Monday, July 20, 2015

REVIEW: The Patriot (2000)

Hello, and happy....belated fourth of July to you.  I apologize I couldn't get this out sooner, but life happens.  Let's look at The Patriot".  As a critic, you learn that not everybody will will like or respect your opinion (especially if you're talking about video games), but you gradually just learn to accept that fact.  You also realize that it's okay to have guilty pleasures.  And no director has taught me that more than director, Roland Emmerich.  Just take a look at some of his films, "Stargate", "Independence Day", "The Day After Tomorrow", each are clichéd, predictable, not particularly strong movies, but my God are they fun.  There's a certain magic behind Roland Emmerich's films.  Whenever you sit down to watch them, you know what you're going to get.  You're going to get a silly, over-the-top, special effect filled ride that will leave you begging for more.  These films are not particularly strong, and they are by no means films that are going to win "Best Picture of the Year", but each one has some form of enjoyability, at least the ones I've seen.  Even his films like "2012" (which is my least liked Emmerich film to date) and "Godzilla" of all films have something to enjoy.  Heck, his take on that latter film is actually one of my biggest guilty pleasures as a hardcore Godzilla fan no less...but that's a review for another day.

Let's look at the Patriot.  It's full of everything an Emmerich film has, from impressive special effects, to a predictable, yet fun story, to...glorifying the American Nation in ways Michael Bay will never succeed in, but we'll talk about that later.  The film takes place duing the years of the Revolutionary War, and centers on our main protagonist, Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson), and his family, who live in Colonial America, which is in the midst of fully declaring Independence from Britain.  His sons appear to be fully suppportive of the war with Britain, while Benjamin, haunted by the horrors he witnessed in the French-Indian Wars, not so much. You can already see that Benjamin is going to be the Hero of the movie, the game changer.  The man with the plan.  You can argue this is only predictable because the ovie poster portrays him riding a majestic steed, carrying the flag of our forefathers against a fiery sun, but regardless, the way the dialogue plays out between him and his sons, you know that no matter how many times he implies how he is finished fighting, he's gonna return to the battlefield.

You can also pinpoint out who is gonna die.  This is really easy in this movie.  When I saw the eldest son enlisting, I already knew he was as good as dead.  I will admit, that he survived much longer than I expected, but he died. Sorry for the easy spoiler. But I gotta say that even though he survived longer than I thought he would, he barely contributed to the story in any way.  He's not by any means the worst character in the world, but a good part of the middle of the movie focuses on him and his love interest in a childhood friend.  They of course end up getting married in the film, but honestly, the chemistry I don't think is really there.  We see them reminisce over a childhood memory or two, but aside from that, there is very little development or bonding between these two characters.  So when eventually they kill off the wife in a rather...well...unpleasant way, I didn't find myself caring too much.  THe love came, they tried to enforce it with a marriage, then they killed it off ten minutes later.  And I was there wondering when the next battle was gonna happen.  

However I think the biggest thing that got to me in this film, wasn't the inaccuracies of history (Historical fiction is fiction.  I don't mind small changes they made to the historical figures too much), it was the way the British armies were portrayed.  Most significant British troopers in this film were depicted as either heartless jerks with no sense of honor, or snobbish headstrong Cornwallis.  I'm not gonna pretend to be some expert on history, but there were so many ways I feel that Cornwallis was depicted in this film that felt off to me.  I could be mistaken, but he felt off.  But at least he wasn't like Col. Tavington in this film, who felt no remorse for killing defenseless wounded soldiers, or burning a church filled with civilians.  It was this demonizing of the British Army that just rubbed off on the wrong way to me.  I'm not British, so I wasn't offended, but it felt wrong.  Then again, Roland is one to glorify the American Nation, despite ironically being a German director.

Roland tends to make the Americans always come out on top, but lead the way to victory.  You see it in "Independence Day", "Godzilla", "The Day After Tomorrow", you name it, he does it, and it's no different here.  Thing is a lot of the time, he tends to show everything in his movies as a united society.  Whatever happens brings society together.  Touching.  I like it.  The American colonists in this movie are brought together nder one flag, and they fight against tyranny, while being aided by their French allies.  Roland certainly knows how to show the American nation in pride in his movies.  Michael Bay could take a few lessons from him, you know instead of j ust putting in 200 American flags in one scene, and calling himself a patriot (no pun intended).

And the fight against tyanny brings me to one of the better things this movie does get right, the action. THe battle scenes in this movie are phenominal.  From overlooks of colonists fighting British troops, to Benjamin fighting off a party of troops almost singlehandedly.  The action can get a little over-the-top (American flag impaling a horse anyone?), but it still doesn't at all negate the fun in this film.  The fights can be few, but you just can't seem to leave because you know each fight will be better than the last.

All in all, "TThe Patriot" is likely gonna be added to that ever growing list of guilty pleasures from Roland Emmerich for me.  It's still nothing strong, but when Roland knows he's just in it to entertain, he knows how to do it.  This film is entertaining.  Beyond that at times even.  A fun spectacle, and in a world with not so many films about the Revolutionary War, it was fun to experience something somewhat different.  Sure it wasn't historically accurate by any means, but the few things that this film did that didn't go well with me, I can forgive.  It's Roland Emmerich.

"The Patriot" is a solid three out of four stars for me.  It might have gotten a slightly higher score if the movie was maybe a little shorter, and didn't focus so much on certain forgettable elements in the film, but the main story at least keeps your attention, and of course the action never ceases to amaze.  It was a fun film to watch for Independence Day weekend, and I'm glad I watched it.  And I'm eager to share a few more opinions on some guilty pleasures in film that I have, but for now, I will just say I hope you all had a great Independence Day this year (sorry it's so late from me) and I hope you may consider watching this popcorn film about America's fight for freedom, maybe as a bucket film next year for the holiday.

And as always, thanks for reading.

Final Verdict: 3/4

Thursday, July 16, 2015

REVIEW: Transcendence (2014)

Transcendence is one of those films that tries too hard, only to fail by the time it finishes.  That's not to say that it's the worst movie out there or anything, because it is watchable, and it is a very gorgeous film to look at, but the beautiful visuals do not save this film from plot holes, forced morals, or a pitiful clichéd climax and resolve.  

I have been asked the question before on whether or not I would take up an opprotunity to have my conscience uploaded to a computer if I could.  It makes for a fun, yet frustrating debate amongst family friends, and now we got a movie to show for it.  The idea itself is an intriguing idea, and my science-fiction fan inside of me was actually curious to see how they would go about it.  Immediately I was happy believe it or not to see Johnny Depp out of that role he always pays, you know, the role where he's crazy, insane, mad, etc, this is a role that very much downgrades that status, but despite it being refreshing...there are times I gotta wonder if Johnny Depp was bored out of his mind when acting in this film  He has little energy, is very monotone, in fact...I can't recall very much emotion out of his character at all.  You can argue that is mainly because his character is stuck inside a computer screen all film, but you'd think his conscience would recall some form of emotion, especially since he does what he can to make his loved ones around him more comfortable, whether that's talking with them, or recreating the simple sound of a fork and knife scratching against a dinner plate.  So as refreshing as it is to see him play a somewhat normal role, it wasn't at all a strong performance.  But to be fair, he's not the only one to blame there.  There were a lot of recognizable names in this film.  And none of them really outshine themselves here.  Even the beloved Morgan Freeman is forgettable here, though he is one of the few actors here who knows how to depict a proper emotion in character.

One thing I also really knock this film for is the fact that though it starts its story out interesting enough, the story quickly goes all over the place.  This leads to me comparing it to films that I never thought to compare this film to such as "The World's End" (2013) and "WALL-E" (2008).  The ideas and themes of humans rapidly becoming depentant on technology, slowly embracing it as a part of life and society, the fact that so many of us just can't disconnect from the ways of conveniences like social media, or whatever the hottest thing on the internet is.  This film tries to go even further on that and show that humans could take technology perhaps too far, as it shows the conscience of our hero's mind evolving into something that probably wouldn't have come up at all in our lifetime.  He learns how to rapidly heal damaged human tissue, he learns how to purify the world using this nanobot technology, and eventually the movie does its best to portray him as this power-hungry man, and we are given this idea that he might be thinking that it's either his way or the highway.  We get introduced to this insurgent group who is anti-technology, despite the fact that they are using technology (even if it's not connected to the internet), and this battle between normal minds and uploaded minds.  And in the blink of an eye, this whole setup is tossed out the window it seems. 

The fact that this film tries to give this message that we shouldn't get so involved with technology is probably it's biggest fault.  It's just a message that has been done a million times before, and a hundred times better.  I also feel that the film doesn't quite understand it's own message, or care about it, because as I said above, it's thrown to the side almost immediately.  The very end of the film after we get this "climax" if you wanna call it that of our hero, pullling the plug on his giant electronic empire, frying the internet, and plunging humanity almost back into the dark ages...similar to "The Worlds End", it just sets up one of the most pathetic clichéd climaxes I've ever seen.  The film transforms from this 
edgy science fiction tale, that has some general, yet interesting concepts, to a romance in the blink of an eye, similar to a move that the movie "Oblivion" (2013) pulled, only much more...what's the word...regardless of what that word is, I rubbed my face in annoyance.  The romance between our two protagonists is there in the film, but more subtle since one of them is technically dead.  We get to the end, and all of a sudden by some miracle of technology, the two are joined in the upload in a way that though they describe it in the just stupid.  On the levels of Shyamalan stupid.  Yeah sure, the internet is wiped on a global scale, but one sheet of copper protects this one little garden on the earth...what a twist. I could knock the technological side of this little ending, but I honestly don't think it's worth it. The film obviously wanted a happy ending, and would bend the rules to get that.

The film I will say does a decent job of keeping the viewer questioning who to root for. There were times I honestly hoped that the "insurgents" would succeed in destroying the network, because of how it seemed they were portraying Depp's character, yet at the same time you wonder if there is any human aspect to this digital mind, because as I say up above, it can show concern for those it seems to care about. It is said again and again that he just wants to help the world, and help those who hate him, and all while this is going on, you're hoping that he is stopped because you wonder if he is perhaps mistaken, or even who he says he is. But again, these moments are few and fat between, and all these questions are just killed after we get that ending.

There's not much to enjoy in this film.  As the story drags on, I found myself bored out of my mind at times as the pointless conversations and walks down visually appealing, yet bland hallways just dragged in this fim.  The visual concepts in this film are about the only thing worth noting as impressive.  They remain strong as the fim runs.  The interior architecture, the upload visualization, how the internet is represented in one's consciousness, it's all a wonderful treat to the eye, but it's not enough to hold up the debut film for new director, Wally Pfister.  I'm happy I watched it, but I don't think I will watch it again anytime soon.  The story goes all over the place, the climax and ending again....painfully cliched and dumb, the idea behind this story could have been so much more, and it just didn't meet my expectations.  I hope Mr. Pfister can take the good that he did in this film, and learn from the mistakes. It's a visual treat, and I guess he's shown his visual talent before in other projects, but this first attempt at directing could have been much better.  Time will tell I guess if he can recover from this misfire, and give us a stronger film, with just as much visual impressiveness.

And as always, thanks for reading.

Final Verdict: 2/4