Saving Private Ryan

There is a drinking game, the most disrespectful and coma-inducing that I’ve ever come across, where when watching Saving Private Ryan the players all drink a shot every time someone on screen dies. If one were to play this game, which I cannot advise for medical, moral and cinematic reasons, then I would recommend having 50-100 shots per player lined up ready and waiting for the opening 25 minutes of the film, as the much celebrated D-Day landing is a veritable cornucopia of fatalities, with soldiers coming a cropper as soon as the rear doors of the landing ships open, drowning in the water struggling with heavy packs, being carried to safety and every other way available.

This opening scene is a landmark in war movie history, recreating the sense of utter confusion and imminent death present at that time. With a shaking camera, dialogue lost to explosions and gunfire, men wandering around after lost limbs and a bloody tide lapping at fallen soldiers and shot fish alike, it’s almost a relief once the landing has finished and they can get on with the plot, as Tom Hank’s captain is ordered to find Private James Francis Ryan, last survivor of four brothers and location unknown after parachuting somewhere in France. With a cast positively brimming with stars and up-and-comers – Giovanni Ribisi, Matt Damon, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Davies, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Adam Goldberg, Paul Giamatti, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Ted Danson, Bryan Cranston, Dennis Farina – no character is left without some characterisation, or providing an insight into a soldiers life, be it collecting dirt from every country they fight in, writing a novel about their experiences or making sure every German soldier they come across knows they have been bested by a Jew.
There are those that claim this is a long, boring film about walking, bookended by two of the greatest battle scenes in cinematic history, yet without the middle, where we truly understand the brotherly bond felt by soldiers fighting and dying together, would the closing battle – a much more personal, strategic affair than the opener, have such an impact? For my money this is Spielberg’s most cinematic film, showcasing his ability to show ordinary people in extraordinary situations, yet without losing the human touch.
Choose film 9/10
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Serenity

As I sit here in my Browncoats t-shirt, Firefly and Dollhouse boxsets worn and well loved on the shelf, it could be said that I’m a little biased about Serenity, Joss Whedon’s Firefly spinoff, created to tie up some of the loose threads after the incredibly popular and successful TV show was inexplicably cancelled after just one hugely entertaining series. Don’t be fooled, it’s not just another Star Trek, Battlestar or Farscape, Firefly is entirely its own creature, described more as a western, that just happens to be set largely in space, in the distant future after the Earth’s resources have been depleted and mankind has sought domicile elsewhere, ‘terra-forming’ other worlds to create habitable Earth-like planets.
All I can do is compare this to the TV show, but this is a mistake, and something I really don’t advise. The show had fourteen 45 minute episodes to introduce the characters and build on their relationships, steadily building a fan-base whilst taking the characters on various adventures and quests, whereas Serenity must introduce said characters, display and possibly develop their respective personalities and relationships, and also take them on some kind of journey, all within the space of a couple of hours, whilst covering as little familiar ground as possible, so as not to annoy the existing fans. It does this well enough, with an early extended steadi-cam shot establishing the members of the central crew-come-family, their individual characteristics, unusual manner of speech (“she is starting to damage my calm”) as they make their way around the good ship Serenity, even introducing new characters, like Chiwetel Eijofor’s nameless operative and David Krumholtz’s Mr. Universe, essentially a trial for the character of Topher in Dollhouse (and what is Inara but a doll herself?).  Some of the dialogue and mythology is a little thick for the uninitiated, but if anything it should pique their interest, enticing them to watch the show and embrace the culture.
Personally, after the events of Serenity, I’d rather they didn’t continue Firefly with any more series (although I don’t think there’s much danger of that) as certain characters are lost and conclusions reached that made the original show what it was. To find out exactly what I’m talking about, go forth and view at your pleasure, I guarantee you’ll find it shiny.
Choose film 8/10