Tag Archives: john leguizamo

Casualties of War – Review

21 Feb

Some of my favorite war movies are these grand, sweeping spectacles with dazzling set pieces and all star ensemble casts added in just to make the entire experience feel even bigger. My prime example would be Saving Private Ryan, but films like Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers also fits the mold very. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Casualties of War, which is an example of a much smaller and personal conflict that occurred during the Vietnam War. This certainly doesn’t make for a less harrowing movie, especially under the direction of Brian De Palma, but the fact that this story actually happened makes it all the more intense.

220px-Casualties_of_War_poster

Max Erikkson (Michael J. Fox) is a fresh Vietnam recruit who is actually ready to serve his country overseas. He is put in a small squad of close knit soldiers led by the beloved and respected Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn). After his closest friend is killed in an ambush and with his tour coming to an end, Meserve starts losing his grip on the entire situation and decides that his squad is going to go to a nearby village on their next mission and kidnap a girl (Thuy Thu Le) to use as their slave along the way. The only person in the squad who sees how crazy and wrong this is is Eriksson, but the desires of the squad completely overtake any sense of right and wrong leaving Eriksson to get threatened and harassed at every turn. When the time to bring justice finally arrives, things only become more complicated when Eriksson’s superiors blindly turn away from the facts.

So Casualties of War may not be the grandest or most expensive war movie ever made, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t memorable. In fact, I’ll probably remember this one for a lot of different reasons. This film shows a war of conscience, individuality, and camaraderie occurring during the much larger Vietnam War. There are a lot of small things that make this movie work so well, and only one hinderance that I can think of. The entire film is pulled taut with suspense and a dreading sense that anything can happen since no one is looking in the jungles. This made for a pretty wild ride for most of the movie, and the only disappointment is that there wasn’t enough time spent on the ending of the film. That’s a pretty small complaint in comparison to all of the positives.

cow11

Brian De Palma is a film maker every film buff knows and hopefully has a good understanding on how he makes his films. At first it seemed like a strange idea having De Palma directing a war film, but he really is a guy that can delve into any genre and after seeing this movie I know why he was the right choice. Other than way he directs his actors and gets the most out of their performances, he also has a very distinct signature style that brought a lot to Casualties of War. De Palma is known for enhancing the drama in his movie with split diopter shots, and it may be used the most effectively here. These shots allow a close up of someone’s face while different atrocities and acts of violence occur behind and around them, still clearly in view while the character may be facing away. It’s expertly used in this film.

Of course, none of this would work if the stars of this movie weren’t perfectly cast. I was mainly intrigued by this movie because I was curious to see how Michael J. Fox would play in a war film. I gotta, say I’m surprised with how much I believed his character. Opposite him is Sean Penn, as the film’s main antagonist. The way the movie’s set up, we like him just as much as Fox’s character does in the beginning, but as the story progresses, we start to evolve emotionally with Fox and start hating Penn’s character more and more. A young Sean Penn gives the best performance of the movie and works great with the much more innocent Michael J. Fox.

Casualties of War is a great but minor war film. It’s interesting to see a war movie deal with more individual crises, instead of looking at a particular battle or even the entire war as a backdrop. This is a very intense movie. It has an intense script, intense performances, and intense direction. Fans of war movies should definitely check it out for a pretty unique experience.

Advertisements

Romero’s “Dead” Series – Land of the Dead

14 Aug

I’ve seen many reviews and discussions on Romero’s “Dead” series that refer to it as a trilogy. This is most certainly not the case as we can see with Romero’s Land of the Dead and the two movies that follow it. I’m going to be honest in saying for awhile I thought it was only a trilogy, but in 2005, Romero released Land of the Dead after over a decade of zombie less films.

Years after the events of the first film, humanity has been almost completely over run by the undead, and even worse, they’re evolving. A large outpost of survivors has been set up in Pittsburgh with the city’s ruler Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) set up a high class refuge called “Fiddler’s Green” where the upper class get to live and the lower class has to rot on the streets. All classes dissolve and become zombie bait when thousands of evolved undead storm the gates of the city with a small group of supply gatherers to help defend the city.

At first, I was very unimpressed by this movie. It just didn’t feel like a Romero zombie movie. It was how it was filmed and the famous actors like Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo instead of B actors and unknowns were kind of distracting. As the movie went on, however, I started getting more and more into the classic Romero satire, awesome gore effects, and the constant barrage of the undead made me smile ear to eat, and next thing I knew,  I was having a blast.

 

This is the best acted of the entire “Dead” series, and for good reason. There is major talent at work here. The legendary Dennis Hopper steals the show as a slimy capitalist businessman who is all about the upper class. John Leguizamo also is good and is definitely the most interesting character of the entire movie, and arguably the entire series. Simon Baker is a good leading man, although there is nothing impressive to speak of. Robert Joy also gives a fine performance as the deformed dim wit with great aim, Charlie.

Romero really just pushes everything to the next level with this movie, without  losing any of the satire. When this film was released, it was the most expensive “Dead” movie in the series. You can expect to see lots of explosions, bigger guns, and lots of gore. This works well, but at the same time I kind of liked the simple look of the other films with the spurts of blood and gore. There’s carnage at every turn in this movie.

 

The satire in this movie is timeless and is on par with the consumerism jabbing in Dawn of the Dead. This time, Land of the Dead focuses on the separation of the upper and lower class and the devastating effects. The rich are the villains in this film and the poor are the victims of their power. While the upper class gets to live in the comfort of Fiddler’s Green, the poor are left to die on the streets. This isn’t at all an exaggeration. The poor are dying on the streets while the rich sit idly by.

Land of the Dead is certainly a step up from Day of the Dead. It is gorier, has better characters, and is more sure of itself in terms of its satire. I was pretty nervous when it first started, but after the first 20 minutes it really picked up and became a pleasant surprise. While it doesn’t quite stand up to Dawn of the Dead, it certainly is a step up from the relatively weak chris installment. Check out Land of the Dead.

We’re not done yet, folks. Stay tuned for my next blog for Romero’s “Dead” series, Diary of the Dead.

Spawn – Review

19 Jul

Even while I was a kid I still loved movies, but there were a select few that I really loved. There was Star WarsMighty Morphing Power Ranger: The Movie, and then there was Spawn. Until recently, I forgot all about Spawn, so I decided to revisit one of my favorite childhood movies and see how it stood up to the test of time.

 

Al Simmons (Michael Jai White) is one of the best assassins in the business, but he’s beginning to realize that he needs to settle down and focus more on his wife and prospects of a family. His boss, Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), offers him one last job. While on the job, Wynn betrays and murders him. Instead of simply dying, the devil Malebolgia (Frank Welker) and The Violator (John Leguizamo) offer him a deal to lead the hellish army and prepare for the apocalypse. Now Simmons is reborn as Spawn, and must decide who to fight for: good or evil, redemption or revenge.

Cool story, right? I can’t say I know anything about the comic books or the HBO animated series, but I would definitely like to check them out. As of now, all I have is this mess of a movie. I can see the obvious appeal it would have to me as a kid, but now it is borderline horrible. Once I started it, I was ready for it to end.

The problems here are many. For one, Spawn is a great anti/super hero, with a great origin story and powers. These powers and abilities make for some cool scenes in an otherwise bad movie. I feel like we don’t even really get to see him make use of these abilities until towards the end of the movie. That’s fine since this is an origin story, but that would be like having no web in Spider-Man or shield in Captain America. Instead, we get very quick uses of these powers that could have been so much more satisfying.

Let’s talk about the writing. Wow. Movies like this give me confidence in my aspirations of becoming a screen writer. The dialogue and character development is so cliché and generic that there is no possible way it could have been more bland. Martin Sheen is the CEO of a large corporation who talks tough. Surprise! He’s a villain that we’ve seen in hundreds of other movies. Thank goodness there is a nice family backstory that somewhat supports the character, Spawn’s, story arc. The characters and the writing were entirely two dimensional.

 

It’s one thing to talk about the writing in Spawn, but I almost can’t even mention the special effects. Before you say anything: yes, I realize this movie is from 1997 so the effects can’t compare to todays. Fine. But, look at Jurassic Park and The Phantom Menace (the only time I will positively talk about this movie), which only came out three years later. When Spawn is in hell, I could swear that it wasn’t finished. There’s no way that the special effects artists looked at the “finished” product and said, “Yeah, that looks good.” The only really cool effect is making John Leguizamo look like a short, fat clown.

It’s so disappointing to look at a movie that you used to love and have it let you down after years of not seeing it. This is exactly what Spawn did for me. The character and story seems really cool and interesting, but it was certainly not given ANY justice here. I’m going to start finding the comic books and watching the animated series in hopes that it will wash the hellishly bad taste that the live action film left in my mouth.