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We Were Soldiers
starring: Mel Gibson, Barry Pepper, Sam Elliott, Chris Klein

by david    February 3, 2003

Loosely quoted from Chris Klein in We Were Solders:

    "I hope that God wants me to help little children."

I hated We Were Solders. In general, I like my war movies either full of doubt and disillusionment (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now), or full of startling, brutal reality (Black Hawk Down, Band of Brothers). WWS (based upon the book with the wonderful title We Were Soldiers Once, and Young -- so much a better title), plays bait and switch with everything I want in a war movie. The book's title and the previews looked as though it would be a movie about the futility of the Vietnam war. The presence of hard-edged nice guy Barry Pepper as a war photographer was encouraging, though Chris Klein as the young lead should have tipped me off to the real content. In the end, WWS is a story about the heroics of combat in service of a righteous (presumably Christian) God. Cover the entire thing with a generous helping of cheese, and you gotcherself a genuine Hollywood blockbuster.

The problems with the movie are threefold: the script is cheesier than cheesy, the direction and editing are melodramatic, and much of the acting is bad. Now, don't get me wrong -- some of the acting is good. In general, I find Mel Gibson to be a charming dude, and he does fine in a role painted with the broadest stereotype-brush possible. Barry Pepper is an underrated actor if ever there was one, and he is also fine in his cheesy skeptic-war-photog-who-finds-the-true-courage-in-himself-and-his-fellow-soldiers role. Sam Elliott is funny is his running one-line joke role. But Chris Klein is abysmal as the young heartthrob, and most of the supporting cast is weak at best.

I don't know if WWS made any real money at the theater. I saw it at Grauman's Chinese in Hollywood the week it opened. Despite the massive screen, great sound, and generally enthusiastic crowd, Shannon and I giggled through most of the movie. When the third act "photographer's montage" began, we burst with laughter. I'm certain these are not the reactions the producers were going for.

If you like cheese, this movie is for you. Otherwise, there are dozens of much better war movies out there -- save yourself some money and rent one of those.


Love, Liza
starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates

by david    February 3, 2003

I'd watch Philip Seymour Hoffman read the phonebook for two hours and, what's more, I'm sure I'd enjoy it. He's completely engaging in every role -- in this film, he's like a huge freeway multi-car crash: horrible, deadly and repulsive, but so enthralling that you cannot look away.

Love, Liza starts three weeks after the suicide of Wilson Joel's (Hoffman) wife. As the movie progresses, we find it is the simple, straightforward story of a man who is simply unable to cope with the loss of his wife, and who goes from successful website architect to gasoline-sniffing indigent over the course of a few weeks. It's a painful, sometimes funny, and always engaging journey to watch. Hoffman is wonderful, and Kathy Bates and the rest of the supporting cast are extremely strong. Gordy Hoffman's (Phillip's brother) script is pretty tight for a first-time screenwriter, and the direction is so light as to be virtually unnoticeable.

In the end, Love, Liza is a heartbreaking, but thoroughly engaging, simple little film, highlighted by some really excellent acting.

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