Born on the Fourth of July

Does anyone else find it funny that Tom Cruise, whose birthday is the third of July, starred in a film called Born on the Fourth of July? No? Just me then.
Olive Stone is one of those film makers that I don’t really get. I’m not that much of a Platoon fan, nor can I say I have any affiliation with Wall Street. Natural Born Killers has it’s moments, and I can’t remember a single scene of Any Given Sunday, though I saw it less than 2 years ago. Other than that, I haven’t seen anything he’s made, though my hopes are up for JFK, whenever I eventually get around to seeing it. Born on the Fourth of July seems like a typical Stone movie, in that it comes deeply ingrained with a message (war is hell and will mess you up), and though at first glance it may seem patriotic, if you look a little deeper it’s really a chance for Stone to voice his own personal feelings about his country.
Tom Cruise is Ron Kovic,who growing up in 1950’s Long Island idolised the war heroes in the Independence Day parades. He looked past the wheelchair, crutches and missing limbs, seeing only the glory and patriotism of being a hero. Kovic spent his school years working hard and being committed to being the best, and after his wrestling attempts didn’t quite work out, he responded positively to a presentation from the US Marine Corps, and signs up with a few buddies, including Stephen Baldwin.The scenes of Kovic’s childhood are shot with a hazy, wholesome, rose-tinted nostalgia, and his family, especially his mother, are all very supportive of Ron’s decision to head to Vietnam and fight for his country, and die there if he has to. The era is well realised – particularly though the soundtrack, as Ron’s brother learns Bob Dylan on the guitar – and the TV broadcasts, with Kennedy’s “What you can do” speech seemingly speaking directly to Kovic.

After signing up and heading to war, the action skips straight over boot camp and the green-horn period – Stone covered all that in Platoon three years earlier – and drops us straight into the now Sergeant Kovic’s Second tour of Vietnam in 1967. These sequences are atmospheric and well-realised, but they’re less impressive than almost any other war film. It’s a good thing then that this film isn’t really aiming to show an accurate, visceral depiction of warfare, instead focusing on the disillusionment of volunteers, the effects that warfare can have on those who fight it, and the disconnect between the soldiers and the families they’ve left behind. For when Ron is discharged – in a wheelchair, with the promise that he’ll never use his legs again (though his main concern is being able to use what is between those legs) – he discovers that his brother doesn’t believe in the war, and his friends that stayed home became prosperous and affluent, whilst he had everything taken away from him.

The cats is full of familiar faces from anyone who’s watched Platoon – alongside Tom Berenger’s Marine recruiter is Willem Dafoe’s similarly paralysed veteran, and John C. McGinley turns up for a very small role (as do Wayne Knight and Tom Sizemore).

The film takes a very long time (145 minutes) to put across some fairly simple ideas. The first 90 minutes are thoroughly predictable, and there were very few surprises in the last hour either. Tom Cruise isn’t bad in the role, but as ever he always does better when he isn’t front and centre (Magnolia, Tropic Thunder), and I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was desperately pursuing an Oscar. Though he was nominated, it’s no surprise that it went instead to Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot, and I’d still have been happy had it gone to fellow nominees Robin Williams or Morgan Freeman, for Dead Poet’s Society or Driving Miss Daisy, instead of Cruise.

It’s worth watching if you’re a Stone or Cruise completist, but there’s little new here, and what there is still won’t surprise, or impress you.

Choose life 5/10

Top 5… Directors Who Haven’t Yet Beaten Their First

Sometimes a director will knock a film out of the park on their first go. This is never a bad thing, unless of course the director then spends the rest of their career chasing a high they may never achieve again. Whether its a matter of a budget they can’t handle, an inflated ego, troublesome actors or the interference of a pesky, meddlesome studio, these directors just haven’t managed to get things together to relive those past, initial glories.
5. Frank Darabont – The Shawshank Redemption
There are few people in the world who don’t like The Shawshank Redemption, yet it was Darabont’s first feature film after just a short and a couple of TV movies. Since its release in 1994 Darabont very nearly reached its heady heights again with the similarly Stephen King scribed The Green Mile, but it was overlong and a tad too depressing at times for my liking. The Majestic is under-appreciated but nowhere near as good, and though I really like The Mist, it can never be more than a slightly above average monsters-from-a-parallel-dimension B-movie. The Walking Dead had the potential for greatness, and is still very enjoyable, but it’s doubtful whether anything Darabont makes will ever reach Shawshank-like levels of greatness.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

I’m not normally a huge fan of classic musicals. I quite liked West Side Story, but couldn’t abide The Sound Of Music, so my hopes weren’ exactly high for this 1954 classic of which I knew very little, other than there were presumably at least fourteen characters. I’m relieved to tell you that not only did I not find this film terrible, I frickin’ loved it.Set in 1850’s Oregon, the film predominantly follows Adam Pontipee, the eldest of seven brothers (duh) who all live away from society in a secluded shack, as woodsmen. Whilst visiting town to trade, Adam sets out to find a wife, and somewhat surprisingly the local cook Milly agrees to take the position, and they marry as soon as she finished her chores, before heading back to his house. Once home, Milly discovers the rest of her new husband’s clan, whom he’d neglected to tell her about before, and soon finds herself playing Snow White for these seven giants, doing all the cooking and cleaning in their initially disgusting hovel. When the other boys decide they too would like a wife, Milly steps in to see if she can teach them to be gentlemen.

The plot is, frankly, ridiculous, and full of so full of sexism its funny. Adam (Howard Keel) is chauvinistic, slovenly and completely tactless (“What do I need manners for? Already got me a wife.”) and he has absolutely no qualms about essentially conning a woman into being a slave for him and his six siblings. His proposal to Milly (Jane Powell) will probably go down in history as the most romantic in cinematic history. Sidling up to Milly whilst she milks a cow he proclaims “Ain’t got a woman, how ’bout it?” Clearly, back in the 1850s romance was far from dead.

Unusually for a musical, I actually approved of the music, and even the dancing. Some of the songs weren’t terribly memorable, but others are still stuck in my head, most notably “Bless Yore Beautiful Hide” (again with the romance), “Goin’ Courtin'” and “sobbin’ Women.” The dancing too is very impressive, probably because most of the eponymous brides and brothers are professional dancers. The barn-raising sequence is great even though it’s very long, with the brothers competing for the affections of the locals girls against the men that brought them there. A prime opportunity was missed for some colour-coordinated dancing though. Some of the later axe-dancing is a little silly, but it does fit in with the overall tone of the film.

The plot is based on Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story The Sobbin’ Women, itself influenced by the Roman legend of The Rape of the Sabine Women (back then rape meant abduct, this film isn’t that dark). The script takes some interesting turns and has a great, if a little predictable, ending. The brides being just as willing to resort to fisticuffs as the men was a nice touch.

At times the film gets a bit sombre, when various groups become lovesick and lonely, but there’s always an upbeat musical number not too far away, and unlike most classic musicals, this one isn’t unbearably long. I’d quite like to see a remake, with an allstar ensemble cast in the lead fourteen roles, but I get the feeling it would be terrible.

Choose film 7/10