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Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

 People say that if you don’t love America, then get the hell out. Well, I love America.

— Ron Kovic

Memorial Day was a while ago and I wanted to see the picture that nabbed Tom Cruise his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, Born on the Fourth of July. I saw this a while ago, but I haven’t had the chance to write the review until now. The movie did win Oliver Stone the Best Director Oscar.

Based on the true story of Ron Kovic (Cruise), a man who comes from an extremely religious background, was a wrestler in high school and wanted to be part of something greater than himself. When a Marine Corps recruiter shows up at the school, Ron almost jumps at the chance of signing up and going to fight in Vietnam.

The action cut to Ron’s second tour when his platoon shot up a Vietcong village, but they accidentally killed women and children. They realize that it was ruse for the Vietcong to have the opening salvo on the Americans. During the confusion of sand and bullets, Ron ends up shooting one of his fellow soldiers, PFC Wilson (Michael Compotaro). Ron tries to confess what happened, but his superiors brush the incident under the rug.

In another altercation, Ron is shot in the foot and then in the upper chest, paralyzing him from the mid-chest down. He resides in a VA hospital in the Bronx that looks like a slum then a place for veterans. When he returns to his childhood home, he becomes angry that people are indifferent about the war and what it represents to the country.

The main reason for this review is for the next LAMB Acting School 101, Willem Dafoe. Willem has a small part as a confidant of Ron, Charlie, when Ron lives in Villa Dulce, Mexico. A place where disabled veterans stays, get drunk and have sex with hookers. Charlie questions Ron about what really happened to him in the war and questions everything that Ron believed in.

I was expected to be blown away with Tom Cruise’s performance. I saw glimpses of it, but not that much to keep me interested in it. I have seen a lot of Vietnam movies. It’s like all of them are blurring into one. This particular story is not that intriguing to me and I found myself bored with it. It seems shallow and it doesn’t explore what happens to a person when they come back from the war.

Judgment: I wish I had some glowing words to say about this movie, but I don’t.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Knight and Day (2010)

Someday. That’s a dangerous word. It’s really just a code for “never”.

— Roy Miller

After the miasma that was Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz reteam for their latest effort Knight and Day. First of all, I hated that the studio changed the title from “Wichita” on the original script to this. It’s so plain. Looking at the promos for this movie, I was unimpressed with it, but people seem to be digging this movie. What the hell! Give it a try. Take a gamble. You know what I rolled snake eyes.

This action flick starts with Roy Miller (Cruise); a FBI agent is going to Boston for a little R&R when his flight is delayed. He continues bumping into a random woman, June (Diaz) who is going on the same flight. When they are about to board the flight, she is told by the ticket taker that the flight was full. Roy goes on the flight.

Meanwhile, another agent, Fitzgerald (Peter Sarsgaard) is watching Miller’s actions with June with Director George (Viola Davis) try to keep tabs on Miller from their headquarters. They have reason to believe that Miller has gone rogue, because he has been displaying erratic behavior of late.

At the last moment, June is let on the plane, which is strangely not full. This realization goes over June’s head who thinks it was the carelessness of the airline. Roy, on the other hand, knows better. The flight is plagued with massive turbulence that leas June to spill his drink on herself. When she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, Roy takes on the other passengers who turn out of the assassins.

June coming back to see the plane full of dead people, she panics. Roy flies the plane into a cornfield where Roy drugs her. Before she loses consciousness, Roy quickly explains to her that if anybody from the FBI come looking for her, she doesn’t know Roy.

The next day, June wakes up in her house in Boston where she thinks that everything was a dream, but Roy leaves post-it notes for her around her house. As expected, Fitzgerald comes to talk to June about her relationship with Miller. He tells her about the fact that Roy is losing his marbles and should stay away from him.

For her safety, she is transported to a safe house where the convoy is under attack by a mystery shooter. Turns out to be Roy. June runs for her life thinking that he would come after her. She seeks shelter in a firehouse where her ex-boyfriend, Rodney (Marc Blucas) is at. Over lunch, she tries to explain to him about the past 24 hours. He doesn’t believe her until Roy comes in to take her away. They go on a ridiculous adventure that tests loyalties.

This movie started out like a bumbling romantic comedy then you have to throw some guns and preposterous action sequences to keep the audience intrigued. Actually, I got kinda bored with it. How many times does June need to be drugged in this movie? I’m surprised she didn’t have permanent brain damage.

The MacGuffin of this film was so asinine that I fathom why anyone would give two shits about it in the first place. I understand that the toy knight had to be symbolic of something in his past. When that was revealed, I went with a resounding, “Duh!”

The movie was supposed to keep you guessing about whom to trust Miller or the FBI, but I didn’t buy it for a second. It was going to end up the same way. It is just another throwaway movie that could have been great if it wasn’t handled so poorly.

Judgment: I wish that someone would chloroform me to forget this movie.

Rating: **

Valkyrie (2008)

I’m a soldier, but in serving my country, I have betrayed my conscience.

— Col. Claus von Stauffenberg

Since Tom Cruise is the latest person to be in the LAMB Acting School 101 this month, I thought I would revisit a movie that was largely dismissed WWII drama, Valkyrie. There was a lot bad buzz around this movie with the numerous release date changes and even the possibly of changing the title of movie. A movie about killing Hitler, it’s a no-brainer about what the ending is. This movie is something different to offer about the SS.

The film starting in North Africa during the last years of the war where Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is conflicted with serving his country and standing up to the atrocities of what Hitler has done to Jews and his people. He is tries to find somebody that would rise up against the Third Reich. Just then his unit is attacked by the Allied forces.

Losing two fingers in his left hand, left eye and right hand entirely, Stauffenburg is held up in a Munich hospital where he is visited by his wife, Nina (Carice van Houten). He has to return to Berlin to await further instruction from the Fürher (David Bamber).

Meanwhile, there have already been plots to assassinated Hitler mainly with Major-General Henning von Tresckow (Kenneth Branagh) trying to kill Hitler with a bomb that did not go off on the plane with him or Colonel Heinz Brandt (Tom Hollander) who unknowingly carried the package into the plan in the first place. After he botched attempt, Treschow returns to High Command to get it back. Tresckow’s co-conspirator, General Friedrich Olbricht (Bill Nighy) lets him know that their plan might be exposed when another defector is arrested. They would need another person to lead the uprising.

When Stauffenberg comes back to Berlin, he is recruited by Olbricht to lead the resistance. Stauffenberg is surprised that many people want to overthrow their tyrannical leader like Ludwig Beck (Terence Stamp) who tries to find a way to destroy Hitler from the inside out.

Stauffenberg suggests that somebody should infiltrate Hitler’s inner circle. He also suggests that they initiate Operation Valkyrie, which is a plan for when Hitler is dead; the reserved army would be active to help with civil unrest. They want to stage a fake coup to arrest the SS soldiers that take over the government. As Beck said in one conversation, “This is the military. Nothing ever goes according to plan.” Truer words were ever spoken.

The rest of the movie chronicles the failed attempt to kill Hitler. This is history. Everyone knows that Hitler didn’t die until 1945. Knowing the end of the movie was a bit anti-climatic. The movie is not awful. It got a bad rap for something that was the studio’s fault.

Hearing Tom Cruise in his Americanized German dialogue was very distracting to me, except for the guy, Christian Berkel playing Colonel Mertz von Quirnheim. Was he in the same movie? He did dinner theater level acting. Just god-awful. Hearing everybody’s British accents and the lone American – Cruise – made me think that these guys were playing Nazi dress up. I couldn’t buy it all the way. At least, have some slight German accents. Oh, well.

Judgment: What’s the point? Hitler doesn’t die at the end. Oh, spoiler. Sorry.

Rating: **1/2

1001 Movie Club: Magnolia (1999)

Stephen Jay Schneider chose this movie as one of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” He compiled a massive list from the classic to the obscure for his anthology. The most worthy movies are chosen to be on this list. Every year, there is a revision to include the most essential movies to be on the minds of film buffs everywhere.

I was disheartened that Magnolia was chosen as one of the movies that the 1001 Movie Club has to review. I have seen this movie after it made a big splash at the Oscars in 2000. When I saw the film, I did not have the best things to say about the movie. I have chosen not to see the movie again; I am basing this review on memory.

Director Paul Thomas Anderson interweaves almost a dozen tiny stories that seems to not to mesh that somehow thinly interconnects. The narrator Ricky Jay shows the random ironic coincidences of life. One story revolves around a hapless police officer, Jim Kurning (John C. Reilly) is called to the scene of a dead body being discovered in the closet of a woman, Marcie (Cleo King). As the night progresses, other officers that arrive to the scene are ignoring his assessments about what happens.

The anchor of the story is about a television producer, Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) on his deathbed. He is succumbing to late stage cancer, and is cared for by his male nurse, Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Earl asks Phil to find his estranged son, Frank, because his much younger wife, Linda (Julianne Moore) is trying to get enough morphine to euthanize him.

Mackey (Tom Cruise) is self-help “guru” with a foul mouth that teaches man about manipulating women into having sex with them. His plan, “Seduce and Destroy” have men going in droves to listen to his polemics about gullible and dealing with the power of cock. After his seminar, a sly reporter, Gwenovier (April Grace) interviews Mackey about his bullshit rhetoric until she fins a chink in his armor.

A former game show wiz kid, Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) tries to get his life back into order to his former glory. The game show storyline also incorporates a former game show host of “What Do Kids Know?” Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) that recently finds out that he has cancer. He seeks out to reconnect with his cokehead daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters) to tell her. In addition, there is a stage father, Rick (Michael Bowen) that pushes his son, Stanley (Jeremy Blackman) to win the prize money to help out with his acting career.

I thought that the stories were somewhat interesting, but not so much that I could be invested in most of them. The only part of the movie that marginally liked was the Earl Partridge storyline. I thought that it was very poignant. The ending was huge WTF for me. Really? Really! Tom Cruise got the most acclaim for this movie, because he was a leading man taking a supporting role in an ensemble movie. His personal segment was not that intriguing, but when he shows up in another one. That was great.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

1001 Movie Club Approved

Judgment: Why do I feel like a Crash all over again?

Rating: **1/2

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

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Your body’s dying. Pay no attention, It happens to us all.

— Lestat

I haven’t seen Interview with the Vampire in years. It has been so long that I forgot that Neil Jordan directed the film that was based on the book by Anne Rice. She wrote the screenplay and was famously know for disliking Tom Cruise being cast as Lestat. I still enjoy watching it again.

Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) is a 200-year-old vampire recounts his life story to an interviewer, Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) in his sparse apartment in San Francisco. At first, Malloy doesn’t believe that he is one, but Louis’ ability to movie stealth speed convinces him.

Louis starts in beginning circa 1791 Louisiana when his wife and child die within a year each other. He doesn’t want to live until he meets Lestat de Lioncourt  (Tom Cruise), a vampire that could grant him his wish for death.

Louis decides that he wants to have the gift of immortality. Newly turned, Lestat teaches Louis about how to be a vampire. Lestat has an unquenchable thirst for blood, going through three victims a night. Louis has the hunger, the desire, the thirst for blood, but he doesn’t want to take a human’s life. Over time, Louis hates Lestat for giving him his undead life. He resents him.

Lestat turns his attentions to the slaves in the surrounding area that rises concern with their servant girl, Yvette (Thandie Newton). When Louis’ desire takes over and tries to bite her, the slaves along with himself burns the mansion him and Lestat share, down.

Louis is always tortured about being vampire. They become nomads, moving from the place to place, feeding the people of New Orleans. Everything comes to a head when Louis couldn’t kill a young woman that Lestat wants him to do.

On the streets, a young orphaned girl is dying of the plague, Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). Louis takes pity on her. She is taken in and fed Lestat’s blood when she turns. She becomes their surrogate daughter when the thirst takes over her.

She becomes Lestat’s protégé. She matched his thirst for the kill. Lestat want to rule over their lives. Over three decades pass and Claudia wonders why she cannot grow up. Both Claudia and Louis are tortured because they realize that they will never grow old, never die. They want to leave Lestat.

I was swept up with the allure of these vampires. The dialogue is still sharp. The costumes were fantastic. I have a few minor gripes with Antonio Bandera’s heavy accent as Armand. Sometimes I couldn’t understand what he was saying. You can tell that there was some wire work in this movie. It shows. There is also a portion of the film that I need explained. Spoiler section time.

Judgment: A great vampire story that makes you wonder why people are into Twilight.

Rating: ****1/2

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