Tag Archives: sean penn

The Thin Red Line – Review

12 May

Terrence Malick is a very strange Hollywood entity that’s made not that many films over the course of over 40 years. His first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven, were met with huge success. After these two achievements, Malick disappeared off the face of the earth until 1998 when he released his World War II epic The Thin Red Line. This is around the same time that Spielberg released what I consider to be the best war movie ever made, Saving Private Ryan, but there are people who believe that Malick’s film is right up there with it. While I will say that it is one of the most memorable and well made war films to come out of Hollywood, it may also be one of the weirdest.

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After being picked up on an island in the South Pacific after going AWOL, Pvt. Robert Witt (Jim Caviezel) is chewed out by Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) and sent to Guadalcanal to be a part of a siege to secure Henderson Field from the Japanese. While on the island, the mass of soldiers have to secure Hill 210, which causes devastating casualties for the American forces. As the battle rages on and the days begin to pass by even slower, every soldier looks death in the eye through the sights of their guns and has to come to terms with the life that he’s led, the inevitable future that lays ahead,  and the possibility that they may never return home to the world that they know and have created for themselves.

The Thin Red Line is an outstanding example of a war movie, and I’m not sure how many people would deny that. While many war films deal with the European front, this movie deals with the battle that was raging on in the Pacific, specifically on Guadalcanal. This movie takes a really long time to get started, but when the battle finally gets going it doesn’t let up for a really long time. The original cut of this movie goes on for a little over 5 hours, and this is a rare time where I’d actually love to see the full 5 hour version because the 3 hour one that we have is so enthralling I feel like I need to see more. The combat is so intense and realistic that I began feeling anxious for the soldiers onscreen, even though I knew well enough that it was a movie. Not only is this a very intense movie, but the scenes of battle are shot in the most intricate and beautiful of ways. The camera sweeps over the battlefield in such a fashion that I can’t say I ever saw before. That is where Malick’s vision truly shines, and it’s almost blinding.

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So the battle scenes are all excellent and beautifully shot, but also the quieter scenes are shot in such a way that we see all of the beauty of nature that stands idly by as men wage their wars. It’s a pretty strong antiwar message done well, but things do tend to get a little weird. There are parts throughout the movie where the characters give these long winded soliloquies about the turmoil that they face everyday and the toll it’s taking on their lives and their beliefs. Seriously, this movie would gain a lot of points if those voice overs were taken out completely. It’s melodramatic and distracting because people simply don’t talk like that, especially when it’s already been established that it’s definitely not how that character talks normally. It’s just way too over the top, but that’s really my only complaint with this movie.

The Thin Red Line has a very odd story behind the making of it that makes it something of a Frankenstein monster masterpiece. Malick is known for taking an absurd amount of time to edit his movies, and this is a clear example of how far he’ll go to ensure he gets the picture he wants. Adrian Brody’s character went from being a lead to a secondary character who barely even speaks. The opposite goes for Caviezel, who’s character became the main focus of the story. The cast of actors in this movie is huge, but a lot of them end up being only cameos. Like I said, this movie was originally 5 hours long, so a  lot of their screen time got cut. Still, Malick knew what he wanted and the final product is great.

Plain and simply, The Thin Red Line is one of the best war movies ever made. There’s been countless, both old and new, but this movie has a certain beauty to it that Terrence Malick is known for capturing. That’s what really makes it stand out. Unfortunately, the film does lose points for the weird voice overs that more than border on the pretentious side. While that is a flaw, the rest of the movie is an epic masterwork of human drama and war.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gangster Squad – Review

4 Dec

The early to mid-1900s was a very interesting time when discussing the topic of crime and criminals. At the same time, graphic novel style action and visuals are really entertaining to look at, but they get even more entertaining when they are infused with a layer of noir over top of it. Think the Sin City movies and graphic novels, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Instead I want to look at Ruben Fleischer’s film Gangster Squad, a movie that was never destined to win any Academy Awards, but holy hell, it couldn’t have been more fun.

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The year: 1949. The city: Los Angeles, the City of Angels. Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has made a name for himself through his unapologetic brutality and no nonsense way of business. Along with Cohen, corrupt officials and officers of the law run the streets so the criminals get their way and stay out of their hair. This angers Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to no end, so when he’s assigned to create an off the books task force to personally take care of these criminals he jumps at the opportunity. Along with his friend Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), O’Mara creates a team and begins wiping the violence off the streets of L.A. in the only way they can: more violence. Complications arise, however, when Cohen begins to learn the identities of these men, while Wooter strikes up a relationship with Cohen’s girl, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Gangster Squad that I really don’t understand. All this negativity about how inaccurate it is, how much violence is in it, and how seriously the movie takes itself. Well, first of, it’s pretty clear from the get go that this movie isn’t meant to be realistic. It’s meant to be an ultra-stylized look at a pretty crazy time in American history. Now listen, I do like movies to be accurate when it’s clear that I’m watching a pretty serious historical movie or biopic, but it’s so obvious that that’s not what Gangster Squad is supposed to be. This movie works so well as an action/noir movie, it makes me jealous that I didn’t make it.

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So while the action is almost too fun to even process, I have to give some major recognition to screenwriter Will Beall, especially since this is his first feature film screenplay. He knocks it out of the park with all of the tough talking, gangster and noir dialogue. Some of the one liners in this movie really made me crack up, but also respect the cleverness behind them. The actors all play their parts to perfection, with Ryan Gosling sort of stealing the show. He provides much of the comic relief, and when I say comic I mean really funny lines of dialogue. It made me wonder what the reaction would have been if they made a movie like this in the golden age of Hollywood. All hell would have broken loose.

It can be argued that Gangster Squad is mostly style and little substance, but I don’t really agree with that. The story and characters aren’t boring, and each character has their own distinct personalities. I think what people are saying is, “Why isn’t this movie like The Untouchables?” I really can’t stress this point enough that this movie is solely meant for entertainment, and honestly I don’t see how someone couldn’t be even a little entertained by it. Watching Gangster Squad is like watching a comic book of seedy 1940s crime playing out right before your eyes.

Much like Van Helsing and The Matrix Reloaded, I will defend Gangster Squad until the day I die. Not every movie has to have some deep message or generate debate for it to be a really good movie. As pulpy, popcorn entertainment, Gangster Squad is top tier fun. The stylized actions scenes, complete with plenty of slow motion and Tommy guns, kept my eyes glued to the screen and left me with a huge smile on my face. What Fleischer, Beall, and the rest of the cast and crew has created is an explosive, graphic novel of a movie that looks at the 1940s, noir, and criminals in an over the top, and most of all fun way.

The Game – Review

30 Sep

I’m probably not alone in thinking that David Fincher is one of the best directors working in Hollywood right now. If you take a look at his filmography, there doesn’t seem to be a genre that he can’t tackle. His second film (after the entirely mediocre Alien 3), the superb horror/mystery Seven, scared that crap out of audiences, but also kept them guessing up until the very end. His other films like Fight ClubThe Social Network, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo were each a part of a different genre, but were all exceptional character studies. Of course, these are just a few noteworthy examples, which were also quite clear in his third effort, The Game. While it doesn’t quite pack the punch that Seven did, it is still a very fine example of work as a thriller and also provides an excellent mind game for the viewer.

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Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is an investment banker who can’t seem to get a grasp on his life despite his wealth. His wife has divorced him, his brother is estranged, and his house only serves to remind him of just how lonely and empty he is. When his estranged brother, Conrad (Sean Penn), shows up for his birthday, he gives Nicholas a business card as a gift for Consumer Recreation Services, which he claims will change his life. Nicholas decides to give it a try and meets with an associate of CRS (James Rebhorn), who gets him all set up and explains that it’s all just a game. As Nicholas’ game starts, he finds that his life and all of the work that was put into starts to crumble all around him with no explanation or conceivable reason. The only clues he may have lie with a mysterious woman, Christine (Deborah Kara Unger), who may or may not be involved with what’s going on with Nicholas.

A movie with a plot like that leaves a lot of room for some crazy stuff to happen, and believe you me, crazy stuff happens for a good majority of the movie. At first, I felt a little disappointed, because everything that was happening just seemed like another obstacle for Nicholas to get over, and what I was expecting was a movie that was going to toy with my mind and expectations. If only I had a little patience. What I mistook for a wasted opportunity was actually just excellent pacing. The movie starts off a little slow and progressively gets stranger and stranger until I finally felt like I was all wrapped up in this unbelievable game along with Nicholas.

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What actually got me curious about this movie was that I heard how twist turny and mind boggling it is. I love movies like that; the ones that are in the same vein as Donnie Darko and PrimerThe Game is now going to be my new go to example for a movie that takes your brain and shakes it around so much that it leaves you feeling tired by the very end. There have been times where I go into a movie expecting that, and by the end I’m disappointed that it really didn’t make me think out the puzzle all that much. Trying to solve the mystery of a movie like The Game is a large part of the fun. This one did not disappoint. Fincher and screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris lay this movie out in such a way that I at first though I knew what was going on, but as the movie progressed I was left wondering if anything that was going on was real or just part of the game, which is exactly what Michael Douglas’ character was going through. Now that’s clever film making.

Something that seems to bother people about this movie, and rightfully so, is just how ludicrous it is. I’m not the kind of person who gets too upset over a movie that seems completely implausible, because it is a movie after all, but there are some limits. The Game had its moments where I would think to myself that it would be highly, highly unlikely for something like that to happen. A counter argument would be that CRS is just so exact with their work that they would make it happen, especially given all of the tests they give to Nicholas when he starts up the game. Still, it would still be a really difficult task that kind of pushes the limits of what is acceptable with suspending disbelief. The movie is saved though by how believable Douglas plays everything and how twisted the movie can get.

As a mind boggling thriller, David Fincher’s The Game is a prime example of the genre and has gone on to become a cult classic. It would be very easy to pick this movie apart and find all of the flaws, but that would ruin the fun of the story. A story that left me scratching my head and on the edge of my seat until the very end. If you’re able to suspend your disbelief and enjoy movies that challenge you to think, and think quickly, then I can easily recommend The Game. Just be prepared for a wild ride.

21 Grams – Review

11 Jan

I didn’t really know what to expect going into 21 Grams. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it and I have seen and enjoyed Babel, another film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Still, I didn’t know what the story or execution of 21 Grams was going to be like, so I was really going in blind. What I got was more than surprising. It was an exceptional piece of art that deserves the highest amount of praises, and while it may not be a new favorite, I can say that it was one of the most well put together and executed films that I have ever seen.

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The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three characters. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is an ex-con who is trying to turn his life around by teaching the word of God to people who need it most. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a loving wife and mother with a disturbing past. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician who is slowly dying of heart failure and in need of a new one for a transplant. One night, Jack is involved in a hit and run accident with the family of Cristina, who now has lost everything, but Jack has gained a new heart out of it and is trying to connect with the person who saved his life. As the lives of these three people come closer together, a more volatile mixture of love, hate, and revenge begins to brew.

The best way to describe what I was feeling within the first 15 minutes of this movie would be confusion. I was completely lost until I realized that 21 Grams is told completely out of order. It seemed like the editor was someone with terrible ADHD that was just clicking on random scenes and pasting them together. If you thought Pulp Fiction was jumbled, check this one out. It took a little while to get used to, but once I found the style, it made piecing together these different puzzle pieces all the more fun. Almost as if I was only given the pieces, but didn’t see the full picture beforehand. It’s an interesting way to tell the story.

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I don’t think there’s really a specific need for the story to be told this way, but I’m really glad that it is. I’ve heard reviewers say that this disjointed narrative pulls you away from the characters and makes you feel like they aren’t as three dimensional as they could have been if the story was told in a more traditional way. I completely disagree. I felt very close to the characters and really was concerned for what the outcome would be for them. Also, if you really break this movie down, it is a plain and simple melodrama. Hearts being transplanted, ex cons finding Jesus, and a love being described as taboo would be the understatement of the century. This disjointed narrative keeps things interesting. Rather than just watching things play out, I had to piece things together, which made me pay a lot more attention than I probably would have.

Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies where I need to rave about the acting, the past two being Prisoners and American Hustle, and now the streak continues with 21 Grams. Everyone in this movie is really incredible. Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn carry the film all through its jumbled plot with ease and made me really believe in these characters. Naomi Watts, especially, gives 110%. Even the supporting cast is great. Melissa Leo and Charlotte Gainsbourg, while they are minor roles, help carry the movie and support the main players.

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21 Grams is a fascinating movie that hooked me with its performances, characters, and direction with special detail given to the editing. While Babel was a really good movie, it isn’t as memorable as 21 Grams. The story that Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have created is deeply moving and thought provoking in a way that can truly change people. It’s rare that a movie can really make me think as much as 21 Grams, and because of that it is one of a kind.