Posts Tagged ‘War’

MOVIE: Reign of Fire (2002)

February 11, 2008

You guys are never gonna believe this, but guess what! I loved this movie! Now wait, don’t get me wrong — there are about 86,000 things about this flick that I found totally and completely stupid. However, unlike with other dumb movies I’ve seen recently (ahem, Equilibrium, ahem), the really stupid parts of this one weren’t intrusive enough to distract me out of enjoying myself. Lovely!

The movie opens in London with a little boy named Quinn hanging out with his mom who works in a mine of some sort. He’s down there playing in the tunnels one day when he stumbles across, and I guess wakes up?, an enormous creature. At first, he has no idea what it is, but a few moments later, it emerges from the tunnel, flapping its wings and breathing fire, and to anybody who’s ever read a fairy tale, it’s immediately clear we’ve got a dragon on the loose. An hour later, everyone in the mine but Quinn is dead, including his mother, and man, do things go downhill quickly from there.

The next thing the human race knows, there are hundreds, thousands of dragons flying around the world turning everything they encounter into ash. At first, the humans try to kill them, but it soon becomes clear their conventional weapons are no good. At a loss for anything else to do, a few countries launch nuclear attacks. But, of course, as anybody with half a brain could’ve predicted (not that the government ever listens to anybody with half a brain, or a whole brain, for that matter), instead of wiping out the dragons, they pretty much finish off the rest of the planet.

Cut to about 15 or 20 years later, and now Quinn (Christian Bale) is all grown up and living in a stone castle (good idea — harder to burn your house if it’s made out of rocks) with a group of fellow survivors. He and his best friend Creedy (the utterly gorgeous Gerard Butler) spend their days struggling to keep their people clothed, warm, and fed, and their evenings reenacting scenes from classic movies for the entertainment of the group’s two dozen or so children (loved the Star Wars scene, by the way!).

For the most part, the group is muddling through. But they’re about to run out of food, and options, and they remain under constant attack by a group of local dragons that keep them from growing many crops or wandering too far from home.

However, lucky for the doomed Brits, they’re in a movie that’s clearly been modeled on World War II flicks, and soon the Americans are storming in with a group of tanks, a helicopter, a bunch of weapons, and a cigar-butt-chompin’, Southern-drawlin’ leader named Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey, totally having a blast with this role). Van Zan is determined to do more than just survive and he needs Quinn’s men to help him do it. At first, Quinn refuses to let any of his people risk their lives for what he thinks is a preposterous idea (killing the Germans — oops, I mean “dragons” — instead of just trying to stay away from them). But the more he sees Van Zan do, the more he starts to believe there might be a way out of this mess after all.

Now, there are a TON of things about this movie that made no sense whatsoever, and one of the primary ones was where in the hell they were getting all their fuel. The helicopter flies around constantly, not to mention the trucks, tanks, and motorcycles that are zooming around all the time, and yet fuel is never even mentioned, despite the fact it’s now almost 20 years after the apocalypse, and the dragons have set the entire planet on fire. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure fire is, like, really bad for fuel. And if the whole world’s been burned, where are they getting all this gasoline? They clearly aren’t storing it in huge tanks next to their castle, where the dragons are going to ignite and then blow it up. But there’s not exactly a functional Shell station down the street either.

Then there’s Van Zan’s plan to wipe the dragons out — he’s figured out that all the dragons they see are women, and that there’s only ONE male dragon, living in London, fertilizing all the eggs by himself. (Incidentally, Big Daddy Dragon is the same one Quinn awoke as a boy, the same one that killed his mother — so we know right away where that part of the story is headed, right?) Anyway, what this means is that if they can kill the Big Kahuna, they can wipe out the entire dragon race.

But, wait — there’s ONE MALE DRAGON for the whole Earth’s worth of dragons? Seriously? There were about 300 dragons alone in just one region of London — you’re telling me ONE MALE DRAGON is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dragons around the world?

No sir, I don’t believe it.

Not only that, but the way this storyline actually plays out at the very end also made no sense at all — I won’t say more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody, though. For those of you who have seen the movie, I’m referring to the final final scene, set three months after the denouement. The scene in which there also needed to be kissing and wasn’t, by the way. Just another minor bone I wanted to pick. Not even a peck on the cheek to entertain the ladies in the audience? I was bitter.

Oh, and one more thing I just have to mention because it keeps showing up everywhere lately (including last week’s episode of Lost) — the word is CAVALRY, people, not CALVARY. Look it up.

The funny thing about this movie for me, though, was that even though there were all these things (and more!) that made no sense — things no less dumb than, say, the stuff that made me crazy in Equilibrium — I still enjoyed the beheysoos out of this movie. Sometimes movies that are full of cheesy, lame stuff or plot points that are illogical are really hard for me to enjoy. I get annoyed and I can’t relax into the story because I’m so distracted by the flaws. But other times, the problems just don’t seem to get in my way, and that was really the case with Reign of Fire.

In short, it’s kinda silly, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun. And, since I know you are going to ask, I’ll just come out and tell you that I also thoroughly enjoyed Bale in this flick, and realized halfway through that the difference was all about his accent. I think the reason he makes me nuts in all his other movies is that American accent he so often does — it makes him hold his mouth funny and both sound and LOOK funny, as though he’s trying to force the words out through a throat full of marbles.

But here, he’s speaking in his natural voice, and though his mouth was also partially covered by facial hair, I just never found anything about him distracting at all (well, you know, except for his naked torso — that was kind of distracting, I will confess. Mrrrrrowl!).

What’s more, I finally started to understand why it is you guys all love him so much. I was thoroughly charmed by Bale in this movie, and though I’m still nowhere close to wanting to make him a Boyfriend of the Week, I do suddenly find myself giving the idea a little more consideration. If you guys have any other favorite Bale movies in which he uses his natural accent instead of the American one, post them in comments and I’ll be sure to check them out soon.

All in all, major thumbs up for me on this one, and I thank you guys for finally talking me into giving it a try, because I truly had a great time chillin’ out with the fire-breathing beasts this weekend. Yahoo!

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Fantasy/War
Cast: Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Matthew McConaughey, Izabella Scorupco, Scott Moutter

MOVIE: The Kingdom (2007)

January 6, 2008

Though I remember this movie getting fairly decent reviews when it first came out, I confess I wasn’t really that interested in seeing it.  But a week or two ago, I was reading an article that noted that almost every war-themed film from 2007 completely bombed at the box office — except for this one.  That made me rethink my decision to skip it, and the other day, while at the video store picking up a few flicks for New Year’s Day, I stuck this one in my pile.

Unfortunately, I can pretty much sum up my opinion of this movie with these two words:  ho hum.

But if I just left it at that, my review would be as dull as the film was, so I’ll give you the longer version too.

Despite its impressive cast (Chris Cooper, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, and Jason Bateman), this movie is neither that original nor that intriguing. I never got into any of the characters, and, to me anyway, the plot felt like every other plot of every other war movie ever made. The whole thing felt more like an excuse for lots of explosive special effects than an attempt to make any sort of thoughtful commentary on current events.

The Kingdom starts out like an episode of CSI: Saudi Arabia. A compound in Riyadh where a large group of American civilians live is bombed by terrorists one sunny afternoon during the company picnic, killing dozens of women and children. The Saudi government reluctantly agrees to let a small team of FBI agents in to investigate the scene, pairing them up with a group of Saudi police, led by a guy, Faris, who clearly loves his country and wants desperately to put an end to its senseless violence.

The group investigates, figures out who’s responsible, and then, as you’d expect from a movie like this, finally wraps things up with a massive shootout in the middle of a densely populated civilian area. As all Middle East-set war movies typically do.

The only thing that really stood out to me about this film was that it initially plays into the usual assumptions — that the Saudis/Muslims are all bloodthirsty bad guys — and then turns this assumption on its head by revealing that the American FBI agents are just as addicted to violent vengeance as their enemies.

The biggest problem with this movie, though, was that the dialogue was awful, and that really prevented me from ever feeling like the characters were real people to be taken seriously. Everything Jennifer Garner said (which wasn’t much, I might add) sounded totally wrong coming out of her mouth, and this wasn’t an issue of miscasting, as anybody who’s seen Alias knows Garner does “tough” really damn well. Jason Bateman, on the other hand, WAS completely miscast. We’re clearly supposed to think of him as “the kid,” yet he looks no younger than Garner does, and her character’s the one who makes the crack about his age to begin with.  He was clearly thrown into the movie to serve as a sort of rookie comic relief, but his character just didn’t work for me at all.

Cooper is great in his role, and Foxx does okay too. But again, their characters seemed more like caricatures than actual people.  Everybody in this movie felt wrong to me — fake and 100% substance-free.  And the story — terrorists kill Westerners, Westerners kick ass — is one I think most of us are getting sort of tired of these days.

All in all, I found this movie pretty disappointing. Why it was the one “success” of the genre in 2007, I truly have no idea.

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: War, Drama
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Jeremy Piven, Kyle Chandler, Ashraf Barhom

MOVIE: Rescue Dawn (2007)

December 19, 2007

Several years ago, I saw a documentary by Werner Herzog (of Grizzly Man fame) called Little Dieter Needs to Fly.  It was about a German man named Dieter Dengler who immigrated to America as a kid and joined the military for the sole purpose of learning how to fly planes.  Unfortunately, he picked the early 60’s to sign up, and a few years later, was packed up and shipped off to Vietnam.

On his first flight mission, over Laos, Dieter was shot down, captured, and taken to a POW camp.  From day one, his goal was to escape, despite the fact his fellow inmates told him repeatedly that it wasn’t the prison that was the jail — it was the jungle outside it.  But after lots of observation and planning, Dieter finally pulled it off, escaping along with several other prisoners on June 29, 1966.  Dieter and one other man, a guy named Duane Martin, teamed up together on the outside and then spent several weeks struggling to survive in the insane jungles of Laos.  Twenty-three days after his escape, Dieter was finally rescued when an American pilot spotted him.

What I loved about the documentary was that it featured the real Dieter Dengler, taking us back to the very jungle he’d been lost in all those many years ago, and walking us through exactly what he went through, virtually day-by-day.  He’s a fascinating man with an unbelievable and moving story.  And it was really a terrific film.

Obviously, his story had a tremendous impact on director Werner Herzog too, because twelve years later, he made this movie, Rescue Dawn, which is essentially a more-Hollywood-esque version of the same story, starring Christian Bale as Dieter, and an astonishingly not-funny Steve Zahn as Duane Martin.  And while I thought many things about this film were done well, what surprised me about it was how many things Herzog changed.  Things changed that didn’t need changing, and things changed that really bothered me, like turning one of Dieter’s fellow captives into a mentally unbalanced villain of sorts, who threatens to turn them all in if they try to escape and essentially acts like a coward.  In real life, Dieter Dengler has said on more than one occasion that he considered Gene DeBruin, an Air America pilot (played by Jeremy Davies in the film), to be a hero.  I recently read DeBruin’s family is pretty upset about Rescue Dawn, and boy, I don’t blame them.

Of course, Herzog is pretty infamous for distorting the facts in his documentaries in order to make them more entertaining.  He did this in Grizzly Man, and he did it in Little Dieter as well (for example, there’s a scene in the beginning of the latter film in which the real-life Dieter opens and closes his front door about six times in succession, saying he does this whenever he goes through a door because he can’t bear the thought of being locked in — as it turns out, Herzog had Dengler do this for the film, even though it was completely made up, because he essentially thought it would make for a poignant moment).

In any case, you can mostly solve the problems of inaccuracy in Rescue Dawn by also watching Little Dieter (which is available for Watch Now at Netflix, by the way).  But, alas, you can’t solve the problem of Christian Bale, who, in my opinion, is just kind of boring in this.  To be honest, though, the only thing I’ve ever liked Bale in was Batman Returns, and even there, it was more like “tolerance” than actual “like.”  Every time he does an American accent, it sounds so forced and fake — he always sounds like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho to me, and that never fails to give me the creeps. 

I know, I know: you guys all WORSHIP CHRISTIAN BALE.  I hear you.  I just don’t understand you. 

The actor who DID impress me in this film was, astonishingly enough, Steve Zahn.  I’ve loved Zahn for many years now — as far as funny sidekicks go, you need go no further.  But what I didn’t know about him was that he can not only do “serious,” but he can seriously kick “serious’s” butt.  He is phenomenal in this movie — believable, sincere ,and virtually unrecognizable to boot.  I found his character far more moving and authentic than Bale’s, and that’s all about the acting, in my opinion.

Other than some nicely done scenes and a fairly engrossing storyline (not worth nothing, of course), however, this movie plays like a fairly standard Vietnam flick.  I had been eager to see what Herzog would do with a Hollywood version of his terrific documentary, but I was kind of ho-hum about the actual result.  Nevertheless, it’s a good story and one well worth watching.  Definitely be sure to check out Little Dieter Needs to Fly for some balance, though.  And you might want to read Wikipedia pages about Duane Martin, Gene DeBruin, and other side characters as well (the movie focuses primarily on Dieter, for obvious reasons, but these other guys were pretty amazing themselves).

[Netflix me | Buy me | Netflix Little Dieter]

Genre:  Drama, War
Cast:  Christian Bale, Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, Pat Healy, Marshall Bell