Friday, 30 November 2012

The Real Looper (Re-review)

Yesterday I put together an archive page of all the things I'd written on this blog. Whilst I did this I read back through some old blog posts and realised how bad some of them were. Here I am wanting to promote my blog and it has some terrible reviews. So, I've decided to re-review a few. Particularly ones on films that I want people to read about. This film was the first film that I reviewed after I underwent my first major blog redesign. Suddenly I had star ratings and pretty pictures. Today's film looks at time travel but in a slightly different way. Prepare to get your head around paradoxes, this is Timecrimes or Los Cronocrimenes. (The original review, should you wish to read it, is here)

Hector (Karra Elejalde) is a fairly average man who lives in Spain with his wife Clara (Candela Fern├índez). He is the sort of man who does the shopping at the weekend and then goes for a nap. His life is riddled with giant problems like dropping the phone, not quite being able to see what is behind a bush, and the car boot being broken. When his wife goes out, he ventures into the trees next to his house to investigate something odd he spotted through his binoculars: a stripping girl (B├írbara Goenaga). Suddenly, out of no where, he is attacked by a large man in a trench coat whose face is covered in pink bandages. After fleeing for his life he finds a building and is convinced into a strange machine by a man (Nacho Vigalondo) there. This machine just so happens to be a time machine. Hector gets zapped (or splashed?) back around an hour and begins the adventure of a lifetime (or three) in which he is told he must avoid causing a paradox. But it seems Hector has issues following orders and who knows what his actions may cause.

And everyone thought Hector was 'armless.

With only four characters, only two of which have actual names, this is certainly an example of less is more. Karra Elejalde is, essentially, a solo performer.  Occasionally there is another character to interact with, particularly the young man who runs the machine, but on a whole, Elejalde's Hector is not just the centre of the film but also an incredible character with an amazing journey. Elejalde take us with his character through a complex and detailed development which is constantly fascinating. At no point is Hector not engaging. We see him change from an every day man with nothing of interest into a darker character that is determined and strong. This is one of the most captivating character developments film has to offer and it simply goes to show that one should never ignore world cinema. There is no way to stress enough how great Elejalde's performance is and, no doubt, one of the main reasons the remake is taking so long to put together; no Hollywood actor could live up to Elejalde's already set standard.

Psycho mocks boy with glasses.

At no point should you think that the only major achievement here is Elejalde's. Nacho Vigalondo, the man who runs the time machine did something equally, if not more, impressive. He wrote, directed, and co-starred in the film. (Yes, despite being an unnamed character, he's still the second most crucial.) Now, this is no new feat by itself. However, the simply complexity of the film is in terms of both writing and directing. Time travel is not easy and there a a million different things you can do with it but somehow a lot of time travel films have common themes and ideas. Timecrimes is different. It is an original take on a complicated idea and will leave your brain racking for hours. There is simply no conceivable for one to get their head around the very concept of a casual time loop or a predetermined paradox. But the general idea of what happens is so basic that a five year old could get it. Some more intelligent viewers find this harder to accept because they want answers to the paradoxes and thus enjoyment of the actual story is lost. Forget answering questions, this film is brilliant as it is.

A near flawless sci-fi thriller. Sadly advertised - and edited - slightly more as a horror which may put people off but trust this humble reviewer when he says it is worth watching. It is less than an hour and a half so it will take up a fraction of your time so why not give it a watch. If you dare complain about subtitled films, we may have issues being friends. Just saying.

Best Bit? The most famous scene in the film. The scene in which two Hector's essentially play peek-a-boo. Both times. It is a masterpiece of not just time travel films but films in general.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Korean Cowboys? (Re-review)

Yesterday I put together an archive page of all the things I'd written on this blog. Whilst I did this I read back through some old blog posts and realised how bad some of them were. Here I am wanting to promote my blog and it has some terrible reviews. So, I've decided to re-review a few. Particularly ones on films that I want people to read about. Today's film is a western with a twist: it is Korean. It is a tribute to classic westerns, particularly The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but it it is its own movie entirely. This is The Good, The Bad, The Weird. (Original review, should you want to compare, is here)

The plot plays tribute to the overall story from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Well, at its most basic level. Three men, one treasure. Leading to the treasure is a treasure map which is in the bag of a very important banker on a train somewhere. On that train is Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song), otherwise known as The Weird, with the intention of stealing a load of money from this banker. Also on the train is bounty hunter, Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), The Good, trying to make some money by catching criminals, like Yoon Tae-goo. Planning to stop the train is Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee), The Bad, and his thugs in order to get his hands on the map. Havoc breaks out and, somehow, Yoon Tae-goo (The Weird) gets away with the map. Cue a wild goose chase to get the map and the treasure: the three men constantly battling for the map as well as being pursued by the Japanese Army and Chinese Bandits. With too many battles to count, who will get there first, and alive, to claim the treasure?

The expression, 'You're screwed,' springs to mind.

When the film was announced, fans of Korean action were sceptical towards Byung-hun Lee playing the bad, borderline psychopath, Park Chang-yi. Their worries were completely ungrounded. Lee does not just nail the role, he encapsulates it. He makes it his own. If there is ever an American remake of the film, there is no one who could capture the role quite like Lee. He is cruel, brutal, smart, vengeful, and sexy. He strikes a perfect balance with his co-stars. Both he and Jung (The Good) are calm, cool, and collected which contrasts wonderfully with Song's manic, weird, and crazy performance as Yoon Tae-goo. Song brings most of the comedy to the film, dodging bullets with a divers helmet, getting offended that his bounty is only the amount of a used piano. He never slips from his excitable persona but there is clearly something deeper, more psychotic there. Finally, Woo-sung Jung is the coolest of the bunch. Swinging through the skies on a rope firing at Chinese thugs, it doesn't get much cooler than that. He never raises his voice or does anything extreme, but at all times it seems that he is the one in charge. His interaction with Song's Weird shows his power, smarts, and also his wit.

'How to Look Good Whilst Killing' The latest novel from Park Chang-yi

Direction from Jee-woon Kim is possibly the most underrated that cinema has to offer. There is no film shot quite like The Good, the Bad, The Weird. Cameras follow the action closely but also give a feeling that the audience are involved. Spinning camera shots through action creates the illusion the the audience are now right there, experiencing it through a first person perspective. Not only this, but a lot of it is simply beautifully shot. The men riding through the desert on horses or motorbikes, shooting one another over long empty landscapes, riding horses at sunset, everything is just astounding. The script, too, is something that is completely underrated. It may be due to the language barrier but not only is it hilarious, it is also peculiarly philosophical - "People must know that they’re going to die, and yet they live as though they never will. Hilarious." There's a brilliant moment near the beginning in which the Chinese thugs are overlooking the chaos on the train and discuss how they have no clue what is happening. A very funny moment. Also, listen out for the tribute to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly's iconic score during the visually breathtaking chase scene near the end. Super.

An incredible example of foreign films being better than a lot of the films that Hollywood produces. Specifically, it looks at remakes not being the only option for great films. This film is a tribute that has a similar base plot to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, but solidifies itself as a classic without actually remaking the film it adores. A must see. If you're put off by the idea of subtitles, you are missing out horribly. Do a bit of reading and watch this fantastic film.

Best Bit? Well, it'll have to be the final chase scene. Everything about it is awesome. It is on such a massive scale, and yet it is easy to follow all the individual characters as they fight. Simply brilliant.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Vietnam Week 7: One Gun, One Round.

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. I stated that I didn't want to include films that were set mostly AFTER Vietnam with just a little bit about the actual war. However, today's film is an exception. It is one of the most famous Vietnam based films and so here it is, our final film: The Deer Hunter

In a small industrial town, a group of friends, three of which are going to Vietnam, are spending their last couple of days together enjoying themselves. Steve (John Savage) gets married and a going away party is thrown for him, Nick (Christopher Walken), and Michael (Robert De Niro). These three, along with Stan (John Cazale), John (George Dzundza), and Axel (Chuck Aspegren), decide they should deer hunt together for the last time before war. Sudden jump to Vietnam  The three friends are reunited as Michael burns an enemy alive but soon find themselves captured. The men are held in a half submerged pit until forced to play Russian Roulette for their lives. Michael gets them out of it alive, but returning home for him just is not the same.

The film gets red band towards the end.

Simply flawless acting from all sides. Firstly, at the beginning, the friends seem to be just that: friends. But the realistic aspect is how genuine that friendship feels. It balances between fights and fun just like a real friendship. The second half of the film, however, is almost a one man show. De Niro steps the fine line between psychologically disturbed and simply haunted. As a man trying to fit back into the society he once knew, De Niro shows that Vietnam never really leaves you, even to the point of putting a gun to one of his closest friend's head. It is also there in simpler terms such as his jumpiness when someone drops a tray. Christopher Walken, as well, is a genius piece of casting. Thrown way over the line of psychologically disturbed, we see his sanity, not slip away but get smashed completely to the point where he physically cannot escape Russian Roulette. But, overall, a superb cast.

The film, in many ways, acts as a tribute to John Savage, who died from cancer shortly afte filming. May he always be remembered for his fantastic performance as Stan.

Somehow, despite being the longest of this week's films, The Deer Hunter also contains the most tension. From start to finish, the relationships built up in the group of friends (especially around Stan and Linda (portrayed by Meryl Streep)) constantly change and adapt as real friendships would, but also in terms of 'action' - I use the term in its loosest sense - which constantly builds up for perfect catharsis. The two (and a half) Russian Roulette scenes will leave you on the edge of your seat thanks to brilliant direction from Michael Cimino. Also, there are so many simple story lines overlapping that it adds a real depth to the film without over complicating it. Not just a good movie, but a truly fascinating analysis of the different effects of war on different people. Cimino did a lot of things to increase realism on set including real slapping, real loaded guns, keeping in scenes that were not the actors performing but actually complaining (See Savage complain about the rats. He was actually complaining to Cimino who kept it in.) These small things all paid off.

Completely deserving of its five Oscars (including: Director, Supporting Actor, Best Picture) and truly a film to live a  long life. Despite not focusing purely on the war, watching this film last almost gives a sense of how Chris Taylor and Captain Willard and Private Joker might have all felt after returning home alive at the ends of their films. The psychological aspect is thrilling. A must see.

Best Bit? Obviously, the two main Russian Roulette scenes are simply masterful film making. However, another moment that I'm sure is under appreciated is when Stan is messing around with his gun after Michael has returned from the war and Michael flips, proceeds to load the gun with one round and give Stan a glimpse of the hell he experienced in 'Nam by putting the gun to his head and pulling the trigger. The tension, acting, and general concept of the scene are simply outstanding.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Vietnam Week 6: Comic Relief

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. Considering the subject matter of most Vietnam films, it is understandable that there are not a whole bunch of laughs. Even Good Morning, Vietnam had very serious undertones. Today's film goes full comedy. This is Tropic Thunder.

British director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), is making his first feature length film based on a book by Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte. This book tells the tale of a near suicide mission that happened in Vietnam in which only four out of ten men that went on the mission returned. Cockburn has to direct a misfit cast consisting of blockbuster star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), multiple Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr), comedy star and drug addict Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), rapper Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), and newbie Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). Deciding that his crew are too up-their-own-arses for their own good, Cockburn, with the help of Tayback, rigs the forest with cameras and explosives to create an all too realistic experience. Method acting to a new extreme. But almost straight away, things become too real; it is no longer just a film.

It was a black day for Robert Downey Jr

Comedies, not renowned for for being prestigious in acting terms (for a more detailed look into comedies and how they are viewed in the overall world of films, read this feature) Tropic Thunder gained Robert Downey Jr an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. He completely deserves it of course for his portrayal of an Australian actor (Lazarus) playing an African American troop and with such conviction, it is hard to tell that it is the same man that plays Iron Man or Sherlock Holmes. The other actors are what you would come to expect of them. Not to say they are overly typecast, they are just as funny as you would expect them to be. Steve Coogan, an actor in particular who simply is not in as much as he should be, is hilarious as the dimwitted director. His timing and reactions are so perfect, it is impossible to see anyone else playing that role.

The cast soon lost their heads

Shot like any other Vietnam films - with plenty of parody shots - the colour of the film is completely captivating like the serious films. The many explosions contrasting beautifully with the blue sky and green trees. The pyrotechnics, thanks to the advancement in technology, are simply brilliant. But really makes this film outstanding is the hilarious writing.  A wonderful twist on not just the Vietnam genre but also the meta-comedy. This isn't a film of a film, this is a film of a film of a film going wrong. It is so post-modern it hurts one's brain to think about it too much. Everything about the film is comically perfect and you will be laughing from start to finish, no doubt.

A hilarious film that will round off a Vietnam movie session perfectly. After all the brutality and grit, it is nice to see a gentle mockery of the genre and a poke at film making itself. A range of different humour to tickle any audience's funny bone. A must see.

Best Bit? Having recently watched Platoon, the teasing of the famous scene in which Dafoe runs out of the forest and falls to his knees suddenly has a new found hilarity.

Vietnam Week 5: Radio

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. If you've been watching the films I've been reviewing this week, there is a high possibility you have heard a radio playing in the background of the action. If so, you have probably heard the title of today's film: Good Morning, Vietnam.

Based on a real DJ for the US Armed Services Radio station in Vietnam, Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams), Good Morning, Vietnam tells the story of Cronauer and his 'outrageous' acts on the air. Adored by the troops out in the field but hated by his commanding officers, Cronauer balances on a fine line that is controlled by his constantly being censored and being threatened by the higher commands, Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickerson (J.T. Walsh). However, no matter what, he always has Edward Garlick (Forest Whitaker) looking out for him, even in his endeavours to find love with a young Vietnamese girl and befriending a young boy called Tuan (Tung Thanh Tran). His commitment to constantly keep the troops laughing is harder than any mission in the actual field as he can't read the stories he wants to, play the music he wants to, or, most importantly, tell the jokes he wants to. Staying out of trouble is not easy.

Even a successful comedian bombs...
But not the same way as the troops.

For his performance, Robin Williams was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 1988 Oscars, eventually losing out To Michael Douglas in Wall Street. Williams, commonly thought of as a less serious actor, being nominated for an Oscar. Did he deserve it? Yes, completely. What Good Morning, Vietnam does so well is it is a solid base for Williams to ramble on with his style of comedy - most of his broadcasts are completely improvised - but it also provides small, yet crucial, moments for some real heart felt acting. The contrast between the light hearted, incredible, improvised speeches and the times when Cronauer is genuinely distraught or upset is a juxtaposition that only the finest of actors can pull off with such clarity and conviction. There is not a bad piece of acting in the entire film; all the supporting cast are absolutely fantastic. The characters are all so distinctive in their personalities that the audience immediately know who to like and dislike without needing an extra half an hour for character development. Truly superb.

Williams misunderstood when people
said his mouth was too big for the mic.

What this film does that many other Vietnam films don't do is it looks far more heavily at the serving members of the military forces that have a comfy seat. While it does still emphasise the fact that there is no front line in Vietnam and anyone could be attacked, it shows that there was another side to the war that was not all grit and death. The Vietnam film with the most heart by a long shot. Not only does it introduce a love story underneath the main plot, but it also introduces the idea of true friendship and betrayal, not just comradery. It has a soundtrack full of old favourites and classic tunes to present the idea that we are like the troops, listening to whatever Cronauer decides he will play.

A perfectly simple plot that combines comedy and heart like very few films do. Not only was it funny and touching, it was also extremely enjoyable. Perhaps it is the lack of constant death, or the high spirits of the radio troops, but there's something far more pleasurable to watch in Good Morning, Vietnam than other war films. 

Best Bit? Cronauer's touching and heartfelt speech towards Taun towards the end of the film. Anger, respect, guilt, desperation, upset... All these emotions and more come out in one scene. Super. 

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Vietnam Week 4: Food Fight

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. Today's film is based on one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam war. The plot is based on true events though the characters are fictional and unlike other Vietnam films, today's film searches to tell the truth over entertaining its audience. This is Hamburger Hill.

Hamburger Hill, or Hill 937, in the A Shau Valley of Vietnam is of little strategic advantage for the U.S. Military but it is heavily fortified by the North Vietnamese. The film follows a squad of 14 men as they persevere in a brutal ten day battle to try and claim the hill. There is no real protagonist and an almost anonymous enemy; simply gunshots in the distance. This is no mere attempt at entertaining a wider audience, however. The film is an honest account of the chaos and brutality that was the Vietnam War. As that is the entire plot covered, let us move on. 

What happens when 'got your back' is misunderstood...
The start of several big stars film careers, including Don Cheadle, but only two of which really stand out. The first is Courtney B. Vance as Spc. Abraham 'Doc' Johnson. Doc, as a black man in the 1960s, has had his fair share of abuse and you can see how that translates into his attitude toward the war. There is clearly an anger towards those in a position of power over him and that, because of his race, he won't have that power, but also there is a strong feeling of comradery towards his fellow soldiers. He points out that, on this hill, they are all equal. The second stand out performance comes from Dylan McDermott as Sgt. Adam Frantz. The reason McDermott stands out is simply due to how cool he is throughout the film but, as things turn serious and friends start dying, we see his defences break down and his sanity slip until all that he has left that matters to him is getting up the hill. A wonderfully realistic performance. 

The Karaoke night never pulled out a big crowd.

There is very little to say about the film that the tagline doesn't: 'The most realistic portrayal of the Vietnam War ever filmed . Because it's the only one that's true.' That is exactly what it is. This is a brutal and gripping tale of a single moment in the war. There is no over complications with secondary story lines, there is only the hill. The wonderful contrast between the actual fighting and the downtime between gunfire, combined with a near perfect soundtrack, create an eerily accurate atmosphere. What really makes it stand out from other Vietnam films, however, is the fact it doesn't hold the focus on an individual's death. There is no slow motion, no screaming and crying and hugging it out. It is war and people die. The effects are clear without needing to make it too explicit. 

A good film. A great story. As a film, it lacks the entertainment value that the other Vietnam films have. There is less artistic license used. The men have strict uniforms and they stick to their rules and regulations. Whilst this is a more honest approach to film making, it is less watch-able (perhaps why it comes in as the shortest film this week.)

Best Bit? There is something horribly captivating about the assault in the rain. Watching the men hopelessly slide back down the hill after fighting to get up is heartbreaking but I challenge you to look away.

Vietnam Week 3: -Insert Bullet Description Here-

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. Today we look at Kubrick. As we all know, Kubrick is known for his masterpieces: 2001: Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining etc. This would lead one to presume that if he made a Vietnam film, it would be excellent. Well, he did, but does it live up to the expectations surrounding it? This is Full Metal Jacket.

Not just an analysis of the war in Vietnam, but also the brutal training that led to it - the war split into two narrative halves. The first half is boot camp and the soldiers training under the watchful and cruel eye of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) who is not just tough but heartless, especially towards Private Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), an overweight and unstable recruit. Eventually, Private Pyle is put under the command of Private J.T. 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine) who teaches him enough (and organises motivational punishments)  to get him through boot camp. The second half of the film focuses on Private Joker in his military career as a Stars and Stripes correspondent. we see him trying to find news that appeals to the military eye rather than the completely truthful eye. Teaming up with his good friend from boot camp, Private Cowboy(Arliss Howard), and some of his men, Eightball (Dorian Harewood) and Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), he goes out to experience the 'front line' of the war.

The recruits had a bit of time for practising their
defence against a free kick in football/ soccer. 

There is a real shame in the acting in this film. While all the actors are fine and dandy, the two best actors are only in the first half: R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D'Onofrio as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and Private Pyle respectively. Ermey, having formerly been a Drill Sergeant, obviously knew his role back to front. Half of his most famous lines and scenes were completely unscripted and yet, you would never know. His character never falters (except for a split second when a gun is pointed at him) and because of this, he provides one of the rawest and most real performances cinema has to offer. D'Onofrio, on the other hand, has a reserved crazed aura about him. Whilst it is clear that he is not quite mentally stable, Hartman never seems to treat him differently and even compares him, indirectly, to Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman. What D'Onofrio  does so well is build gradually to a complete breakdown. The first signs of crazy are introduced through speech but Pyle shows that it's not going well for him.

A film with a film in it. Woah.

Stanley Kubrick is, no doubt, a cinematic genius. The film, from start to finish, is shot like no other war movie. With more tracking shots than you can shake a stick at, Full Metal Jacket seeks not to show the grit or horror of war, but to give a clearer, external perspective of the action of the Vietnam War. Almost post-modern in its approach in this sense - there's one scene in which Private Cowboy's men are all slumped down as a documentary crew pass and the camera sot follows the camera crew. One of the finest soundtracks in the entire film genre too; extremely jarring with what is actually on screen and, somehow, this really works. The films real success is in its dialogue. From the constant brutality of Hartman, to Joker's wit, one thing is always consistent: the quality of what is being said. Simple conversations can raise huge points which many films fail at. (One Colonel asks Joker, 'You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?' and just like that, the subject of war and the duality of man is a prominent issue.)

A great war film with an outstanding first half. The second half, while still good, is significantly weaker but the entire movie is rounded off with possibly the most bitter sweet ending known to man. While not one of Kubrick's greatests it is still a must see for any of his fans or fans of the war genre, even if it is just for the first half.

Best Bit? Well, it has to be the first time that Hartman goes around insulting the men. More quotable lines than the entirety of Mean Girls.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Vietnam Week 2: War Is Not Nice

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam.Yesterday’s filmed starred Martin Sheen, today we look at his son. Renowned more now for his drug abuse and his Tiger Blood breakdown, Charlie Sheen has become a bit of a joke in the media. But let us go back to when he was a serious actor and what could be more serious than Vietnam. This is Platoon.

Based on Oliver Stone's experience in Vietnam, the film’s events should arguably be a more truthful representation on the war. Young and naive recruit, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) has just arrived in Vietnam for his tour of duty. He's one of the few men who chose to come to Vietnam after dropping out of college and he soon finds out that he is not the most respected of figures to to the lack of his war experience. Like most of the men in his platoon, he gets torn between two non-commission officers: the rough, tough, and indestructible Staff Sergeant Robert Barnes (Tom Berenger) and the nice, fatherly Sergeant Elias Grodin. (Willem Dafoe) In between fighting and smoking pot, the platoon experience ambushes, death, destruction, illegal killings, and rape - all of which start to push towards a psychological breakdown. This is not just a war in Vietnam, this is a war with a single platoon of men.

And that's before Sheen was known to be dirty...

It is hard nowadays, perhaps, to picture Sheen as a serious actor. Ironically, he got the role over Johnny Depp because Depp was not well known. How times have changed. But there was a reason that Sheen got the role: he is good. Starting off as an innocent college drop-out, desperate to do his part for his country but slowly his sanity starts to slip and we see his evolution from naive boy to hardened solider. But both stand out roles come from the polar opposite officers, both of which received Oscar nominations.That is Berenger as Barnes and Dafoe as Elias. Their hatred of one another is so clear and through their performances they manage to raise philosophical questions regarding the duality of man: does the war shape the men and if so how did they end on such opposite ends of the scale. It takes a really good performance to delve into philosophy. the supporting cast, too, are excellent additions to the film, especially John C. McGinley as Sgt. O'Neill, Barne's biggest supporter. The cockiest character throughout out the film until a request of his leaves him broken and fearful for the climax of the film, only to be followed by what would normally be considered good news, but not for O'Neill.

Despite not being the main part, Depp was still there.

Written and directed by a Vietnam veteran, Oliver Stone, there's no doubts about the realism of the film. The actors, prior to filming, had to participate in an intensive 14 day military training camp which finished the day before filming. There is method acting, and then there is this. Actors so exhausted they almost vomited, actors almost falling out of helicopters, actors who were just as happy to finish filming as they would be to leave 'Nam. A brilliantly directed film though. Some incredible action sequences and some horrifying moments. There is a real sense of the hell - as Taylor describes it - that was in and around Vietnam. With no front line, anyone could be attacked any time. It shows that the strong can be weak and the intelligent can break down. If I have one main complaint about the film it is the overuse of Adagio for Strings on the score. I'll die happy if I never hear it again.

Another good, gritty, realistic representation of the war in Vietnam. Again, it shows the true horror that the war installed in the fighters from both the U.S. army and the Vietnamese army and the innocent people that were just living their lives through the war.

Best Bit? [SPOILER ALERT] Well it has to be the iconic scene with Elias running from the Vietnamese before falling to his knees, heavily wounded, arms outstretched, taking bullet after bullet. Classic.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Vietnam Week 1: Apocalypse Then

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. Our first film, stumbles in at number 36 at IMDb's top 250 and number 7 on Empire's Top 500 and so we can surely be assured that it is a good'un. Let's not beat around the bush and dive right into Vietnam. This is Apocalypse Now.

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) - a man known for his actions on missions that simply do not exist - is recruited for a new mission: to find and terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. (Marlon Brando) The Colonel has vanished into the depths of Cambodia and has gone mad. Claiming to be a god to a local tribe, the U.S. Military think it is best that he is removed from their payroll. The mission requires urgency and secrecy and so Willard teams up with a boat crew of four men (Jay 'Chef' Hicks (Frederic Forrest) Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms) Tyrone 'Clean' Miller (Laurence Fishburne) Chief Phillips (Albert Hall)) who take him on their boat and head off toward Cambodia. Finding help and hindrances along the way – both, at points, in the form of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) – the Captain becomes fixed on his mission and will not rest until it is completed.

Lance's teapot dance wasn't quite the threatening war chant he wanted.

It is a funny thing, casting. What would the film be without Martin Sheen as Willard? What would it be without Brando as Colonel Kurtz? Two iconic performances that almost never were. Martin Sheen was nowhere near the first choice for the role; the original actor was fired two weeks into shooting. But it sometimes seems that fate is on a film’s side. Martin Sheen, despite having a heart attack during filming, performed with such conviction and clarity that the character of Willard will not be forgotten any time soon. The calm surface that Sheen portrays that, at points, just evaporates. His acting shows that Vietnam has a bad effect on the mind, no matter how messed up the mind already was. Brando, despite being the biggest pain in any director’s backside ever, was incredibly intimidating. Considering he makes a whole tribe bow to his whim, he has to have an aura of power and strength, which he nails on the head. Admittedly, this may be more due to the clever direction as Brando had done no preparation for the part and had ruined his physical appearance, but, for argument’s sake, we will remember that Brando is an incredible actor. The rest of the supporting cast are brilliant and there is simply no way to review them all. They are all incredible.

'Put your fingers like this when you run out of ammo...
It'll look like ya have a gun.'

A gritty and realistic look at the war in Vietnam. Francis Ford Coppola famously described the film with the quote, 'My film is not a movie; it's not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.' With plenty of input from real Vietnam veterans, it is hard to believe that the film would not be a life like representation of the horror… the horror that was Vietnam. A shoot that went on for 16 months and way over budget and had Ford Coppola threatening suicide, the film possibly stopped being realism – a representation of the real – and became real. Originally was intended to be shot as a faux-documentary during the actual war but due to issues with timing and power, the film only went into production after the fall of Saigon and this could have been the best thing for the film. The way the film is shot is one of its best aspects. The constant tension throughout the film, built up as we watch the soldiers relaxing, is commonly brought to the most engaging climaxes that truly capture the chaos of the actual fighting in the war. Not to mention how ironically beautiful the film makes Vietnam seem: exotic colours, giant sunsets, coloured smoke rising up into the sky next to blazing fires; simply gorgeous.

There is no doubt that Apocalypse Now will forever be known as one of the greatest war films ever made, and some will argue that it is simply one of the greatest films ever made. Considering the term ‘apocalypse’ and the connotations surrounding it, the film really lives up to its name. If the world were to end tomorrow, it would not be a far off to assume that it will be a little like this film. Slightly haunting, slightly – and confusingly – beautiful, but completely amazing.

Best Bit? The boat is powering towards Cambodia. Lance B. Johnson releases a flare and dances around the boat surrounding them in a purple haze. Everything, for a brief moment, is glorious. Then, suddenly, the boat comes under fire. The juxtaposition, combined with the incredible colour and camera work, makes this scene stand out – for me – more than any other. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Movies That I Haven’t Seen But Should Have - Part 6: Neo-Nazi

There are a lot of movies I'm ashamed to admit I've never seen. But rather than pretend I've seen them or change the subject when they’re mentioned, I've decided to share them with you. These films that are cult classics or masterpieces that I have missed or avoided, I am sitting down to review. Today's film is rated at 35 on IMDb's top 250 and, somehow, a lot lower at 311 on Empire's Top 500. It contains one of the most famous scenes in film and deals with a sensitive subject: racial prejudice. This is American History X.

Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) is a white supremacist, he dates a white supremacist  Stacey (Fairuza Balk), and his views have made his brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), a white supremacist. One night, his car is broken into by some black men and, after Danny raises the alarm, Derek bursts out of their house and kills two of the three men - one with the famous Curb Stomp scene. Arrested at the scene of the crime, he gets taken away to a predominantly black prison. Flash forward three years. Derek is released from prison and Danny is getting in trouble at school for writing a paper about 'Mein Kampf'. Despite Danny being on almost the same path that his older brother took only a few years before, the principal of the school, Dr Bob Sweeney (Avery Brooks), firmly states that he won't give up on this Vinyard. He becomes Danny's personal teacher of a new class, American History X, and tells him to write a paper on his brother's incarceration. Danny goes off instead with Derek's old friends, Seth (Ethan Suplee) and Cameron (Stacy Keach), to party and show their hatred for the minorities in their community. But Derek won't let his brother follow too closely in his own footsteps, even if it means leaving behind the world he once ruled.

'I hate black guys this much'

There are simply not enough words to describe Edward Norton in this film. From adolescent teenager, to violent gang leader, to reformed big brother, he can do it all. Not only can he perform all of these different aspects of one character, he performs them with such realism it becomes somewhat scary - especially before Derek is arrested. Despite being a skinny man, Norton's Derek is one of the most imposing men that cinema has ever offered. Even during his arrest, a slight smile will send unease through every viewer. And on top of this, the complete juxtaposition from his violent neo-nazi attitude to his caring big brother persona is so seamless and amazingly well acted. The role of Derek solidifies Norton's position as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood, only a year before Fight Club was released. The rest of the supporting cast are also brilliant. Of course, Edward Furlong was the driving force behind the whole movie. He did a superb job of showing the naivety and troubled nature of Danny, the two key aspects that lead to him following his brother, and later having trouble doing what anyone tells him. The deep conflict of a brainwashed youth, something that the film investigates intensely.

And the award for worst timed screencap goes to...

The contrast of the black and white film for the past and the colour for the future is simply a thing of genius. Who said symbolism was dead?  An incredibly written and edited piece of cinema - though who to thank for that is not quite clear. Director Tony Kaye edited it a few times before opting to having his name removed from the film and replaced with Humpty Dumpty (The Directors' Guild Of America refused to let him and so he sued them for $200m+). So whoever is to thank, they did a very good job with this film. A perfect mix of explicit and implicit material. The film shows that, despite the horrible ideology behind the gangs, they are still just people. The humanity that is shown in Derek is somewhat jarring in the mind because, as an audience, we expect to hate these characters and everything they stand for, but Derek shows love for his family and a longing to protect people. Much like the video of Hitler flirting Eva Braun, it makes the viewer uncomfortable to see someone so horrible being... well... human. A perfectly structured film.

A simply outstanding film. One that shows that Fight Club was not just a lucky break for Norton, he is just a brilliant actor. With such fantastic performances from the entire cast, it is hard to see anyone not thinking this film is a masterpiece of cinema. Watch it. Now.

Best Bit? Both the basket ball scene and the curb stomp scene are incredible. Surely will be remembered for decades to come.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Going Around In Loops

A bit slow on this one, and for that I can only apologise. A film hailed as a modern masterpiece with five star reviews from almost everyone, but is it all it is cracked up to be? A film that, from the simplest description, sounds like the coolest thing around. Just look at the key aspects: time travel, assassins, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, telekinesis. Everything seems to scream 'cool.' But it is? this is Looper.

In the year 2074, it is extremely difficult to dispose of a body. Because of this, criminal organisations use an advantage they have in the future, time travel, to zap anyone they need to get rid of back 30 years to be killed by a special type of assassin known as a Looper. One of these Loopers is a man called Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the youngest Looper that the Boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), ever hired. But every loop has to be closed. This means that eventually,  a Looper has to assassinate the future version of themselves. When this happens to Joe, he hesitates, leaving his future self to run. Old Joe (Bruce Willis), fixated on the idea of changing his own past and future ('Oh no I've gone cross-eyed') tries to find the man known in future as the 'Rainmaker'; a man who closes loops for no reasons. A man who is only a child in 2044. Trying to fix his error by terminating his future self, Young Joe stumbles across Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who he bonds with but nothing is safe.

Now Joe, what would Freud say?

If Joseph Gordon-Levitt's name hadn't been splashed all over the posters and promos for this film, it would be hard to tell that it was him. With plenty of face make up (we'll get back to that) he was not playing his own character. He had a far more difficult challenge: to play Bruce Willis' character but young. The good news is he does this perfectly. For the most part of the film, it is like watching a young Bruce Willis as Gordon-Levitt completely nails Willis' facial expressions and way of talking, which is not an easy task. Emily Blunt was excellent as Sara, the most touching character in the film and the character who really provided the film with heart. Her performance showed the deep pain that an under-appreciated mother feels as well as the outer strength a single mother has to portray, even when scared or weak. Incredible child acting from Pierce Gognon as Cid, a clearly troubled child but a very smart one. And, of course, Bruce Willis is constantly awesome. He's really understanding that he is not the young action star that he once was but he knows that doesn't mean he is no longer a badass. His roles and the way he performs them are more reflective of his age and because of this, they're a lot better than his other recent films (See Surrogates.)

In the future, most people have the force too.

The make up artist on this film deserves a medal. That's the first technical aspect that needs to be mentioned. Alongside Gordon-Levitt's brilliant acting is the make up that made him look ridiculously like a young Bruce Willis. For that, we should all applaud. Next, the cinematography was subtly outstanding. It captured the world of the future without needing to explicitly point it out at any point. Sure there was no incredible and revolutionary camera work (see The Tree of Life) but it is that implicitness that made the futuristic world more absorbing. What helped with this was the fresh and original writing. While time assassins are nothing new, the idea of the actual assassin not being the time traveller is a whole new perspective on the concept. Admittedly, there are paradoxes galore - focus on them too much and you'll get a good ol' headache - but overall, the writing was incredible. Rian Johnson, who also directed, has done a smashing job.

A fresh and original film, something that we long for in this world of remakes and adaptations. A must see. the sort of film that could become you're new favourite. Unlike a lot of modern science fiction, Looper strives to appeal to action fans, sci-fi fans, and essentially everyone. A really well written, developed, and produced film. And hey, it has funny bits too!

Best Bit? The ending was simply incredible. The last half an hour was moved the movie from extremely good to a modern marvel. Simply fantastic.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


 When we hear the word 'franchise', we often shiver as we think back to the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series, or 'Saw', or 'Friday the 13th', or 'The Grudge', or any horror movie series - yes, that includes 'High School Musical'. But we often neglect a series that have been going for longer than most of my readers have been alive. I'm sure you're aware where I'm going with this, but if you're not, nine people have played the title character over 23 (official) films and he takes his Martini shaken, not stirred. Yes, it's James Bond and his new adventure, Skyfall.

The film opens with one of MI6's top secret agents, 007, or James Bond (Daniel Craig) , trying to chase down a possible terrorist (Ola Rapace) who has managed to get his hands on a hard drive that contains the names of undercover field operatives and the gangs they are in, information that could make MI6 simply crumble. Fighting on top of a train, Bond struggles to get the hard drive and his partner, Eve (Naomie Harris), lines up a shot - not a clean shot - at the suspect. M (Judie Dench) insists that she takes the shot and Bond goes down. The suspect escapes. Cue opening titles. M's authority is in question by Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), Bond is alive but hidden away, and computer genius, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), is causing some major issues for MI6. Fearing the country he loves is in danger, Bond returns to England and begins to follow the only trail they have to find Silva - the bullet in his shoulder. With a new, young Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him out, 007 will do whatever it will take to protect his Queen, Country, and, most importantly, M, providing he can stay a step ahead of his enemies at all times.

Bond really had to train for this mission

At 43 years old at the time of filming, one may think that Daniel Craig is getting a bit old for Bond (especially with another two films on his contract), well you would be wrong. Craig still performs with all the style and swag that Bond should have. Yet, when he has a busted shoulder from a bullet, we see that pain when he does anything physical - something commonly overlooked in action films; bullets actually hurt for more than five minutes. His age ties perfectly into his performance with lots of references back to the good old days of exploding pens and ejector seats but, as Mallory states, few 00 agents get out cleanly, they go until they die. You don't get too old to be an agent, you die younger. There's a real sentimentality in both Dench and Craig as the plot develops a true heart - again, something often missed by action flicks - and a new, more fresh connection with these characters is created. They are no longer agents who simply do their job (and engage in the occasional bedroom activity), but they have a past, a set of emotions, and a heart.  Javier Bardem, who we all know can be a fantastic villain (see No Country For Old Men), once again holds up his reputation of being simply amazing. Switching between dark and vicious to manically laughing at his own little plans, he captures everything that Silva should be: mentally unstable, dedicated, determined, a genius, hurt, and broken. One of the best Bond villains in a long time. Smart, crazed, and vengeful... What more could you want? Also, a special mention to Ben Whishaw, who was a brilliant new Q and worked incredibly with Craig's Bond. Not only a genius, but also a very witty character and one that, no doubt, everyone will want to see again.

This film hard some real 'art

The thing that really stood out for this film, like most Bonds, was the exceedingly well coordinated and choreographed action and fighting. From the very beginning, the action was full of suspense and was completely breathtaking. There was no way anyone in the audience could draw their eyes from the screen during a fight or a chase because it was simply too engaging. It also didn't stray too much towards camp action which a lot of the older Bonds do contain (inflating henchmen, giant lasers). While it wasn't camp, it was very funny. Definitely the wittiest of the Daniel Craig Bond films. The fun lines didn't seem out of place at all or forced in anyway, it was completely organic. Sam Mendes really knew what he was doing when he put the film together. A complex plot that didn't get confusing which is where Quantum of Solace failed.

Back to the standard of Casino Royale, if not surpassing it, and a really enjoyable watch. A definite must see. Bond is, quite simply, back. And he will return.

Best Bit? Just watching Silva's plan unfold was so interesting and fascinating. Really good writing.