> Volume 2 > Number 26

Volume 2, Number 26

This Week's Reviews:  The Patriot, The Perfect Storm.

Video Reviews:  Contact.

This Week's Omissions:  Bossa Nova, Onegin.

The Patriot

(Dir: Roland Emmerich, Starring Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Tom Wilkinson, Tchéky Karyo, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Rene Auberjonois, Lisa Brenner, Donal Logue, Leon Rippy, Adam Baldwin, Gregory Smith, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Trevor Morgan, Logan Lerman, Mika Boorem, Joey D. Vieira, and Jay Arlen Jones)



The director-producer team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin have made the most patriotic, nationalistic hokum and flim-flammery I've ever seen, and it is entertaining in its own way.

The Patriot is no piece of cinematic achievement, nor a rip-roaring war film.  Instead it comes off as reason for people to raise their flags for the 4th of July weekend and be proud to be an American.  There is something blatantly evoked, a "this is why we won the war" attitude that turns people into stereotypes.

The British in this are the fiendish of the fiends.  They have ice cold blue eyes and morals that would scare Hannibal Lecter.  These are one dimensional bad guys, not human soldiers in a war.  When a British soldier enters a scene, everything from the Caleb Deschanel framing to the John Williams music tells the audience to hate the entire British army.  I'd love to see the reaction this film would get upon release in the United Kingdom.

The Patriot is about Benjamin Martin (Gibson; a fictionalization real-life Revolutionary war hero Francis Marion), a man that wants the principals of freedom from England for the colonies, but  opposes the thought of war for it.  Benjamin was a soldier in the French and Indian War, where he was a decorated hero.  But there he found the true horrors of war doing what is held on high for.  Now he has six children and fears for their safety in the event of the war for independence ragging in South Carolina.

When the eldest child, Gabriel Martin (Ledger), enlists, Benjamin finds himself in peril.  The problems that ensue after Gabriel's short return home from the war leaves Benjamin with no choice but to avenge his family and fight the British, mainly Col. William Tavington (Isaacs).  Benjamin gets together a large group of men to fight in a militia, and works to bring down the British machine on its way North as lead by General Cornwallis (Wilkinson).

The film is overlong and, perhaps, too patriotic, but that does not necessarily say that I disliked it.  The Patriot does have some truly fine moments, that grab the viewer and take them on a journey.  The screenplay by Robert Rodat, the man behind Saving Private Ryan, has some great moments, especially those featuring man-about-town Chris Cooper.  Rodat has an interesting ability of taking historical Americana and making it both intriguing and saccharine.  That's true genius.

Mel Gibson is a fine actor, even if he never gets any credit for it.  There is a great moment in the film in which he goes from loving dad to Mad Max -- it is, dare I say it, the best part of the film.  Gibson takes what could have been a ho-hum role and makes it into an interesting character, one of three dimensions. 

Follow Australian (though, technically Gibson was merely raised in the Outback, having been born in Buffalo, New York) Heath Ledger seems to have the looks for a Gibson follow-up, but his acting needs some work.  There were moments in which the script gave him some meaty dialogue and he would simply emote it off.  Some actors can act, some can emote.  I usually dislike the latter.  Your looks might sell some tickets, but it rarely means a substantial future career.

They may have been straight-out stereotypes, but the British bad guys are pretty neat.  I happen to think Tom Wilkinson is one the finest actors ever, and here he gives yet another statured, moody individual. Jason Isaacs is not the world's best actor by any stretch of the imagination, but I did like him here, he really did seem rather evil.

I like the way Caleb Deschanel films some things, hate others.  Compare his work on Fly Away Home to Hope Floats, there's a big difference in quality.  There are some moments here that show off a fine cinematographer, others that look horrendous.

The film looks good, but there are so many problems in the direction.  For one thing, I absolutely hate it when directors have things run into the camera to jump cut.  When it happened in The Matrix, I was irked, here it is even worse.  Maybe in an IMAX theatre, watching a cannonball fly at you is great to look at, but not in the confines of a 35mm projected print.  Instead it just looks cheesy.

Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin are hack filmmakers.  Those two and Jerry Bruckheimer have tarnished the idea of films.  I just went on about Gone in Sixty Seconds being a guilty pleasure from Jerry Bruckheimer and I stand by it.  Perhaps The Patriot is a little guilty too, but I don't feel quite as pleased.


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The Perfect Storm

(Dir: Wolfgang Petersen, Starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, John C. Reilly, John Hawkes, William Fichtner, Diane Lane, Mary Elizabeth Mastantonio, Allen Payne, Janet Wright, Rusty Shwimmer, Cherry Jones, Karen Allen, Bob Gunton, Josh Hopkins, Dash Mihok, and Christopher McDonald)



The Perfect Storm is a big Summer film touted as an action thrill ride.  That is its biggest debit.  Too many people will go to it expecting to see a huge film in the vein of Independence Day, and will be disappointed when they see that it is actually a human drama.  There are action scenes, but they are secluded to the film's third act, the first two being only dramatics.

Wolfgang Petersen has done this before, and is best known for his human drama on the high seas, Das Boot.  Both this film and Das Boot are fine achievements of mixing strong characterizations with suspense.  Das Boot is a German film and, in turn, will not be seen by many that would pass on it simply due to its subtitles, meaning that those that would be bored by its drama in the midst of the action will probably be left out.  That is not the case with The Perfect Storm.  It has all the markings of what could have been a big action/adventure film.

There is enough CGI in this film to make twelve Toy Story films, and they come off well.  Too often I disregard CGI as easy filmmaking, but sometimes it comes off well, as with Jurassic Park and Fight Club.  Here the CGI could have been the main character, leaving the fisherman of the story as people for it to disrupt and try to destroy.

But Petersen and writer William D. Wittliff keep it personal within the boundaries they have from Sebastian Junger's novel, based on a true event.  This could of had the most one-dimensional characters, but instead it brings us some of the best ocean prey since the cast of Jaws.

In October of 1991, the Atlantic Ocean saw one of the worst storms ever, a time in which a strong hurricane hit a northern storm system and a cold front, creating what one weatherman (McDonald) calls "a meteorologist's dream, the perfect storm."

The film is about this storm, and how it affected four groups of people.  Little time is spent on two of the groups (who, I'm sure, were covered much more in the novel), the Coast Guard and Air Force rescue squads and a group of people yachting (with Bob Gunton hilariously doing a bad Jim Backus impersonation -- "This is my boat" -- if only Jim was still alive).  There is no question as to who this film is really about, the fisherman on the Andrea Gail and the people on land that love them.

Captain Billy Tyne (Clooney) has had a dry spell catching fish in the Grand Banks for his Gloucester, Mass. employer (Ironside, playing his normal "hate me" character).  With the season coming to an end, Billy decides that he must go out one more time and make a big catch.  He rounds up his crew, with one replacement since a crewmember has lost faith in Billy and is moving to Florida, and heads out, as far out as The Flemish Cap (an area old bar codger Quentin says has "lots of fish, lots of weather."

The crew is a mixed bunch, though they are held together by their love for fishing.  Dale "Murph" Murphy (Reilly) has been long downtrodden by the friendly, yet still saddening divorce and lose of seeing his child regularly.  David "Sully" Sullivan (Fichtner) is the replacement, and a perfect foil for Murph since he happens to be the latest catch for his ex-wife.  Mike "Bugsy" Moran (Hawkes) is the guy that everyone forgets, the lonely soul who has just recently found an unusual love with a single mom (Schwimmer).  Bobby Shatford (Wahlberg) is rookie fisherman who has a woman (Lane) who he loves to be with but still loves the open seas.  And Alfred Pierre, ok he's a little underdeveloped, but we do know that he and a cute blond can "make the lights above the bar shake."

The Andrea Gail set out to catch fish, and did, 60,000 pounds to be exact, but the ice machine breaks down and they must chose between staying safely far away from the building storm and let the fish spoil or attempt to make it through the "monster."  They make the wrong choice.

The CGI waves created, sizes of which range from 40 feet to 100 feet, are incredible to look at beside this little fishing boat and the six men just trying to survive its rage.  This is, without a doubt, some of the best visual effects I have ever seen, and its almost all left to the latter act of the film, allowing us to know the characters enough before the action begins.

There is a hint at a budding love affair for Billy between himself and another fishboat captain, Linda Greenlaw (Mastrantonio).  Clooney and Mastrantonio have a certain camaraderie that should be seen more often in films, especially those sappy romantic dramas.  Mastrantonio is one of America's finest actresses and I dearly think that this is her best performance, deserving of an Oscar nomination.

Fichtner and McDonald are two of the hammiest actors around, and it works for their characters.  It is nice to have a cast that are not all like usual comic relief John C. Reilly.  It's almost like a throwback to the cast of The Thin Red Line.  Wahlberg and Clooney are nice, but they seem to be overshadowed by the supporting cast.

One of the real treats is John Hawkes as Bugsy.  The character he plays is one of loneliness and dislocation, but still lovable in his own way.  His charming, if not wholly cheesy, attempt to pick up women is nice to watch; he is one of the most interesting characters in the film.

The score from James Horner is his first return to the ocean since his success with Titanic, but the two scores couldn't be more different.  Horner uses the same six note medley throughout and even uses some instruments that would have seemed out of place on the Titanic soundtrack (including, for a moment, a metal guitar).  In my opinion, the score here is actually better than the Oscar winning Titanic score.

Director Petersen and master cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley) have created a strikingly beautiful canvas, even when there is no computer work to speak of.  There is a moment late in the film that is so incredibly lit that it could almost bring the character it shows to a different aspect.

Petersen's last effort, Air Force One, came off as a big-budget action film, one in which implausibility was a way of life.  Here everything is so grounded (especially considering the fact that it is non-fiction) that it harder to handle.  The last ten minutes of the film hit me, hit me hard.  This is why we love Petersen, he knows how to treat us right with drama that leaves you haunted.


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Video Reviews:  Since there are only two films reviewed this week, I have chosen to throw in one of my old reviews. Admittedly it is not my best, but I thought Contact seemed like a nice choice.  


(Dir: Robert Zemeckis, Starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, Angela Bassett, David Morse, Jena Malone, Dan Gifford, Thomas Garner, Geoffrey Blake, William Fichtner, Sami Chester, Timothy McNeil, and Maximilian Martini)



In the past 5 to 10 years, America has suffered a penchants of making a new film genre called science fiction-comedy. Such entrees include this year's hit, Men In Black, and last year's hit, Independence Day. Most of these films are just complete wastes of time and money. Then why does America still spend ten dollars a pop for a ticket to see these? Simple, ever since a group of filmmakers produced Godzilla and King Kong in the 1930's, people have enjoyed seeing people die.  With these film, people can watch people die and laugh... what a world we live in.

But Contact is the first truly enjoyable science fiction-drama since a young man named Steven Spielberg made Close Encounters Of The Third Kind in 1977. In fact I would say that Contact is the best science fiction film since Close Encounters. I myself have yearned for films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. If it wasn't for Contact, there is a good chance that this would be a big contender for the worst year for films in the past 50 years (though this year is still on big low for four star films).

Contact is the story of young scientist named Ellie Arroway (Foster), who is a very solitary woman who lives for the space. She is working at a station that listens to space. One night she is sitting in her car listening to a radio that picks up the sounds from a grouping of satellites, when she hears an unusual sound. So in an exhilarating scene she rushes back to the space station to check on this sound along with her fellow scientists. Come to find out that the sounds are pieces of information from another galaxy called Vega. After decoding the pieces of message, they find it is the blue prints to make a capsule that might be a way to get through space to Vega. And that is about as far as I can go without giving away any of the plot twists.

The supporting cast is pretty much a hit and miss placing: Matthew McConaughey is purely under acting as a love interest for Foster and religious mogul, Angela Basset is equally bad as a White House advisor, while, Tom Skirt is enjoyable as a foil of the Foster character, and James Woods is delicious, as always, as a government agent who may be hiding a few things.

Unfortunately there are a few complaints: Angela Basset's final scene is easily excisable and McConaughey is a bad choice for his role. Best scenes: the two big visual effects laden scenes.  One is the opening shot following space going through pop culture finally ending in the eye of a ten year old Ellie Arroway, the other being too important for me to divulge.

It has been some three years since Forrest Gump, and Robert Zemeckis is still rather hot.  Where Forrest Gump was impressive as a story more than its direction, the impression here is almost all visual.  Yes, the decisions of the screenplay later in the film fail, but it never looks bad.  Without a doubt, Zemeckis did a far better job here than with Death Becomes Her.

Contact is not a perfect film, but in these days of unfunny, unthrilling sci-fi comedies, it is a treat.



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Reviews by:
David Perry