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The Patriot (2000)
The Price for Freedom
The Patriot is the story of Colonel Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a man driven by vengeance to fight in the American Revolutionary War. Plagued by a barbarous act he committed during the French and Indian War, the once stout patriot Martin wishes to remain neutral, in spite of the fact that it betrays his convictions. When one of his sons, Thomas (Gregory Smith), is murdered in cold blood by British Colonel William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), Martin enters the fray, thirsty for Tavington's blood.
Mel Gibson delivers the high quality performance audiences have come to expect from him. Rage, sorrow, happiness  all are evident at some point in facial expressions, voice and body language. Gibson remains one of the many talented performers who have yet to receive an Academy Award for Best Actor. Jason Isaacs is delightfully detestable as Tavington. Merciless and a cool lover of carnage, Isaacs is perfect. Heath Ledger, playing Martin's eldest son, Gabriel, brings a youthful sensitivity and naivete to the film. It is fortunate that Gibson (who handpicked Ledger for the role) saw Ledger's potential for powerful emotion. His previous films, most notably the teenybopper movie Ten Things I Hate About You, lacked the substance to give him the chance to display these talents.
It was a pleasant surprise that Ronald Emmerich, the director who brought us such atrocities as Independence Day and 1998's Godzilla, managed to pull together such an entertaining and moving story. One must assume that Emmerich, who wrote both ID4 and Godzilla is a better director than writer. In The Patriot, Emmerich's skills as a director are evident, never failing to keep the film visually stimulating. The battle scenes are exciting but not confusing. Telephoto lenses are used effectively in these sequences when a wide-angle lens would cause the main point of action to blend in. The talented Robert Rodat of Saving Private Ryan fame penned the screenplay. In The Patriot he seamlessly weaves tragedy, action and a degree of comedy that build a well-rounded story.
In addition to excellent direction, story and acting, The Patriot also marks yet another triumph for composer John Williams. For example, when the film opens on the Martin family's farm, the music is nothing short of inspiring, as if everything is right in the world; but when Thomas dies, a symphony of violins seem to weep, and a church bell sounding in the distance serves as a death toll.
Benjamin Martin only agreed to fight when his noninvolvement cost him the life of his son. He wanted to love his family, be a good father and live a peaceful life. He felt he had served his country and he did not want to reopen the painful scars left behind. Ultimately, the message declared in The Patriot is that you have to defend your beliefs, because as Martin himself says, `the price is more than I can bear.'
8 out of 10 stars
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
A Patriot's Fall From Grace
What defines a great film? I believe that for a movie to be great, it should move you. It should make you think. It should make you reconsider your views and outlooks. It should make you take a closer look at its subject matter. It should draw attention to itself. Above all, you should gain some amount of enjoyment from a great film. I believe that BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY was a great film. I say this because, whether or not you agree with Ron Kovic's message, and although Oliver Stone almost ruined it with his attempts to personalize reality, the movie still made people stop and look. It literally defined the Vietnam War for a generation of Tom Cruise fans, and made many more aware of what the vets went through. The cinematography, score and fabulous acting made it a pleasure for many people to watch, if only to see how Cruise would deliver his next line.
The film grossed $70,001,698 nationwide. In 1989, when BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY was released, movie tickets cost five dollars. Therefore, over fourteen million American people went to the theater to see this movie. The number of viewers increases when you take into consideration the people who rented it on video or watched a television broadcast. It had that special something that made people think about issues that they might not have thought about before. It is lamentable that by 1989, many of the members of Generation X had paid little or no attention to the Vietnam War, even though only sixteen years had passed since the war's end. The younger generation was reminded that the war did, indeed, happen, and that the country was still being lambasted with the side effects.
The camera work was extremely effective in relaying the messages in the film. Different moods within the film were indicated by different tints in the color. Combats were filmed in red, while blue indicated sadness, and white tints where used in the dream sequences. Whether intended or not, the colors of choice also coincide with that of the American flag, which is very appropriate for the film. The film also employed a wide variety of interesting angles without becoming confusing to the viewer.
The musical score is one of the best of all time. John Williams is a genius in the music industry. His fabulous music can make a film feel the way it was intended to. He seems to simply know what sequence of notes will produce what emotions. Along with Williams' music, the score also includes some of the popular music from the time of the film's setting. For instance, AMERICAN PIE by Don McLean, MY GIRL by the Temptations, and MOONRIVER by Henry Mancini, all give the viewer who remembers the music a sense of nostalgia, taking them back to those years.
Two words sum up why the movie got the attention it did: Tom Cruise. Many critics were skeptical whether or not the pretty boy of RISKY BUSINESS and TOP GUN fame had what it took to portray a real life Vietnam veteran and make the audience believe he was that person. Fans crowded into the theaters to watch Cruise's handsome face (which was not so attractive through most of the film). Critics went to watch him blow the role. But he proved himself and went above and beyond what was expected of him in one of the most moving performances I have ever seen. He literally became Ron Kovic.
Many people were affected by BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. It had great cinematography. Its soundtrack was inspiring and beautiful, pulling out of the viewer all possible emotions. Tom Cruise's performance as Ron Kovic blew almost everyone away. In short, BORN ON THE FORTH OF JULY has what it takes to be a great film. It overcomes Stone's blatant manipulation of facts, such as the violent conflict that in the movie occurs during a republican convention, but in reality occurred during a democratic convention. Powerful and touching, it drives its point home and back again, never missing a beat.
8 out of 10 stars
No Saving Private Ryan
Disillusionment: it can represent an end; herald a beginning; and sometimes, it can do both to some degree. Are we more than pawns in the battlefield of life, destined to accept what is generally acknowledged as reality? In Platoon, writer/director Oliver Stone attempts to tackle this issue with varying degrees of success. The film follows the exploits of an American military unit during the Vietnam War. The group is ultimately divided by two feuding authority figures, Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). Caught in the middle is Private Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), who is forced to decide where his loyalty lies. On one hand is Barnes, a driven patriot who is will stop at nothing to achieve his goals. On the other hand is Elias, a man who no longer believes in the war but has not lost his compassionate outlook. Elias has already realized that the whole war is a lie, and through the film Taylor arrives at the same realization.
Charlie Sheen gives an excellent portrayal of Taylor, a character loosely based on Stone. Taylor is an upper class young man who could have easily avoided the war but chose to volunteer. He wanted to be a hero: following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who fought in World War I, and his father, a World War II soldier. Instead, he is trapped in a world where it is impossible to be a hero - where it is difficult to determine who the enemy is. Stone explores how American soldiers were destined for hardships before even setting foot on the Vietnam battlefield. For example, Taylor lacked sufficient training; he did not know what equipment was necessary to take on patrols. After Taylor passes out from overloading his pack, Elias removes all the unnecessary items.
Another issue Stone delineates is how the rampant use of narcotics plagued many men in Vietnam. Elias, one of the more respected soldiers, used drugs liberally. When Taylor is just beginning to use drugs, there is a segment in which Elias blows smoke through a rifle barrel into Taylor's mouth. When the most influential men in the war not only advocate but partake in such behavior, what are the impressionable young men supposed to think? While Barnes does not do drugs, he is an alcoholic. Therefore, no matter who a soldier sides with, he is still exposed to the use of deleterious substances.
Platoon portrays the disappointment of America during the Vietnam War; its broken heart. In his journey, Taylor's lose of innocence represents more than just one man. He symbolizes every soldier that enters the war with a patriotic soul and leaves with a tarnished one. His illusions are destroyed, his youthful optimism eradicated. Specifically Sheen and Dafoe complement this film with moving performances. On the other hand the writing was adequate, and the directing. lacking. Stone's direction of the battle scenes was jumbled and confusing, leaving one squinting to determine what is going on.
5 out of 10 stars
The Green Berets (1968)
Real American Hero?
The Green Berets depicts a more supportive and patriotic account of the Vietnam War than most other films. John Wayne stars as Colonel Mike Kirby, a super-patriotic Green Beret who deeply believes it is important for the good old USA to be involved in another country's civil war. As always, the Duke reprises his role as the American cowboy  fearless, strong, and always following an honorable code of conduct. If he had called someone `pilgrim' at one point, the illusion would be complete. In effect, The Green Berets is a showcase of John Wayne's zealous patriotism. Not only is he the star, but also one of the directors and producers.
Jim Hutton co-stars as Sergeant Petersen, a packrat who begins the movie as a timid man who has to be forced out of airplanes on practice jumps. Realistically, he probably would not have successfully completed the intense training a Green Beret receives. Of course, he becomes a hero before the film ends. Reporter George Beckworth is played by David Janssen, best known as Dr. Richard Kimble on the highly popular TV series The Fugitive. Beckworth is the only major character in the film who questions the US presence in Vietnam. According to the movie, this is only because of his ignorance on the subject. He quickly changes his mind when he witnesses the conditions there first hand.
Much effort is exerted making the Vietnam War seem more like World War II in this film. A viewer unfamiliar with history would be led to presume that every soldiers believed in and completely understood what he was doing and never - under any circumstances - used drugs or raped civilians. Every soldier is clean and sober. The enemy is painted as a force of pure evil: heartless, ruthless, and willing to go to any lengths to obtain their goal. The Green Berets suggests that the United States is the savior of South Vietnam.
The movie needs work in other areas as well. For example, in one action scene, Kirby's helicopter is shot down but the excitement is dulled by the shoddy special effects. Instead of the amazingly realistic visuals audiences expect today in any Schwarzenegger film, we see what appears to be a toy helicopter suspended by a string and lit by a match. Another factor is that it is painfully obvious that stuntmen are replaced with stuffed dolls.
Having said all this, I actually enjoyed the film as pure entertainment. Jim Hutton was wonderful as Sergeant Peterson. It is obvious where his son Timothy gets the acting gene. There was action, drama and comedy  things you expect from a good movie. This was John Wayne's attempt to mobilize support for the war, and his patriotism is to be admired. But the facts that were completely ignored in the film were inexcusable.
4 out of 10 stars
None But the Brave (1965)
Friendship Among Enemies?
Can circumstances turn bitter enemies fighting for their countries into true friends? None But the Brave attempts to answer this question with a unique look at the relationship between two companies of enemy soldiers during World War II. This 1965 film is a character study of the two groups  one American, the other Japanese. Marooned together on an island, they are forced into a reluctant cease-fire in order to help each other survive.
Frank Sinatra plays Chief Pharmacist Maloney, an alcoholic medic. As always, `Ol' Blue Eyes' shines with his great performance, proving how incredibly underrated he is as an actor. His co-stars are Tatsuya Mihashi as Lieutenant Kuroki and Clint Walker as Captain Bourke. The poignant story is told from the perspective of Kuroki, the ranking Japanese soldier. Mihashi performs brilliantly as a man driven to honor his country, but in his heart carries deep hatred for violence and `admires men's works. not their destruction.' Walker's portrayal as Bourke, an American soldier haunted by his past, is outstanding. Kuroki and Bourke's positions are paralleled throughout the film as they struggle to keep their men under control in the middle of nowhere.
Sinatra was more than one of the film's stars. In a bit of multitasking, he also produced and displayed his directing skills in his only directorial endeavor. It is very apparent that the filmmakers tried extremely hard to display fair portrayals of both sides. For instance, there were three writers, Kikumaru Okuda and Katsuya Susaki, both Japanese, and John Twist, an American.
It was surprising that John Williams, credited as Johnny Williams, composed the musical score for this film. This was a rare opportunity to see just how much is skills have evolved since 1965, which of course is to be expected. While the music was entertaining, it did not reach the caliber of most of his soundtracks from around 1974 and up.
This was an excellent motion picture. It gets all points for writing and acting. The directing was quite good. My only criticism is that some of the action scenes could have been more dynamic. Sinatra apparently decided to use a very straightforward approach with the camerawork. This resulted in somewhat stagnant feel to the battle scenes where a slightly different angle would have made all the difference. This may have been on purpose, as this was not a typical shoot 'em up, drag 'em out war film, but had a much more intelligent story.
7 out of 10
It Happened One Night (1934)
Introducing... the Screwball Comedy
Frank Capra's idealistic outlook on life is evident in his films. From It Happened One Night to It's a Wonderful Life, Capra has always had a tendency to let the little guy rise above it all and beat the odds. It is no small wonder that Capra enjoyed much of his success during the Depression, when movies were used to truly pull an audience out of the despair of the 1930s into a world where anything can happen, where being a nice person is all you need to succeed. While the fact that the country was in the middle of the Depression was not completely ignored, an overly optimistic view on life was taken to counter the despair of everyday life.
There were many points in It Happened One Night where the true state of the country was indicated. Homeless people hitching rides on trains seemed perfectly normal. Rather than regard them with apprehension and pity, you smile and wave at them. Another example is the hostile reaction proprietor Zeke's wife had to the fact that her husband had let Peter and Ellie stay the night with promises of being paid. Upon seeing Peter and Ellie's car missing, they rush to the cottage to see if Peter and Ellie are still there. They cannot afford freeloaders.
In another scene, a child's mother has passed out from hunger, because they have no money to buy food. Peter and Ellie have nearly depleted their funds, but decide that the mother and child need money more than they do and give some to them.
Despite these instances, the movie was altogether cheerful in its depiction of the world. In the throes of the stock market crash, this movie signaled the birth of the screwball comedy. At a time when the country needed release, they could find that release and laughter in movies like It Happened One Night. Audiences were amused by scenes in the film, such as the segment in which Peter teaches Ellie how to dunk a donut. Or, when forced to share a room, Peter puts a blanket between his and Ellie's beds and calls it the `wall of Jericho,' which is revisited when the walls of Jericho come tumbling down after Peter and Ellie's marriage. Probably the most famous scene in the film is the hitchhiking sequence, which features Peter standing by the roadside trying to thumb a ride unsuccessfully, finally giving up after more than a dozen cars speed by without paying any heed to his attempts. After he gives up, beaten, Ellie simply lifts her skirt above her knee. The first car that passes stops, as we see extreme close-ups of a foot slamming down on the brakes and a hand applying the hand brake.
A master in his profession, Capra left his mark on the films he directed. With an almost childlike cheerfulness, he maintains a sense of dignity and class. The viewer is left with a feeling of hope for humankind, even if its only that a person's ideals could be used to make such a film. Capra's films are still regarded as masterpieces. It Happened One Night arguably remains to this day unparalleled in screwball comedies. It was one of many movies made during the Depression, a sometimes sad and even lonely time in our history. It gave its audience a chance to escape and forget their troubles for a few moments in time.
9 out of 10 stars