Feel good feeling about ‘The Patriot’

Rating 3.5/5

While the film may not be historically accurate, it was a good source of fun, summer entertainment when it was released in June 2000. Set in the backdrop of the Revolutionary War, The Patriot offers some good stuff that makes for an enjoyable summer film – action, developed characters, impeccable acting, strong dialogue, and so on – something that is typically not seen in a Roland Emmerich summer blockbuster.

Robert Rodat penned the script for Emmerich to direct. It doesn’t seem the filmmakers were much on making a historically accurate film, as they were to make a Hollywood film based on history. Taking events and battles from the actual war, Rodat places characters (based on actual historical figures) within that world making their existence seem more real, adding the Hollywood touch of a simple hero pitted against a seemingly unbeatable villain.

The Patriot stars Mel Gibson as Benjamin Martin (a character based on several actual characters from the War – Francis Marion, Elijah Clarke, Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter), a religious family man trying to put the ugliness of war behind him. He is a widower who has seven children he protects dearly. When the villain, British Col. William Tavington (Jason Isaacs), who is based on Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, arrives with his British soldiers on Martin’s property, kills one of his youngest sons, arrests Martin’s eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) and takes him away, and burns Martin’s house down, this pushes Martin to the one thing he wanted to avoid – going into war himself. He pursues Tavington, with two of his other sons, to free Gabriel. With militia style tactics, Martin succeeds in freeing Gabriel and he is thrust into the war to take vengeance upon Tavington. Martin then helps organize a militia, and with the help from his friend Col. Harry Burwell (Chris Cooper), puts forth strategies to stop Tavington and the British. After a series of incidents where the American militia bests British soldiers, Gen. Cornwallis (Tom Wilkinson) develops a hatred for these “peasants and farmers” and wants Martin gone too.

Gibson gives an effective, emotional performance, as does Ledger. He was a bright newcomer at the time of the film’s release at 21 years old. Just nearly eight years later, he passed away. He is gone, but not forgotten.

Isaacs plays Tavington straight faced and with conviction. He is virtually emotionless, always with a smirk and evil in his eyes. Wilkinson portrays Cornwallis as somewhat pompous and arrogant, which seems to be Hollywood’s take on the character. This creates another character to dislike and of course root for the hero to win.

Well-choreographed fight and battle scenes, great acting with developed characters, wonderful cinematography, and a musical score to punch the dramatic narrative through the film. It makes for a more satisfactory film than the usual bang, bang, big explosions, and heavy use of special effects.

20 years later, ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ fails to surge

Rating 2/5

Earlier this summer, a sequel hit theaters supposedly 20 years in the making. Independence Day: Resurgence appeared, on the surface, to be a near carbon copy of the 1996 original with a few new characters and plot points. Roland Emmerich, the “master” of disaster films, took the script from writers Nicolas Wright and James A. Woods (and others) and made a two hour, sci-fi, special effects extravaganza – and not in a good way.

I think I liked this film better when it was just called Independence Day. Of course, that’s not saying much. This time around, some returning cast members play out their characters in much of the same fashion as the original. Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Judd Hirsch return as David Levinson, ex-President Whitmore, and Julius Levinson, respectively. Another returning character Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) received a few laughs from his minor part, but overall it wasn’t noteworthy. Newcomers Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher and Liam Hemsworth offer up decent performances as the former president’s daughter Patricia Whitmore, Dylan Hiller (the son of Will Smith’s deceased character, and Jake Morrison (a hotshot pilot), respectively.

The problem with this film is that there are similarities with the events in the first film. The dialogue is one of those problems. While it may suit your average summer popcorn flick, it does little to tell a new engaging story to capture audiences. I suppose that is why Emmerich relies on special effects and CGI. I would say if his intention was to deliver a film with a heavy dose of special effects, explosions, and spaceship battles – with very little substance otherwise – then I would say a job well done. But shouldn’t there be more than that? I read in an article, shortly after this film was released, that Emmerich had a problem with the superhero movies these days. He claimed they “stole” his “ideas” and uses of world destruction in those films. Really? I wasn’t aware you could claim property on the concept of world destruction. Besides, the Marvel films do it so much better than Emmerich,because he doesn’t seem to bother about things like plot, story, and character in his disaster films.

There appears to be a notion that the bigger something is, the better it is. That is not the case in everything. It is certainly not the case with Roland Emmerich. It seems when he makes these big blockbusters, these disaster films, he fails on telling a story with substance and depends greatly on special effects, explosions, and anything else he can find to go boom as in films like 2012 (2009), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 1998’s failed Godzilla. However, in films like The Patriot (2000) and White House Down (2013), Emmerich does bring substance and story to the screen. Those films are few and far between from Emmerich. And he has stated he wants to make a third Independence Day film. Only time will tell if that will happen. If it does, it just better not be another 20 years.



Special effects prevalent in ‘Independence Day’

Rating 2.5/5

Every summer there is at least one “blockbuster” filled with action, special effects, explosions, and the quintessential disaster dialogue while everyone is running and screaming to and from the camera. This film pretty much fits the bill. Roland Emmerich directed Independence Day, who also co-wrote the script with Dean Devlin, and he brought us a typical special effect heavy film designed to entertain audiences. This film was entertaining but it did rely on special effects to awe audiences, which were mostly effective but not overly impressive. Most of the dialogue is trite and designed to stir emotions in the scene and for us (the audience).

The characters appear to be “copies” of other alien invasion disaster films of the 1950’s. We are introduced to Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), Julius Levinson (Judd Hirsch), and President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman). At the beginning, the alien crafts come and hover over various cities all over the world – and wait. What are they waiting for? They are waiting for the exact moment for a coordinated attack, because apparently the aliens use the same time we do. When the time comes, the invasion begins, the main characters, and an assortment of supporting characters, discuss the necessary actions to take against their unwanted guests.

The President, David and his dad Julius, and a few others are taken to Area 51 (the famous secret area where the government is supposedly harboring aliens and alien spacecrafts. This secret lab is run by Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner), probably the most comical character in the film. Here David gets the idea on how to destroy the alien ships by using one of the ships the government has “captured.”

During the attack, the White House (of course) and the Empire State Building are destroyed. If the aliens can wipe out buildings in a flash, then why don’t they attack everything with their mighty force at once? Well, if they did that there obviously wouldn’t be a movie. It’s kind of like watching a film with a fight scene involving martial arts. The hero will take out several opponents one by one as the others dance around in a threatening manner. The action moves around quickly in Independence Day without giving much time for the characters to fully react to what is going on around them. The Air Force launches their fighter jets for their attack in hopes of destroying the alien visitors, only to be engaged by them in aerial dogfights reminiscent of the old war movies.

Emmerich planned this film around the special effects, while negating other important elements like character development and story. Independence Day is one of those movies designed for summer fun. I suppose it was somewhat entertaining on that level.




Action takes a flight in ‘Non-Stop’

Rating 3/5

What makes a good action film is of course action. Then of course there are also those other pesky elements such as story, character, dialogue, and so on. If you put all those elements together and fine-tune them, you can have a good film. Non-Stop may not be your typical thrill a minute, action story, but somehow, on some level it delivers.

Once we get through the ordinary introduction of characters, we board the flight in which the action will take place for most of the film. Liam Neeson plays air marshall Bill Marks who is aboard a transatlantic flight and soon discovers a terrorist plot unfold. He receives a text message asking Bill to persuade the airline to wire $150 million to a bank account. And if he is unable to do so in the next 20 minutes, someone on the plane will die. He believes it is one of the passengers, but as he tries to unravel the plot of this mysterious terrorist, he more and more becomes a suspect by the other passengers due to his erratic behavior.

Bill is probably the most complex character on the plane. He still suffers from a personal tragedy, he’s tired and suffers from alcoholism. But on the surface, he seems tough, determined and headstrong. The other supporting actors were decent, but they didn’t seem to have much depth to their character. And that’s not necessarily their fault. The material provided by writers John W. Richardson and Christopher Roach didn’t provide the characters a rich background. However, this did work to some advantage for the story. Since Bill is unsure who the terrorist is, he suspects one of the passengers. So the other characters have a mystery surrounding them, which keeps Bill (and the audience) guessing. Julianne Moore plays Jen Summers, one of the passengers who befriends Bill while boarding the plane. Corey Stoll is New York cop Austin Reilly, Scoot McNairy is a tech geek named Tom Bowen, Michelle Dockery is flight attendant Nancy, Lupita Nyong’o is another flight attendant Gwen, Anson Mount is Bill’s fellow marshall Jack Hammond.

Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, Unknown, and this summer’s The Shallows) directed the film and made it his own. It may not have the making of an elaborate masterpiece of action, thrills and suspense, but it does provide a well-paced film with enough moments of character and story to keep me in. The film runs one hour and 46 minutes and was released February 28, 2014.

On the hunt with ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’

Rating 2/5

Taking another spin on history is plausible I suppose, if it is done right. It’s like updating Shakespeare to contemporary times. If it’s done right, it can be a wonderful production. But not updating the language or incorrectly updating the language can be disastrous. In 2012, a film came along, based upon a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also penned the screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He took some historical facts and placed the undead around those facts. It made Lincoln look like some sort of 19th century superhero.

In the film, the story begins when, as a young boy, Abraham Lincoln witnesses his mother’s murder by a vampire. This of course instills a slight fear and a tremendous hatred towards the bloodsuckers. Along the way, in his young adulthood, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) befriends Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) who is a hunter himself. He takes on Lincoln as an apprentice to learn the ways of killing vampires. So, that’s the basic plot. Oh yes, also along the way he befriends Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) who then joins Lincoln at times to battle the blood thirsty creatures, and of course his future wife, Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

Timur Bekmambetov took Grahame-Smith’s script and stylized the action using effects used in The Matrix. I suppose it is visually appealing. But that is only one element. The film would have the audience believe the North was losing because the South was being overrun by vampires, who were also soldiers, and that Mary Todd Lincoln was bitten by a vampire, became ill, and ultimately resulted in her death. The climax results in a bit of a lengthy sequence involving a train, explosions, and killing vampires. It might make for a visually stunning action sequence, but somehow just looks out of place for the moment and characters. If follows the sentiment that Bekmambetov and Grahame-Smith treated the title character as some sort of action-adventurer or superhero.

Grahame-Smith also wrote a short novel – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – which also became a film earlier this year. He may have been attempting to capitalize on the huge following that occurred brought on by the Twilight series and The Walking Dead. I suppose the mash up of vampires in the 19th century and young Abraham Lincoln might be considered a fantastic idea. But it all just becomes fantasy. And I suppose that might be what the filmmakers were attempting to do here. Play out some sort of fantasy with The Matrix-type special effects and action having little to do with what history books taught us. It might make for a fun, summer escape, popcorn flick, but just seems to become a far-fetched piece of fiction.



Take an octane-driven ride in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’

Rating 4/5

George Miller’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is an example of movie making at its finest. I was pleasantly surprised, because I wasn’t sure how this film would be. At first, I thought it was going to be just another one of Hollywood’s remakes. As I looked into it more, I realized it was a continuing story of Max Rockatansky, a role first performed by Mel Gibson in 1979. The sequel came out in 1981 and a third film was released in 1985. Thirty years later, Miller brings the character back, with the role going to Tom Hardy.

Hardy brings a slightly more rugged look to the character than that of his predecessor, Gibson. But also with it, Hardy brings a lot of energy to the character. He would almost have to after being tied up and tossed around here and there through a lot of the film. Even though he is the title character, he does not carry the film alone. The other performances cannot be left out because this was an ensemble movie. Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoe Kravitz, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley round out some of the major players and each single actor exerted the energy to bring the characters to life.

Miller, along with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris, wrote the script and provided the right amount of action and thrills to keep the film moving for its two hour run time. Miller created the perfect look of a post-apocalyptic world with the scenery, costume, and great cinematography. The film took away six Oscars in film editing, costume design, makeup and hairstyling, sound mixing, sound editing, and production design. All of these elements did not disappoint. The film was quick paced but did allow for the occasional character dialogue for character and story development, but did not slow down for very long to continue the action of the long chase in overhauled, armored vehicles. The film was basically one long chase, complete with explosions and edge-of-your-seat thrills, with a few stops along the way. The film really didn’t let up until the final scene.

Miller came back 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released with another high-energy action adventure in the Mad Max series. And it looks like Miller isn’t done as he is already planning a fifth installment to the series.



‘Forsaken’ brings story of redemption and salvation to screen

Rating 3.5/5

There comes a time when a film comes along that appears to be quiet but still finds a way to entertain and enlighten. 2015’s Forsaken, starring real life father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, is one such film. In brings great cinematography and a story of redemption and salvation to the screen. 

The story, set in 1872 Wyoming, revolves around John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland), a former gunslinger and participant in the Civil War, who comes home 10 years later and attempts to reconnect with his father, the Reverend Clayton (Donald Sutherland), and make amends with his life. Upon returning home, he encounters his former girlfriend, Mary-Alice (Demi Moore), who has apparently moved on herself and has married another, and also tries to move on from their past. Additionally, John Henry learns that a corrupt businessman, James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is buying nearby properties in order to help usher in the railroad. Michael Wincott plays Dave Turner, a hired gun of McCurdy’s. Turner acts as John Henry’s friend at first, but has the sinister underlying motive of helping McCurdy and obtaining his money. You can view the trailer below:


We learn, through the course of the film, John Henry has given up his guns because of an incident involving a shooting. In a touching scene, he breaks down and cries as he tells his father the story. As things progress, John Henry can no longer maintain his new lifestyle of starting fresh and helping his father as McCurdy continues his relentless pursuit of land. John Henry is forced to take up his guns once again to rid the town of McCurdy and his cronies once and for all.

Director Jon Cassar (24) and writer Brad Mirman bring the characters to life through simple but effective dialogue, great direction and beautiful cinematography. On the surface, the story is somewhat simplistic but the action does move along quite nicely and comes in around 90 minutes. It is an effective story of redemption. The performances provide enough energy and substance to bring the characters to life without going over the top or being too humdrum to lose interest. It is a spiritual, quiet, and intimate film. There is not a lot of action per say, but the film does provide enough story and character moments to keep the film’s storyline going.