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Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Great battle scenes, but somewhat spoiled by many flaws.
The best thing about SPR is the Omaha Beach sequence. That was very realistic, as well as being factual. The rest of the story is fictional, only somewhat realistic, and rather unlikely. First of all, the WWII US Army would never have wasted a Ranger Captain who was a company commander to lead a SQUAD of soldiers. They would have assigned a platoon sergeant, or at most a 2nd Lieutenant. I can believe they might send a squad of regular infantry to find a single soldier, but using Rangers is a stretch. Rangers are more highly trained, and would be used for an important military objective, not a "P.R. mission". There were some touches that I liked. I liked the way Tom Hanks portrayed Captain Miller as a normal guy who's approaching burnout, and is starting to get the "shakes". Also the way he kept a certain amount of distance from his men until they were down to a small group. The part about the company having a "pool" on his prewar occupation, and it turning out to be a teacher. The way the sniper, Private Daniel Jackson (Barry Pepper), quotes Scripture to calm himself and steady his aim. The running "FUBAR" joke. However, the end really bothers me. Having Captain Miller laying a heavy guilt trip on Private Ryan (Matt Damon), as he dies is unrealistic melodrama. Finally, much has been said about various 'tactical errors' made by both the German and American forces in the movie's climactic battle. Steven Spielberg responded, saying that in many scenes he opted to replace sound military tactics for dramatic effect. Shame on you, Steven! Neither Robert Rodat (writer) nor Steven Spielberg (director) have ever served in the military. In fact, Spielberg attended California State University, Long Beach, to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War. So this is the kind of UNREALISTIC war movie made by someone who went to college to avoid military service. I don't think it helped that Robert Roden had to rewrite the screenplay 11 times before it was accepted.
In the words of Sam Fuller, "The only way to make a truly realistic war movie is to fill the theater with smoke and flame, the sound of explosions, and to have someone shoot the person sitting next to you." Amen!
A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Classic Tragic Love Story
Be warned! The ending of this movie is enough to make a grown man CRY! At least if he's not as wooden as one of the other people who posted a comment here claims Gary Cooper is. That's just a crock of BULLS%#&. I sometimes think of this as the ultimate "f%#&-your-buddy" movie. But not all love stories have happy endings. Coop did a bang-up job portraying Lt. Frederick Henry, an American who volunteers with the Italian Army as an ambulance driver, who falls in love with a British nurse named Catherine Barkley, (Helen Hayes, who also was wonderful). Lt. Henry's "friend", Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou), is a surgeon who's also attracted to Nurse Barkley. He interferes with the romance, justifying it to himself by saying it's just a wartime fling. There's also a drumhead "kangaroo court" scene that's a classic of injustice. The romantic scenes are tender and sweet, with Coop and Hayes having great screen chemistry together. I just can't watch it too often, as my life is unhappy enough without watching movies with sad endings.
Das Boot (1981)
The most influential war movie of the last quarter of the 20th Century.
This epic masterpiece has influenced nearly all the war movies, many action and suspense movies, and all submarine movies since it's first release in 1981. Especially in the area of realism. If you look for it, you can see it's influence in such different movies as Aliens, Die Hard, Apollo 13, The Alamo, The Right Stuff, The Hunt for Red October, Tears of the Sun, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, K19 the Widowmaker, and many more. I really think Bruce Willis studied Jürgen Prochnow's portrayal of the Captain, among others like Clint Eastwood, to learn how to express emotions with just his eyes and minimal facial expressions.
The movie starts with the grim statistic that of the 40,000 men who served in U-Boats in WWII, 30,000 didn't survive. No other branch of any military service that fought in WWII had 3/4 of the men who served in it KIA. Military historians have noted that if the commander of the German submarine forces, Admiral Karl Donitz, had been provided with most of the 300 U-Boats he asked for to start the war with, (he had 57, only 20 of them suitable for ocean-going operations), he could have effectively cut Great Britain's supply lines, and probably forced them to capitulate. One of the oldest military maxims states: "Amatuers study tactics, professionals study logistics". Thank God Hitler was an amateur!
The cinematography, lighting, sound design, mock-ups, props, and production design set new standards for the industry. Cinematographer Jost Vacano designed a special Arriflex camera to film most of the interior sequences to convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boat. It is a miniaturized version of a Steadicam that has 2 gyroscopes for stability. Vacano wore full-body padding to minimize injury as he ran and the mock-up was rocked and shaken. Wolfgang Petersen insisted that every gage, control, hatch, torpedo tube, piece of equipment, and fitting in the hydraulically mounted interior mock-up had to exactly match that of a Type VIIC-class U-boat, down to the smallest screw. This attention to detail extended to virtually every aspect of the production. Here's an interesting sidelight. All of the main actors speak fluent English as well as German; when the film was dubbed into English, each actor recorded his own part. The German version is actually dubbed as well; the film itself was shot "silent", since in any case the dialog spoken on-set would have been drowned out by the gyroscopes in the special camera developed for filming. I saw the subtitled version when it was first released in the US, and own the Director's cut on DVD. I prefer to watch it with the English language soundtrack, and I swear that it's so well synchronized with the actor's lip movements that I can't tell that it's dubbed!
The strong ensemble cast, many of whom went on to successful careers in the German and American entertainment industry, is an integral part of the movie's success. Since they are listed on the main movie page, I'm not going to duplicate it here. Most of the filming was done in one year; to make the appearance of the actors as realistic as possible, scenes were filmed in sequence over the course of the year. This ensured natural growth of beards and hair, increasing skin pallor, and signs of strain on the actors, who had, just like real U-boat men, spent many months in a cramped, unhealthy atmosphere. Throughout the filming, the actors were forbidden to go out into the sunlight, to create the pallor of men who seldom saw the sun during their missions. The actors went through intensive training to learn how to move quickly through the narrow confines of the vessel. Movies like this, The Great Escape, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy form the basis of a strong argument that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to add an award category for best ensemble cast. Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock, the captain of the real U-96, survived the war and was one of the consultants for this movie.
To me, the saddest thought that occurs to me every time I see it is that they wasted all that incredible courage on the biggest A$$HOLE in human history, Adolph Hitler. Boo! Hiss! Pbththt! (The last is a Bronx cheer!) These sentiments are for AH, not the movie. To learn more about it, see the article on Wikipedia. This is one of those movies EVERYONE should watch at least once in their life.
The Fifth Element (1997)
Anyone else wanna negotiate? - A True Masterpiece
First of all, I'm a huge Bruce Willis fan, there being only one of the movies I've seen him in that I didn't like, for a reason that had nothing to do with his acting. (See my comment on Hart's War). So I knew going into the theater I would probably like it. I'm also a huge fan of Science Fiction, which gave me a second reason to expect to like it. What I wasn't prepared for was a movie that is so original that it defies classification. It crosses so many genre boundaries, it is truly in a class by itself! I'm not big on foreign films, as I have the same linguistic handicap as Korben Dallas (Willis). I only speak two languages, English and Bad English. I also consider subtitles to be usually a distraction. The only exception to that is when I'm watching a true masterpiece like Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, or a war movie that has dialog in multiple languages to make it more realistic, like The Longest Day or Patton. I also find it hard not to laugh at dubbed movies where the mouth movements are totally out of sync with the dialog. End of digression. This movie is simply a wild ride from start to finish! Every character adds something to the unique flavor of it. When you add stunning visuals, fast pacing, great costume design, and a great soundtrack, it just works superbly on every level. Now back to the acting. Bruce Willis is the American master of delivering hilarious lines with total seriousness. I just can't say enough about Leeloo, (Milla Jovovich). She manages to be tough, vulnerable, childlike, and totally HOT, all at the same time! The same goes for Zorg, (Gary Oldman, or "Scary Gary", as the cast of Air Force One called him). There are very few actors in the world that are as good as a bad guy, and none better. He's at the top of his form here. BTW, did anyone else catch the irony of his given names? Jean-Baptiste, (John the Baptist), and Emmanuel, (one of the names of our Savior, Jesus Christ). Then there's the priest, Vito Cornelius, (Ian Holm), who not only serves as the movie's straight man, but even delivers some very funny lines of his own. I even liked the over the top performance of Ruby Rhod, (Chris Tucker). I thought the interplay between him and Korben Dallas was just hilarious! Including him screaming like a girl when Korben shot the floor all around him so the Mangalores wouldn't get him and the stones. I'm chuckling as I'm writing this! Last but most certainly not least, there's the Diva Plavalaguna, (Maïwenn Le Besco, speaking and Inva Mula-Tchako, singing). She was absolutely fantastic. I love so many movies that I have to get specific about the genre to name any favorites, but since this movie doesn't fit any single genre, it's my favorite genre crossing movie! 10/10
Die Hard (1988)
The Action Masterpiece that Redefined the Genre
This is the action movie that redefined the genre, spawned a host of imitations, and launched Bruce Willis to international super-stardom. He also redefined the action hero, along with Mel Gibson. John McLane (Willis) comes to L.A. to spend Christmas with his family and try to reconcile with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), who took their children there to advance her career. Why is it that when a woman breaks up her marriage to advance her career it's admirable, but if a man does it, he's an insensitive JERK? (Personally, I see this as a prime example of feminist/liberal hypocrisy. Then they have the nerve to accuse MEN of having double standards!) Anyway, he goes to meet her at a Christmas party at her office, and gets mad at her when he finds out she's using her maiden name. As he's berating himself in the private room for starting an argument with her, a gang of thieves come in, kill all the guards, cut off all outside communications, take everyone at the party hostage, and try to get the head honcho, Joseph Takagi (James Shigeta), to give them the access code to the security vault so they can steal $650 million worth of bearer bonds. When he tells the ringleader, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), that he doesn't know the access code, which changes every day, Hans blows his brains out, with John hiding in the room watching. We soon come to know that Hans has the most dangerous combination of traits, high intelligence and total amorality. He then proceeds with his plan, which is to PRETEND to be terrorists, because he's studied the FBI's terrorist response plan, and intends to use it to help them break into the security vault. I'm not going to reveal much more of the plot. Instead I'm going to discuss how Bruce changed the character of the action hero forever, and showed great acting ability in the process. Previously, action heroes had generally been portrayed as fearless one dimensional characters who were so tough they could go through anything and anybody who stood in their way with hardly a scratch. To give them credit, both Arnold and Sly tried to give some of their characters added depth, but neither of them had really developed the range to be convincing at that stage of their careers. Bruce broke the mold by portraying John McLane as a normal guy who happened to be a police detective caught up in an abnormal situation. At first he's frightened and tries to get some outside help, but when he realizes the thieves are controlling all outside communication, he uses his brains to become the "..fly in the ointment. The monkey in the wrench. The pain in the a$$." to both disrupt the thieves' planned timetable and get them angry. Because he knows that the angrier he makes them, the less clearly they'll be able to think, and the more they'll concentrate on trying to kill him instead of sticking to their plan. He also knows this'll give him the chance to whittle down the opposition. He also shows vulnerability, fallibility, frustration, pain, anguish, and determination. He also uses a good deal of profanity, but it's never gratuitous. He uses it to control his own fear and to put his enemies even further off balance. I understand that Bruce ad-libbed many of his one-liners.
Finally, I've only seen one other commenter that got the real point of this movie. John McLane's primary motivation through all of this is LOVE! All he wants is to get himself and his wife out of the situation alive so they can go home to their children. So the real point of this movie is that true love truly does conquer all! What real man doesn't hope somewhere in his heart that if HIS woman were in such deadly danger that HE would have the love and the courage of John McLane? That's what lifts this movie head and shoulders above all the mindless action movies, and makes it not just a guy movie, but a movie a guy can watch with his best girl, and tell her that he loves her enough that HE would run barefoot through broken glass to save her life if he had to. That's why I consider this movie a masterpiece and rate it at 10/10. Yippie-ki-yay, motherf#&%er!
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)
Bella bambina at two o'clock!
I didn't read the book, so I didn't have expectations either way when I watched this movie. I bought the DVD as "previously viewed" because I like Nicolas Cage. I loved the movie myself, for several reasons. I'm an incurable romantic, so I loved the romance. I knew that the romance between Pelagia, (Penelope Cruz), and Madras, (Christian Bale), was doomed from the start, for the same reason stated by her father, (John Hurt). He just wasn't her intellectual equal. They would never have had a happy marriage. Plus, he demonstrated that he took her love for granted by not getting a literate friend to answer her letters. What an idiot! He just didn't deserve her. It's no wonder that she stopped loving him. It's also no wonder that, in spite of herself, she fell in love with a cultured, literate, music loving man like Captain Corelli, (Nicolas Cage). I also love location movies with majestic scenery. It's one of the things that make The Great Escape such a great movie. I'm also a military history buff, especially WWII history. I love it when I learn something new about WWII from a movie. That's another thing this movie has in common with TGE. It's reasonably historically accurate, (see the Wikipedia articles "Axis occupation of Greece in World War II" in the section "Nazi atrocities" and "Kefalonia" in the section "World War II"). It's a historical fact that the average Italian civilian or soldier had no great love for either Mussolini or Fascism. It's also a historical fact that the Nazis knew this, and so they didn't have much respect for the Italians. However, I hadn't known about how the Germans turned on the Italians like rabid dogs after Italy surrendered to the Allies. That said, it came as no surprise when it happened in the movie. It also didn't surprise me that Captain Weber, (David Morrissey), was sickened by the atrocity. It's another historical fact that the majority of German soldiers and sailors, both officers and enlisted men, weren't Nazis, and had no great love for those who were. With a few exceptions, most of the atrocities carried out by the German military were done by the SS, the concentration camp guards, or by special groups that were made up entirely of fanatical Nazis. Never forget that the German military was organized on the Prussian model, which emphasized strict obedience to superiors, and for officers, rigid adherence to their oaths. Which is why Hitler had the German officer corps swear an oath of personal allegiance to him after he came to power. To those who couldn't understand why the partisans hung the woman who showed affection to the German officer and didn't do the same to Pelagia, it was BECAUSE the woman showed affection to a German, and Pelagia fell in love with an Italian, who fought to resist the Germans in the end. Finally, to those who knock this movie because it's different from the book, SO WHAT? When is a movie adaptation EVER totally faithful to the book it's based on? Also I read in someone else's post that the author finally admitted that he didn't do enough research and got his facts wrong in his portrayal of the partisans. So, all in all these are the reasons I LOVE this movie, and I urge anyone who either hasn't read the book, or realizes that the movie isn't going to be a carbon copy of it, or has an interest in WWII history, or is an incurable romantic like me, to see this movie. 10/10
The Great Escape (1963)
One Movie That Should NEVER be Remade!!
How could any movie maker even CONSIDER doing a remake of this all-time classic? It would be as great a travesty as some musical group thinking they could record a better version of "All Along the Watchtower" than Jimi Hendrix!! Just look at how awful the remake of Rollerball was! This is one of those movies that stands the test of time as it is, and just can't be outmatched. How could any present-day actor top the cool performance of Steve McQueen? Or match the intensity of Sir Richard Attenborough? Or the quiet desperation of Donald Pleasence, who actually WAS a POW? Or the cockiness of James Garner, who used his experience as a scrounger in Korea to make his performance more realistic? Or the ingenuity of David McCallum? Or the realism of Charles Bronson, who, with his Polish descent, makes his portrayal of a Polish, (NOT Russian), flier so true to life? Or match Angus Lennie's portrayal of a man being pushed over the edge of insanity by long confinement? Or match the combination of coolness, ingenuity, and frustration of James Coburn, who actually did a convincing Aussie accent. Pay attention to the scene where he shows Big X, (Attenborough), his ingenious air pump and air ducts. Watch his face when, right after Big X tells him "good job", he tells him to "Have it installed by tonight." That's great acting! Why can't Hollywood realize that we're getting fed up with an endless stream of remakes that just don't hold a candle to the originals? There are so many stories from WWII that haven't been brought to the big screen. *RANT* What's wrong with some of these people who complain that the conditions in the camp aren't realistic? WERE YOU THERE? It is a well documented fact that the Germans, especially the Luftwaffe, were very careful to follow the rules laid down by the Geneva Convention in their treatment of British, French, and American POWs. It's also a fact that Luftwaffe officers felt a kinship with other fliers that transcended wartime enmity. For instance, when Douglas Bader, (the man who was famous for flying with two prosthetic legs), was shot down and captured, he lost one of them bailing out. General Adolph Galland, who was in command of the fighter arm of the Luftwaffe, notified the British of his damaged leg and offered them safe passage to drop off a replacement. They also became friends after the war. (Read Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader DSO, DFC. by Paul Brickhill and The First and the Last: Germany's Fighter Force in WWII by Adolph Galland) So the depiction of the treatment of the prisoners in the movie WAS accurate! To my knowledge, the ONLY Luftwaffe officer to be tried for war crimes was that fat fool Hermann Goring, and it wasn't for anything he did as commander of the Luftwaffe. Putting him in charge of the Luftwaffe had to be one of the biggest blunders Hitler committed! As for the guard's seeming ineptness, I guess you weren't paying attention when Big X told the POWs to set up a system of watchers to signal whenever a guard or a ferret got close enough to see or hear anything. Or to all the scenes showing all the diversions the prisoners used to distract the guards. It's also factual that the Germans allowed prisoners to keep their uniforms and badges of rank. This was intended to make escape more difficult, for one thing, and the Germans had enough problems with shortage of resources for another. *END OF RANT* All in all, watching this movie will be one of the most enjoyable 2 hours and 52 minutes you'll ever spend. There's just NO WAY anybody could ever do a better remake of it, and it would be as big a blunder as the one I mentioned above to even try! 10/10
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
I'm glad to be one of those awake enough to love this movie
From the other comments posted here about this movie, it seems that people either love it or hate it. Well, put me down in the "love it" category. This is easily one of Tom Hanks' best early movies. As others have said here, this is much more than another romantic comedy. There's a great line in it that goes, "My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement." I think that anyone who doesn't "get" this movie is one of those who are not only asleep, but REFUSE to wake up. This movie is just so rich in metaphor and symbolic visual images, it's nothing short of a masterpiece. The best way to describe this movie is to call it a modern day existentialist romantic fairy tale. I'm one of those people who watch some movies all the way through just to get to a scene where the principal character or someone else says something meaningful, or especially funny. A couple of examples are: The scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly where Clint Eastwood's character says, "I never saw so many men wasted so badly." the other is in The Outlaw Josey Wales, where Josey goes to the Comanche chief Ten Bears and makes peace with his "words of death/ words of life" speech. This movie is full of such moments, like the line I quoted above. But, especially for anyone who's been or felt stuck in a dead-end job that they hated, it has to be the scene where Joe Banks (Tom Hanks) gives one of the best "Take This Job and Shove It" speeches ever put in a movie. I'm not going to quote the whole thing here, just the line where he tells his scrofulous toad of a boss, Mr. Waturi, (Dan Hedaya), "You look like a bag of s#%t stuffed in a cheap suit." The rest of it is just laugh out loud HILARIOUS. I also love all three of Meg Ryan's characterizations. I wonder if part of her reason for doing it was as an homage to Peter Sellers. I saw a comment from one of those who didn't seem to get it to the effect that there's nothing funny about a terminal illness. If it were a real one, I could agree. But when it's a FAKE one, then it IS funny. I mean, come on, lighten up! How could anyone BUT a hypochondriac take something called a "brain cloud" seriously? I also thought it was great that even as Dr. Ellison, (Robert Stack) is giving Joe this fake diagnosis, he is also giving him a TRUE one. You'll have to watch the movie to see what I mean. I could go on and on, but I'm running out of room. Just watch for Marshall the limo driver, (Ossie Davis), and the luggage salesman, (Barry McGovern), in a couple of stellar small roles. About the only thing I can think of to complain about is that there's no explanation of how the Waponi either got hooked on orange soda, or where they get it. But that's small potatoes indeed when everything else about the movie is so great. I LOVE IT! 10/10
Hang 'Em High (1968)
"When you hang a man, you better look at him." Great morality tale
This is one of my three favorite Clint Eastwood movies from the period between the "Man with no Name" trilogy and his directorial debut. The other two are Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes. This one is a strong morality tale exploring the dangers of the two extremes of "justice", vigilante "justice" and a court of no appeal, with no checks and balances. There's also romance, great scenery, conflict, and a fairly well written screenplay. I've seen a lot of criticism over the years of Clint Eastwood's acting ability, mainly centering on his supposed lack of facial expression. I just think that's a load of B.S., expressed by people who don't know how to read emotions in another person's eyes, or can't be bothered to look. I'd much rather watch an actor like Clint, John Wayne, or Bruce Willis, who make me pay attention to such subtleties, than watch one who mugs for the camera, and exaggerates every expression. Or one like Gary Cooper, who knew how to express himself with his face without overdoing it. Anyway, this is vintage Clint Eastwood and belongs in every true fan's collection. Or the collection of fans of Westerns, or anyone who just believes in true justice.
Tears of the Sun (2003)
Arguably Bruce Willis' Best Work To Date
This movie isn't easy to watch, because it shows the horrible, ugly truth that we hide behind the sanitary euphemism "ethnic cleansing", (trying to make it sound like somebody taking a bath). Like someone else who posted here, I got the movie on DVD, so I got to watch the documentary on the making of this movie. Bruce had been wanting to make it for a few years before he got to make it, and the fact that he cared so deeply is what makes it so powerful. In fact, Antione Fuqua and every actor involved were equally dedicated to telling this story and getting it right, to the point of getting a retired Navy SEAL to train them in SEAL weapons and tactics, and calling each other by their character names even when not filming. I saw a comment posted here that said they didn't think a SEAL team commander would do something like this in real life. Well, I want to tell you two things. In the US military, the first rule of command is that you never give an order that you KNOW won't be obeyed. That's why Lt. Waters commander kept ADVISING him, rather than ordering him to abandon the refugees. Also, in the US military, you are NOT expected to ignore your conscience. It is an old tradition that if your conscience tells you to go beyond your orders, you won't be punished if you succeed. In fact, you are likely to be commended or even decorated (with a medal). Somebody else who posted here complained about the way Bruce played his part. Well, you dope, I guess you just didn't get it. He was playing the part of a man who had been suppressing his humanity for years behind an emotionless facade, and finally reached a point where he just couldn't do it anymore. Besides, all you had to do was look in his eyes. There was one particularly moving scene where he was standing back, watching as the team corpsman, Doc, Dr. Kendricks, and one of the refugees were tending to a woman who had been horribly tortured and mutilated. Anyone with eyes to see could see the sorrow, anger, and disgust on his face. I thought the earlier scene where the team's NCO's, Zee and Red, caught the Nigerian soldier torturing her was equally powerful. The senior NCO, Zee became so incensed that he handed his pistol to Red, grabbed the guy, and forced his head around and made him look at her, and said, "Look at your work, motherf&%#er!", then pulled out his knife and plunged it into the bastard's guts, and shoved it in so hard he grunted with the effort. He wanted to make sure the bastard felt some pain as he died. I would've twisted the knife, too, if it were me. I thought the actor playing Zee, Eamonn Walker, was depicting an authentic combat reaction of a man of honor. I also want to mention that in his interview in the documentary, he spoke with a British accent, but you didn't hear a trace of it in the movie. There are some American actors, particularly southern ones, who could learn something from British actors like him and Russell Crowe about suppressing their normal accent for a movie role. I would suggest to anyone who hasn't seen this movie yet that they get the DVD and watch the documentary first, so they will understand both the commitment that went into making it, and the reason they accurately depict atrocities in it. Also the reason they fought to bring in real Africans to play the refugees.I was particularly impressed by the acting ability shown by two of them, Akosua Busia and Sammi Rotibi. I hope some casting directors take notice. I also liked the subtle romance that develops between the two main characters. All in all, a great movie. 10/10