Tag Archives: r. lee ermey

Mississippi Burning – Review

5 Jan

In 1964, 3 Civil Rights activists went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Foul play was suspected, so the FBI made their presence known and an official investigation began. Over time, a handful of city officials and other citizens were ousted as members of the Ku Klux Klan and sentenced to prison for the murders of the activists. This story shows a very dark time in modern American history and is a perfect incident to be dramatized because all of the themes and hostilities that it could explore. This is where Alan Parker’s 1988 film Mississippi Burning comes in. Parker isn’t one to shy away from controversial topics, and this film did spark controversy, but it also works well as a piece of hard hitting entertainment. There is just one major flaw that stands in the way of this being a truly excellent movie.

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When three Civil Rights activists go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents are sent to investigate. The investigation is headed by the young and hardheaded Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe), who is partnered up with the experienced yet brash Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman). Upon their arrival they are warned by multiple city officials that nobody wants them there and that whatever happens in their town is their business. This is unacceptable to the two investigators who call in more agents to help with the search. This causes an uproar in the Mississippi town, and causes the KKK to become even more hostile to the African American community in this town. With more lives being threatened every day, the town suddenly seems to be at war with itself which forces the agents to change their tactics in order to achieve justice.

The strongest thing that Mississippi Burning has going for it is its fantastic cast.  Other than Dafoe and Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, and Michael Rooker all have supporting roles. This is one of the stronger casts I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and they all bring their best to the table. While everyone is great I have to focus the most on Gene Hackman. There are times when he really stands out and there are times where I don’t really remember him, but never is he bad. In this film he’s downright excellent and it may be my favorite performance of his I’ve ever seen. These performances work really well with getting me really into the story and into the time period, which is super important for any period piece.

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What also be remembered to get an audience into a time period are the production values and costume design. Mississippi Burning exceeds in these two areas. This is a fantastic looking movie and is well deserving of the Academy Award it won for Best Cinematography. There is a great juxtaposition of serenity in the film making mixed with much more harsh and unforgiving film making. This works great with the themes and story of the movie. The set design and costume design also looks very natural and very believable. Sometimes when a movie about the 1960s comes out, there can be some unnecessary flashiness like the film makers are trying to prove that it’s a different time period instead of trusting the audiences to see for themselves. This movie looks exactly what I’d expect a small Mississippi town to look like the mid-1960s. I wasn’t alive, of course, so this is just an assumption.

There is one major thing about Mississippi Burning that really gets under my skin and I didn’t really notice it as I was watching. It was only when I was thinking about it afterward did I realize that the representation of African Americans in this movie isn’t all that flattering. There’s mention of Martin Luther King and there are a couple of marches shown in the movie, but altogether they’re just portrayed as weak, helpless, and scared. Of course, that’s a part of history. It was a terrifying time to be alive for many people, but it was also a time to stand up for yourself and your basic human rights. There could have been more black main characters instead of just using them as mostly silent side characters. This isn’t something that made the movie any less entertaining as it was on, but it was something that kept eating at me afterwards.

Mississippi Burning is very close to being a great movie. The performances are amazing and the cinematography is worthy of the Academy Award that it won. The only issue is that there are no central black characters in a movie that is all about racism in the South during the 1960s. Even if there was just one main African American character to ground the film with that perspective, I would have been pleased. Still, Mississippi Burning is a very entertaining movie that is filled with tension, suspense, and realistic atmosphere.

Final Grade: B

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Willard – Review

17 May

Back in 2003, when Willard came out, I was so set on seeing it. I just thought it looked like on of the coolest movies, but I guess it was never meant to be. Now in 2014, eleven years after the movie first came out, I have finally gotten a chance to see it. That could put a lot of pressure on me enjoying the movie. After waiting over a decade to see it and then finding out it was complete garbage would really bum me out. So, did Willard bum me out? Absolutely not. Willard is a special kind of blend of horror and dark comedy that works so well, it’s amazing this movie doesn’t get more recognition. willard-poster1

Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) is an anti-social office worker for his dead father’s company now run by the sadistic and equally loud manager, Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey). Home for Willard also offers no real escape with his elderly and decrepit mother (Jackie Burroughs) harassing him at all times of night. This changes when she complains about rats in the basement and demands Willard investigate. While Willard is in the basement, he finds a particularly smart rat that he names Socrates. As time goes on, Willard realizes he has a special connection with all of the rats in his basement, and soon the rats grow in number and Willard decides to use them to get revenge on anyone and everyone who has ever stepped all over him. While Willard’s plan seems perfect, he never bet on the capabilities of a large rat named Ben who grows to hate Willard and everything he plans over time.

Think of Willard sort of as a Tim Burton movie. I’m talking about before Burton got lost in his own stylistic excess. Everything down to the soundtrack of this movie felt like it could have been a movie that Tim Burton made, but it wasn’t. Glen Morgan, the actual director, isn’t that well known in the film world. His previous works have been on the show The X-Files and acted as one of the producers on some of the Final Destination movies. After reading up on him, I was surprised that Morgan was able to craft something like this. That isn’t a statement on his talent, but Willard really is a fantastic looking movie with a mood that is created in the beginning and held perfectly throughout the entirety of the movie.

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Usually at this point I talk about if the actors did a good job or not. Most of the times I refer to a couple of them. This time, I only need to mention one: Crispin Glover, one of the most underrated actors I have ever seen. There really is only one person that could have played the part of Willard, and Glover does it to so perfect a degree that it just makes the movie more unsettling than it could have been if another actor was playing the role. He even looks like a rat in a way, although some of that can be credited to the make up department. Still, everything from the way his voice cracks to his slight facial ticks to his posture makes this a deep and understandable character. It’s odd watching this movie almost rooting for Willard to succeed, but that’s just the power of Crispin Glover’s acting.

Of course the writing and the style of the movie helps a lot. There’s moments of Victorian Gothic type of stuff, but then there are times where the style is much more realistic, like when Willard is in a store filled with typical fluorescent lighting and a putrid green tiled floor. There’s something cool to look at in every scene, wether it’s just how the camera is set up or there’s some weird clash of time periods that give Willard a very unique, unsettling, and funny look.

And that’s just what Willard is: unique, unsettling, and funny. It’s an excellent combination of an enormously talented actor combined with excellent set designs, cinematography, and direction. This isn’t really a horror movie as some people tend to think it is. It’s more of a creepy dark comedy that made me laugh and squirm with discomfort throughout the entire movie. I wish I saw it when it first came out, but better late than never. This isn’t a movie to miss, especially if you feel some sort of connection to rodents.