Tag: war

Hacksaw Ridge


Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★

His superiors and fellow soldiers believe there is no room for a conscientious objector in the army. After all, how could a person who is opposed to violence able to protect and serve alongside his fellow men in the face of war when such an individual wouldn’t even pick up a gun, not even to practice how to load one, let alone shoot one? So, hoping he’d leave training, they intimidated him, put their hands on him, court-martialed him. Still, they couldn’t rid of him. His name is Demond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and he wishes to serve as a medic in the U.S. Army during World War II. He ended up saving 75 lives—including of those who put in the effort to get rid of him out of fear that he would only serve as a liability.

“Hacksaw Ridge,” based on a true story adapted to the screen by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, is a war picture that engrosses the heart and mind from the moment it begins until the actual footages of the survivors are shown. Although there is gripping action in which not one moment is wasted, most important is that we understand the subject fully: his religion and his beliefs—the writers make the correct decision to take the time to unspool the difference—and why Doss feels the need to participate in a war that he doesn’t necessarily support from a moral standpoint. This is a film for people who appreciate nuance.

War sequences are intense, thrilling, and horrifying. Several images stick in the mind like gum. For instance, a soldier using a fellow soldier’s upper torso, completely detached from its lower half, as a shield against rapid-fire bullets; flamethrowers being used on the enemy as if the latter were simply roaches to be exterminated; Doss scouring the ridge at night for broken men long after his allies have retreated… while the Japanese are on the lookout for American survivors, wishing to finish them off.

Mel Gibson directs the picture with a keen eye and fresh perspective. There are numerous excellent war pictures, some from America and many around the world, and yet I believe he is able to put a stamp on why this story is worth telling. He personalizes it. For example, notice how there is a very limited number of times where a bird’s-eye view is utilized to depict conflict—certainly less than five. This technique works because by choosing not to pull out of the action, increasingly we feel as though we are one of the soldiers. When someone gets shot in the chest, when a grenade goes off from less than fifteen away, when someone’s face is blown off, we experience the complete horror. Once violence starts, it does not allow us to take a break from the action.

There is a weakness in the film, which I find to be negligible because everything else functions on a high level, and it is in the portrayal of Desmond’s personal life, making up the first act. While scenes at home serve to provide some of the subject’s background information, particularly possible reasons why Desmond is against practicing violence, the parents (Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths) leave a lot to be desired in terms of a full, well-realized characterization. A similar criticism can be applied to the girlfriend named Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer). The performers are up to the task but the material does not give these characters enough depth. As a result, the parents and the girlfriend are somewhat interesting but they do not turn out to be compelling.

Yet despite this shortcoming, “Hacksaw Ridge” is essential viewing because it is able to capture one man’s heroism, without turning him into a Christ figure despite his belief in God, amidst the bleakness of war. Unlike some terrible war movies or movies about war, this particular story is composed of different notes as opposed to simply delivering a hopeful story or, worse, propaganda in sheep’s clothing. Broken down to its most basic element, the film, I think, is about one man’s morality—we may not agree with him completely but we walk in his shoes regardless.

The Thin Red Line


The Thin Red Line (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★

An AWOL soldier, Private Witt (James Caviezel), had never been good at following orders. When ordered to go left, he turned right. But when he was found in a Malaysian island by 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn), Pvt. Witt, as punishment, was assigned to be a stretcher bearer in the Battle of Guadalcanal. The attack was led by Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas) and his superior Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte). The former wouldn’t obey the latter’s orders because he believed that sending his men forward was suicide. The Japanese bunkers were too far and too hidden for a typical affront. Lt. Col. Tall wasn’t convinced. Based on the autobiographical novel by James Jones and beautifully directed by Terrence Malick, “The Thin Red Line” was fascinating because it combined the horrors of war with spirituality. We were given the chance to hear a soldier’s thoughts, American and Japanese, about his place in the world, trepidation in terms of facing his mortality, and the loved ones he left behind. While the action scenes were raw and unflinching, I was most impressed with the way the soldiers played the hand they’ve been given. Some made rookie but dire mistakes out of panic (Woody Harrelson), some succumbed in fear and would rather be invisible (Adrien Brody), while others were distracted by flashbacks, wondering whether someone was still waiting for them at home (Ben Chaplin). The film highlighted that war was not as simple as two sides fighting for a cause. In a way, the battlefield was a glorious arena in which we had to fight ourselves. While good soldiers trusted their instincts, orders, too, must be obeyed. The conflict between instinct and duty could break a man. I was most interested in Pvt. Witt because he looked at his enemies with serenity. Unlike his comrades, not once did he show hatred toward the soldiers on the opposite side of the mountain. I wondered why. If I was in his position, I’m not quite sure if I could look at my enemies as if they were my equal. I would probably see them as lower animals and treat them as such. I just don’t think I can be as forgiving if I knew that my friends and comrades died because of them. Pvt. Witt mentioned that “maybe all men got one big soul everybody’s a part of, all faces are the same man.” Malick used images to underline man’s place in nature. There were zen-like shots of soldiers just sitting around and admiring, for example, a plant. It took them out of the situation, even for just a few seconds, until the voice of their leader urged them to go on. There were several shots of birds, flying in sky or dying on the ground, which symbolized either glory or pain. “The Thin Red Line” was sensitive and intelligent. It tried to find answers in a place where answers were as transient as they were permanent.

Paths of Glory


Paths of Glory (1957)
★★★★ / ★★★★

In World War I, a French general (Adolphe Menjou) ordered his men to make their way through German fires and seize the Ant Hill from the enemy. General Broulard thought such an action would be the key to victory and his glory. Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas) rebelled against the idea because he knew it would be a suicide mission, but since he was lower in the ranks, he had no choice but to lead his men in the attempt. In the thick of battle, some of the troops refused to leave their trenches and in doing so resulted to the failure in capturing the coveted Ant Hill. General Broulard, in blind fury, decided to make an example of the troops, a lesson in the repercussion of cowardice, by selecting three random men (Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel, and Richard Anderson) to be assassinated through a firing squad. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, “Paths of Glory” surprised me in many ways. It was a moving story because it dealt with humanity’s place in the chaos of war and the powers that controlled or motivated them. There was a divide between the good and the bad. The good were the troops miserably placed in those trenches as they endured the flying bullets and the explosions of the grenades. They saw their friends meet their demise in one incorrect move or a major miscalculation by their officers. The officers were the bad. They enjoyed parties, dancing, and eating succulent meals in elegantly decorated rooms. They discussed about their triumphs in the battlefield despite the fact that they observed from a distance. When they did visit the trenches, they exuded an air of confidence; when a soldier expressed his fear about the war, he deserved to be slapped around like a child or an animal. Kubrick knew the importance of images and he used such contrasting elements to make a powerful anti-war statement. As we plunged into the battlefield, all we could distinctly hear were the firing of the guns, men’s bodies hitting the ground, and yells to improve morale or perhaps to mask their fear of death. The extended scene in which the troops made their way toward enemy lines was especially memorable. The director framed the scene in such a way that it felt like we were there with the dispensable men. One way I could describe it was like being stuck in the middle of two big waves in the ocean. There was anticipation mixed with a sense of panic and dread amidst the heavy confusion. I would most likely have stayed in the trenches as well if I was one of those soldiers. The last scene with the German woman singing and the soldiers joined in was a very touching moment and it was a perfect way to end an ultimately tragic reflected reality. “Paths of Glory” is a great example of how powerful war pictures can be. Indeed, a great leader is defined by the way he treats his inferiors, not his equals.

The Deer Hunter


The Deer Hunter (1978)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) decided to enlist in the Army to go to Vietnam and fight for American ideals. The film was divided into three sections: the innocence prior to the war, the three friends’ participation in the war, and how the characters viewed their hometown after they returned from war. Initially, I didn’t understand why the picture felt the need to focus on a wedding for a running time of about an hour. I felt as though it simply wanted to be an epic movie by being three hours long. But once our protagonists reached Vietnam and realized that going war for something they did not fully understand was their most critical misstep, the events that transpired during the wedding felt necessary. It served as a mirror so that, as active viewers, we were able to understand how deep certain friendships ran, the rivalry between Michael and Nick over the girl-next-door Linda (Meryl Streep), and, despite the guys having a strong connection to their Russian culture, they were true Americans and we should not blame them for wanting to, despite not fully weighing the pros and cons, defend our country for reasons they thought was right. As the film went on, it became more powerful because it had a solid grasp of tension, the suspense in terms of the picture’s imagery and the friction between the characters. In the middle portion, I felt an overwhelming sadness when Michael, Steven and Nick were captured and forced to play Russian roulette. The way they worked as a team to escape the Vietnamese was nail-biting because they knew, as well as we did, they were as good as dead if they continued to play by the rules. The scene in which the three of them sailed down the river using a dead tree was one of those images that would remain in my mind for a long time. Toward the end, I felt almost numb because the men who managed to come back to their hometown, although more complex because they were more experienced, felt almost hollow because they could not relate to the people around them. There were classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder but I admired the fact that it was shown in sublte way. Another image that I was able to extract myriads meaning from was when Michael chose not to shoot a deer when he had a chance. To me, Michael saw the animal as a symbol for freedom–something that he felt was out of his reach (and will always be out of his reach) even though he was, arguably, able to return home as a whole. Directed by Michael Cimino, “The Deer Hunter” is an atypical war picture because it focused more on the personal struggles instead of the horror of being surrounded by flying bullets and explosions. It argued that returning home could feel just as dangerous as standing alone in the battlefield.

Patton


Patton (1970)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off with General George Patton Jr. (George C. Scott) delivering a speech about war and the importance of winning being embedded in the American culture with the gigantic United States flag on the background. It was probably one of the most patriotic scenes I’ve seen portrayed on screen, but at the same time I felt that the picture was making fun of itself. The scene aimed to establish our main character: He was intimidating because he was obsessed with discipline and excellence. His reputation as being one of the feared generals, especially by the Nazis, was well-earned because he was an uncompromising man. Fear sometimes generates respect. The film was beautifully shot. In war pictures, I find it uncommon that I notice the environment because, to me, at least with the more recent war movies I’ve seen, the environ is simply a template where we get to see bombs exploding like there’s no tomorrow. But in “Patton,” I found the second scene outstanding because it featured a peaceful landscape in the Arabian desert where American soldiers’ bodies laid lifeless as Arabian people stole the soldiers’ clothes and other belongings. Again, there was the theme of duality. On one hand, it was sad to see those dead and rotting soliders. On the other hand, we could look at the Arabian people and see that looting was their chance for survival because they obviously didn’t have much. The film is different than other war movies. With “Patton,” we don’t follow any soldier in the battlefield or realize any of his personal struggles. It simply followed the general during his glory days as he tried to compete against British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery (Michael Bates), attempted to outsmart German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (Karl Michael Vogler), his probation because he slapped a soldier around for complaining about being afraid of the sounds of war, up until he regained his footing in the military. Throughout his journey, we learned so much about him such as his passion for poetry and penchant for history. The latter was his strength but at the same time it was his weakness. His enemies who didn’t know much about history often lost but those who were knowledgeable thought Patton was predictable and almost pretentious. Naturally, his strongest enemies were the ones who were just as smart as him. No one can argue against Patton’s biggest weakness being his mouth. He had no filter; he didn’t think he needed one so he was prone to saying the most inappropriate things during the most inopportune time. “Patton,” directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and partly written by Francis Ford Coppola, won seven Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Actor) not only because of its epic scale but also because of its small details that made this biopic all the more personal.

Grave of the Firelies


Grave of the Firelies (1988)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The opening scene depicted the death of Seita (voiced by Tsutomu Tatsumi) when Japan finally surrendered at the end of World War II. His story of struggle with his little sister (Ayano Shiraishi) was elegantly told in flashback. They tried to survive by themselves because their father was in the Navy, their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara) passed away because a fire-bombing raid, and their aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi) outwardly expressed that the two of them were a burden since they did not do their share in providing for the household. “Hotaru no haka” is a sublime example of anime transcending animated stories told in a fantastic scope and science fiction. It was able to tell a human story that was very real, tragic and heartbreaking as Seita did his best to keep his sister away from truths that were difficult to digest. Of course, he ended up unsuccessful in the end but the heart of the film was his attempt to construct distractions so that his sister would not think about their parents and the prospect that they, too, could die. Although we saw planes bombing Japanese towns, I liked that the siblings’ main source of struggle was their relationship with other Japanese people. Since everything was rationed, mostly everyone was out for themselves and their own families. Food and shelter were rare and money became irrelevant. Bartering drove the economy which was a problem because the two kids had barely anything to barter with in the first place. There was a complexity in their society’s situation. I did not necessarily see them as “bad people” because I probably would have done the same thing if I was in their shoes. I also admired the fact that Isao Takahata, the director, did not shy away from showing dead, mangled, and rotten bodies. When I saw this film in high school, I remember being shocked at the images because at the time I had not seen an animated movie that mirrored reality so closely. One of the most resonant scenes for me was when Seita glanced over at his mother’s badly burned body. His facial and body expression suggested that he did not at all recognized his mother but deep inside he felt that it was her and she was soon going to die. Just as quickly, he realized he had no choice but to be strong for his sister until their father came for them. “Grave of the Firelies,” based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, had power that made me feel so sad even after a few days since I’ve seen it. I was haunted with what Seita and his sister had been through but at the same time I was thankful that I did not live through those times. Even more impressive, the movie was a war film that did not place blame on any one nation but instead highlighted individual responsiblity in times of war.

The Men Who Stare at Goats


The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

After being recently heartbroken, Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) decided to go with a self-proclaimed psychic-soldier-slash-Jedi-warrior (George Clooney) to Iraq so that he could publish a mind-blowing story and prove to himself that he was not a loser. However, Wilton quickly realized that maybe the man he was with was just a charlatan and there really was no compelling story that could be written. Adapted from Jon Ronson’s book and directed by Grant Heslov, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was certainly not as bad as people claimed it was upon its release because the satire involving American soldiers and reporters worked on some level. Given the strange material, I thought it was refreshing even though some of the jokes didn’t quite work and the story could have been more focused. For me, I’d rather watch something that takes a lot of risks even though it doesn’t work rather than watch something typical that only occasionally works. I found the scenes with McGregor and Clooney the least interesting part of the film. I wanted to know more about Clooney’s experiences in the paranormal sector of the army in its early days (during the war in Vietnam), the person he greatly looked up to (Jeff Bridges), and his rival (Kevin Spacey) who would do anything to be the best. Even though the things they did were undeniably weird such as trying to defeat the enemy with friendship, flowers and the like, I was interested in the characters because they had great conviction in what they were doing. Personally, I think what the characters tried to do were not that extraordinary because there were times in history when other countries turned to paranormal studies (like mind control and science verging on the extremes like trying to bring people back to life) to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But it’s understandable that not many people liked the film because not everyone understands satire and some of the humor was dry and deadpan. Maybe if the picture tried to connect more with the audience, the audience would have liked it more. The movie also didn’t feel like a hollistic project but a series of scenes that were quirky which didn’t add up to anything substantial. Acting-wise, I thought everyone was consistently strong, especially Clooney. Despite his character’s goofiness, somehow I believed in his wild stories and got the feeling that he was much smarter than he let on. “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was a cerebral experience more than anything and it would appeal most to those willing to read between the lines. Commentaries such as politics, war and duty were abound but they were far from obvious. Ultimately, I’m glad I gave this movie a chance.

Brothers


Brothers (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Adapted from Susanne Bier’s “Brødre,” “Brothers,” directed by Jim Sheridan, was about two brothers: a Marine (Tobey Maguire) who loves his family and kids (Natalie Portman, Bailee Madison, Taylor Geare) and an ex-con (Jake Gyllenhaal) who recently got out of jail. The (very intense) final forty-five minutes shook me to the core when Maguire’s character finally returned to his family after being captured and tortured by the enemy for months. But as great as the last third was, I was also impressed with the way the film tackled subjects such as redemption in Gyllenhaal’s character wanting to do good for his brother’s family by playing with the kids, fixing up the kitchen, and helping them move on from a death in the family. During the first few minutes, it also established the fact that even though the brothers were so different from one another (highlighted in scenes where the father expressed pride in one and disappointment in another), there was a strong bond between them and nothing could change their love for one another. I was moved especially when their relationship was challenged in the last forty-five minutes; I felt like the two actors were really brothers when they conversed because there was a sort of intimacy between them. I also liked the way it showed the ugliness of returning from war and being traumatized by the events that happened there. Although it tackled the issue with sensitivity, it wasn’t afraid to be honest regarding what could potentially happen to someone who had a severe form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the symptoms that came with it such as paranoia, rage and disorientation. It was heartbreaking to watch the children become afraid of their own father, the wife not knowing how to respond to her husband’s physical return (but not mentally and emotionally), and the way Gyllenhaal’s character dealt with his brother’s suspicions and anger. The only problem I had with the film were the scenes which involved Maguire being kidnapped by the enemy. I think if all those scenes were left out and the audiences were left to wonder what really happened to Maguire’s character, it would have been that much more haunting (such as using a title card stating “a few months later” and the like). A sudden shift from a warm, loving person to a cold person who was on a verge of a psychotic breakdown would have had a far more impact on me. Nevertheless, “Brothers” is a strong movie that relies on the characters and subtle (sometimes explosive) acting instead of soldiers trying to survive in war zones. It felt personal so I couldn’t help but think about it after a while.

In the Loop


In the Loop (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“In the Loop,” directed by Armando Iannucci, was a political satire about the United States president and the United Kingdom prime minister agreeing on starting war and the varying reactions of people who work for their respective governments. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to understand this movie coming into it because I’m (admittedly) not very knowledgeable about politics. I mean, I have my opinions but I’m not aware of how specific things work and the specific roles of the people in charge. So I was surprised when I found myself laughing out loud at the American and British jokes that this film had to offer. The characters were fast-taking, poison-spitting loons who run around trying to achieve something but ended up being (at least in my opinion) not doing anything at all. For me, everyone stood out–from Tom Hollander as the minister of international development who kept saying the wrong things to the media, Peter Capaldi as the very intense and downright scary communications director, Chris Addison as the meek political damage control person, Mimi Kennedy as a pro-war, type A lady who nobody wants to mess with, to James Gandolfini as an anti-war general who commands attention when he enters the room. I loved the exaggeration of this picture because then it allowed those who aren’t as into politics to be in on the jokes. Another element that really helped was the way the writers wrapped the political commentaries in pop culture candy. References were made right after another and I absorbed every minute of it. (I found really refreshing because I haven’t experienced so much pop culture references in under an hour since the “Gilmore Girls” era.) However, about three-quarter into the picture, I wondered whether there really was a story. I somewhat got tired of the bantering, people running around and acting crazy. Yes, it was very fast-paced but I found myself needing a breather from everything that was going on. The next thing I knew, the movie was over without a defined falling action. Perhaps I was too caught up on the screaming and yelling. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s more of a personal taste but I mention it here because it really threw me off. I’m giving this film a recommendation because it was funnier than I expected it would be. Although I must warn those looking for a core story not to expect much because “In the Loop” is pretty much one funny scene after another that has a bucketload of razor-sharp wit and a healthy dose of cheekiness.

Salvador


Salvador (1986)
★★ / ★★★★

James Woods stars as a journalist who went to El Salvador to acquire stories about the political turmoil that was unfolding in the country. Despite having a wife and a child in the United States, he made contact with old connections who all thought he was dead such as his girlfriend (Elpidia Carrillo) and a photographer (John Savage). This film was a mixed bag. What I enjoyed most about it was when it finally focused on the civil war at hand which culminated in the last thirty minutes. There was something so poetic with the way Oliver Stone, the director, dropped Woods and Savage in the middle of raining bullets; the soliders held their guns and shot their bullets and the two leads held their cameras and took photos. Another part of the picture that stood out to me was the scene when Savage and Woods decided to take pictures of mountains of dead bodies. The decaying bodies looked so real especially when the camera loomed over the image in a wide angle. The film performed best when it really honed in on the seriousness of war and the innocents that were caught in the crossfire. However, my main problem with this film was its sense of humor that pervaded the first half. James Belushi’s character did not work for me at all because whenever he was on screen, I felt like I was watching a teenage film from the 80’s–like he was that boisterous uncle in a frat party who never found the time to mature. His character was just so out of place that it was kind of painful to watch. I don’t know what Stone was thinking writing this character into the story but I found it a bit disrespectful. Was the character’s purpose to show the obliviousness of Americans regarding the situation in El Salvador? If so, that was not my initial reaction because his character did not show any range or growth. The romantic angle did not work for me either for the same reasons. In the end, I wanted to know more about Woods and why he loved being a journalist. The way he argued his opinions about the war (even though he sounded preachy) against Americans in power convinced me that he wasn’t just doing it for the fame or the money as other synopses suggested. Even though he was flawed, he cared about what was happening in El Salvador. To me, half of this film borderlined greatness because I could feel the passion in the images on screen while the other half was more blasé and somewhat offensive. It is unfortunate that it was just a mediocre experience for such a powerful subject.

Pan’s Labyrinth


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“El laberinto del fauno” or “Pan’s Labyrinth,” written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, is one of the most compelling pictures I’ve ever seen about the power of imagination. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) used her mind as an escape from several events that she could not fully understand and deal with: moving into a new home in a countryside surrounded by the Spanish guerilla, her mother’s (Ariadna Gil) decision to be with a cruel army captain (Sergi López), her mother’s illness along with having a new sibling and the war that was driving everyone around her into a state of conflict and madness. In her fantasy world, she was an underground princess trapped in a human body. In order to get back to her royal family, a faun (Doug Jones) informed her that she must complete three dangerous tasks. What I admired most about this movie was del Toro’s ability to show us a story seen through a child’s eyes but at the same time keeping the reality at an arm’s length. Although fantastic elements are abound, this film is definitely not for children due to the intense violence and sometimes unbearable emotional suffering. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the director weaved in and out and through the reality and fantasy of the story. Even though we get drastic changes of scenery with each mission that Ofelia decided to take part in, tension was something we could not escape. I loved the spy/mother-figure played by Maribel Verdú. She just had this strength that radiated from within which made her a key figure in Ofelia’s life because her bed-ridden mother could not protect her. Verdú’s scenes with the smart and venomous captain gave me the creeps; the looks he so often gave her made me believe that he knew what she was up to all along. Ever since it’s release, “Pan’s Labyrinth” gained great approval from both critics and audiences and deservingly so. A lot of people consider the film as a dark fairytale. While it is that, I believe it only highlights one dimension of this amazing work. (The words “dark fairytale” sounds more like a fantasy.) A large portion of this picture was about how Ofelia looked inwards in a time of need and turned things that she could not control into something she could. That is, the more the main character was forced to grow up due to the circumstances around her, the more she gained an internal locus of control. When fantasy and reality finally collided during a key scene in the end, it was very depressing yet magical–and that was when del Toro’s vision finally came full circle.

Platoon


Platoon (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) signed up to be a soldier because he felt like participating in a war was a family legacy since his grandfather and father fought the wars of their generations. Being a new soldier, he looked up to two people who had higher ranks: Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) and Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger). The former represented composure, control and ethics despite the craziness of war, while the latter embodied the evil, darkness, and cruelty. I thought this movie was going to be another one of those war classics that was overly long. I was quickly proven wrong because of the number of scenes that highlighted the silence and all we could hear was the rustling of the leaves as the soldiers slithered their way through the jungle. I also didn’t expect a lot of character development because war pictures often focus their energy on the epic battle sequences. The narration worked for me because the thoughts and insights that Sheen’s character was unable to talk about with his comrades was out in the open for the audiences. There was a real sensitivity to his character; the real turning point for me when I decided that I was going to root for his character was when he proudly wore his naïveté on his sleeves regarding one of the reasons why he volunteered to be a soldier. He reasoned that that the rich always got away from all the dirty work and he felt that he shouldn’t be anyone special just because he was born with money. Also, since he felt like he wasn’t learning anything in college, essentially, he might as well make himself useful by joining the army. Scenes like those when the characters were just talking and measuring each other up really fascinated me and I was interested in what ways they would change by the end of the picture. Oliver Stone, the director, helmed a war film that had an internal mologue mixed with moral ambiguities instead of taking the easier route of simply entertaining the viewers with empty explosions and guts being flung into the air. “Platoon” was gorgeously shot in the Philippines and the night scenes really captured the horror of the enemies blending into the environment. Lastly, it was interesting to see future stars such as the younger Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillon, and Forest Whitaker. “Platoon” ranks among other unforgettable war pictures such as “Apocalypse Now” and “Full Metal Jacket.”

Apocalypse Now Redux


Apocalypse Now Redux (2001)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Directed by the legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, “Apocalypse Now Redux” added about fifteen minutes of footage to the original “Apocalypse Now” and improved its colors. Therefore, this review will cover both films. “Apocalypse Now” was about Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) and his assignment to kill the derranged Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in Cambodia. In order to get there, Captain Willard and his team–consisted of Lance (Sam Bottoms), Chef (Frederic Forrest), Chief (Albert Hall), and Clean (Larry Fishburne)–must travel upriver and avoid multiple brushes with death. I’ve heard a lot about this film being one of the best war movies ever made, so I expected it to be an all-out action picture. However, I eventually realized that it was more astute and sublime than that; it actually bothered to comment on not only the horrors of war both in and out of the battlefield but also the politics from an outsider’s perspective. In fact, one of my favorite scenes was when the crew visited a French plantation led by Christian Marquand. The discussion they had on the dinner table was so passionate and nothing could waiver my attention on what was being said, how the words were being said, and the characters’ body language. That scene reminded me of one of my favorite films “The Dreamers,” when Theo and Matthew were arguing about Vietnam. Another thing I loved about this film was its ability to gradually change tones from beginning to end. At first, I thought pretty much every was clear-cut and everything made sense. Somewhere in the middle there were distractions/side-quests which mostly made sense but some I did not quite understand. But the ending was so mysterious (when the crew finally reached Brando’s domain), it left me scratching my head because I felt a mix of confusion and awe. Even though I did not fully grasp what was happening and why certain things were happening, I felt a sort of genius about the whole thing. Because sometimes horror and terror do not make sense. Lastly, it is also very difficult not to admire its timeless feel. Not even the more recent war films of today can match the look and style of this great accomplishment. I am not going to go as far as to say that I think this picture is a masterpiece. But perhaps after another viewing or two, I will get a better understanding about its rich surrealistic journey.

Inglourious Basterds


Inglourious Basterds (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those who believe that Quentin Tarantino (“Resevoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill,” “Death Proof”) is slowly losing his touch when it comes to filmmaking and storytelling should watch this film. “Inglourious Basterds” essentially covers three groups of characters: Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his men’s (Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom) quest to hunt, scalp, and kill Nazis; the intimidating Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa, a Nazi hunter who prefers to be categorized as a detective more than anything else and who happens to speak English, French, Italian, and German which proves to be quite useful; and Mélanie Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus, who survived Waltz’ massacre three years ago and had plans of her own, along with her trusted friend Marcel (Jacky Ido), to avenge her family. Divided into five sublime chapters, at first the characters had nothing to do with each other. But as the picture went on they all collided, had very entertaining conversations and bloody violence, just as one could expect from a Tarantino motion picture.

I was surprised with how quickly the movie paced itself, considering that I needed to use the bathroom during the first thirty minutes. (I gulped down a lot of soda during the previews.) I couldn’t help but get so engaged with the dialogue because in some lines, the characters attach some sort of threat into their words or tone to the point where it made me feel like I was in the same room with them. Although this was a World War II picture to begin with, it became so much more than that. In the second half, it became about a project about the love for the cinema and using that as a template to put these very intense characters under one roof. What I noticed about this movie was that with each major character, Tarantino moved the camera to match the person’s idiosyncracies and intentions. Therefore, it became more than just a World War II picture with necessary violence. It became a personal character study where the characters became tangled in the intricacies of politics, bureaucracies, and their own morals (sometimes lack thereof). The way Tarantino played with the movie’s tone greatly impressed me (as I was in his other films). One minute I just feel like hiding behind my hands because either something very violent was about to happen or a character knew something the other character did not know and was about to get caught; the next minute I found myself laughing so hard (due to the comedy or relief, it was often difficult to tell) because a character did or said something hilarious.

I can definitely understand why the American mainstream could be disappointed with this movie. For one, pretty much half of the movie had subtitles. (I love subtitled films. Sometimes, I even watch movies spoken in English with subtitles.) They could find it challenging to read and pay attention to the images at the same time. Second, with its 153-minute running time, the audiences were asked to sit through extended dialogues with (from some blogger reviews I’ve read) “very little payoffs that only happened toward the end of each chapter”). As a person who loves long movies, I cannot disagree more because the payoffs happen as the lines were being said. It was the subtleties in each intonation and movement that really made this film that much better than typical summer movie flicks. It was intelligent, had great sense of build-up, very tense, and brutal. So, for me, those kinds of arguments that people brought up were simply a matter of acquired taste. Hey, I didn’t start off loving foreign films and long movies either. It took some time and when it finally clicked, my moviegoing experience became that much more rewarding.

I strongly believe that “Inglourious Basterds” is one of the best movies of summer 2009 (if not the best). The performances are top-notch, especially from Christoph Waltz who is already getting Oscar buzz (and deservedly so), the pacing was done skillfully, and best of all, it knew how and when to have fun. If it had taken itself too seriously, it probably would not have been as enjoyable, it would have simply been violent and heartless. I’m already looking forward to Tarantino’s next project.