Platoon (1986)

platoon_posters_86It’s a rather interesting parallel that Charlie Sheen is playing much the same role his father did in Apocalypse Now. At least in the sense that they become our entry point into the mire of war, specifically in Vietnam. But where Apocalypse seemed to belong more so to Brando or even Duvall, Platoon is really Willem Dafoe’s film. At least he’s the one who makes it what it is. His final moment is emblematic of the entire narrative.

But it is also striking that the film opens with an excerpt from Ecclesiastes as follows, “Rejoice young man in your youth…” But the latter half of that same verse has major implications that will come into play later.

For now, these soldiers muddle their way through their tours of duty the best they can. Smoke, beer, and Smokey Robinson is the perfect way to combat the insanity and humidity right outside your tent.

Oliver Stone conjures up themes of politics and government conspiracies. The first word is uttered several times throughout Platoon but in the general sense. When you get a group of people together vying for positions and attention there’s bound to be politics. As for government conspiracy, Stone doesn’t quite scrape that barrel, although to be sure as a Vietnam veteran himself perhaps he has a lot to be disgruntled about.

Instead, he has a cast of characters who get to reflect all the angst and disillusionment for him and it’s a fairly impressive bunch. Aside from Sheen and Dafoe, John Bergener, Keith David, John McGinley, Forrest Whitaker, and even Johnny Depp make appearance wading their way through Vietnam.

It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Apocalypse Now to draw too many comparisons. However, although Platoon is a perturbing film it’s not the same type of expansive labyrinth that I recall from Coppola’s epic.  Charlie Sheen’s voiceovers attempt to add an introspective tinge to the entire narrative, but that is not where the strength of the film lies.

Platoon also has its share of pyrotechnics, in fact, it succumbs to them too often but that’s not the reason the film is affecting either. It’s the aftermath of those explosions. The carnage that is left in the wake of the barrages of RPGs. The bodies maimed and the images that haunt these young men.

And as audience members, it’s hard not to feel something. Repulsed. Angry. Frustrated. Confused. Perhaps that is the film working — giving even a zenith of the taste of what it was to be in the jungles of Vietnam back in 1967. This is one of those experiences I cannot take too often because it’s almost too much.

My initial hope was that Stone would not inject this film with his own brand or message and I will say that when I watch Platoon I am not left with the feeling that I am listening to Oliver Stone but instead I am watching something terribly volatile unfold. That’s certainly a testament to this film. In the end, Platoon is bolstered by its sheer intensity.

But back to Ecclesiastes, the earlier verse ends “and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” And it’s this final bit that is important in suggesting that young men are laid low due to their joy. But it’s hard to make that type of assertion. If anything, a film such as Platoon is perplexing because the answers are unclear and the reasons the world works the ways it does are not known to us.

Young men will continue to walk through life naively and he will struggle through life questioning the presence of God as much as this seemingly apathetic indifference towards the suffering in the world. Whether Stone was grappling with those same questions is up for contention but the beauty of film is that it very rarely works on a singular level. It can mean many things to many people. So it is with Platoon.

4/5 Stars

Finding Neverland (2004)

FindingneverlandposterPeter Pan was immortalized by Disney in 1953, but as with many of the great fairy tales that they have adapted, it’s easy to forget that there was an earlier spark. These stories do not begin and end with Disney. They have a far more complex origin story and ensuing history. So it goes with J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Finding Neverland has a satisfactory periodness that reflects a bygone era neatly and without much-added schmaltz. Johnny Depp turns out to be thoroughly charismatic as 19th-century writer J.M Barrie, the mastermind behind Peter, Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, and all the rest. But this is really the story about his inspiration for the fairy tale that defined his career.

Kate Winslet is a wonderfully benevolent free spirit who single-handedly raises a family of four boys. Her mother (Julie Christie) is a brusque rather domineering lady, but Barrie is still drawn to this family because they awaken his own imagination.

The film allows itself to be whisked away into glorious worlds, dreamscapes out of the minds of children with the wildest of imaginations, but it continually remains grounded in the story of these people: A writer, a lady, and her sons. It conjures up the fantastical whimsy of Tim Burton’s Big Fish while preceding similar narratives like Saving Mr. Banks rather effortlessly.

There, of course, are the expected difficulties. His latest play backed by the wealthy money bags Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) was a monumental flop and neither one of them can afford another such showing. Barrie also has trouble connecting with his wife (Radha Mitchell) and they slowly drift farther and farther apart right in front of each other’s eyes. They know it’s happening and still there’s very little they can do. Meanwhile, Sylvia Llewan Davies comes down with a sickness that she refuses to accept treatment for, but it becomes completely debilitating. Continually Barrie’s home life and personal relationships are intersecting and butting up against this world that he has created: Neverland

But the night of the big opening of his play arrives with much anticipation. There’s the normal stuffy crowd until a crowd of orphan children files into the performance, on Barrie’s doing. Because in some ways, they are the best critics. They know what they like and they are not afraid to show their approval or their derision for that matter. Their laughter spreads throughout the great hall and the show winds up a monumental success.

However, perhaps more importantly, the film has some final wisdom to dole out to anyone willing to take the time to be still and listen. Even if time is chasing after all of us like the famous ticking crocodile, that doesn’t mean we have to grow up too fast or leave behind the wonderment of youth. There’s still so much to see if only we had the eyes to see them. The clear, credulous eyes of a child. That’s some of what Peter Pan taps into as with all timeless children stories. Because they aren’t really children stories at all, but tales that touch each and every one of us through life and even in death. Finding Neverland remains a fitting reminder of that. Each person needs hope in something greater. It’s finding that thing which is paramount to every existence.

3.5/5 Stars

Donnie Brasco (1997)

220px-Donnie_brasco_ver2In the tradition of such films as Serpico, Goodfellas, and even The Departed, Donnie Brasco is another worthy addition to the gangster canon. You have a necessary mainstay in Al Pacino, playing the veteran and streetwise hit man Lefty. He’s been around and is claimed to have 26 “whacks” to his name. One fateful day he took Donnie under his wing and the two became real pals. Better than that they were family and Lefty vouched for Donnie, bringing him into his life and his business. It’s just that his business revolves being a member of one of the mob families.

The story is twofold, however, because Donnie Brasco’s real name is Joe Pisone, and he is an undercover agent for the FBI. However, in order to do his job he has to be gone for months on end. He checks in and has a tape recorder on his person, but for all intent and purposes, he is a member of the mob. They think he’s one of them which Pistone’s superiors are delighted about, but he also begins to relate to them and see himself pulled into their reality.

Long months away from his wife and kids do not help their marriage or his family life. Whenever he drops in their life, he’s cold and detached. His wife expects something more. She wants her husband back, but all he has for her is a fiery temper courtesy of the crowd he hangs out with now.

He follows their crowd from New York, down to Florida trying to get a cut of the land there, but after getting ousted by the cops, they must head dejectedly back to New York. Several times Joe almost gets his cover blown, but even more perturbing he stops checking in with his superiors. His wife is bearing the toll of his absence and tries to content herself with thoughts of him being dead. It’s easier to take.

Meanwhile, young hopeful Sonny (Michael Madsen), with the help of his cronies, knocks off his rival and things are looking up for the whole lot of them. Donnie knows however that there will come a point where he will be pulled out and that will be the end of it. He tries to give his new found friend and confidante Lefty a way out. He offers money to his pal, in a last-ditch effort to get the vet to leave this life behind. Instead, they follow through with the hit that they’re supposed to.

The irony of this story is that Joe Pisone gets a medal and a $500 check for his services to his country. He spent however many months and years in this high tension, high-stress environment and that’s what he gets. You can see him scoffing at it. His marriage is essentially shot to hell. He lost one of the best friends he had and that’s the end of it.

It’s great having Al Pacino in this film because he along with Robert De Niro will always embody the gangster to me. Except instead of playing the steely Michael Corleone, he’s the more world wearied type. Bruno Kirby sounded so much like Joe Pesci that it was almost uncanny to me. And it was a pleasure to see Johnny Depp in such a role since he is so often remembered for his quirkier roles. Here he truly seems to show his dramatic acting chops, and the camaraderie between him and Pacino is palpable in their scenes.

4/5 Stars

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

c854d-pirates_of_the_caribbean_movieStarring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley, the film opens with Elizabeth having her first encounter with Will Tuner and she also sees a mysterious ship. Now in the present, a man recently promoted to Commodore proposes to Elizabeth. Through a series of events she is not able to answer and then ends up meeting the notorious Captain Jack Sparrow. He is taken captive after a duel with Will Tuner. However, his mutinous former crew raid the city from their ship the Black Pearl. Elizabeth is taken captive and Jack and Will join forces to rescue her, while the Commodore makes his own arrangements. Once again they face the pirates and end up in grave trouble. Jack, Will, and Elizabeth all prove their bravery and cleverness. Ultimately, they are able to take down the immortal pirates and Captain Jack is let go once again. This film was entertaining with good action and enjoyable character. I thoroughly understand how Jack Sparrow has become an icon.

4/5 Stars