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OK, let's stop beating around the bush. This is just a dog. The worst is undoubtedly the dialogue - unspeakable lines full of kitsch and pomposity in a style that Hollywood thankfully left behind somewhere in the 1940's. The other thing that sinks the movie is the pacing that is totally off. Every time the momentum picks up a little and we finally get into it a bit, we are suddenly thrown back into yet another agonizing scene between Alexander and his mother, or his father, that stops the film dead in its tracks because of the ridiculous dialogue and over-the-top acting.
Not to mention the weird accents, Colin Farrell who is wholly miscast because he doesn't have the charisma of a world-class leader (nor the voice - in his pre-battle pep talk speeches he squeaks like a mouse on speed), the wishy-washy approach to his bisexuality (if you want to make the point, then just make it, for Pete's sake), the flat characters of his friends and generals that one cannot tell apart, Val Kilmer chewing up the scenery, and the rather poor aerial shots of the big battle. A waste of time.
Band of Brothers (2001)
Not very realistic at all
Lots of people applaud this series for its realism, but I can't really agree. I think there is still too way much Hollywood here and a lot of the scenes are cliché. The Germans are almost without exception behaving as total amateurs. For example, in the Crossroads episode they let themselves be completely surprised by the American attack in the rear, and in response they go running round in the open like a bunch of headless chickens to be shot down in droves. Yet we are told that these are SS soldiers. The SS was a crack unit and I don't believe that they were such poor soldiers to let this happen to them. One of the first things you get taught in tactical school is to secure your perimeter and set guards in all directions.
The American side too made huge blunders, if we accept this to be a realistic depiction of what happened in reality. Take the attack on the village of Foy (another place where we constantly see crowds of Germans nervously running around in the open for no apparent reason). The Americans knew that the Germans had artillery and tanks there, yet they assault the village with less than one Company of infantry without any attempt to soften up the defenders first! What are they thinking? Where was the Air Force? Couldn't they bomb the village first? Where was the American artillery? Couldn't they lay a barrage on the village before the attack? Why not use smoke grenades to give themselves some cover when they crossed the open fields? And we are supposed to feel sorry for the guys that their attack got bogged down?
Also very unrealistic is the layout of the opposing sides in the Last Patrol episode. If you believe this, the lines were less than hundred meters apart, yet on both sides people were walking around right in the open, and exposing themselves at the windows etc. At night they show some huge spotlights on the German side - surely those would be immediate targets given that they only appear to be a couple of hundred meters away from the Americans and plainly visible? Ridiculous! The behaviour of the Americans during the shelling in the Bastogne wood is equally unrealistic. Why are they all walking around in the open and talking to each other if they were so close to the German lines and expecting to come under fire? They should have been sitting in their foxholes, observing the enemy, not walking around chatting as if they were taking a stroll in the park! And then when the first shells explode why are some of them running round like idiots, shouting to the others to take cover? Don't you think that these D-day veterans would know by now to take cover when the shells start flying? All this kind of stuff that is only designed to get us excited and rooting for the characters is typical Hollywood nonsense. Never mind the decent acting, the good costumes and props, the camera-work - if the overall behaviour of the characters is quite unbelievable the entire story falls flat on its face. I am still waiting for the first truly realistic depiction of front-line combat - but I don't think I will ever get to see it, because in reality it isn't very photogenic so it wouldn't sell.
Three Kings (1999)
This is quite simply the best anti-war movie since Catch 22. Wild, whacko, irreverent, chaotic, you are never sure what will happen next or where your loyalties lie. The innate utter stupidity of war is beautifully exposed, as are the often all too ordinary motivations of those who participate in it - lust for adventure, fame, promotion, wealth, but also sudden compassion, honesty and reflection. A roller coaster ride of action and thrills with sudden counterpoints of instant horror that make you think and ashamed of yourself for laughing out loud just a moment before. If this doesn't shake some holy beliefs in the truth of what we are told, and the justification for what we are doing, nothing will. Highly recommended!
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Should have been like this...
Here is a script.
US President decides to kick some Commie a*se and sends loads of new troops into Nam. Pan to US Military Base where soldiers are being trained. Introduce diverse characters like Commanding Officer who is getting to middle age and not really sure he wants to be sent into battle again, but doesn't have a choice because he has to keep up appearances as well as think of his pension. Meanwhile, his wife of 20 years is having an affair with a young black lieutenant and neglects the kids. His Sergeant Major is a closet homosexual who vents his frustrations upon the new recruits he has to train. Several other soldiers wander round the perimeter, each with their own particular ghosts drugs, debts, relationship issues, fears and doubts.
Send this bunch to Vietnam (minus the cheating wife who in the absence of the men tries to become Top Lady by bullying the other women into submission) before anybody really knew what or where it was. Headquarters mount a botched operation deep into hostile territory, based on outmoded tactics, hopelessly bungled intelligence and endemic ignorance of the enemy.
Soldiers land in the jungle where ANV is waiting for them to let fly with all they've got. The raw US troops follow the tactical handbook that was written for a different war, a different place and a different enemy, and end up totally confused and badly positioned. Try to do their best in the ensuing chaos by seeking cover and lying low. Commanding Officer recovers from shock, slowly realises that this is a major balls-up and phones base to get his troops extracted permission denied. Fearsome AVN attacks follow one another during several days and nights, and by observing them the position of their base becomes clear. US artillery and air power is called in and coolly blasts the AVN headquarters to smithereens whilst the ground troops lick their wounds in their foxholes. AVN hurts badly, breaks off combat and retreats further into jungle. US choppers fly in and evacuate dead, wounded and survivors. Reporter who tries to take pictures of the bodies is beaten up out of sight.
Back to base, later. Group of survivors from this ordeal get together and think about lost comrades. CO's wife weeps for dead black lover. One poor veteran OD's himself later that night. Commanding officer is mental wreck, drinks too much and hits wife who runs off with frightened kiddies.
Cut to bright daylight scene where hundreds of dapper new US troops are waiting on airfield tarmac, embarking on planes to take them to Vietnam. Shards of patriotic speech by General are lost in the wind and noise. Commanding Officer watches from distance with bottle of whiskey in one hand and army revolver in other. Film ends with a gunshot.
Of course this has nothing to do with 'We were soldiers'. And that is exactly the problem.
Tedious and annoying
I really don't understand why so many people think this movie is fun. I thought it absolutely boring, annoying and utterly tedious. After plodding through the first 30 minutes or so I zapped to some of the remaining scenes in the hope to catch at least one funny moment, but nothing there, so I switched it off. I will now write this review and then erase it from my memory forever.
This is not a film but an extended sitcom episode full of the worst of the genre. The only reason I give it more than 1 star is that Thank God at least they didn't include canned laughter.
The characters are ultra boring, their conversations are empty, flat, repetitive, decidedly non-funny, and annoying to the point where you cover your ears to avoid screaming . There is no plot, no development, no humour whatsoever. Just to take the Vegas casino scene - it is so predictable, so obvious, so slow, so pathetic in its painful attempts to scream in our faces 'Look How Funny I Am!' that I felt personally insulted. And all that after first having to sit through an endless scene where the guys sit in the car on the road to Vegas and basically do nothing else but repeat the word 'Vegas' a million time in the same droning voices. Yeah, I really needed to see that.
Is this humour? It feels more like a permanent hangover. Get a life.
Lost in Space (1998)
Total train wreck
A lot of people here relate to the original 60-ies TV series and seem to be rather generous in their criticism of this film. Maybe it brings back fond memories of our younger days, or whatever, but let's face it: when one judges this movie in its own right it simply sucks.
The start of it is a Starwars rip-off space battle between the good guys and the bad guys. This time the Rebellion are the bad guys, they call themselves 'Global Sedition' - as if! One of the interesting facts of real life is that the bad guys consider themselves in fact the good guys, and wouldn't call themselves 'seditionists' anymore than, say, Joseph Stalin would have called his Communist Party the Party of the Gulag Mass Murders. Or something like that. Anyway, I can see they had to turn things around for fear of lawsuits from George Lucas.
During the next half hour or so we are bombarded with a veritable diarrhea of clichés. The brave but not so bright military hero who disobeys direct orders when he feels like it, and of course always turns out to be right; the workaholic professor who dislikes the military and neglects his family; the smart and handsome young female doctor who has no time for romance; evil fiends who want to sabotage the oh-so important mission (Saving Mankind, no less of course!); the nerdy little boy who is so clever with computers that he will eventually save the day; and so on and so forth, yawn yawn, you name it, it's there, we have seen it all hundreds of times before and hundreds of times better.
Once the space ship gets under way, things go wrong, of course, and the plot plods painfully along its pitifully predictable path. Special effects, big blasts, a mysterious abandoned spacecraft, evil alien monsters (spiders??? Who the heck came up with spiders? Why not stick with the trusty old bug-eyed monsters? Not trying to be original, are we?) Of course our heroes survive all that, and even gain a cute little alien friend (ET phone home and all that) but it is in the last part of the movie that the writers obviously lost it completely, and for fear of having no more to show for the money than a bog-standard space opera decided to throw in some completely incomprehensible drivel about time travel and meeting the future egos of some of the main characters. All semblance of story line, character development or even elementary logic is recklessly thrown out of the window, and the poor viewers are left with nothing else but more special effects and some tear-jerking schlock to seduce them away from the merciful grace of the remote control STOP button. Wrapping up this poor old turd takes ages, at some point I even feared that there was another sub-plot coming, but thankfully it all of a sudden ended with a bang in mid-flight - ready for a sequel? God help us all.
The acting? Well, they got paid for it, didn't they, so I guess they go through the motions. The special effects? Yeah, sure. Spaceship, strange planet, bang bang, explosion, robot talk funny, &tc &tc. Wow!
Lost in Space? Lost in the Script, more likely.
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Simply the best
This is simply the greatest Humour movie ever.
Most people would call it a comedy, and boy it certainly is, but it is so much more than that. Sure, on the surface it is brilliant slapstick with scenes so hysterically funny they make you roll off your chair. If ever there was a laugh-aloud movie this is it, and it ranks right up there with classics like Blazing Saddles, Return of the Pink Panther and Monty Python's Holy Grail. Even if it didn't go any deeper than this, Steve Martin and John Candy perform a comic feat that wouldn't put Laurel and Hardy to shame.
But the strength of the movie is that just below this surface it plays out a very human drama. The two main characters, Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Dale Griffith (John Candy) are polar opposites. Neal is introvert, anal retentive, arrogant and ambitious, a typical stressed-out corporate middle-manager who works in New York away from his family in Chicago. Dale is a simple salesman, obese, extravert, uninhibited, a social animal with friends in every town. They find themselves bound together by fate on a journey from New York to Chicago two days before Thanksgiving where everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong.
As you would expect, the involuntary close relation of such disparate characters initially causes massive friction. Neal can't stand Dale's physical presence nor his endless pointless chatter, Dale is not impressed by Neal's arrogant stiffness and his not-so-subtle attempts to get rid of him. Yet, they need each other to reach their objective and they know it. Some brilliant scenes play out this confrontation, but in the end they come to grudingly accept each other, and through their trials and tribulations on the road acceptance even grows into something resembling a budding respect. Steve Martin and John Candy are fantastic, their chemistry fuels the movie and raises it to a level well above standard comedy.
*************** Spoilers ahead *********************** But the film goes deeper yet. At the next level, there is underlying tragedy that both characters try to hide in their day to day existence. It turns out that Dale has lost his wife eight years before, and has in fact been wandering and travelling throughout the country without ever going back home. He is effectively homeless and lives in cheap hotels and motels out of a trunk (which by the way also acts as a very effective comic prop), but he never discloses this to Neal. His life contains a great emotional emptiness but he can't really face up to it and he pretends to be a happily married man. Neal, on the other hand, is so self-obsessed with his career that he sacrifices the love for his family to the point where his wife becomes mistrusting of what is going on. Here is a man who risks losing what really matters for the sake of shallow success. He vaguely understands that something is going wrong but can't get himself to admit it or even pause and think about it.
It is only when the two of them get paired up that they come to realise what is wrong with themselves. Dale is confronted with Neal's family life, a life that he himself so sorely misses, and Neal realises in the end that life is about more than himself and that other people do matter. At the conclusion of the film they come together and fulfill each other's needs, becoming whole in the process.
This is buddy movie/ road flick supreme. The tragedy underlying the superficial slapstick makes this film Humour with a Capital H, much more so than the great comedies I mentioned before. You will have to go back to the likes of Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton to find anything comparable.
However, and this is where the true greatness lies, in the final analysis this film is not about the drama of two different characters at all, but about the opposing forces struggling within each of us ourselves. We all have a Neal and a Dale side, apparent opposites that cannot exist together, but only by accepting this and giving both sides equal weight can we become whole human beings. The film shows that this may at first appear an impossible task, frought with risk and danger, but if we persevere it can be done, and the prize of healing ourselves is worth it.
Hilarious comedy, superb drama and ground truth - few movies would even dare to try and combine these themes. Planes, trains and automobiles does, and it succeeds brilliantly. Martin and Candy deliver stellar performances that work at all of these levels. Definitely one of the best movies ever, and vastly underrated.
Starship Troopers (1997)
I really don't know if Verhoeven had any idea what the point of his movie was going to be. Sci-fi? Action movie? Love story? Glorification of the military ? Political propaganda? Satire? Tongue in cheek? All of this? None of this?
A lot of people try to be nice to this movie by suggesting it is a subtle satire. Well, if that is what it was meant to be it has failed. Good satire relies on wit and humour to achieve its goal of undermining its target. Unfortunately, there is no wit in this film and the sparse humour seems to be wholly unintentional. In fact, I doubt very much if satire was the intention at all. I think the film makers never rose above the teen age target level of the original book, and simply translated the Heinlein story onto the screen without ever considering that it is possible to infuse films with meaning that goes beyond the most superficial actions and feelings depicted in them. And that, of course, means that this simplistic movie can be summarised in one sentence: Ken and Barbie join the Hitlerjugend and get what they deserve.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Good in parts
I am in two minds about this one (sorry folks!). On the plus side, the way the movie depicts the mind of John Nash from his perspective is very good. I hadn't actually heard all that much about this film before I saw it, so I must be one of the few who didn't know for sure that Nash is indeed hallucinating until the scenes with the empty barn behind his house (Have you hearrrd the storrry of the Empty Barrrrn..). I am probably thick, but to maintain the uncertainty as to what is real and what is not until that far into the film is very strong, and really rams home what schizophrenia can be to those who suffer from it. Until that point, the film might have been just as well a political thriller instead of a psychological drama. Great, but it works only once, of course.
On the minus side, the romance between Nash and Alicia is quite unbelievable. I don't mean later in the film when she is his wife and stays with him through his illness, regardless of his own suffering. This I can believe, there are many people so dedicated to their partner that they sacrifice big chunks of their own life and happiness to stay together when there is trouble. No, the silly bit is their courtship. If this is really how it happened in real life she is even more crazy than he is. Why would a girl respond to a total boor and social misfit like him? The guy is simply revolting, and I would think that an intelligent and pretty girl like Alicia would have no lack of better suitors from which to choose from.
Russell Crowe's acting is reasonably good, if a bit on the side of overdoing it. He is best when he is under the medication, worst in his college days with the exaggerated spasms and speech problems. Good to see Christopher Plummer making an appearance, and he puts Dr. Rosen down very precisely, keeping enough distance to make it unclear for a while who he really is and what he really stands for.
The cinematography is quite beautiful, I like the warm colours of the University surroundings, so suggestive of steadiness, calm and control, contrasting nicely with the turmoil of Nash's inner life.
The ending with the Nobel prize acceptance speech is downright cheesy and disappointed me. This film doesn't need such cheap trickery to make its point.
On the whole, well worth watching but parts of it are a bit too Hollywood.