The English Patient

A disfigured English-speaking man (Ralph Fiennes) is being cared for by a nurse (Juliette Binoche) in Italy during World War 2. Whilst being moved his condition worsens, so she cares for him in the ruins of a monastery where they are joined by some bomb disposal technicians (Naveen Andrews and Kevin Whately) and a thumb-less Canadian (Willem Dafoe). All the while the man struggles to remember who he is, recalling his past sharing an affair with a British woman (Kristen Scott Thomas) married to one of the man’s colleagues (Colin Firth).
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John Wick

This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review.

John Wick (Reeves) has suffered a loss. His wife (Moynaham) recently passed away, but after her funeral Wick is delivered a final gift from her, in the form of the most adorable beagle puppy ever. It’s like it was created in an adorable puppy factory. Anyway, this gift was intended as something for Wick to focus on instead of his grief, something to drive him past this unbearable experience and continue on with his life, so when he runs foul of low-life Russian gang member Iosef (Allen) with an eye for Wick’s vintage Mustang, and Iosef beats up Wick, steals his car and kills the dog, needless to say some vengeance is very much on the cards.
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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

Platoon

Charlie Sheen is Chris Taylor who, after dropping out of college because he wasn’t learning anything, volunteers to fight in the Vietnam war, amongst recruits including Keith David, Forest Whittaker, Tony Todd, Kevin Dillon and a young Johnny Depp. The platoon is split, with half drawn to Willem Dafoe’s free-thinking, laidback stoner Sergeant Elias, with the rest, including brown-nosing Sergeant O’Neill (John C. McGinley), prefer the ethos of scarred Staff Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), who counts success by how high the bodies are piled, rather than whether peace has been achieved.
There’s an interesting film buried in here somewhere, but it either follows Sheen’s naive, error-realising private or the conflicts between the two sergeants and their unrespected, inexperienced Lieutenant (Desperate Housewives’ Mark Moses). Some gripping moments stand out – a night ambush, and the colour slowly fading back in after a white-out napalm drop – but the rest is underwhelming and littered with trite or cheesy dialogue and 5-cent philosophising: “We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves, and the enemy was within us.”
Choose life 6/10

Spiderman 1 & 2

Never has a film been more squarely aimed at the nerds and outsiders of the world (OK, maybe Revenge of the Nerds), the guys with the smarts but not the brawn, good looks, athletic bodies and hot girlfriends. Fortunately, this description neatly encapsulates the majority of the superhero genre’s existing fanbase.
Tobey Maguire is Peter Parker, the afore-mentioned science nerd with a prolonged crush on Kirsten Dunst’s girl-next-door MJ, but lacking the confidence, wealth, strength and social standing required to do anything about it. After being bitten by a radioactive spider during a class field trip, he acquires some of the spider’s abilities, including wall crawling, mild precognition, shooting webs from his wrists, a vastly improved body and the ability to dangle from the ceiling into your mouth while you sleep. In real life, spider’s shoot the webs from an aperture closer to their posterior. This would have made for a much stranger film, I feel.  Unfortunately, Parker’s transformation occurs around the same time as Parker’s lazy rich kid best friend Harry’s businessman father trials a new super serum on himself, with predictably disastrous results, transforming him into a suped-up madman, terrorising the city in the form of fan favourite villain the Green Goblin.

Finding Nemo

Taking a simple story, a father searches for his kidnapped son, and although transposing it to tropical fish sounds insane, the concept works, with Albert Brooks overprotective clown fish Marlin travelling to Sydney to rescue his son, who in turn is doing his best to escape the dentist’s fish tank within which he recently became imprisoned. As ever with Pixar, it is the myriad of supporting characters that make the film truly great, here ranging from the cabin fever crazed fish tank gang (voiced by, among others, Willem Dafoe, Stephen Root, Alison Janney and semi-regular collaborator Brad Garrett) to Ellen DeGeneres’ short term memory loss suffering regal tang Dory, probably the most popular and oft-quoted characters from the film.
Pixar rightfully uses the films running time to show off their immense design skills, displaying as many watery environments as possible (sewers, wide open oceans, docks, puddles) and a cornucopia of every widely recognisable aquatic lifeform, including sea turtles, jellyfish, sharks, pelicans, Aardman-inspired seagulls, stingrays, swordfish (fencing with upper class English accents), angler fish, whales and Bostonian lobsters.
It says something of the animating skill of Pixar that they had to degrade the quality of the water in this film, as initial feedback showed it was too realistic. Given enough time, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to make a seemingly live action film without anyone noticing.
Choose film 8/10