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Cold Mountain – Review

3 Sep

Civil War movies fascinate me because I’ve always seemed to gravitate towards World War II films so I feel like I’ve missed out a little bit. It’s a really intriguing era with a lot of potential for some exceptional production design with how America looked and functioned in this mid 19th century time. In 1997, a novel called Cold Mountain was released having been written by Charles Frazier. It went on to win the National Book Award, but I don’t really hear too much more about it. In 2003, it was adapted for the big screen by acclaimed film maker Anthony Minghella, who before this won the Academy Award for his directing of The English Patient. I had some reservations going into Cold Mountain, but it actually surprised me. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a solid Civil War epic that deserves some attention.

With the South talking of seceding from the North, tensions in the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain are high. Many people want the war to happen, but the new town preacher, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland), and his daughter, Ada (Nicole Kidman) are staunchly against it. Amongst these talks of war, Ada finds peace with a local man she meets named WP Inman (Jude Law), and the two quickly fall for each other. Before anything can be done with their feelings, North Carolina secedes from the Union and most of the men of the town enlist to the Confederate Army, including Inman. As the years of the war drag on and hope for the South seems bleak, Ada struggles to survive in the town and only gets by with the help of a local woman (Kathy Baker) and her new tough talking friend, Ruby (Renée Zelwegger). Meanwhile, Inman is injured in a battle and after receiving a letter from Ada decides to desert and make the long journey home to Cold Mountain. Along the way, Inman sees all sorts of kinds which gives him a perspective of what he’s been fighting for and how the war has torn apart so many lives.

That was a pretty tough summary to write because there’s so much that happens in Cold Mountain. It’s a long movie that clocks over two and a half hours, which was actually one of my main worries. I’m all about watching a long movie that has a grand scope, but I’ve seen some recently that don’t really know what to do with a story of that magnitude. Luckily, this isn’t Minghella’s first rodeo and he knows just how to handle a story like this. I left out a lot of characters and subplots, because there’s no way I’d be able to fit it all in to one paragraph. This is truly an epic film and it’s one that works. Inman’s travels through the different regions is extremely entertaining because he sees so many different kinds of people. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a reverend who gets banished from his town for getting a slave woman pregnant, Giovanni Ribisi plays a man who is using the war to his advantage in treacherous ways, and Natalie Portman is a woman who’s lost nearly everything. It’s a journey that has layers and is at times heartbreaking, touching, and hilarious. This may sound cheesy, but it really felt like an adventure.

While this adventure through the crumbling South, Ada’s own personal adventure in Cold Mountain is just as interesting. It’s a town in utter despair with the casualties of war posted on a board in the middle of town. The town seems to be dying just like the men that went off to fight, and watching it happen can prove for some rough viewing. The Civil War has always been seen as a war where Americans killed their fellow men, and that macrocosmic idea is taken to just one town where the violence of the war bleeds into this area that hasn’t seen any actual battle. It’s a different kind of struggle for survival and even though it isn’t as epic a journey as Inman, it never bored me. This is another surprising thing about this movie. It’s nearly 3 hours but I was never bored.

This is a huge cast so forgive me if I can’t get to everyone. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman both do very good work in this movie and their chemistry is believable even though the amount of screen time they share compared to how long the movie is is very small. A lot of the minor characters really steal the show however. Both Hoffman and Portman are two that really stand out, but I also have to give credit to Brendan Gleeson and Jack White, of all people. The real stand out performance, however, is Renée Zelwegger, who won the Academy Award for her performance, and rightfully so. The only thing that doesn’t always work for me in this movie is the writing. It gets a little too theatrical in moments that require some down to earth dialogue. It’s a very melodramatic movie at times and sometimes it works, but sometimes I found myself cringing.

Cold Mountain was a surprisingly affective movie that I don’t hear too much about. It has an incredible cast that are part of a really entertaining, but sometimes difficult story about how war can tear a nation to shreds. The only thing that didn’t sit well with me was some of the melodramatic writing that just felt forced and was probably only necessary so they’d have a clip for the Oscars. Still, that is a minor issue that doesn’t hurt the movie to bad. It’s an epic adventure that has all the ingredients for a memorable film.

Final Grade: A-

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The A-Team – Review

24 Sep

In 1983, Frank Lupo and Stephen Cannell created a show called The A-Team, which was about a crack commando unit who are sent to and escape from prison for a crime they didn’t commit. They then survive as soldiers of fortune working out of L.A., mostly specializing in helping people who can’t defend themselves against a bigger enemy. While this show it definitely silly, it’s still a lot of fun because of the chemistry between the team, the writing of their characters, and the fact that there’s plenty of action in every episode. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about Joe Carnahan’s 2010 adaptation, a film that almost lives up to its source material, but unfortunately falls flat.

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While on a covert mission in Mexico, John “Hannibal” Smith (Liam Neeson) and Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) meet two other Army Rangers, B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) and “Howling Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley). Over the course of eight years, they become one of the most essential military units in Iraq, but are unfortunately are tricked into a mission by CIA Agent Lynch (Patrick Wilson) to reacquire U.S. Treasury plates taken by Iraqi insurgents. The mission is a success, but this unsanctioned mission and the mysterious murder of their commanding officer lands the team in prison. It doesn’t take long for them to break out, reunite, and begin their new mission to clear their names and take down Lynch and whoever else may be responsible while evading capture by Captain Charissa Sosa (Jessica Biel).

Now I understand that just because someone is making an adaptation of a novel, or a television show, or an older film doesn’t mean that it has to be an absolutely perfect recreation of its source material. The A-Team, for that matter, does stay pretty close but the compromises that are made were kind of weird and things just didn’t fit together properly. I’ll get to that later. There are parts of this movie that I definitely did like. The action, for one thing, is awesome and perfectly captures the over the top mayhem that you would see in the television show. Murdock flying a helicopter upside down, B.A. running from containers falling off an exploding ship, and the team trying to “fly” a tank are just a few memorable action scenes. This isn’t too surprising since Joe Carnahan was behind one of my favorite action movie, the chaotic Smokin’ Aces.

A TEAM (5)

It’s a pretty heavy responsibility when actors have to step into the shoes of such beloved characters. The whole point of the original t.v. show wasn’t necessarily the action, but how the four soldiers got along together and functioned perfectly as a team. The characters were each very rich and unique, and that being said, the actors in this movie sort of get it right. Bradley Cooper as Face and Sharlto Copley as Murdock are the best choices for those characters and they nail it. It was the closest you could get to the real thing. Quinton Jackson does fine as B.A., but never really reaches the same humorous intensity as Mr. T. Finally, Liam Neeson is poor as Hannibal. He’s far too stoic of an actor and pretty much takes all of the joy out of the character. Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson seem completely out of place and also give in some stale performances. In fact, some of the lines written for them combined with their delivery is worthy of a good, hard cringe.

While most people (myself included) watch action movies for the action and can forgive a bland plot, it still helps if the plot makes sense. The story of The A-Team made sense, but you really had to think about it and try to put it all together. Everyone’s getting backstabbed, and then backstabbed again and all these ulterior motives make the plot hard to follow. This is The A-Team we’re talking about here. Why does this have to be such a confusing mess of a story? The formulaic good guys vs bad guys routine of the source material made it easy to focus on the characters, but now I spent most of the movie just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Not only that, but the villains were just poorly written cartoon characters that are hated simply because they’re written so badly.

The A-Team isn’t an awful excuse for an action movie, nor is it a total letdown to fans of the television show, like myself. As I was watching the movie, though, I wish they’d just remove the A-Team, call it something else, and call it a day. The action is fantastic, and makes the movie worth a watch at least once. What sucks is that there really isn’t any good chemistry between the actors, which makes their tight knit relationships fall short. The story is also way too confusing for its own good and the side characters are stupid. While it’s cool that they tried to go for a modern approach to the characters, it doesn’t quite make, which, ultimately, makes The A-Team a failure.