Tag Archives: civil war

Tears of the Sun – Review

18 Sep

It’s always an exciting feeling to finally get around to watching a movie you’ve been trying to watch for years. I remember seeing the trailer for Tears of the Sun years ago when I was younger and first getting into war movies. I thought it looked excellent and I really wanted to see it, but never actually got a chance to. Now, 14 years after the movie was first released, I’ve gotten around to seeing it. I had high expectations going into it since it’s been a recurring thought to me for years and also the fact that it’s helmed by Antoine Fuqua. Unfortunately, these expectations were nowhere near met. Tears of the Sun does have its surprises and some truly gripping scenes, but it too often falls into the clichés of the genre which really just leaves it as a middle of the road war drama.

After a coup leads to a rebel uprising that results in the murder of the Nigerian president and his family, violence inevitably erupts throughout the entire region. U.S. armed forces are deployed off the coast, including a team led by Lt. A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis). After completing a mission, the lieutenant and his team are sent back into the hot zone Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt) to extract Dr. Lean Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American citizen running a mission and hospital in the middle of the conflict. Nothing in Waters’ orders does it say for him to also extract the able bodied Nigerians staying at the mission, and at first he isn’t planning on it. After seeing a particularly brutal massacre, however, Waters decides to go against orders and lead both Kendricks and the civilians from the mission to the Cameroon border. With rebels hot on their tails, Waters and his team have to keep everyone moving as fast as they can, but a conflict with the rebels chasing them eventually becomes inevitable.

Tears of the the Sun is an extremely muddy movie and that’s what really holds it down. It starts off interesting enough, but once Waters, Kendricks, and everyone else start their journey through the jungle, it just turns into a mess. There’s scene after scene after scene after scene of just everyone hiking through various locations with an attempt to progress the drama. Unfortunately, the characters are so dull that this drama isn’t anything special and just gets lost in the uninspired performances and gray cinematography. There’s also plenty of lines of dialogue that I said before the character even had a chance to say them because this movie is loaded with your standard war clichés. A change of location might have changed things up after a while, but every scene looks almost exactly the same it felt like everyone was just walking in circles. This could’ve been an interesting element in the movie, how the immense jungle can cause confusion, but no.

Like I said before, the characters in Tears of the Sun are just dull. There’s very little to say about them because most of them lacked individual personalities. The men in Waters’ team were all pretty much the same person. They were all the hardened soldier that still had the wit to crack a joke from time to time. None of them stood out and anyone of them could delivered any line. When things get hectic during the climax and their lives are in danger, I didn’t really care because none of them really made me care about them. The same can be said about Willis’ character. His performance is so one note that it was hard to connect with him in the least. This role could have been played by anyone and he was just a boring protagonist. The only person that really stands out is Monica Bellucci who gives a very heartfelt and honest performance as Dr. Kendricks. She’s one of the only people who actually seems to be trying.

There are a few moments that do stick out in the otherwise muddled plot. The beginning was interesting and did pull me in to the setting easily enough. There’s a gut wrenching scene in the middle of the movie that shows just how truly horrible the situation is during this conflict and the prices that people trying to live their lives are paying because of it. The scene actually got me back with the movie and created a whole new layer of drama and suspense, but once the same old hiking through the woods started up again I began to drift once more. The climax is less than spectacular, but the very end of the movie features a scene of Willis actually acting like he wants to be in this movie. It’s a satisfying ending that wraps everything up well, but it certainly doesn’t make up for the rest of the movie.

Tears of the Sun is a watchable movie, but that’s all I’m really going to say about it. Besides Bellucci, the performances are one note, the cinematography is boring, and the constant walking through the jungle with characters I didn’t care about just became boring after a while. There are a few scenes that stick out, but they really are few and far between. Tears of the Sun is reminiscent of other movies that are just done better, while this one if meant to live in the realm of mediocrity. This isn’t a necessary movie nor is it one that will be remembered. It isn’t exactly bad, but there just isn’t too much to say about it.

Final Grade: C

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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-

Glory – Review

11 Aug

Movies about the American Civil War only seem to crop up every so often. The more popular option to explore is World War II or even more current warfare, which is honestly all well and good when done right. My point is that I don’t think there are nearly enough movies that properly explore the time when America was completely at odds with each other. This is partially why a movie like Glory really stands out. It also stands above many others because it tells a story that’s rarely told, and that’s the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, which was made up of the Union’s first only African-American soldiers. This film is not only a testament to what free thinking and ideals can do for an army, but also an incredible dramatization of a plan that helped turn the tide of the Civil War.

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During the early years of the Civil War, there was no certain way of telling wether the Union of the Confederacy would come out on top. There were many dedicated soldiers fighting for both sides, like Captain Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a Union soldier who longs for peace but will not stray from a battle. After being injured in the Battle of Antietam, Shaw is promoted to the rank of Colonel, and put in charge of the 54th Regiment Volunteer Infantry, which was to be made up solely of African Americans. Many African Americans jump at this chance to fight and stand up for their rights, which inspires Shaw to be the best leader he can possibly be. During this time, Shaw meets John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), Silas Trip (Denzel Washington), and Jupiter Sharts (Jihmi Kennedy), who all become his finest soldiers and stand with him as they face opposition from both the Union and the Confederacy.

Like I said before, I feel like the American Civil War hasn’t been covered as much as it maybe should be in film. There’s so much material to explore, and Glory is a testament to that. This isn’t just a movie about the Civil War nor does it stop at just telling the story of this particular regiment. This is a movie about beliefs and ideals and how far people are willing to go to protect what they believe in. That’s what really gives this movie support. It’s a theme that’s been explored many different times in many different movies, but this era and situation adds an extra layer of gravity to the situation since it was such a historical event. That being said, Glory can be a very emotional movie. What’s really interesting about the feelings I got watching this movie is that it made me feel very proud of the characters and the camaraderie that forms between them, but by the end of the movie things turn very bittersweet and I was left feeling a combination of happiness and devastation.

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This movie is filled with excellent actors, and their performances is a big reason to watch this film. I never really thought of Matthew Broderick as a great actor, and while his performance in this movie is really good, there are a few awkward moments where I didn’t quite believe his portrayal. The real highlights in Glory are Morgan Freeman, Jihmi Kennedy, and Denzel Washington, who won an Academy Award for his performance. Each character symbolizes an area of slavery or of being a freeman during the time of the Civil War, and each actor brings these characters and what they represent to life. While the writing is great, it’s these performances that make the movie so powerful and feel so true. When actors can make the viewer really begin to care about what happens to them, that’s when you know you are witnessing great performances.

Along with Denzel Washington winning Best Supporting Actor, Glory was also awarded Best Cinematography and Best Sound. Watching this movie, you can see exactly why. One of the most important aspects of creating a historical movie is to be able to put the viewer in that time period without any doubt of what is being seen. The battle scenes in this movie, from the opening at the Battle of Antietam to the finale at Fort Wagner, this is an epic film in every sense of the word. The finale is especially an achievement, going from a battle in the daylight to a night time raid that is lit by the flares and explosions from the Confederate fort. None of these visuals would mean as much it wasn’t for the pounding sound design that felt like a cannon was being shot right into my living room.

Glory is an epic story of a group of people that helped turn the tide of the American Civil War. It’s a story about beliefs, brotherhood, and freedom that are told by an accomplished film maker (Edward Zwick) and actors that have a deep understanding of their characters. Over the years, this movie has be lauded as one of the best war films ever made, and possibly the best concerning the Civil War. I whole heartedly support this opinion, and not only because of the battle scenes. Glory hits all the right points in terms of narrative and themes and it’s a movie that should be seen and appreciated.

Lincoln – Review

23 Sep

2012 was quite a year for the 16th president of the United States. His first major outing of the year came in the form of the over the top action/horror film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. While I actually thought that movie was quite a laugh, Honest Abe didn’t get quite the treatment he deserved until later on that year with Steven Spielberg’s epic historical drama Lincoln. Now, while this movie is definitely one that revolves around Abraham Lincoln, it is more so the story of his legacy, and finest achievement, passing the crucial 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

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In the year 1865, the Civil War was reaching its conclusion, but to many people, it was far from over. While the battles were raging, a different kind of war was going on in Congress with Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) on the front lines. His goal to abolish slavery was met with much hostility, but he was far from giving up the fight. Unable to unofficially speak to many politicians himself, Lincoln required the help of people like Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn) and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) to speak for him, while a team of lobbyists led by William Bilbo (James Spader) worked more covertly to secure the vote. This was a difficult time not only for Lincoln, but also his family as his wife Mary (Sally Field) was still grieving over the death of one of their sons and another of his sons Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decided to leave school and join the army.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that Lincoln is boring, mainly because Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner decided to put the actual battles of the Civil War on the back burner. The war itself acts as a looming presence over the Congressional hearings, which is the film’s focus along with the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Knowing that going into the movie may make it feel a lot less heavy. That doesn’t change the fact that this movie can feel a little overloaded. Unless you’re an expert of the time period, the politics may be a little hard to keep up with at first, but I soon found myself following along with ease. The film also ends kind of strangely, with what felt like multiple endings, a few feeling a lot better than the actual ending. I’ve heard some people say that the real talent behind the movie isn’t Spielberg, but Kushner for creating such an incredibly written and thoughtful screenplay. I’d have to agree with that, although kudos go to both Spielberg and composer John Williams.

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But while Spielberg, Kushner, and Williams have all worked to create something special, I have to say that the man of the hour, or more so two hand a half hours, is Daniel Day-Lincoln… I mean Lewis. The amazing thing about Daniel Day-Lewis is that no matter what role he takes, he literally seems to transform himself into that character. Just look at his acting in Gangs of New York and There Will be Blood amongst other things. Lincoln is his crowning achievement, though, and won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. His Abraham Lincoln is a quiet and nervous man who enjoys telling stories to pass the time and quoting intellectuals to help prove his points. Though he is nervous, he is also a force to be reckoned with which is made clear in scenes where he gets a bit heated. Watching Lincoln was literally like watching history play out before me.

It’s very easy to just get lost in Lincoln. While the story is very important and well told, I could easily go back a second time and turn off the sound and just watch it. Things are recreated so meticulously that it’s almost ridiculous. For example, the sound of Lincoln’s watch is actually recorded from his actual pocket watch. The rooms of the White House are crafted so well and the scenes of battle we do see are gut wrenching and intense. It’s an amazing looking film that wouldn’t have worked so well if it wasn’t so perfectly constructed.

Lincoln is a masterpiece from a master film maker that was scored by a master composer and written by who I now consider a master writer. This is a film that will go down in history as one of the most important American films ever made. While it does feel a bit too heavy at times and the politics move kind of quickly, it’s still a gripping and moving drama about a man who went beyond what was expected of him to change the course of American history for the better. It took me a while to finally get around to watching this film, but now that I have, I can’t quite get it out of my head.