Sienna Miller

American Woman

First Hit: This film grew on me just as Debra (Sienna Miller) grew into a strong, thoughtful person in this story.

I was somewhat reluctant to see this film and for a stupid reason. I always equated “American Woman.” the film’s title, with the 1970s, Guess Who song, “American Women.”  I first heard this song while in Vietnam, and it is about the downsides of American government and society.

However, this film is about the growth of Debra from her early thirties until about her mid-forties. In this time, we learn she was a sixteen-year-old mother to her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), she’s close with her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks) and has a love-hate relationship with her mother Peggy (Amy Madigan).

Opening this film, Debra is getting ready for a date. She’s yelling for her daughter to come in and help her dress. We hear a baby crying in the background, it’s Brigit’s young son Jesse (Aidan McGraw as young Jesse and Aidan Fisk as older Jesse). Brigit burst into Debra’s room, and we can immediately tell what kind of life this family is living. Debra is trying to look sexy and hot in a too tight turquoise color dress, and Brigit looks slovenly in a baggy too large sweatshirt, hair disheveled, and her attitude is rebellious.

Katherine lives across the street from Debra with her husband Terry (Will Sasso) and their children. Katherine and Terry spend a lot of time taking care of Debra’s needs. Peggy lives nearby, and when she’s in the room with Debra, the tension is the focal point. The way they talk with each other is filled with sarcasm, resentment, and pain.

Brigit goes out with her baby’s dad Tyler (Alex Neustaedter) who everyone thinks is a punkish, loser, and drug user. She never comes back home from the date and Debra’s left to care for her daughter’s baby boy.

The film takes us through approximately sixteen years of Debra, Katherine, Terry, Peggy and Jesse’s lives together. While mourning the loss of Brigit together, they are also raising Jesse the best they can.

Through this time, we watch Debra start to make wiser choices in her life. One such opportunity is her realization that Ray (Pat Healy), the man she had invited to live with because of financial reasons, is unhealthy, and finally kicks him out in a theatrical kitchen scene.

We see her develop a positive relationship with Chris (Aaron Paul), which quickly develops into marriage. As an audience member, we root for them because Chris has a very positive relationship with Jesse. But when she discovers he is having an affair, watching her end this marriage, we see how far she’s come and grown. She does this with mindfulness, although she is deeply hurt. Much different than the breakup with Ray.

During this time, she has gone to school, graduated, and works as a human resources supervisor at an assisted living facility. A place her mother ends up in.

This film is about how events of deep pain can help someone to begin to choose another way to live. How taking on the responsibility of raising someone else’s child can assist in guiding us to a better life. It is about Debra thoughtfully taking charge of her life. It is about making amends, as shown in the scene when Debra and Tyler talk late in the story; it’s powerful.

Miller is terrific at embodying this role. This is a role she can hang her heart on and say, I did this. It is a career role. Hendricks is equally great as the sister. Her ability to cajole, support, and give space to Debra is powerful. Paul was excellent as Chris, the man who did really care but made a big mistake. Sasso was outstanding as Debra’s brother-in-law. His kindness and support are felt throughout the film. When he follows Debra, who is searching for her daughter, we see his support. Neustaedter was very strong as Jesse’s father. When he eventually finds himself having the ability to talk with Debra positively was beautiful. Madigan as Katherine and Debra’s mom was perfect. She did the dance of caring in her limited way with perfection. Healy was scary excellent as the abusive, controlling boyfriend. Fiske was great as the older Jesse. I loved his scene at the prom and subsequently telling Chris about his first girlfriend. E. Roger Mitchell as the police detective Sergeant Morris was excellent. His level of compassion when bringing Debra to where her daughter was killed was utterly somber. Brad Ingelsby wrote a powerfully strong screenplay. Jake Scott brought out excellent performances by all, and this story is about an American Woman who is willing to grow and become a powerful example of strength.

Overall: This film surprised me with its depth of character and compelling storyline.

Live by Night

First Hit:  Despite wonderful sets, cars, and clothes, this story meanders and fizzles.

Ben Affleck has directed, written and acted in some wonderful and even great films. The premise of this film was strong, where Joe Coughlin (Affleck), a product of the streets of Irish Boston, does not want to be beholden to his brother Deputy Police Chief Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson) nor any of the mob leaders, while being a criminal. However, because of his affection with a mob leader’s girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), he gets blackmailed into working for Italian mobster Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) to save his butt.

He and his running partner Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) head to Tampa to build, manage and run a bootleg Rum business. In Tampa he works with Esteban Suarez (Miguel J. Pimental) and his sister Graciela (Zoe Saldana) to obtain Molasses for rum making. There is immediate chemistry between Joe and Graciela and it appears that Joe will find love again after losing Emma.

To take control of the Tampa market, he finds out what Police Chief Figgis (Chris Cooper) will tolerate and support. During the consolidation, he uses force and his manipulative style and rubs many of the town folks the wrong way, many of them with the KKK. One of those people RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher), who is Figgis’s brother in law, and he implores Figgis to help him resolve this issue.

To add to all this increasingly complicated story setup, we have Figgis’s daughter Loretta (Elle Fanning) who heads to California to become a star. To gain leverage over Chief Figgis’s brother in-law, Joe uses photos of Loretta to persuade Chief Figgis to fully resolve the brother-in-law issue. Then Affleck adds more complications to this movie because the story has the market for Rum changing and prohibition coming to an end and he wants to find an alternative form of income.

After starting to build a gambling casino Loretta becomes a profit of sorts, by preaching morality and thereby ending this new path. This ends up creating new friction in Tampa as well as with his boss Pescatore and an Irish mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister).

Yes, over complication in telling this story led to a long film that tried to have too much detail over an extended period of time. Despite creating beautiful elegantly constructed sets, period automobiles that would satisfy any collector, and costumes that were stylistically sublime, only a few of the characters got older over the twenty or so years covered in this film and Affleck wasn’t one of them.

Affleck was good in this role and his intelligence and smart-alecky way worked for the character. However, he didn’t age in this film that covered many years from beginning to end. Miller was wonderful as an Irish girl that only was out for some laughs and a good time. Messina was great as Affleck’s side-kick and partner. Loved his energy in this role. Girone was strong as the Italian mobster. Pimental was good as the Cuban connection for molasses. Saldana was very strong as Pimental’s sister and Affleck’s lover. Cooper was pointedly effective as the Tampa Police Chief and caring father. Fanning was sublime as the re-born preacher. Maher was wonderfully unhinged as a guy who wanted his cut but didn’t want to do anything for it. Glenister was very good as the Irish mobster. Gleeson was perfect as Affleck’s brother, giving him space where needed and buttoning him down as well. Affleck wrote and directed this film. Problem seemed to be there was too much story to tell and he couldn’t trim his concept into something that filmgoers would sit, watch and like. It just seemed to meander.

Overall:  This isn’t a film to sit though unless you like just seeing beautiful sets, great cars, wonderful clothes, and some great looking people.

Unfinished Business

First Hit:  Funny, long winded at times, and a convoluted story that didn’t quite work.

Story starts with Dan (Vince Vaughn) leaving the company he works for because the person he works for, Chuck (Sienna Miller), is reducing his commission again. He storms out of the building and meets Timothy (Tom Wilkinson) who has been let go because of his age and Mike Pancake (Dave Franco) who is a challenged employee.

They agree to form a company together and go into direct competition against their old company. They believe they've scored a great contract but have to go to Germany to close the deal. When they get there they find out they are a fluffer (a company that is part of the bidding process to make a competitor, his old boss, look good).

However they decide they can win the contract and work to close the deal. What I thought was the funniest situation in this film was Dan having to stay in a museum as part of an art installation. His bed, everything, was able to be viewed through glass by the museum attendees. The name of the artwork he was installed in was American Businessman #42. Another funny scene was the steam bath scene.

There are also some very touching scenes of him and his son and daughter as they talk through life situations.

Vaughn was typical Vaughn and he’s really not a character in a movie but more of himself in a particular role. Fast-talking, occasionally intelligent, and mostly a wise ass. Miller has a minor role and was OK. Wilkinson was really pretty good in his role as the old codger who’s trying to get a little more out of his life before he dies. Franco was funny and carried off the naivety required with aplomb. Steve Conrad wrote an amusing script. Ken Scott’s direction was adequate.

Overall:  There were some funny bits, but overall it was a let-down.

American Sniper

First Hit:  An extremely well-crafted film.

Killing in war is sometimes justified by the beliefs of a country and its people.

Settling into this film, one has to set aside any beliefs (especially political) about right or wrong because this film is about how one man processes killing other humans when he believes what he is doing is right and is doing it for his country.

This story is about Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) an SEAL sniper who did 4 tours in the middle-east and is credited with over 160 kills. He became "The Legend". Kyle is married to Taya (Sienna Miller) and in-between the first 3 tours she becomes pregnant with a son and daughter, whom Chris loves dearly. Kyle is very controlled and is tightly wound. Around home he is quiet and distant. With the guys in Iraq he’s fearless and engaged.

The pacing of the scenes along with the setups were very strong. The decision making of whether to take a shot we’re well measured and reflected in the actor, screenplay and director. Visually it was a very strong and the edits only added to the action as it transpired.

Cooper was extraordinary in all ways. His controlled looks and measured actions were reflective of someone who had a lot of built up stresses. Miller was very good in her portrayal of a loving wife who wanted her husband back. Jason Hall wrote a wonderful screenplay. Clint Eastwood showed why he is a very strong, precise, and effective director in bringing this story to life.

Overall:  It is an excellent film.