Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Director: Barry Levinson Cast: Robin Williams, Forest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby, Tung Thanh Tran, Robert Wuhl, Chintara Sukapatana

Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer is shipped into Vietnam to take over a slot on the Armed Forces Radio. He quickly starts to make his mark, however, while popular with the regular troops, it doesn’t go down well with his superiors.

Although I love Vietnam War classics like Apocalypse Now, generally speaking it’s a genre that is pretty hard-going (understandably). Good Morning, Vietnam however makes for much lighter viewing while still making its point. From the outset, I was laughing out loud: the first scene in which Robin Williams’ character appears on the radio is brilliant, and it’s joke after joke with barely pausing for breath. Robin Williams is ideal for the role, as he perfectly fits the character of weird and totally in his own world without caring what other people think. A lot of it is also pretty politically incorrect, which is certainly refreshing in this day and age. The 60s pop soundtrack is also great, and I like the way it forms part of the story as it’s used as a contrast against the boring approved radio station music.

The film is really funny and I laughed a lot, but it also has its serious parts. The plot surrounding the radio station is that the news is massively filtered and censored so that the troops don’t hear about anything bad going on- particularly with relation to the likelihood of the war dragging on, which in hindsight we know it most definitely did- and Cronauer struggles with not being allowed to tell the truth. There’s a very sad scene where he’s driving about the town and they meet a bunch of soldiers about to head out to where the war is properly taking place, and while Cronauer is entertaining them there’s a look on his face that he knows they’re probably not coming back.

The one downside, and it’s not a major downside, is the plot with Cronauer and his Vietnamese friends. I just found it unconvincing, and the climax of the storyline revolves around this (without wanting to give away any spoilers) but it’s not particularly hard-hitting simply because I was unconvinced by it. Reading that back it doesn’t make much sense, but probably will if you watch it! Overall though I did enjoy the way it portrayed the tragedy and ridiculousness of the war and a lot of parts were very moving.

This is a great film and is light enough but while still having a strong message. It’s probably not suitable for kids (a fair amount of strong language and violence) but as far as war movies go it’s not bad at all, so I think a lot of people would enjoy it.

4 stars

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Director: Matthew Vaughn Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Pedro Pascal

In the follow-up to everyone’s surprise favourite film of 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy is now a fully-fledged agent but is forced to head to the US after the Kingsman headquarters are destroyed. Once in Kentucky, he teams up with agents from Kingsman’s American counterpart Statesman to bring down an eccentric drugs kingpin.

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people were pleasantly surprised about how much they enjoyed the first Kingsman. And while sequels often require lowered expectations, I found The Golden Circle to be a worthy second round. One of my favourite features of the first movie was the way they filmed the action sequences, swapping between fast and slow-motion, close-ups and zooming in and out, and so I was pleased that they’d put a few more sequences like that into  this one- although I think any more would have been overkill and it would have lost its effect. Overall it makes the action look very cool and slick, and it’s fun to see the action in detail rather than just one long shot of the scene.

I think this film is funnier than the first, which means I did enjoy it but I found that more of the focus was on the comedy than the plot. The main villain storyline is good, but I didn’t find it to be the main focus of the film. Rather, the plot was more of mechanism to get in the jokes and action sequences. For example on the surface there’s no real reason why Elton John would be in this film, as plot-wise if he wasn’t in it it wouldn’t really have made a difference, but somehow it works and actually he has some really funny moments. I did well up a little when Eggsy and Harry reunited though (slight spoiler but not really as he’s in the trailer- yes, Colin Firth is not dead) and there was quite a focus on the characters and their relationships, which is something I liked about the first film.

As with the first movie, it’s definitely for adults (a guilty-pleasure James Bond, if you will) so not family viewing, but a great shout for an easy-to-watch light-hearted action movie. I would definitely watch it again, and at the end they set it up for a third movie in the franchise so I’m absolutely looking forward to that.

3 stars

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket

Director: Stanley Kubrick Cast: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, Dorian Harwood, Arliss Howard, Kevyn Major Howard, Ed O’Ross

A group of young recruits scrape through a tough bootcamp before heading off to Vietnam to join the war. Stanley Kubrick adds his take on a brutal and traumatic war that has left its scar on the American national consciousness.

I find this period of history fascinating (the Cold War), and I loved Apocalypse Now. Plus I can’t recommend enough the last Kubrick film I watched, Dr Strangelove. However, Full Metal Jacket didn’t really grab me. The film kind of feels like it’s actually two different films stuck together: we start off following the new recruits at a training camp on American soil, which I thought was simply setting the scene- until we were an hour into the film and still there. Then they get shipped out to Vietnam and it becomes a film about the war. The two parts are obviously linked, but it feels like the film can’t really decide if it’s about the traumatic training process or the traumatic war (either way, traumatic is the key theme here).

Don’t get me wrong, both halves of the film are enjoyable (probably not the right word) to watch and Kubrick clearly makes his points about the military lifestyle and the pointlessness of the Vietnam War. However, while the training camp part has a storyline that progresses, the war half doesn’t really have much of a plot; stuff just kind of happens. Maybe that’s a point that Kubrick is trying to make- I just found that the film was a bit random from a viewer’s perspective.

The film is violent and distressing so certainly not for family viewing. As I say, I find this period of history interesting, and it is certainly a must-see for those who have enjoyed war films in the past and know that they enjoy the genre. However I tend to find that war movies don’t prove particularly popular with those who don’t have an active interest in the historical aspect in question, so it won’t be a winner for everyone. If you haven’t enjoyed war films particularly in the past, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one in order to change your mind.

3 stars

Léon (1994)

Leon

Director: Luc Besson Cast: Jean Reno, Natalie Portman, Gary Oldman

After her drug-dealer father and other family members are murdered, 12-year-old Mathilda seeks refuge with her mysterious neighbour, Léon, who turns out to be a professional assassin. Mathilda persuades Léon to teach her how to kill, while they become, er, close friends.

Before getting into what I didn’t like, I’ll starts with some positives. Although the film covers some heady subject matter, it does so with a very dry sense of humour and you quickly warm to both Mathilda and Léon (and Léon’s best friend, a house plant). Mathilda’s persistence softens Léon and gives him a companion that he never had, which is a touching side of a story that is pretty much about murder. It’s probably my favourite performance of Natalie Portman’s (after my earliest experience of her acting was The Phantom Menace, which has permanently tarnished my view), and there’s no cringe factor like there often is with child actors. Additionally, Mathilda at only 12 years of age is probably the edgiest dresser I have ever seen.

However, while I don’t agree with the outcry about this film regarding Léon’s and Mathilda’s unconventional relationship, I don’t see why the script makes Mathilda believe that she is romantically in love with Léon. It would have been enough to just make her love him like a father, as he loves her like a daughter, and this wouldn’t have taken anything away from the plot. For them to simply grow to love each other like father and daughter would be enough to make us still sympathise with them and enjoy their character development. My other criticism is about Gary Oldman’s bad guy. Although he is suitably maniacal, we don’t really know too much about him and why he’s become like that, so it doesn’t really seem realistic.

I enjoyed this film overall and it has a satisfying ending. I wouldn’t say that it’s suitable for family viewing (in the slightest), but it’s not super heavy viewing so would be good for a Saturday night in.

3 stars