bit ground breaking right? But in this case there is a lot more charm in that comic relief courtesy of first aid robot Baymax. It's never obnoxious and dare I say it a delight to see his reactions in different situations as an inflatable health care assistant being made into an armour plated warrior. His child like behavior and the pratfalls that he encounters are never over done. They could have dropped the Spider-man style mad scientist plot and just had a story about the outcast Hiro doing things with his new pal. That story does come along eventually though, and it still makes for a fun ride despite the de-ja-vu. The look of the film is candy coated and eye popping with an interesting mix of futuristic East meets West aesthetics, and while the supporting cast don't get a lot to do (when you consider the title) it's still makes for an engaging adventure.