Tag Archives: america

A Bridge Too Far – Review

18 Nov

It’s easy to make a war film that celebrates victory, but I can’t say the same about making a film that tells the story of an overwhelming defeat. Film history is sort of lacking in movie that tell the story of missions or operations that have gone terribly wrong. Arguably, one of the most notorious failures was Operation Market Garden, which happened after D-Day as World War II was coming to a close. Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter William Goldman took Cornelius Ryan’s in depth book examining the loss and turned it into the grand World War II epic, A Bridge Too Far.

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On September 17, 1944, Operation Market Garden was put into effect by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. The plan was to drop 35,000 men behind enemy lines and secure a series of bridges so that ground forces could cross them on the way to liberate Arnhem. After only a few days of preparation, the mission began and things soon begin to go very wrong. This film follows different people through different locations and problems, among them being Staff Sgt. Eddie Dohun (James Caan), Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart (Sean Connery), and Lt. Col. John Frost (Anthony Hopkins). As the mission drags on a lot longer than it should have, supplies begin to run low and more soldiers fall victim to the desperate Nazi soldiers.

This films may be one of the most “star studded” movies I’ve ever seen. I almost can’t believe how many people they got to sign on this project. I’ve already mentioned James Caan, Sean Connery, and Anthony Hopkins but the list doesn’t end there. A Bridge Too Far also features Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Elliot Gould, Ryan O’Neal, Michael Caine, Maximilian Schell, and Laurence Olivier. With a cast like this, you would expect a lot of really emotional and hard hitting performances, but in this case you would be wrong. Sure, the acting is great, but A Bridge Too Far is far from being an emotional powerhouse. In fact, save for a few scenes, this is a pretty cold and objective look at Market Garden.

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With this huge amount of actors, it’s pretty obvious that there’s also a huge cast of characters. There’s British soldiers, American soldiers, and Polish soldiers to keep track of along with a couple of scenes of important Nazi soldiers. There came a point in the movie where someone was asking about how others were doing, and I didn’t know who they were talking about. I still have a hard time remembering who was who. I don’t think that’s really my fault either because so much is crammed into this movie. Even at 3 hours long, I felt like it could have gone on for even longer since some of the characters never really got their story arc fully realized. That’s part of the reason why I say this is a very cold war movie rather than an emotionally intense one.

Now while this is a pretty detached move doesn’t mean it doesn’t get pretty wild. There are scenes in this movie that are some of the coolest I’ve seen in a war movie because they feel huge and are executed with perfection. One scene in particular shows the thousands of men being dropped out of gliders, with some of them being show from a first person perspective. There’s also no music playing during this part which makes it extra effective. Some other great scenes include the air force bombing Nazi forces entrenched in a forested area and the nail biting assault on Nijmegen Bridge. There is unfortunately a lot of down time between some of the other better scenes, which often makes everything feel uneven at times.

A Bridge Too Far certainly can’t be called the best World War II film ever made due to some of its glaring issues with character and pacing. There’s so much stuffed into this movie, there really was no way to give every event or character a chance to develop fully without making this some sort of miniseries. Still, there are plenty of scenes that stand out as something truly special. The scale of this movie is large enough to fit the shoes of such a military blunder as Market Garden. If anything, this movie should still be viewed to get an interesting look at history and also for its extraordinary cast.

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Dogville (2003) & Manderlay (2005) – review

17 Oct

I can’t stay away from the works of Lars von Trier, the self-proclaimed “greatest film maker in the world” and the “Mad Genius of Denmark.” I could continue with all of the nicknames this eccentric guy has garnered over the years, but I’d like to instead look at two of his films that are supposed to be the first two in a trilogy. The trilogy is called USA: The Land of Opportunity and the two films are Dogville and Manderlay. Now, I knew nothing about these movies, other than they were made by Trier, but what I got out of them were two piece of experimental film that I haven’t quite seen the likes of before.

First, let’s tackle Dogville.

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Somewhere neatly tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, near an abandoned silver mine, is the small town of Dogville. Tom Edison, Jr. (Paul Bettany) is the moralist and philosopher of the town who does his best to teach the people of Dogville the proper way to live. Late one night, Tom hears gunshots and finds Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mysterious woman who has just so happened to stumble onto the hidden little village. It turns out that Grace is on the run from the mob for some unknown reason, and a logical place for her to hide is this is hidden town. It takes a while for the townspeople to agree to let her stay in Dogville, and the only condition that she can is that she does labor for all of the people living there. This works well for a while, but soon the residents of Dogville begin to take advantage of Grace to the point of abuse. What they don’t realize is the dangerous secret the Grace is holding behind her unassuming demeanor.

Let me set the scene for you. I put in my DVD of Dogville, grabbed some food, and set myself up for what I thought was going to be a pretty run of the mill movie watching experience. Let me just reiterate that I had no idea what this movie was going to be like. When I saw what the movie actually was, I thought that I wasn’t going to make it through the entire three hour run time. Basically, the entire thing takes place on a stage with very little set design or props. It’s as minimalist as you could possibly get. As the film progressed, I realized that this is really the only way to tell this story, since Dogville isn’t about the the town itself, but more so the residents. Because of the minimal set, we can see into their houses for some of the most private moments and really learn what their characters are all about. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is one of the most brilliant films that Lars von Trier has ever made.

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Dogville isn’t just about visual flair, though. There’s also a really tricky story filled with memorable acting to back it up. Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany really steal the show as their characters. Supporting actors like Lauren Bacall, Stellan Skarsgård, and James Caan also do great, and let me just say that John Hurt should narrate everything. Sorry Morgan Freeman. As far as the story goes, it’s subtle and effective. It plays out like an interesting character study of the evils that can broil in small towns like this, and the whole thing kind of plays out like some strange experiment in human psychology and morality.

The only thing I really have to add is that Dogville is a fantastic movie watching experience and may be my favorite of all of Lars von Trier’s works.

The sequel, Manderlay, continues Grace’s story not long after the events of Dogville. Even though it’s made in a similar style, my reactions to the film were far from that of its predecessor.

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Now on the road with her father (Willem DaFoe), Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) and the rest of the travelers happen upon an Alabama plantation called Manderlay. What shocks Grace is that this plantation is filled with slaves, even though at this point slavery has been abolished for 70 years. As soon as Grace arrives at the plantation, Mam (Lauren Bacall), the head of the plantation dies and Grace, angered by the idea that there are still slaves, writes a new contract for the people there. The white people living on the plantation become responsible for the hard labor, while the black slaves are allowed to live a more free life. Grace begins to see improvement, but there are many secrets of Manderlay that she doesn’t know.

While Dogville was a subtle film with a strange story that somehow made perfect sense, Manderlay practically bashes you over the head with it’s preachy morality tale. Even though the set remains similar to the first film with its minimalist style, that is just about the only similarity. Bryce Dallas Howard is nowhere near as affective as Nicole Kidman, in fact she just comes off as ignorant and annoying for pretty much the whole movie. The most interesting characters are the former slaves of Manderlay, with some of the most important of those characters played by Danny Glover and Isaach de Bankolé, but sadly their talents are underutilized and Howard’s played up too strong.

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To me, it sort of seemed that Trier didn’t care about Manderlay as much as he did Dogville. While some people may find this idea very upsetting, some of the main themes of these movies are very anti-American. That’s fine with me as long as I don’t feel like I’m getting preached to by someone who thinks they are far superior than us commoners. That’s what watching Manderlay felt like. It’s true that it is still a visually beautiful movie, but that’s all I can really say about it.

While Manderlay is a pretty rotten movie in my opinion, Dogville is a genuinely fantastic piece of experimental drama. The style of these movies take a little bit to get used to, but once you do Dogville is definitely worth your time, if not just to experience a different style of film making. Manderlay, however, can be left well enough alone.

J. Edgar – Review

26 Aug

J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most famous, important, mysterious, and occasionally hated men in American history. With a very distinct personality and set of regulations, he seemed to single handedly establish the FBI and make it into a law enforcement agency to reckon with. Clint Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black attempt to bring to light some of the mystery behind Hoover in a biopic that may be well filmed, but hardly memorable.

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The story is told by J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), himself, for a memoir that he wants to tell his side of the story. As he dictates his words to agency ghost writers, flash backs begin to show the audience important moments of his life. At a young age, and early in his career, he meets Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who became his longtime secretary and closest associate. He also meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover’s second in command and personal confidante, whom Hoover may or may not had a secret sexual relationship with. On the business side, we see the founding of the FBI, Hoover’s push for the deportation of Communist supporters and potential terrorists, his involvement with the Lindbergh kidnapping, and many other events that formed the tapestry of Hoover’s life.

As a biopic, J. Edgar is expected to cover a lot of ground. Dustin Lance Black has proven that he has the ability to write films like this with his previous work as the screenwriter of Milk, which I consider to be one of the most successful biopics ever to be made. J. Edgar isn’t difficult to understand, but it seemed very scattered. This isn’t too much of a problem since the outcome is being able to see a complete arc in Hoover’s life. One thing that was more problematic was that there wasn’t really a stance on Hoover’s activities. There was a clear opinion that the movie had. By the end of J. Edgar, I don’t feel like I know enough to form my own opinion. In that way, the movie fails.

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I remember when this movie was first released, there was a lot of talk about the make up. Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, and Naomi Watts all play older versions of their respective characters, so they all had to undergo many hours in the make up chair. There are a lot of jokes that I’ve heard about the make up and people saying it looked terrible, but in my opinion, it looked pretty damn good. There were scenes, especially with DiCaprio, that the make up did seem to become more noticeable, but most scenes he looked just fine. Naomi Watt’s make up, however, looked outstanding and was completely believable.  All of the costumes really worked, and Clint Eastwood’s apparent love for desaturating his movies beyond what seems reasonable works very well to get the old time vibe across.

It’s pretty obvious that this movie was intended to be Oscar bait, although that didn’t really happen as well as everyone expected. Before I saw the movie, I was sure that DiCaprio would get an Oscar nomination, but after seeing it, I understand why not. His performance was very heavy handed, verbally. His actions and expressions were all great, but I just couldn’t buy whatever accent he was doing. It just sounded odd. As for everyone else, there isn’t really anything special to say. They all did fine without really giving any incredibly memorable performances.

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J. Edgar is not a bad movie, but it doesn’t quite achieve the expectations that it put forth. It’s not too difficult to follow, as I expected it would be, but everything just doesn’t feel as great as it could have been. It can’t be easy making a biopic about a man as secretive as J. Edgar Hoover, but by the end of the movie, I don’t really feel like I learned too much about the man, but more about his more public actions. It was interesting to see the history of the FBI, but as for the subject of Hoover, I’m still as much in the dark as everyone else.

Zero Dark Thirty – Review

21 Jan

9/11 and the hunt for Osama bin Laden will go down as major events in American history for future generations. While the news media fed the population both facts and lies, we never really knew exactly what was going on. All that we could assume was that we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. When news of torture and mistreatment of prisoners began surfacing, we didn’t want to hear it. Now, Zero Dark Thirty shows us what may be the closest version of reality that we are ever going to get on this subject.

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The story begins two years after the events of 9/11. Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a new member of the CIA stationed at the American embassy in Pakistan to aid in the excursion to find bin Laden. While there she meets Dan (Jason Clarke) who gives her the first taste of what she is going to have to deal with over the years. As time goes on and the CIA begins getting more desperate, Maya finds a lead that she believes will lead straight to the man himself. In order to prove this theory, she has to first track this lead down and convince her own government that her hypothesis will bring an end to “the greatest manhunt in history.”

In my previous review, I talked about how Contagion spanned many different story lines and characters. Zero Dark Thirty similarly spans years. This is a very challenging movie that requires absolute attention even though we all know what the ending is going to be. Being a two and a half hour long movie, the viewer knows that there’s going to be a lot in this movie, but let me tell you, there is more than I thought. If you end up not understanding or catching everything your first time through, don’t be concerned. If you did, you’re lying.

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As one might obviously suspect, this movie was met with as much controversy as it was accolades. First off, the film and its makers are accused of being pro-torture. Well, I can’t say that I felt that way at all. It was shown in a very brutal and realistic way, but never was it glamorized or endorsed. When a character spoke of enjoying torture, I felt like the film was being ironic. There was also accusations that information was leaked for the film. In that case, awesome. I sure hope it was. Finally, the original October release date cause some politicians to say that it was pro-Obama and being used to support his campaign. Obama is shown once in the movie on tv, and I wasn’t too impressed with the hypocrisy of his statements. Maya is the hero here, not Obama.

Anyway, back to the movie itself. If you’ve seen The Hurt Locker, you’re absolutely aware that Kathryn Bigelow has the ability to work with the scenario of Middle East conflict, and she shows masterful work with Zero Dark Thirty. The scenes of terrorism are shocking and she utilizes the surrounding environments really well to put the viewer right in the middle of the action. Even when the characters are in board meeting and just chatting as friends, I felt like I was there and part of it. If anything, this is one of the most real “war” movies that I have seen.

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The hunt for Osama bin Laden and the War on Terror have been some of the most important American events since its beginning. Zero Dark Thirty does justice to the whole situation. I believe that Bigelow and her fellow cast and crew did a very good job in showing just how it all happened from the violence to the meetings to the emotions of everyone involved. Politicians and spies are people too, not just government machines and I really got that feeling with this movie. I haven’t seen all of the nominees for Best Picture this year, but if Zero Dark Thirty were to win, I would be perfectly content. It is exceptional.

Air Force One – Review

10 Oct

Air Force One, aka Sky Hard, is the story of Officer John McClane after he became president. I’m kidding of course, but it seems every time I watch this movie I find more similarities between it and the original Die Hard. Still, even though these can be distracting, Air Force One is still a pretty good action movie that kept me entertained for its running time.

President Marshall (Harrison Ford) is in Moscow at a dinner celebrating the capture of a warlord from Kazakhstan, General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow). In his speech, Marshall declares America’s zero tolerance policy on terrorism and negotiation with said terrorists. After his departure with his family, employees, and secret service on Air Force One, the plane is promptly hijacked by ultranationalist terrorists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman). He and his team are dedicated to General Radek and will execute a hostage every half hour until Radek is freed. What these terrorists never bet on was President Marshall reverting back to his days of the military and making the terrorists get a taste of their own medicine.

This is a very pro-American action movie that reeks with patriotism. This is an easy way for a movie to become intolerable. I don’t mind a pro-national stance for a film, but not when it’s shoved down the viewer’s throat. With the sweeping music and American flags everywhere to some of the dialogue, this movie just couldn’t get enough. But, and this is a big but, there were obvious criticisms of American policy that speak some truth. When Oldman’s character begins talking about our foreign policies and how the government works, he doesn’t sound like a crazy person. This was obviously intentional both for character purposes and thematically. If he came off as a lunatic, then it would be difficult to believe the sincerity in the writing.

While we’re on the topic of Gary Oldman, he is the strongest part of this movie both in form and performance. Let’s face it, the story here is pretty weak, the bulk of the characters (including the president) are uninspired, but Oldman’s performance is something to be taken completely seriously. While all the other actors do their jobs just fine, he goes above and beyond what is called for. I don’t want to keep comparing this to Die Hard, but think of how great Alan Rickman was as Hans Gruber. This is the level of intensity that Gary Oldman gives Ivan Korshunov. He is an A+ actor.

The special effects are pretty dated in Air Force One, but I still really enjoyed the action. There are excellent gun battles that have surprisingly fine cinematography and jet planes engaging in dog fights that will put you on the edge of your seat. I wouldn’t say the action is nonstop, but a lingering feeling of suspense plays throughout the movie. Unfortunately, the film is just a bit too long and should have ended 15 minutes earlier. The effects and action couldn’t keep me interested by the end.

Air Force One is a fun movie if you are willing to check your brain at the door. It has obvious flaws in its story that makes you wish you were actually watching Die Hard at times, but the action and Gary Oldman’s performance is enough to keep you watching. It’s better than a lot of action movie, but it can’t be place in the upper-eschelons of the genre neither. Still, it’s a fun movie to watch, especially if you’re with other people.