Full Metal Jacket – Review

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4Star

by Bret W.

Many films have been made about the Vietnam conflict and the state of American society at that time.  Full Metal Jacket, however, is the definitive Vietnam war film.  Kubrick captures the full scope of the journey from boot camp to Mei Cong, and it’s not a pretty trip.

It starts with the dehumanizing of the young Marine recruits, first at the Paris Island barbershop, and later in their first introduction to the Drill Instructor.  The D.I. has a job to do and he does it well: he breaks the individual spirit to build a team, a single unit of men from a kaleidescope of boys.  The journey for the recruits is long and dark and difficult, and takes each recruit down a different path.  For Pvt. Joker, its a journey from the smart-alec kid to the hardened stand-up man.  For Pvt. Pyle, however, its a much darker journey that takes him to the depths of his inner evil and ends in two deaths.

From Paris Island to Vietnam, the tone is shifted from the strict regimen of boot camp to the lax atmosphere of death and destruction.  Joker has become a field journalist for Stars and Stripes, the military news paper.  He’s become disillusioned with his duties in mocking up his stories to make them seem more positive to the soldiers who read them.  Sent to the front on a field assignment after the Tet Offensive, he meets up with Cowboy, who was in Joker’s unit at Paris Island.  They take their squad into Hue City (pronounced “Way”) to face death and destruction, and the frustration and impotence of war.

Full Metal Jacket is a stark depiction of one of the blackest spots on American History.  Kubrick masterfully shows the full range of emotion throughout; the fear and anguish, the anger and loneliness, the frustration and cockiness.  He touches on all of it without holding back.

I once said that this was the definitive Vietnam movie, but it’s more than that.  It’s the definitive war movie.  It shows much more than just the killing and the death.  It shows the aloof calm exterior hiding the tense unsure interior.  It examines the depths of the war and how the war makes the evil inside men acceptable and justified.

Kubrick puts all of these elements under the microscope and presents them to the audience in their rawest form to give to us the finest war movie ever made.

Apollo 13 – Review

by Bret W.

Ron Howard scores big  with his cinematic retelling of one of the tensest moments in the history of Humankind’s race for space. As a theatrical reproduction of an historic event, it’s both gripping and moving. Howard successfully puts the audience right there in 1971, on the edge of our seats and hanging on every minute, just as the world was back then.

Telling the story of events that actually happened is tricky for filmmakers, because if we really want to know what happened we can look it up, either online or down at the local library (we all remember those buildings, right?). What the filmmaker has to do is to put the audience right there, in with the main participants. Howard does this with tight camera shots inside the Odyssey space capsule. He shows us the tension, the anguish, the sheer heroics of the men both hurtling toward the moon and standing on Terra Firma back in Houston, Tx. He gives us a glimpse of the engineering feats accomplished on that seven-day journey that turned a “routine” moon excursion into the single most solidifying event for Americans, and indeed, the Human race worldwide.

Talking to those people old enough to remember (not to make anyone feel old, but I was 2 years old at the time!), I’ve found that there are three events in a ten-year period that were significant enough that people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. These are the assassination of John Kennedy, the retreat from Saigon, and the Apollo 13 mission. With this kind of attention given to this significant event, and with everyone knowing exactly how it will end, Ron Howard still gave us something to be tense about. This is not like Titanic, which had a human interest story thrown in to make the history interesting (how many times have you heard someone say “I know how it ends, the boat sinks”?), Apollo 13 IS the human interest story taken straight from history. You buy the whole seat, but you’ll only need the edge.

I guess you can say I really enjoyed this film. Excellent acting, with standout performances by Hanks, Sinise, and Harris propel this story into Oscar-caliber filmdom. Again, Howard’s cinematic eye and an incredible score by James Horner tie up all the ends to make Apollo 13 one of the better films of the 1990’s.

The Longest Day – Review

by Bret W.

It’s June, 1944, and the greatest battle of World War II has begun. Where Saving Private Ryan tried to insert a human interest story into the D-Day invasion, The Longest Day perceives the invasion as THE story, and wraps up all the little substories into one glorious three-hour adventure.

The Longest Day depicts the heroism and the desperation  the humanity of war. It’s not a pretty war film, and it’s certainly ahead of its time in its realism and depiction of death and futility in the heat of the battle. This is one of the finest war films ever made, and certainly one of the most star studded. The battle scenes are very realistic and show how the invasion stalled on some of the beaches where others broke through only to face further adversity inland. The glory of this film is that in three hours, it appears to capture every single second of the longest day of the war.

Fans of war films will love this film, and its even enjoyable the second and third time. Even by today’s standards, it’s a terrific film, although it’s devoid of much of the blood and gore of modern war films. Regardless, if you want to see history in the making, watch The Longest Day.

Son In Law – Review

by Bret W.

The thing about Pauly Shore films is that they cannot be taken seriously, even as a comedy.  Every one of his films is a showcase for his zaniness which, with all due respect to Jerry Lewis, is much akin to the out-of-control antics of Jerry Lewis in the middle of this century, which should certainly secure his position as a comedic genius among the French.

“Crawl” is a wild resident adviser who befriends Rebecca, a girl from the midwest, who is having trouble adjusting to the wild LA college scene.  She undergoes a transformation from the sweet farmer’s daughter to a wild coed under Crawl’s tutelage  and begins to feel much better about herself and her place on campus.  She invites Crawl home for the Thanksgiving holiday when she finds that he intends to spend the holiday in the dorm alone, and her family, still reeling from the shock of seeing the new incarnation of Rebecca, face culture shock of monumental proportions when they meet Crawl.

It’s apparent that Rebecca’s boyfriend at home is intent on asking her to marry him, which scares her quite a bit, to the point that she asks Crawl to help her get out of it.  Under pressure to come up with a way to stop the engagement before it starts, Crawl announces to stunned family members that Rebecca is already engaged … to Crawl.  They keep up the charade, but in the end, the girl’s family come to know and love Crawl like a son, and Crawl and Rebecca become closer than just friends as well.

Son In Law is very similar to Shore’s other films, where the theme is always “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Crawl turns out to be a sensitive guy who ends up falling in love with and being loved by Rebecca and her family.  It’s a fun and light-hearted film that is a breath of fresh air, and a comedy that doesn’t make you think too hard.  With a lot of visual humor thrown in, Son In Law makes for a very fun viewing

The Skulls – Review

This review was originally written in 2000.

by Bret W.

Well, I have to tell you, I was more than a little disappointed in this film.  First of all, the action wasn’t nearly as good as I expected.  It seems like they used up all the good scenes in the trailer.  Plus, the story and the incidentals of it were neither compelling nor very believable   The main character was supposed to be a kid who came from a seedy background, who was trying to better himself by going to law school.  I think that they made him a product of a working class family and an orphan so that the regular people could identify with him.  Well, I’m regular people and I just couldn’t identify.  Here’s this guy who works very hard, and that’s admirable.  We’re supposed to see him and say to ourselves, hard work can improve your station in life.  Well, sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.  Regardless, when he is invited to join the elite secret society called The Skulls, he more or less turns his back on his friends and puts all of his loyalty into this new group.  Right away I felt more disdain for the character than sympathy.

As the story trudged on, and toiled on, and slogged on, little parts of the plot disturbed me and left me with more questions than the film was answering.  I don’t know if that was the intention of the film makers, but when the film is done, I’d like at least most of the loose ends tied up.  In the case of The Skulls, there were more uncertainties at the end of the film than at any other time, and I just couldn’t figure out what the end was supposed to mean.  And then there’s the beneficent Senator, the elder member of The Skulls, who is supposed to be helping Our Hero, and I could never tell if the Senator was on the student’s side or not.  In fact, the whole thing was just plain confusing, and finished up very confused indeed.

Now, on to the acting.  Well, the acting was not bad, but it wasn’t very convincing either.  Craig T. Nelson was not very good at all.  His best work was done in the first Poltergeist film, and it’s all been downhill from there, although I have to say I used to like him in Coach as well.  But serious roles don’t suit him, or he can’t pull them off, one or the other.  The rest of the cast was OK, and that’s all they were.

As a whole, I was very disappointed it what could have been a very good action/suspense film.  This was better than a B-grade film, and that’s actually what made it even worse.  At least a B-grade film would make no excuses for itself or try to pass itself off as better than it is.  As it was, The Skulls was not painfully bad, but it was a very flat film, and I certainly won’t be renting it again.

The Matrix – Review

by Bret W.

This film has a lot of elements that make it a very exciting action movie, but it’s much more than an action movie.  It’s cereberal, calling into question the reality of our world.  It’s a sci-fi look at the proverbial question, “Why are we here?” and the answer is “There is no spoon.”

Thomas Anderson is a man who leads a secret life.  Online he is known as Neo.  But he is looking for the answer to a question himself, and that question is “What is the Matrix?”  A man he meets online named Morpheus has the answer, but just being in contact with Morpheus brings Anderson’s presence to the attention of the Agents, a secret police faction.  The agents move to apprehend Anderson and to scare him off Morpheus’ trail.  Instead, Morpheus brings Neo to him and shows him the truth of the Matrix: that the Matrix is an enormous power plant that uses human beings to generate electricity, and that the world Neo knows is only a computer generated simulation made to keep his mind active so that he can supply the world’s intelligent computers with power.

At first, Neo has a hard time accepting the reality of the Matrix, as anyone would.  But Morpheus tells him the reason he has been approached: Morpheus believes that Neo is The One who, it has been prophesied  will destroy the Matrix and free the Human race. Action abounds in this intelligent film.  The sharp use of contrasting colors makes it visually stunning as well.  The colors are all drab, black and grey and brown, with occasional sharp stabs of red.  While not a new concept in film, it certainly lends a lot to the overall theme of the film, a lot like the way it did in American Beauty.

The plot and premise of the film is also not a new one, but never before has it been carried off in such an effective manner.  The image of human babies being harvested like crops (in fact, Agent Smith refers to the loss of an entire “crop” of humans when the simulation was made too perfect) is a haunting one, and Neo’s awakening is a vision one will certainly not shake off soon.  More than that, this film prompts the audience to ask the same questions: what is real and what is not?  Is this world around me simply a construct of a higher intelligence, or is it the true reality?  While the film answers few questions, it raises more than it answers, and leaves the audience with nagging doubts about their own existence.

Not for the weak of heart, The Matrix is still one of the finest action movies made in recent history, and certainly the most intelligent.  It’s much more than a bang-bang shoot-em-up film, it’s a deeply philosophic journey and a superb test of the mind.  And, oh, yes, it’s a terrific action film as well.

Big Daddy – Review

by Bret W.

I have to tell you, when Adam Sandler started on Saturday Night Live, I kept thinking, “What is his appeal? How can anyone like this annoying person? Why don’t they get some real talent on SNL?” I was not thinking that at all when I watched Big Daddy. In fact, I really wasn’t sure I was going to watch it, but I gave it a try. I thought it was extremely funny, and Sandler himself was a very large part of the comedy, much to my surprise.

It’s the story of a man-child who has not come to grips with his adulthood. His non-existent career is the bane of all of his friends. He’s an enjoyable guy, but his lackadaisical attitude is lost on his career-minded friends and girlfriend. But when his roommate leaves for China, and his roommate’s long-lost son shows up on his doorstep, he decides that he’s going to show everyone, including himself, what a responsible and mature adult he can be.

What follows is some of the worst parenting in the history of the world. Dr. Spock would turn over in his grave. His girlfriend, nonplussed by his new-found responsibility, leaves him for an older man “with a 5-year plan.” He decides that he must take the boy back to Social Services, but changes his mind when he finds that the boy’s mother has died and that the boy would be put in an orphanage. Instead he decides to take the kid on, under false pretenses, and really make a go of this father business.

Although some of the story is a bit unbelievable  it’s all explained very well by the incidentals. Besides, it’s a comedy! You can’t expect it to be 100% true-to-life. Like I said at the beginning, Adam Sandler was surprisingly good, and surprisingly human, in this role which seems to be almost too well written for him. Also very good were the supporting cast, including Joey Lauren Adams, Steve Buscemi, and the boy himself, played by twins Cole and Dylan Sprouse. It’s a good comedy with good laughs and one that is enjoyable on multiple viewings. It certainly changed my mind about Adam Sandler.

Groundhog Day – Review

by Bret W.

Bill Murray leads a wonderful cast in a story about one man’s kharmic overhaul.  It’s a strange tale, straight from the Twilight Zone, but it’s one that makes the audience sympathize with a man whom they originally despised from the onset of the film.  Groundhog Day is the kind of film that can make a person reevaluate his or her position in this life and what they can do to change.

Phil Connors is the weatherman from a Pittsburgh TV station sent to Punxsutawny, PA to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities.  He’s disillusioned with his worth and disgusted that he should be sent on such a lowly task, one that he despises doing each year.  He dislikes the town and its tradition, and treats everyone he meets with the same degree of acidity and sarcasm, including his producer and cameraman.  He is relieved when finally, the day’s shoot is done and he can return to the cold comfort of Pittsburgh.  However, it is only temporary relief, as an unexpected blizzard snows them in and he his forced to spend the night in Punxsutawny again.

When he awakens in the morning, he finds that it is still February 2nd, and that he has to go through the day all over again.  Once again he is snowed in, and once again he has to spend the night.  Again, when he awakens he finds that it is still February 2nd.  Only he seems to be reliving this day, and all the other people of Punxsutawny seem oblivious to the repeating days.

The reliving of every day first makes him angry and obstinate, then suicidal and anguished.  Finally, he decides to find out why his life is stuck in this day, and sets out to become a better person, more well liked and admired, and more importantly, loved by the female producer that he once fell in love with but never approached.

Groundhog Day is at all times funny, fully charged and mysterious, at once touching and abrasive, and a very poignant look on life and what we make of it.  Phil is given one day to live over and over until his life is set straight.  How, we may ask, can we change our entire lives in one day?  The answer is simply, we can’t, unless we are allowed to live that day repetitively until we get it right.  Phil is given that opportunity, and finally makes the most of it.

The story is a social commentary which provides hope for the future.  It says, no matter how screwed up your life may be, there’s always a chance to change if you allow it to happen, and if you want it bad enough.  It’s an inspirational film that leaves the viewer feeling warm and generally good about life.  Watch it for a pick-me-up when you’re feeling down.  It’s a good film full of belly-laugh humor and the usual excellent comedic performance by Bill Murray, with great supporting work done by Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliot, as well as the rest of the cast.

Eight Days a Week – Review

by Bret W.

Not just another coming of age comedy, Eight Days A Week is a twisted and perverse comedy that makes its mark with a fresh new story that SO wants to work.  However, even if you don’t take it seriously, even if you suspend disbelief and give the film maker the benefit of the doubt for comedy’s sake, the story itself leaves you feeling just a little put out.  In this day and age, it’s hard to find activity that can only be construed as stalking to be endearing.  In fact, the entire plot becomes a little predictable and contrite when, at the end, our hero gets everything he ever wanted, only after he discovers that what he wanted was not what he thought he wanted.  But still, he gets what he originally thought that he wanted, because he’s gone full circle and discovered that what he wanted was what he wanted all along.

Got that?

Ok, so it’s a comedy.  It’s even a funny one at that.  I’ll even give kudos to Michael Davis for coming up with a different kind of boy-meets-girl film, because, hey, the thought of a guy living on a girl’s lawn because he’s in love with her is so creepy that it’s interesting.  It’s a story straight out of Weekly World News.  And who among us hasn’t bought one of those from time to time?  You know, the bat-boy issues are the best sellers for a reason.  It’s the morbid curiosity of society that Davis tries to capitalize on with this film.  However, I have to quite honestly tell you that before I saw it on HBO, I never even heard of it.  But it’s an indie film, that’s to be expected.

Still, it was cheeky enough that it stopped my channel surfing.  It took me a while to decide whether I actually liked it or not.  In the end, I decided that yes, I did like it.  It was a campy and funny little film that was different, and different is good in Hollywood circles.  It’s nice to see a film that is not following a formula.  However, it was still predictable, still ended the way we knew it would all along.  The acting was methodical.  The story and the situations were quite funny, which propelled the whole thing along, and it’s certainly something I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

If you can’t quite tell if this is a good review or not, well, maybe it’s because I can’t quite tell if Eight Days A Week is a good film or not.  See it and decide for yourself.

 

Six Degrees of Separation – Review

by Bret W.

How far would you go to improve your station in life?  What would you overcome, and what would you be willing to become?  These are questions answered in the life of one young man named Paul, and questions pondered by those whose lives he has touched, if only for a moment in time.

Paul is an eloquent young African-American man who claims to be someone he is not in order to insert himself into the lives of high-society art dealers Flan and Ouisa Kittredge.  He claims to know their children from the school they attend.  He claims to be the son of Sidney Poitier.  Of course, none of it is true, but the Kittredges, either through a need to appease some underlying Caucasian guilt or just through sheer naivete, are swept up in his story and become enamored of their young con.  Yes, he has conned them, but what did he con them out of?  At the end of the night he has stolen nothing except their time and a slice of their lifestyle.

The story is told by the Kittredges, narrated throughout to different parties as a single story, and as it progressed.  In the end, the Kittridges, and Ouisa in                                                    particular, are drawn into Pauls life and unable to let him be.

Will Smith’s acting, while superb on certain levels, is unconvincing and stiff as his portrayal of a gay man.  It is apparent that he did not want to do all that he had to do to play the part properly.  Regardless, while his performance takes some away from the quality of the film, his performance as Paul the con man brings the film back to its original level.  What he lacks in playing a gay man he makes up for in playing the essence of Paul.

In addition, Sutherland and Channing are fabulous as the art dealing couple.  Like a longtime comedy partnership, their timing was impeccable, and helped the story move along.

Definitely a film to make you think, Six Degrees of Separation is also a very entertaining film and worthy of a look.