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Platoon

In the late 1960’s, Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen) arrives in Vietnam – fresh-faced, keen and naiive. He’s already one of a minority – he’s dropped out of college and volunteered for the Army. He joins his Platoon – lead by Sergeant Barnes (by Tom Berenger), a worldly-wise career soldier with facial scars to prove he’s experienced violence before – and Sergeant Elias (by Willem Dafoe), the complete opposite to Barnes, he manages to keep a spiritual calm despite the high stress jungle environment and his doubts about the war. Chris’ platoon buddies help him to familiarise with the ways of jungle warfare – the longer he’s here, the more he learns and the higher he’s valued by his platoon. Life in Vietnam for these soldiers is frightening and punctuated by incessant bugs, damp, exhaustion, rations, drugs and marking off a mental calendar until leaving again for home. Rainforest encounters with the enemy are difficult, chaotic and terrifying – and when violence erupts between highly stressed soldiers and Vietnamese villagers, things can get nasty very quickly. As the weeks pass, Chris becomes less and less confident in his quest and more and more distant from his home and much loved Grandma. His letters home are his journal – his thoughts, once moral and positive, become doubtful and sceptical. Who’s the real enemy here? … is this really what he signed up for?

This is a graphic war movie and it’s good. If you want a ground-level view of Army life for a jungle solider in the Vietnam War, this is probably a great place to start. The day to day boredom and terror of this life is depicted well by Oliver Stone – the viewer can feel the humidity, sweat, grime and horror that is experienced by these soldiers. Charlie Sheen is marvellous as Chris Taylor, it’s perhaps his best ever performance. Tom Berenger is excellent as the unpredictable and terrifying Platoon Sergeant Barnes – he was awarded Best Support Actor by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for this performance and nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar). Oliver Stone’s directorship earned him awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press, Directors Guild of America, Independent Spirit Awards, BAFTA, Berlin International Film Festival and Academy (Oscar). Willem Dafoe’s portrayal as Elias is a great counterpoint to the irrational Barnes and he was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for this. The Platoon features several actors who went on to do marvellous work after this – Forest Whitaker, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley and a very young Johnny Depp. The cinematography is great (it won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Academy Award [Oscar]) and the editing and sound are Academy Award winners too.  It’s a good war movie.

Made in 1986. Directed by Oliver Stone.

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Posted by on February 15, 2015 in Movies

 

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All is Lost

A lone sailor (played by Robert Redford) is at sea off Sumatra when his craft is in a collision with a cargo container dropped from a passing freighter. He must use his determination and ingenuity to address the damage to his vessel so that it remains seaworthy. Time passes and little things start to compound – he finds himself in a series of difficult situations that he must resolve to ensure he survives his voyage.

This is a fascinating and compelling movie. Robert Redford’s performance is masterful – he hardly utters a word throughout this drama, but he doesn’t need to. His thoughts are quite clear from his behaviour and actions. Also, often I found myself experiencing this drama right along with him. The utter futility of a man’s efforts against the force of nature is presented very well here and as I watched it, I found myself wondering what I would do in the same situations. The lone sailor is presented with a series of challenges and one of the surprising things is the way he finds the motivation in himself to keep trying and keep having ideas to resolve his issues. In some places, particularly during the storms, I found it hard to follow the drama and what was happening, but not during the calm scenes. It’s very good and would have been exhausting to make, I’m sure. I also would bet this one is completely overlooked in the upcoming 2014 Academy Award (Oscar) season – although I do note it has been nominated for sound editing. Well done everyone.

Made in 2013. Directed by J. C. Chandor

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2014 in Movies

 

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Homefront

Phil Broker (played by Jason Statham) has lived life on the edge. As a drug enforcement agent, he’s worked undercover and broken some highly organised drug rings, but when a drug bust goes wrong he gets on the wrong side of a few seriously bad people. These days Phil is laying low and wants a quiet life for himself and his 9 year old daughter, Maddy (by Izabela Vidovic). They’ve moved around a bit and recently settled in a quiet bayou town. Maddy’s getting used to her school, thanks to her teacher Susan Hetch (by Rachelle Lefevre), but one day she defends herself against a bully, which brings attention on herself and her father. Being new in this small town, the locals are suspicious of Phil and two parents at the school, Jimmy and Cassie Klum (by Marcus Hester and Kate Bosworth), start to stir up trouble. Sherriff Keith Rodrigue (by Clancy Brown) keeps his distance, but doesn’t trust Phil or like the developing mood in town. Then Cassie’s brother and methamphetamine drug dealer, Morgan ‘Gator’ Bodine (by James Franco), starts to overstep his turf and Phil can’t ignore his DEA instincts – he investigates Gator’s set up, which puts him and Maddy at risk when he realises the extent of Gator’s activity in the town. He must break down the drug lab, keep his own identity secure somehow, but keep Maddy safe too …

This movie is okay, but doesn’t seem too sure about what it is. There are high action scenes (that possibly reflects the input of screenplay writer Sylvester Stallone), and there are calmer home-life family parts too – with even a smidgen of romance – but it never really settles on being a particular thing. In itself, the story is fairly average – a cop who gets in a fix, drops out of sight, tries to keep out of trouble but due to bad luck and timing the crooks uncover where he is – predictable overall. As Phil Broker, Jason Statham puts in a good performance, but it’s not overwhelming. Same can be said for James Franco and Winona Ryder – they do their work, but I wouldn’t rave over any of it. The performance with the most promise is Clancy Brown’s portrayal of Sherriff Rodrigue – at least this character has more than one layer, which makes him the most interesting to watch. Overall, the movie is okay – but I’d wait for it to come on television.

Made in 2013. Directed by Gary Fleder

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Movies

 

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Lebanon

One day in the Lebanon War of 1982, four young infantrymen are teamed together to operate an Israeli tank. Although they’ve had training, none of the four has ever faced real combat. Before daybreak, they squeeze into the tank cockpit and make their way out of the compound into the dark unknown day ahead. Their mission is simple – travel directly to an identified hostile town across the border in Lebanon and help defeat it. As their journey unfolds, they try to follow the orders of their tank commander, Assi (played by Itay Tiran), but each has their own concerns too – Weapon loader, Hertzel (by Oshri Cohen) just wants to get his job done; Gunner Shmulik (by Yoav Donat) is so new he’s struggling to actually shoot at anything; and Tank Driver Yigal (by Michael Moshonov) would rather operate the simulator than this ungainly thing. They try to stay rational to consider their next actions, but they unexpectedly face the enemy and must act on instinct to achieve their mission. One by one, the young four realise they share this day with others just as inexperienced and terrified as they are – and that this has become a bigger feat than simply to get their mission accomplished. Enemies appear, violence erupts and confusion results in their desperate bid just to survive the day – with their small old tank as their only protection.

The cinematography of this movie brings every scene into stark and close reality, whether you want it to or not. From the first scene, we ride along in the tiny tank space with the four young men and experience everything from the perspective they do – through the tank’s viewfinder to the cross-hatched world outside. Every breath, every bead of sweat and every terrifying moment is shared with these men at very close range. As the drama plays out and the tension rises, tempers flare and the inexperienced men become quite irrational. The movie does include some graphic violence – as does warfare – particularly when the crew reaches the Syrian held town. Although the story is specific about this war and this area, the key points are clear – war is confusing, terrifying and regardless of meticulous planning, things can go wrong. It is very good – the drama is encapsulating. Samuel Moaz was awarded severally for his artful direction, including a Golden Lion and Nazareno Taddei Award at the Venice Film Festival (2009), a Blue Angel for Best Director at the Art Film Festival (2010) and awards at the Brothers Manaki International Film Festival (2010). Giora Bejach’s excellent cinematography was recognised at the Israeli Film Academy (2009), with a Golden Frog at Camerimage (2009), a Bronze Camera at the Brothers Manaki (2010) and he was named European Discovery of the Year at the European Film Awards (2010). Zohar Shtrauss received the Best Supporting Actor Award of the Israeli Film Academy in 2009 for his performance – Art Direction and Sound were also recognised here; the movie won the Jury Grand Prize at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards 2010 and at the Thessaloniki Film Festival 2009 the film won the Human Values Award.  Very very well deserved – well done everyone.

Made in 2009. Directed by Samuel Moaz.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Movies

 

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All Quiet on the Western Front

It’s 1915 and Paul Bäumer (played by Richard Thomas) is a teenage student in Germany. He enjoys life in his town, his classes at school and fun with his classmates. Recently, World War I has broken out in France and on listening to the patriotic urgings of his teacher (by Donald Pleasence), Paul can’t wait to join the German Army and march into battle with his friends. His father is very proud and so envious that Paul will soon experience the comradeship and excitement of battle. Paul and his friends attend military training, overseen by the sadistic Corporal Himmelstoss (by Ian Holm), and soon find themselves stationed at the Western Front in France. Their platoon leader is Stanislaus Katczinsky – “Kat” – (by Ernest Borgnine), a no-nonsense war veteran who tells them “forget everything you learned at military training, this is the real thing here … just listen to me”. He’s an invaluable guardian who teaches them everything they need to know. Over the weeks and months that follow, they experience the full horror of trench warfare – the endless French barrage, the untold casualties and the utter horror, which shocks and changes them all. They come to trust Kat more than anyone expected and unaware of the impact this life has on any of them, they become people they would scarcely have dreamed of being before this. The war drags on and on – after some years, as the carnage continues and young lives are wasted in their thousands, Paul’s unit is depleted to only a few men who have basically learned to survive on wits alone. Paul is wounded in a particularly prolonged assault and after recovery in a field hospital, he returns to his home and family for convalescence. He realises that although he has spent every day at the Front wishing he wasn’t there, upon his return home he doesn’t seem to fit in there either. So he returns to front-line duty and with “Kat” and his old squad for the final months of the war until the Armistice.

I like this movie – it’s not fun to watch, but it’s good. It takes a little while to get going, because the opening half hour necessarily sets the scene – the happy teenage life of the schoolmates, the village life, family life and school life of the key characters and the dynamics of this group. This is important for the ensuing drama. The contrast is well depicted – the unquestioning pride of the townsfolk when their soldiers head off to war, the rude awakening through military training and the stark reality that befalls the group when they reach the Front and discover the truth. The drama is balanced, there are positive times as well as very difficult times. Many scenes are graphic, some conflict sequences are too long, but apart from that it is all quite appropriate. Most interesting is the hipocracy of some people (particularly officers) involved in the conflict and the romanticised notions about war held by people who’ve never been. It is fascinating to watch and understand Paul Brummer’s behaviour when he returns home and must answer questions without hurting people and sit through the ignorant ramblings of men of the town with nothing but dreams to base their war stories on. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque . Make no mistake, the key message is not nice, but clear – “A young soldier and his schoolmates face profound disillusionment in the soul-destroying horror of World War I”. It is a very good movie

Made in 1979. Directed by Delbert Mann

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Movies

 

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Skyfall

“We meet again, Mr Bond …”

James Bond 007 (played by Daniel Craig) is on assignment, but during an action-packed pursuit something goes seriously wrong. Left at the mercy of British field agent Eve (by Naomie Harris) and her skills, Bond is in a precarious situation. M (by Judi Dench) takes drastic action on behalf of the British Government, but somehow M16 gets compromised and a security breach leads to agents across the globe at risk of being exposed. After serious threats, then attacks, M must act fast – relocate the agency and protect her staff (putting her own life at grave risk). Her authority and position are challenged by the new Chairman of Intelligence & Security, Minister Gareth Mallory (by Ralph Fiennes). But M is adamant and won’t give in to political pressure – she is left with only one ally she can trust: Bond. He and Eve follow a trail to unravel the threats and mystery … directly into the hands of the evil Silva (by Javier Bardem), who has lethal and hidden motives …

As Bond movies go, this 23rd offering is one of the best. The action sequences are well done, very little time is wasted on glamour and romance (thank goodness, in my view the last couple of Bond movies had been overdone in this respect) and here M takes a far more active role which is great. Javier Bardem is particularly good as Silva. The main cast are well supported by Albert Finney as Kincade and our new “Q” is very comfortable in his role – well done Ben Whishaw. In the 2013 Academy Award (Oscar) presentations, this movie won the Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (sung by Adele) and tied for Best Achievement in Sound Editing with “Zero Dark Thirty”. It was also nominated for Best Achievements in Cinematography, Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score) and for Sound Mixing. It’s a good movie.

Made in 2012. Directed by Sam Mendes

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Movies

 

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wo hu cang long)

In Qing Dynasty China, legendary zen warrior Li Mu Bai (played by Chow Yun Fat) returns to Beijing after a period of meditation. Famous throughout China for his adventures, Li tasks fellow fighter Yu Shu Lien (by Michelle Yeoh) with the safe delivery of his treasured 400 year old sword “Green Destiny” to a trusted friend. She does, but the sword is stolen and Yu is witness to a mysterious martial arts Master making an escape with it. She is suspicious of a young aristocrat Jen (by ZiYi Zhang) who is in Court to prepare for her wedding to a nobleman. Although she seems sweet, there is something strange about Jen and her curious governess (by Pei-Pei Cheng), so Yu befriends Jen, who admires Yu’s strength, skill and independence. She confirms that Jen is somehow mixed up in the disappearance of Green Destiny. Li and Yu must find the missing sword and Li seeks revenge for the death of his Master by his arch-enemy Jade Fox. He is convinced Fox is at the heart of this mystery – so is there a connection between Jen and Jade Fox? Li and Yu must search and bring the treasured Green Destiny back to its rightful owner, all the while denying the love that has burned in each of them for years ….

Yet again, Ang Lee has produced an exquisitely crafted film. Qing Dynasty China is reproduced magnificently here and the components of martial arts action, mysticism, culture and the scenic grandeur of ancient China are presented to create a well-balanced and beautiful experience for the eyes. The soundtrack, too, is magnificent and it supports the unfolding grand story very well. I understand that director Lee worked with a master fight choreographer (Yuen Wo Ping) to create the entertaining, smooth and well made fight sequences; nobody could deny their flow and athleticism, coupled with appropriate use of special effects to create each of the elegant interactions. Just go with this – it’s sheer fantasy and healthy food for the mind, based on the novel by Wang DuLu.

Made in 2000. Directed by Ang Lee.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in Movies

 

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